PORTLAND — New York filmmakers Joe Fox and James Nubile said the goal of their documentary "Question One" was to show the human side of proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage.
Moreover, the 90-minute look at Maine's 2009 referendum that repealed Maine's short-lived law allowing gay couples to lawfully wed may well color future debates over same-sex marriage.
And that debate could be coming back to Maine.
The production, shown to reporters Monday at Portland's Salt Institute, leans heavily toward its ambivalent, unwilling central character Marc Mutty. Mutty, who took leave from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine to help lead the campaign to overturn the Legislature's 2009 law legalizing same-sex marriage, granted the filmmakers nearly unrestricted access in the "Yes on 1" war room.
The "No on 1" advocates for gay marriage also let the filmmakers inside their campaign. Their story arc shows their hope and ultimate devastation.
Mutty's portrayal is complicated.
Mutty, featured prominently in a production shot over the three months leading up to the election, is interviewed during the campaign and at home. He appears as a reluctant participant in the campaign. He expresses discomfort with the tactics deployed by Schubert Flint, a California public relations firm hired by the National Organization for Marriage.
NOM has opposed state efforts to legalize gay marriage.
Mutty, who said he had to step outside of himself to run the campaign, is shown telling volunteers that their message need not convince people they were right about the issue.
"All we have to do is create doubt," he said.
However, Mutty grows increasingly troubled by Schubert Flint television ads stating that gay marriage will lead to homosexuality being taught in public schools.
"We all use a lot of hyperbole and I think that's always dangerous," Mutty said. "You know, we say things like 'Teachers will be forced to (teach same-sex marriage in schools)! Well, that's not completely accurate and we all know it, you know?"
Mutty also fears the campaign will make him remembered as the "star bigot in Maine."
Mutty's comments have been widely distributed during the run-up to "Question One," which will be shown in some Maine theaters beginning Friday. A trailer released in April and a corresponding column in the Portland Press Herald prompted Mutty to write an op-ed saying many of his comments stemmed from campaign exhaustion.
Trailers show Mutty seemingly bothered by the tactics deployed by "Yes on 1." But the full-length film contains scenes in which he feels upstaged by Frank Schubert, who traveled to Maine to see the operation through.
After Schubert on election night announces the "Yes on 1" victory to a bank of television cameras, the film cuts to Mutty. Standing alone in a room at Portland's Eastland Park Hotel, Mutty complains that the California operative stole the limelight in an effort to "market himself" for the next gay marriage battle.
Scenes from the film have already circulated the Internet. But the production's theatrical release comes as many states, including Maine, are weighing legalizing same-sex marriage.
Marriage equality advocates this summer announced they were launching a signature-gathering campaign to get the issue on the November 2012 ballot.
As those efforts ramp up, "Question One" is sure to garner interest — and scrutiny.
Fox, one of the filmmakers, has since publicly acknowledged that he is gay. He did not disclose his sexuality during the filming.
During a question-and-answer session following Monday's screening, Fox said he was concerned that the "Yes on 1" campaign would discover his sexuality.
However, he said, his concerns centered on the loss of access to the campaign, which he said, had welcomed him into their war room with few questions.
"(Discovering my sexuality) would have changed the dynamic," Fox said. "I was afraid we would lose that access. If we lost that access, we would have lost the film."
Nubile, the other filmmaker, said, "It's not like we pulled a fast one. If we had an agenda, believe me, we could have made a film with an agenda."
Nubile was referring to footage showing more vitriolic opponents of gay marriage that didn't make the final cut. The filmmakers said they axed those scenes because they sought a more nuanced portrayal of the campaign.
"If we had included that footage the film would have been a polemic and easily dismissed," Fox said.
Fox said the goal was to show the humanity of those on both sides of the debate.
The complexity of Mutty's portrayal dominates the film. However, others on the same side of the debate appear less conflicted.
Linda Seavey, of Plymouth, is a lead character in the "Yes on 1" campaign. She is portrayed as a benevolent, religious woman with a fierce belief in her cause.
After the election, Seavey is asked what she would say to the other side.
"I can't say I'm sorry that you lost," she said. "I'm not. I'm very pleased that they lost."
Fox acknowledged that maintaining the role as a journalist was often a "traumatic" experience.
"It was difficult to sit through some of the stuff, extremely difficult," he said.
The film devotes significant time to the "No on 1" campaign, particularly on election night when advocates transformed from celebratory to despondent within the span of a few hours.
The filmmakers shot 260 hours of footage. Fox conducted the interviews, while Nubile ran the camera. On Election Day, the filmmakers brought in crews to cover the campaign headquarters in various parts of the state.
Fox and Nubile said the film was self-funded.
The duo run Fly on the Wall Productions in New York and have produced several documentaries on topics such as the Asian tsunami, children with learning disabilities and restitution for Holocaust victims. Their 2009 film "Passing the Poston" was aired on PBS in 2010.
Fox said he was prompted to do the film after Proposition 8 passed in California. He said Maine offered a rare opportunity to view the inner workings of the campaigns working a gay marriage referendum.
Nubile said the hoped to distribute the film nationally. It's already been screened in six other states, including Minnesota, which is facing a gay marriage referendum next year. The filmmakers are gearing for a national release beginning in 2012.
"This story is bigger than Maine," Nubile said.