Texas filmmaker makes documentary on Rainbow Lounge raid

by Michelle Parsons

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday July 13, 2010

In the days after the controversial Rainbow Lounge raid in Fort Worth last June, LGBT activists and their allies took to the streets of Dallas, Fort Worth and beyond. But unbeknownst to filmmaker Robert Camina, he was about to embark on a year-long journey that would result in his first full-length film-and first documentary.

The San Antonio native wasn't ready for how the incident affected him. He quickly learned, however, even in a conservative town that is more akin to cattle roping than equal rights for gays, change is possible.

The director of Hunter4Love, Driptease, Martini the Movie and other films, Camina has won three Best Local Film Director awards from Dallas Voice, among other accolades. His work has appeared in nearly 20 film festivals in the past four years, but with more than 50 hours of footage and interviews from several witnesses, activists and officials from the Fort Worth Police Department (including Police Chief Jeff Halstead,) Camina talked with EDGE about how the raid impacted him and how he hopes his documentary will impact those who watch it.

EDGE: What compelled you to make a documentary about this event?

Robert Camina: Let's go back to June 28 of last year. It was Sunday morning. I rolled out of bed and read the news, on Facebook of course. And I read posts from Todd Camp who I've worked with through Q Cinema... And he was celebrating his birthday there [Rainbow Lounge] that night. He was posting what he had seen and I was just, as most people when they heard the details of this story, absolutely appalled and couldn't believe what had happened. As the morning rolled on I learned more and more of my friends were there that night. And I thought I don't know what's going on I don't know where this is going, but I need to capture it. I need to get it on camera. That was my knee jerk reaction.

There was a huge demonstration at Lee Park. I live up in Addison, so I grabbed my camera and raced down to Lee Park to capture the initial reaction of the events that happened, and the story snowballed.

As the incident progressed and we learned more details, it really became a journey, and you saw Fort Worth-not just the gay community-evolve into a level of maturity that they haven't before. Most people describe what happened that night as a wake-up call, not just in the gay community but for Fort Worth.

I'm sorry I didn't really answer your question. It's not really a clear answer because my reason has changed over time. In the beginning it was just to capture what had happened and to say, "Let's make a short film." Where to now I'm making, I hope, the finish product is going to be a story of, you have this tragedy happen and let's see what can happen when the community comes together, works together, you have a city, a police department, a state agency that's willing to listen and communicate.

I hope it's a story of inspiration for people outside of DFW to know the power of their voice.

EDGE: I thought it was interesting you are trying to come from a middle ground and not out to villainize the Fort Worth Police Department.

Camina: Exactly. And early on, I did not ever want this to be considered as a propaganda piece. Obviously, you can't avoid the gay issue, that's the center of it all. [Laughs] And I'm not looking to villainize the police department; I'm not looking to villainize the city of Fort Worth. What happened that night was awful, but I think there's been a large amount of growth within both the police department and the gay community, and it's a really a story about that.

EDGE:What was it like interviewing the witnesses and how emotional was it for you and for them going through that process?

Camina: It was trying because I came in right at the beginning because I wanted to get interviews as close to the event as possible as you can imagine. So it would be fresh, it wouldn't be clouded. Because it was so fresh, a number of the witnesses broke down in tears during the interviews, and it's tough. People were traumatized and people were scared-scared of what happened, scared of what was going to happen, scared of repercussions. But they felt that it was the right thing to do, not only to give their statements to the investigators but to speak about what had happened on camera just so, I don't want to put words in their mouths, but the way I feel like if we could change one mind, if we could open one mind, we've done a really good job.

EDGE: I can't believe you were able to get the police chief to agree to be on camera!

Camina: It really said a lot to me. It was an honor for me. Granted, some mistakes were made initially after the raid, and I think Chief Halstead really took a beating for what he said. But the fact that he and Sara [Straten] took the time to speak with me on camera for almost an hour... it showed me that they were reaching out to the gay community. You know, because the police chief could have said, 'I decline,' and put it arms distance away. It means a lot to me for them to participate. It took a lot of work and trust.

EDGE: This is your first full-length feature. It sounds like it happened organically.

Camina: It did happen organically. That passion that you feel for a story or a subject, that's what this was. I felt I was at the right place at the right time and it was my responsibility. I'm extremely honored that so many people have entrusted me to tell the story, because so many people have put their heart and soul into the progress of it. And I think the fact that I had a preexisting relationship with Todd Camp, with some of the people that were there at the Rainbow Lounge the night of the raid, there was a level of comfort that when I did sit down and interview them, they were able to open up as opposed to a stranger. I would like to think I got a bit of raw emotion and rawness that may not have existed had it been anybody else.

EDGE: So what is your background? Talk a little bit about how you got into filmmaking.

Camina: I've always had a camera on my shoulder. We were one of the first families in my neighborhood to get a VCR. And, I'm going to date myself, this is the late '70s. So I had to use the camera that was tethered to the VCR, and I would film stuff, little things around the living room, film shows. And I graduated from that to high school when my parents gave me a camcorder in the late '80s, early '90s, and that's what I did. That's what my hobby was. I was making short movies, music videos. That's how I spent my time. That was my passion and I loved it.

I was going to major in Radio/TV/Film at UT at Austin, and I just decided, that little voice in my head said you need to get a business degree. I got my business degree, I got it in marketing, and I did that for 10 years and said, 'You know what? This isn't my calling. This isn't my passion. This isn't the skin I'm meant to be in.' And with that, I quit my job and within a matter of months I moved to New York for a film program to supplement what I had learned in the field. And I was there for a summer and made a short film, and haven't looked back.

The film is due out in November. Log onto www.caminaentertainment.com for more information.