The following interview is with Max, one of the key figures of Southern Comfort.
Robert Eads, the central figure of Southern Comfort, lived in the small town of Toaccoa, a dot on the Georgia map. Robert and Max were born female but live their lives as males. They privately cross gender lines. In this environment of Georgia farmlands, Robert took his friend Max into his home and treated him as his son. Max spoke with us on April 8, 2001 about his experience with Southern Comfort.
Tara Veneruso: How did you feel about the crew coming into your private life to shoot the film?
Max: Robert and I talked about it a lot before filming started. We went back and forth deciding why we should be in the film. We discussed our hopes and the possible good it could do for others before we agreed to be in it. A lot of these discussions took place before Kate ever brought a camera. I think if she had brought a crew with her we would have all said no to filming.
We understood from the beginning that Kate would only be shooting with one other crew member. We were not going to allow an entire film crew into our lives. As we began to trust Kate, we allowed her deep into our personal lives. In the end, I think it made the film far more intimate.
The opening scene in the movie was our first taste of being on camera with Kate and Elizabeth Adams (co-producer, camera) shooting. We watched that footage before going any farther. If any of the footage made us uncomfortable we would have stopped making the movie right away. It was really a test to see what filming would really be like.
TV: What were the pros and cons you discussed with Robert to determine if you wanted to make the movie?
Max: We were concerned with feeling invaded. Robert was very concerned about having Kate film him
when his disease progressed into sickness and pain. I can remember many times when he would say,
"I really don't want her to film me in pain. I don't want to be seen and be pitied."
I told Robert that to get people to really understand what is happening to you there must be a hook.
"The hook is that you are dying and there is this prejudice where the medical community won't treat you.
If you want people to really care about you, you're going to have to let them see you hurt." I think that was his biggest problem because he just didn't want to show that. I felt Robert would have to show this pain and agony to have people become affected and for the story to resonate.
T: How does the transsexual community feel about the film being released?
M: They are excited because it shows us very positively. We are looking forward to the public realizing that there is a whole trans community who are just regular folks.
Recently, I've read many reviews of the film. One critic seemed disappointed that the cast seemed so ordinary. I wrote him back and said, "That's the point. We are ordinary. We live ordinary lives just like everybody else. We shouldn't be sensationalized because we are not freaks. We are regular people who get up, go to work, and come home just like everybody else."
I think the community is behind the film because the message says we are like everyone else. We don't have crazy parties and orgies like you may imagine from watching television. If people see this film and see how regular we are, maybe it will be safer for us to walk down the street.
T: In the film you travel to the Southern Comfort trans community conference, which is the annual event from which the film gets its title. What was your first experience at the conference?
M: The first time I went was ten years ago. It was a little overwhelming. It is like meeting strangers and feeling you are not strangers. It's as if you have known each other your whole lives, because we all share the same story and walk the same road. There is a lot of freedom in not having to hide and being able to be your self.
T: How do you think that this film will help make a difference?
M: People are opening their eyes and seeing we are regular people. I think that the gender issue takes second place in the film. Every once in a while it is mentioned during dialogues about surgeries or scenes with Lola without her hair. The issue is that we are regular people who are dealing with a loss and death in the movie. It is no longer important that it is about a guy that was born a woman. The film's power is that you find yourself feeling for him and forget about the gender issues.
T: Are there things that you would like to say to people after they watch the film?
M: People come up to us after the Q&A and say, "It took a lot of courage and we really appreciate you opening up." I want to say, "Please don't forget that feeling when you are at work tomorrow with your co-workers and somebody cracks a joke about transsexuals. Remember this feeling you have right now as you walk out the doors of the theater. Don't be ashamed to say you met a trans and they were cool and just like everybody else. Tell them you had a good conversation with a trans and they were really nice instead of laughing at the joke.
T: How did you find the courage to let someone into your life and have a camera on you? I think that part alone takes a lot of courage.
M: I think the real courage is coming now that the film is being shown. There is the possibility that someone will see it and won't change their mind. They are the ones who live next door to us. This is a real fear and a real threat and we knew that making the film.
I remember saying to Kate during shooting, "We trust you, and in a way you have our lives in your hands". There is a truth in that and I think that is the real courage. But we have survived all these years and it takes some inner strength to transition in the first place and we are all friends. We have a good support group in each other and whatever happens we are going to weather the storm. I hope that it is not a rocky road, but we will see.