When Gail Freedman came to Cleveland three years ago to film scenes at the Gay Games for her documentary movie Hot to Trot, which provides a look at the "fascinating but little-known" world of same-sex competitive ballroom dance, she wasn't sure what to expect.
"I knew the Gay Games would be a hoot, but you never know," she says via phone. She'll host a local screening of the film at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 11, at the Cedar Lee Theatre. "The dancers didn't know if there would be protests or homophobia. It felt like the city rolled out the red carpet for them. People were so welcoming, and the atmosphere was extraordinary. I hadn't been there in a long time. I was impressed by how great the city looked and surprised that there was so much of a vibrant arts scene."
When she began the film in 2012, she says she had a "more conventional notion in mind," in the sense that she thought she would shoot at the Gay Games and that would be the end of the film. But after chronicling the preparation that various dancers went through leading up to the Gay Games and then capturing their performances at the event, she felt like the movie wasn't done.
"I then knew we had to keep shooting and bring the lives full circle," she says. "I knew when I left Cleveland, that it was going to be the climax. And it is. It also opens the movie."
The film provides a truly compassionate portrayal of its subjects. Many of the dancers speak about what it was like to come out to their parents and friends, and others talk openly about other personal issues.
"I'm grateful that [the dancers] opened themselves to me and shared vulnerable parts of themselves to me," says Freeman. "They trusted that I was going to portray them and not candy-coat it but portray them with integrity. I'm not part of their community. They didn't know me before. They obviously got to know me and got to trust me. I know it sounds self-serving, but I think one of my assets is my authenticity, and I guess that came across to them."
In the wake of completing the film, Freedman says she thinks of the dancers as family. And she hopes the film shows how dance represents something deeply meaningful to her subjects.
"They really did become more than interview subjects; they became friends," says Freedman. "We have indeed been all over the world together. There really is this human connection, and that doesn't happen on every documentary."