News Column

Kalispell native's film advocates same-sex equality

May 10, 2013

YellowBrix

May 10--A year ago the raw emotion displayed in a YouTube video posted by Kalispell native Shane Bitney Crone swept the world as he described his struggles in the aftermath of his partner's accidental death.

That video was the springboard for a nonfiction documentary, "Bridegroom," that premiered last month at the Tribeca Film Festival, a renowned cinematic festival founded by movie star Robert DeNiro.

Adding to Crone's honor of having the documentary chosen for the prestigious film festival was an introduction of the film by former President Bill Clinton and winning the audience award for documentary nonfiction.

"You dream of getting into one of the big festivals," Crone said in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles, "but it's not about prestige and winning awards. It's the exposure it gives a film. More exposure will result in spreading our message."

Crone's message is this: "Every single one of us deserves the right to be who we are and love who we love, and no one, no government, should prevent anyone from being treated equally under the law."

It's a timely message as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs the merits of gay marriage.

It was two years ago, nearly to the day, when Crone's partner of six years, Tom Bridegroom, accidentally fell from a Los Angeles rooftop during a photo shoot and died.

Although the two men owned a social media consulting business and a home together, they had no will, and Crone was unable to get information from the hospital in the aftermath of the accident.

He was threatened with physical violence by Bridegroom's family -- who never accepted their son was gay -- if he dared to attend his partner's funeral in Indiana.

The rejection from Bridegroom's family was pivotal in Crone's decision to take a public stand in favor of same-sex marriage. In the YouTube video, "It Could Happen To You," he pleads with viewers to support equality and promote tolerance.

After the video went viral -- it got close to 4 million views -- Crone was approached by well-known producer Linda Bloodsworth Thomason about making a documentary.

"The story needed to be told," Crone said.

After a few meetings they launched an online crowd-funding campaign via Kickstarter that raised $385,000, making it the most successful film fundraising campaign to date.

"Pledges came in from all over the world, and the thing I realized after posting on YouTube is that so many have gone through similar experiences or even worse," Crone said.

He said Thomason was surprised by the volume of videotape he had documenting the time he spent with Bridegroom.

"The younger generation films everything," Crone said. "It's kind of ironic; we film things that probably shouldn't even be filmed."

But it gave him and Thomason a treasure trove of material they needed to support the documentary's message.

Thomason and her husband, Harry, are close friends of Clinton, so they sent him a couple of rough cuts as the film materialized.

"He was extremely moved by the film and the story. He requested to introduce it," Crone said. "He was responsible for the Defense of Marriage Act. His views and opinions have evolved, and it was a big step for him to endorse this film and its message."

Crone's family was accepting of his sexual orientation when he came out to them six years ago. They are featured in the documentary.

Crone's parents, Cindy Bitney and David Crone of Kalispell, and his sisters, Jessica Mitchell of Kalispell and Lizzy Mohl of Saltillo, Texas, all attended the premiere.

"The whole thing is surreal," Cindy Bitney said. "It's world-wide, the people he's affected. It's crazy how many people it's touching. It takes a lot to do what he's doing."

Crone graduated from Flathead High School in 2004.

Karen Jacobson, a Laser School instructor who became an inspirational mentor to Crone, also is featured in the film.

"Karen is amazing," Crone said in an interview last year. "She was one of the most supportive people I had in my life. She encouraged me to challenge myself."

Crone moved to Los Angeles after high school to be an actor, but after dabbling in the profession and even acting in a horror film in 2006, he switched to working in social media consulting. Bridegroom, who also acted (he was a host for MTV prior to his death) and worked as a model and musician, was his business partner.

After the rousing success of "Bridegroom" at Tribeca, Crone is getting requests to show the documentary at other film festivals throughout the world. He also has been approached by a distribution company to launch the film for a limited release in selected theaters, perhaps as soon as three months from now.

"I'm working on getting it to Kalispell," he said. "That would be a priority for me, but it depends on how well it does with the limited release."

Crone reached out to Bridegroom's family while making the documentary, but they have continued to decline any contact with Crone.

"The film was not an attempt to revenge or hurt his family," Crone said. "It's telling his story, which is our story. ... I feel like this has become my purpose and has brought meaning to my life."

The emotional healing began with the YouTube video, and Crone has continued to emerge from his grief.

"Working on the film, it's been a healing process and I'm in a much better place than I was a year ago, and a lot of it has to do with the amount of support I've gotten," he said. "I owe it to Tom and every single person who doesn't have the right to fulfill their dreams of getting married to keep pushing for equality."

More information about "Bridegroom" is available online at http://bridegroommovie.com

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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(c)2013 the Daily Inter Lake (Kalispell, Mont.)

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