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Prodigal Sons
Shown is the DVD cover of the documentary 'Prodigal Sons' by Kim Reed.

When Paul McKerrow was the star quarterback for the Helena High School Bengals in 1985, he thought throwing the perfect spiral would make him a better man.

Now that McKerrow is Kim Reed, a New York City filmmaker and magazine editor, her perspective on life has changed, although she's still looking to reconnect with the person she left behind.

"Being back in Helena reminded me of how conflicted I used to be about my gender," Reed says in her new film, "Prodigal Sons," which will be screened Friday night at the Plymouth Congregational Church.

"I experienced so much frustration with the body I was born into," she adds. "But I always knew I could rely upon my mind."

The documentary film, shot largely in Helena, revolves around the struggles of a local family and the bond that keeps it together.

At its base, the family consists of three boys, including the oldest, Marc, who suffered a brain injury in a car crash and struggles throughout the film with behavioral issues. The youngest son, Todd, is gay and works as an architect.

The middle child, Paul, was a Helena High School quarterback and voted the most likely to succeed. After school, he attended University of California, Berkeley, and when he returned to Helena, he did so as a transgendered woman looking to reconnect with her past and gain acceptance in the city she grew up in.

"I thought the film was very good," said Joy Bruck, who helped bring the documentary to Helena. "I have known this family since the '70s, and my kids grew up with their kids. But mental illness and sexual identity are things that people really don't understand."

Bruck, along with another Helenan, Jennifer Thompson, traveled to Missoula to attend a documentary film festival being held there. While there they viewed "Prodigal Sons" and thought it would be well received in Helena.

Their instincts were spot on. The film, which has been viewed at festivals around the country, has already sold out.

"On the way back from the festival, we began talking about the film," said Bruck. "Jennifer (Thompson) had this vision of possibly doing a whole event here at the church around the film. The first thing we did was check with Kim (Reed), and she thought it would be a good idea."

Both Bruck and Thompson are members of Plymouth Congregational Church.

Reed, who directed and co-produced the film, was in Iceland Tuesday for a showing. She's expected to be in Helena to discuss her movie and the impetus behind its creation.

Reed will also take questions from the audience regarding the issues raised in the film, including mental illness, sexual orientation, personal identity and family.

"I really think there are lot more people in our society that deal with these things in their own lives, who have friends and family members who have some aspect of what this film depicts," Bruck said. "Doing this event lets them realize it's OK to tell, that it's OK to talk about it, that it's OK to let people know."

The film also touches on the story of the Prodigal Son, a parable of Jesus recounted in the Gospel of Luke. It relates to a man's two sons, one who abandons the family only to return years later, fearing that his father would no longer accept him.

Upon the son's arrival, however, his father accepts him with open arms, throws a feast on his behalf, and slaughters a fatted calf to celebrate his return.

"(My father) had known about my transition for years," Reed says at one point in the film. "It amazed me, how easily he accepted me."

Reed will speak Sunday morning at worship from the perspective of the prodigal returning home. She attended the church with her family as a boy growing up in Helena.

"This is the prodigal's home church," said Thompson. "I liked how that all came together and I was really pleased and surprised that the Humanities of Montana agreed."

Ken Egan, executive director of Humanities Montana, a nonprofit group based in Missoula, called the Helena screening and the breakout sessions to follow an impressive and highly relevant humanities program.

It's not very often, he noted, that a church applies for a grant to tackle the complicated issues of sexual identity, mental illness and family.

"My first reaction was that this was a sophisticated and thoughtful idea," Egan said. "It's a film that analyzes, diagnoses, and reveals complex family dynamics, and it gives the community a chance to think about how we treat one another."

On Saturday, Plymouth Congregational Church will also host a series of discussions, starting at 8:30 a.m. when facilitators meet privately with the Rev. Gary Hawk, who used "Prodigal Sons" in his class on forgiveness and reconciliation at the University of Montana.

At 10 a.m., the facilitators will then lead breakout sessions with the small public groups to discuss mental illness, sexual identity, the power of family and having difficult conversations.

"We're putting ourselves out there to continue to offer counseling and research for people who have questions on family situations that are provocative or difficult, whether it's mental illness or sexual identity, or just family secrets," Thompson said. "How do you talk about it? The church needs to be a resource."

The screening has already sold out, but copies will be available for purchase after the viewing. For more information, call 442-2642.

Reporter Martin Kidston: 447-4086 or mkidston@helenair.com

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