aGLIFF 2010 (Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival)
By Dirk Sonniksen | September 8, 2010
Director: Daniel Alexander
Writer(s): Daniel Alexander
Bernie Baran had one strike against him when he took a job at a daycare center—he was gay. By today’s standards (not that today’s standards are great), Baran’s sexuality would not have been a big deal, but in the homophobic environment festering in the 1980s, Bernie became the target of a bizarre hatred toward gays gripping not only the small town of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he lived, but of a nation blinded by the fear of homosexuals and the recent spread of AIDS.
Baran would eventually be tried and convicted of a crime that never took place, a fact that would play a pivotal role in future legal battles. With Bernie’s case so unbelievably fraudulent, it is hard to imagine that any human being possessing cognitive thought could not see through the lies that would take twenty-one years of a man’s life. What is most shocking is that literally no one in this community (with the exception of his family) offered to help Bernie Baran out a predicament that was so unjust; still, to his detriment, Baran continued to have faith in a justice system that had completely ignored the truth.
Director Daniel Alexander takes the PowerPoint presentation approach with Freeing Bernie Baran, and while it could be argued that this is a low-budget technique (it does look a little low-budget), it is nonetheless a rather effective tool in showing the extreme absurdity of the events that transpired. Through this point-by-point analysis, the audience is able to follow the freakish contradictions and inaccuracies that make Bernie’s ordeal so mind-boggling. In addition, this method not only makes the film easy to follow, but was also a nice way to break up various segments of the documentary.
The majority of the documentary is divided between Bernie’s family and his legal battle. The former shows Baran to be a loving kid with no hang-ups or eccentricities to speak of. This helps to reinforce the fact that Baran was not some twisted, evil “gay” bent on molesting children. The latter deals with the astounding circumstances surrounding Baran’s case. The most prevalent issue that comes to mind is that there seemed to be more concern over the possible negative impact the truth might have on prominent officials involved in the trial. It is shocking that, considering their erroneous behavior, these individuals would be shown any leniency whatsoever, and in the end, not be held responsible for what is nothing less than criminal activity.
Freeing Bernie Baran is an engrossing documentary that will leave you pondering the legitimacy of the American justice system. Where once racial profiling in the prison system seemed to be the iniquité du jour for media outlets to report, this is the first time I have seen anything so blatant dealing with an individual being convicted based solely on their sexual orientation; if ever there was a case of someone being railroaded, this is that case. For all those that have believed the justice system in our nation exists without fault, this documentary should change your views. if you are in the camp that has little faith in the system, Freeing Bernie Baran will help only to further your distrust.
Freeing Bernie Baran will be premiering at aGLIFF on Saturday, September 11, 2010 (1:30pm) at the Alamo South Lamar in Austin, Texas. For more information visit aGLIFF at http://www.agliff.org/ or at the Freeing Bernie Baran Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Freeing-Bernie-Baran/324974408062.