Out of the Past

Director: Jeff Dupre
Screenwriters: Michelle Ferrari

Institute History

  • 1998 Sundance Film Festival


Out of the Past explores the complicated influence of American history on the gay and lesbian community today. The film centers on the experience of seventeen-year-old Kelli Peterson, who attempted to form a Gay-Straight Alliance at her Salt Lake City high school last year. Her efforts were suppressed by her community and, ultimately, the Utah State Legislature, which went so far as to pass a law banning all extracurricular clubs in order to prevent the Gay-Straight Alliance from convening. The film explores the historical marginalization of gays and lesbians through Peterson’s eyes as she comes to terms with herself and her place in the world.

In conversations with her parents and friends, Peterson discusses the isolation she experiences, her decision to come out, and her fight for equality. Peterson’s struggle frames portraits of several gay and lesbian historical figures who have been obscured by mainstream accounts. Actors (including Gwyneth Paltrow and Edward Norton) voice the writings of Puritan cleric Michael Wigglesworth, nineteenth-century novelist Sarah Orne Jewett, gay-rights leader Henry Gerber, and African-American civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. Commentary by contemporary figures like George Chauncey, Lillian Faderman, and Reverend Peter Gomes rounds out this richly layered exploration of the evolution of the gay and lesbian community.

At its core, Out of the Past is a dialogue about the nature of history itself. The film argues powerfully for the inclusion of all minority groups in American history, while it reminds us of the painful alienation gay and lesbian teens experience across the nation.

Jeff Dupre, Director
Jeff Dupre was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1969. He graduated from Vassar College in 1992 with a degree in philosophy. After college, he was awarded a grant to study at the Munich School for Television and Film. From 1994 to 1996, he worked as a production coordinator on Ken Burns’s The West, a PBS documentary film series directed by Stephen Ives. Out of the Past is his first film.

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards


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