Golf Alpha Yankee: a Story of Iran’s Gay Refugees
In Iran, even people who don’t speak English understand the powerful stigma associated with the word “gay.” When documentary maker Rick Flynn talked with gay refugees who had fled the country, he found that they felt the need to speak in code, creating the phrase “Golf Alpha Yankee” to refer to their sexual orientation. The need for such secrecy speaks to the gravity of the situation, showing how far refugees go to keep their sexuality under wraps just to protect their livelihood. Golf Alpha Yankee is Flynn’s forthcoming docudrama that follows these refugees through their past and present, telling the stories of their struggles as oppressed people.
First, what is this film about?
Golf Alpha Yankee is a documentary film exposing the struggles of LGBT people from Iran against the inhumane atrocities the government afflicts upon people who love other people of the same gender. The film meets these people in Turkey on their escape route from Iran who are trying to become refugees because they are gay.
How did you get put onto this topic?
That’s a question I love answering because it’s really personal for me. When I was a teenager and I was struggling with my own coming out, I remember I saw an article about two boys in Iran being hanged for being gay. I remember thinking that I had all this pressure—thinking that my family would disown me, that my friends would hate me—and then I saw those kids in Iran dealing with something that was actually a big deal: getting killed, legally, because of who they are. That burned an image into my mind and made me realize something needed to be done.
How many refugees were you able to find to participate?
In total there were 13 or 14 people who I worked with in some capacity and who were captured on film, but there are two main protagonists who I became very close with. We’re still very good friends, and those are the people I really followed all the time. I had doubts about whether or not I would be able to find people willing to participate. I was pretty sure I would be able to find gay people from Iran and Turkey, but going from that step to ‘let me record you and learn your entire life story,’ I was worried about that.
Can you explain the approach you took as director?
From the creative side I knew it would be challenging because people would not want their faces to be shown. I didn’t even want to record people’s faces or eyes, out of a worry that what if the footage fell into the wrong hands or something. I didn’t want to just bar people’s eyes out, so there are shots where we just see people’s mouths, or shots through glasses on the table.
There were also elements of the stories that these guys were telling that I wanted to capture in a more dramatic way, and so at some point I said to them why don’t we talk about what happened to you and why don’t you write some scripts? And a few of them did, and we wound up with these wonderful, and horrible, scripts about things that happened to people in Iran. When I went back to Berlin I worked with German actors and actually filmed reenactments of things that happened in Iran there in Berlin.
Working without faces, working with scripts that subjects wrote themselves, bringing in actors to play the fiction parts that were actually reality, all of that was the perfect recipe for a marriage between reality and fiction, which is a space I have always aspired to work from.
The actors you’re using are not Iranian, correct?
No, and that was another choice. There were two decisions that went into who we used. The first was, I didn’t want to endanger anyone. If I put an Iranian actor in the film and they want to go back to Iran someday—who knows. The second factor was that I wanted to emphasize the fact that this danger exists. I could have used someone who looks Iranian but isn’t, but we did the complete opposite and used European actors. I wanted to emphasize the fact that it would be dangerous to use Iranian actors. I know that I’m going to get some backlash and not everyone will understand that decision, but the choice was not superficial. The laws in Iran make it such that it could be dangerous for someone from Iran to be involved in this.
What were some obstacles you encountered while filming?
Technically speaking I was filming alone, so that was a challenge to capture the moments in a way that I was satisfied with artistically, and also getting good audio and everything as a one man crew on my first documentary ever. As far as other obstacles go there was a trust issue. It just took time for people to trust me.
And you know, it was not easy listening to these stories. That took a personal toll on me that was much deeper than I had planned for. Day after day hearing these horror stories about people having their lives ripped out from under them, very successful people in Iran having to leave their families. Very sad.
What’s your next step in production?
At this point we have a Kickstarter that’s open, and we have to raise $30,000 to pay for the film. This is for the stuff like editing, color correction, audio mixing, and titles. It’s also for the cost of submitting it to festivals around the world so we can get it out there. Just finishing the film, believe it or not, isn’t enough, we actually have to get it out there on our own as well so that people hear about it. I would say by beginning of next year we’ll have something ready to present, so that put it’s on a festival run winter-spring-summer next year.