An Emerson alumna who was close friends with Matthew Shepard—the gay man brutally murdered in Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998 due to his sexual orientation, which sparked nationwide hate crime legislation—is releasing a documentary, Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine, on Friday, February 13, in Los Angeles.
Michele Josue ’01, the director, spent a semester in Emerson’s Los Angeles Program and screen tested her film with Emerson students two years ago.
Emerson Los Angeles student Ady Pié ’15 currently interns for Josue’s production company, Education Pictures.
“My time at Emerson and then later interning in Hollywood, though difficult, only strengthened my resolve to be a professional filmmaker,” said Josue.
Josue’s documentary plays at Laemmle NoHo 7 Theater February 13–19 and in select cities across the United States.
Where did you grow up and how did you know Matt Shepard?
I am from Burtonsville, Maryland, but I attended middle school and high school abroad at The American School in Switzerland, an international boarding school. That's where Matt and I met. Matt was two grades ahead of me, so we actually didn’t have any classes together. But we both loved the theater and acted in a lot of school plays. He played my brother once, then in another play he was cast as my father. That’s how we really became good friends. When you’re in a production, you spend a lot of time together rehearsing and performing.
Michelle Josue '01 and the late Matthew Shepard were childhood friends. (Courtesy Photo)
What was your relationship with him like?
Everyone loved Matt. He was so full of life and so curious about the world. He loved to travel and to learn about other cultures and languages. He also had an amazing and slightly mischievous sense of humor and would make me laugh so hard. We would play little pranks on each other all the time. Beyond that, he was just a very sensitive kid and really cared about other people and his friends. I learned a lot about what it is to be a good friend from Matt and how kind he was to those around him.
Why did you decide to make Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine?
This film was something that had been burning inside of me for quite some time. When Matt died, I was a sophomore at Emerson. His death and the way he died devastated me and marked me deeply. Ever since that moment, I felt an obligation as Matt’s friend and as a filmmaker to share his story in a sensitive, honest, and human way. I felt it was my duty to help reclaim a small part of him and allow the world to see Matt not just as victim, but also as a human being with flaws and joys and struggles, just like all of us. But it was only in recent years that I finally had enough courage to give this project expression.
The Wyoming fence where Matthew Shepard was found beaten nearly to death in 1998. (Courtesy Photo)
Did you experience any challenges during the filmmaking process?
There were and are many challenges in making such an intensely personal project like this. Professionally, the challenges were no different than what many independent documentaries face—grueling shoots; lots of travel; not enough resources, crew, or time. However, the true difficulty for me was grappling with the intense, difficult emotions of confronting Matt’s story in a way that I had never done before.
From a personal standpoint, it was and is incredibly hard revisiting what happened to Matt and remembering it so vividly. Even now, in the course of watching the film, it’s difficult to see Matt, hear his voice, and then lose him all over again.
Did anything surprise you while filming?
I think a part of me wanted to make this film to try and attain some sort of closure. But in making the film, I realized that finding closure wasn’t important or even remotely what I wanted. On the contrary, through the film, I’ve been able to reconnect to and remember Matt and my friendship with him. I had lost that somewhat over time. So for that, I’m very grateful.