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The Independent Critic

Zach Stark, John Smid
Morgan Jon Fox
73 Mins.

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 "This is What Love In Action Looks Like" Review 
It started with a Myspace bulletin.

16-year-old Zach Stark's heartfelt cry for help on Myspace came after the gay teenager came out to his parents and they, in return, decided to send the youth to Love in Action's Refuge Program in Raleigh, North Carolina, a program designed to "cure" young teenagers of their "gay addiction." Stark's simple plea became a rallying cry for an angry yet loving community, gay and straight, that began protesting outside Love in Action's campus and the snowball effect those protests around the country.

This is What Love in Action Looks Like is a poignant and anger-inducing feature documentary from Morgan Jon Fox, acclaimed director of Blue Citrus Hearts, and is an Official Selection of the 2011 Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival.

In a vivid illustration of the power of the internet to trigger social change, shares in a rather straightforward manner how Stark's blog posts, which he wrote from a room from the program often referred to as a "gay boot camp," were seen by all of his Myspace friends who, in turn, began sharing the posts with others. The protests began and national media began covering the story including everyone from Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson to more mainstream media like Paula Zahn, Diane Sawyer and others. The program, which exists on a quieter level to this day, was in its earliest days at the time and led by John Smid, a married "ex-gay" conservative Christian whose views were well known. Rather than Stark, it's in fact Smid who undergoes the greatest degree of transformation as in 2007 he ended up leaving Love in Action and actually issued a public apology to any who were harmed by the programming at the facility. He's now head of a gay-friendly ministry called Grace Rivers in Germantown, Tennessee.

While it was Stark's story that triggered the national attention thrust upon Love in Action and centers like it, Stark himself remained silent upon his release after several weeks from the facility. He returned home and went to college, but it wasn't until this film that Stark himself was ever actually interviewed about his story. It is his story that gives this 73-minute documentary a final foundation of substance and hope.

While This is What Love in Action Looks Like isn't the best constructed film of the 2011 Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival, it has been a personal favorite with its weaving together of a personal story with universal themes. Fox's interview with Smid is arguably more effective than that with Stark, partially because Smid remains a strong communicator whose personal insights exude genuineness and authenticity. Much is made of such facts as Love in Action's rules, but Fox never really explores these more fully but instead simply trusts that they are so obviously ludicrous that they don't need further exploration.

The film continues on the film festival circuit and is Fox's first film to be accepted into San Francisco's Frameline Film Festival, the biggest and most widely recognized LGBT film festival.

For more information on This Is What Love in Action Looks Like, visit the film's website.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic