Family Fundamentals


Bottom 40% of all time (see others with this rank)

Festival Year

2002 (click here to see all competition films from this year)


Documentary Competition

Non-Cast Credits

Arthur Dong, Mark Adler


Sundance vetran documentarian Arthur Dong returns with a timely and incisive film about the untenable conflict between varring American values -- religious fundamentalism versus family love.

While fundamentalists from outside the United States are castigated these days for their social extremism, this film shines a new light on American fundamentalism, a powerful ideological bloc. Among the documentary's subjects are a Pentecostal church leader and her gay grandson and lesbian daughter; the gay son of a Mormon bishop in rural Utah; and Brian Bennett, the gay former chief of staff to conservative (and Catholic) Congressman Bob Dornan (R-California) who regarded Bennett almost as a son.

It's not surprising that American contempt for homosexuality has strong roots in religious fundamentalism, but as Dont's film demonstrates, families facing the challenge of warring beliefs require, and summon, great personal resourcefulness in attempting to remain functional. Attending prayer meetings intended to correct gayness and a son's homecoming that becomes a family intervention, Dong traces tortuous tactics undertaken by parents and children, including sham marriages and other forms of self-abnegation.

Such contortions are shown for their dubiousness as cultural solutions for families or society, with polarization and extremism as conceivable outcomes. (Indeed, the intelligent and articulate Dornan is stretched thin by the pain of his conflict over Bennett, finally appearing to resolve it witout resorting to compromise). Noting the false comforts of negotiated silence, this film frames a message of caution and issues a call for the sort of open debate that respectfully allows citizens, and families, to agree to disagree.


Shannon Kelly (see other films reviewed by the same reviewer)

Film Takes Pace.