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Heather Winters directed  Two: The Story of Roman and Nyro,  a documentary about Grammy winning songwriter Desmond Child and his partner, Curtis Shaw, and their two sons. The film follows their best friend, Angela, in her role as surrogate and everything that happens before, during, and after, while weaving together home videos of the boys and current interviews with family members. (You can read our review here.)

Two: The Story of Roman and Nyro   had its Canadian premiere at the Inside Out festival this past weekend and I was lucky enough to conference call with Heather, Desmond, and Curtis before they arrived in Toronto.

Heather, how did you get involved with this massive project? 

Heather Winters: The film began as Angela’s video diary. She wanted to document what she was going through. Then Curtis and Desmond began filming various family events over many years. I had produced a film called Class Act , about the decline of arts education in America and a drama teacher I had. I went to a school in Miami Beach, as did Desmond, and we studied under the same drama teacher and Desmond was in that film. We connected and started to work together.

Desmond Child: And we fell in love!

HW: Right! We all fell in love with each other. They told me their story and that they had been shooting for all of these years. One thing led to the next, and I ended up directing it. We had more than 300 hours of footage over a period of 10 years. We began to shoot some current footage, along with new interviews, and we filled out the story over the past two years.

How did you begin to sort through 10+ years of footage? What was that process like?

HW: I have a brilliant editor, Lennon, that sat with me for every moment. It’s a very intricate puzzle. The pieces are all there, you just have to figure out the best way to put them together. We literally screened everything that we could – everything from Super 8 footage and old VHS footage, all the way up to current HD footage. We transcribed and clipped a lot, until a theme started to emerge and we were able to find the heart of the story. I think it took about 18 months.

Desmond Child, Curtis Shaw, Heather with Roman and Nyro at the Nashville Film Festival.

Desmond Child (left), Curtis Shaw (centre), Heather Winters (right) with Roman and Nyro (front) at the Nashville Film Festival.

I like that Angela started this as a video diary. The moments with her were some of the best and the most intimate. I was wondering about how she feels about the documentary, now that the whole world can see what she went through?

DC:  I think she’s very excited about it. She’s a very inspired person, and just heroic, really, to have done this to begin with, but also to share her story with the world. And especially other women, that are maybe considering surrogacy. I think she shows a pathway. Most of the time when people are talking about these things, they never show it from the perspective of the surrogate. It’s always more focused on the people trying to have the baby.

I think that’s what made this film so powerful. It isn’t the story you see all the time.

Curtis Shaw: It was such a profound experience for all of us. For Angela, and her journey, it’s been so profound in her life. For Desmond and I, too, it felt like as we were going through it, there were universal truths that wrung through. We felt like there must have been a higher reason for all of these things to fall into place as they did. That’s part of what made us document everything in such an intimate way.

I enjoyed that you leave the film feeling really good about humanity.

HW: That’s really what our hope is.

DC: We wanted that heartwarming story. One of the reasons it was difficult moving to Nashville was when we first got to our school, there was only one other gay family. And now there are seven. Our soccer team is made up of republicans, and they welcomed us warmly and we have become very close. I think we have changed hearts and minds.

CS: And our hearts and minds have been changed towards them!

DC: The stereotypes can go both ways.

CS: We have had preexisting ideas of how people would be in the South. Growing up in Missouri, I was hesitant about coming to Nashville. Little by little, the more people we would meet, we just fell in love. We loved the place, and it felt really good for us.

HW: Our sneak preview was at the Nashville Film Festival. We were worried, but the film was so well-received and we ended up winning the audience award. So, there really is a lot of preconceived notions that both sides bring that can really be diluted and dispelled.

Speaking of stereotypes, I found it really interesting that both Curtis and Angela refer to Curtis as “the mom” in the film. Do you think that could be taken as negatively perpetuating the stereotype that there has to be a male and a female in a relationship?

CS: Well, “mom” is the most commonly defined term. Everybody, mostly, grows up with a mom and a dad. Even within straight couples. I have dear friends where the dad is the stay at home dad, and the mom is the worker. So we define a lot of things as “mom” and “dad”. It just becomes an easier way to identify what roles we play in the family.

DC: Also, he’s better in the kitchen. You gotta eat, right?

To me, it seems like Roman and Nyro will be able to watch this when they grow up, as a home video on a larger scale. Is that something you thought about while making the film?

CS: I think so. Like any family, we recorded life events.

DC: When you’re gay, you aren’t born with a culture. So we invented one as we went along. In many ways, our rituals parallel those from a general culture. Like the blessing for our boys that you see in the film, it was multi-denominational with a lot of different cultural elements.

CS: With any home movie, we want to mark those moments. Now the boys are 11-years-old, and they’re turning into little men. There are times we look back and miss when they were babies.

DC: Now they’re tweens. I think the amazing thing is that we go from embryo to wise guy, all in one foul swoop.

CS: The biggest difference between us and our straight counterparts is that the boys have more awareness of hair gel and lotions.

DC: They smell better than the other boys. Alright, I have to jump off the line now. Bye everyone!

Curtis, do you have any advice to offer other gay parents?

CS: This has been the greatest journey of love for me. I would sit in the hospital with tears streaming down my face, feeling so full of gratitude at becoming a parent. I always wanted to be a parent, I just never imagined how that opportunity would come to be. If people really feel it, it’s such a privilege to be a parent. Once you’re out there in the world, you realize parents are parents. We do have a little circle of safety, but when we venture outside that circle is when we start to change hearts and minds. This life that we are living, we have a unique perspective because what we feel is very honest and true. The love a parent feels for a child is universal.

This journey has been profound and beautiful and pure, and if people want to have that experience, it’s the most wonderful thing I can express. There are ups and downs, just like in any family. People will surprise you. That’s the other lesson. I’ve had to confront my own inner prejudices, and the way I thought people were. I want to say, also, Heather and Lennon, the way in which they were able to link the film together. Every time I watch the film, I’m amazed that we are able to tell this story. I wholeheartedly have thanked Heather and Lennon. As I grovel before your feet, Heather.

HW: Thanks. You can get up now.

I think we covered everything, do you have anything else to add?

HW: I think we’ve said it, but we wanted to tell a human story about love and family. We hope that people connect with the characters and are moved by the deeper themes, which are love, spirit, and family. So I hope we’ve done that.

I think you have, so congratulations on that.

CW: Thanks so much! We are really looking forward to visiting Toronto.

Part of our Inside Out Film Festival 2013 coverage. See it all here.