As a child, filmmaker Daniel Karslake spent his summers in Chautauqua, surrounded by storytelling.
“I’ve thought a lot about this in my life — why I have this need to tell stories,” Karslake said. “And I think a lot of it came from Chautauqua.”
His love for storytelling is not just him and his camera. Through his work, Karslake delves into a particularly huge issue that has even affected his life — the conflict between homosexuality and religion.
At 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 2 at the Chautauqua Cinema, Karslake will shed a brighter light on the conflict in his 2019 documentary, “For They Know Not What They Do.” After the film, he will hold a Q-and-A to open lines of conversation about the topic. The film will also screen at 2:30 and 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 3 and 6 p.m. Thursday, June 4 at the Chautauqua Cinema.
In the film, Karslake interviews four religious families and their LGBTQ children. They discuss their experiences, especially after the seemingly huge advances in the LGBTQ Rights movement.
“This movie is a movie about family — that’s it,” Karslake said. “You meet all four sets of parents and you get to know them first, and you watch what their version of loving their kids means.”
This isn’t the first time Karslake has made a film about homosexuality and religion.
In 2007, Karslake dove head first into the conflict between homosexuality and Christianity by interviewing five religious families and their adult LGBTQ children in his documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So.” It follows the families to see whether they can embrace both their religion and their LGBTQ children.
His second film, “For They Know Not What They Do,” came after Karslake received death threats and homophobic emails through the website of his 2015 film. He found that in the same week, there was a Republican presidential debate where candidates discussed LGBTQ rights. He said the Republican Party really “buckled down” on LGBTQ rights in a state by state campaign.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Karslake said. “Eight out of 10 of the candidates were saying very, very anti-LGBTQ things. I’m used to that coming from the fringe but it all of a sudden seemed to me that it became mainstream.”
In “For They Know Not What They Do”, Karslake tackles the topic of religious freedom, which people can use to discriminate because being LGBTQ is against their religion.
“Religious, conservative people aren’t just using the Bible anymore, they’re using the U.S. Constitution,” Karslake said. “They are claiming that it is their religious freedom to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people.”
Karslake said people have been misinformed about what the Bible says about homosexuality in that God doesn’t hate LGBTQ people. He hopes people learn about compassion through this film.
The topic of LGBTQ rights and religion has always been something Karslake wanted to capture through a lens. He worked at PBS for a show called “In the Life,” which was an LGBTQ television magazine. Karslake produced a story about an African American woman who was a Christian and a lesbian. She was an orphan but worked her way to higher education on a full scholarship.
The morning after the story ran, Karslake found an email in his inbox from a 13-year-old boy who decided not to kill himself because he saw hope in the episode Karslake produced.
“I read that email 20 times,” Karslake said. “I finally got that this kid was going to kill himself, had a plan and had settled on it and then he saw this one thing I produced about this one woman who was proudly lesbian and proudly Christian. And it made this kid decide to stay on this Earth.”
That single email continues to motivate Karslake every day. Since then, Karslake knew creating films about religion and sexual orientation is his life’s work.
“I’m about showing stories of Christians who are able to embrace their children and their faith,” Karslake said. “That is something really important to me.”
While the film has been screened at film festivals like Tribeca Film Festival and Montclair Film, he said the Chautauqua audience is not only welcoming, but helps spark conversation about the film’s topics, something that is helpful to an independent filmmaker.
“My movies are heavily what they are because of the Chautauqua audience, so I am excited to screen my film there,” Karslake said.
He hopes the film makes a difference by pushing people toward compassion and love.