For They Know Not What They Do has its world premier tonight at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Trying to define who you are and what your place in the world is both to yourself and to others is often a very difficult time for adolescents. And if you are LGBTQ in a family that is religiously conservative, that process can seem insurmountable. For The Bible Tells Me So (2207) director Daniel Karslake’s new documentary For They Know Not What They Do charts the story of four such young people struggling to live their identity when the people closest to them have strong negative feelings about their sexuality.
Despite the fact that among younger generations there is a greater acceptance than ever before of LGBTQ individuals, those strides have not come without pushback from those who feel that such acceptance is some sort of encroachment on their own values and liberties. Which it is not, of course. The film sets the stage by opening with the observation that the Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage had the unintended consequence of generating an anti-gay backlash among the more conservative pockets of the country. It is a backlash that has allowed the charlatans of gay conversion therapy to thrive, to whom one of the four subjects of the film was delivered to after coming out to his family.
One would think that from the premise, the film would be a slam piece, taking to task the family members who turned on their own once they came out of the closet. But while the film is definitely sympathetic to its four subjects, it does present their families in at least an even-handed light. It is a tricky balance Karslake – along with the film’’s editor and co-scripter Nancy Kennedy – strikes and it serves the film well.
Not all of these stories have happy endings and the film can often be an emotional rollercoaster, honestly wringing tears from the viewer on more than one occasion. It is hard not to feel the fear and terror and heartache of Vico, who had suggested to friends a trip to the nearby Pulse nightclub the night of the infamous 2016 shooting at the Orlando nightclub. Vico survived, but some of his party did not, and he bears guilt over his friends’ deaths. Two other families’ stories are also tinged with tragedy but at least one finds a way to turn that tragedy into something positive for other families facing the same situation.