An intimate perspective on a public atrocity, Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine is first-time director Michele Josue's account of her youthful friendship with Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old gay university student whose brutal 1998 torture and murder in Wyoming became a turning point in raising awareness of hate crimes against the LGBT community.
Josue befriended Shepard when they were both outsiders and eager theatre geeks at a Swiss boarding school while Shepard's parents were working in Saudi Arabia. Through her voice over and intimate interviews with Shepard's parents, a guidance teacher and friends, we see Shepard as a gregarious, politically minded but vulnerable young man. At 5 foot 2 and never more than 110 pounds, he had experienced devastating violence before his murder when, at the age of 16 on a school trip to Morocco, he was robbed and sexually assaulted by a gang of men.
Josue's film is not consistently effective in bridging her personal story with Shepard's well-known legacy, but there are striking moments that explore the limits of forgiveness. Particularly forceful is an interview with a Catholic priest who had counselled one of the killers, who bluntly questions Josue's idea of "healing," and whether there's ever a right time for anger to end.