Honora Talbott’s surprisingly moving documentary short Vote Neil was due to have its New York premiere at this month’s Tribeca Film Festival. It is an up close and personal portrait of two US Marine vets, Neil Rafferty who is running for a seat in Alabama’s House of Representatives and his fiancé (now husband) Michael Rudulph, who’s working as his campaign manager.
The year is 2018 and should Rafferty win his seat in Birmingham he will become the first openly gay male elected to the Alabama State Legislature. He’ll succeed Patricia Todd who was herself the first openly LGBTQ elected official in Alabama. This leads to some homophobic anti-Rafferty’s flyers sounding the alarm bells that the seat will always be held by someone gay if he’s elected. Details like this give us a good insight into the final stretch of the campaign, and the challenges of being both a public figure and an out LGBTQ person in a conservative state, even running as a Democrat. The film gives us an intimate look at the lives of these men both out in public and at home. Their candid interviews reveal a couple deeply in love that have survived having to keep their relationship secret in the Marines, only to risk stepping back towards the closet once again for politics.
The filmmaker must have built up a lot of trust with her subjects as the interviews, particularly those with Michael are emotional and raw. The men lost a fellow Marine to suicide leading to Rafferty’s commitment to mental health issues and it’s touching to hear them talk about losing their friend. Ultimately, Vote Neil is a hopeful and romantic film that’s well worth seeking out.
By James Kleinmann