In October 1998, 21-year-old University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten, tied to a fence post and left to die in the town of Laramie because of his sexual orientation. The incident, which made headlines the world over, hit Tucson-based filmmaker Beverly Seckinger especially close to home. A gay woman born and raised in Laramie, Seckinger returned to her hometown in the spring of 1999 to document the aftermath of the horrific event. Some five years later, the result is the stunning documentary Laramie Inside Out.
"News of the attack hit me with a special force," says Seckinger, a professor of media arts at the University of Arizona. "Being able to imagine [Shepard's] experience, I knew I wanted to be up there and sort of mourn this from the perspective of the community."
By the time Seckinger arrived in Laramie (around the time of the defendants' trial), its residents had grown tired of a probing media. Armed with what she describes as her "teeny little camera" and playing the hometown-girl card, however, Seckinger found a community eager to open up.
"The people who ended up being the main characters actually appreciated the chance to tell their stories," she says. "In a lot of ways, this film works against small-town stereotypes. The town comes to life in 3D, and all different types of people have responded amazingly to it."
Critics nationwide have hailed Laramie Inside Out as inspiring and uplifting. Given the subject matter, such adjectives might seem misplaced, but Seckinger couldn't be more pleased.
"It's really a balance of following people that responded to the news by becoming activists in one way or another. The other thread is this autobiographical thread . . . my story and how things have changed there since the 1970s. Before this happened, it was still possible for people to pretend there were no gay people in Wyoming. Afterwards, that was no longer possible."