By Emmy Liederman
On Oct. 12, 1998, Matthew Shepard, an openly-gay college student from Laramie, WY, was abducted, tied to a fence and left to die. The story of Shepard’s murder has been told through countless news reports and was the subject of the play The Laramie Project. But the 2013 documentary Matthew Shepard is a Friend of Mine refuses to neglect the story of his life beyond his death. Throughout the documentary, Executive Producer and WHS 1978 alumna Arleen McGlade helps the viewers get to know Matt as a person.
When McGlade found out about the production of the film, she knew she wanted to help and contacted director Michele Josue, a high school friend of Shepard’s. Prior to getting involved, McGlade produced Madeline on the Park Bench in 2009 and Maria my Love in 2011. “Since this was one of the most notorious hate crimes in the country, I was extremely passionate about making sure this documentary could be seen by as many people as possible and decided to personally invest in the film as well,” McGlade said.
McGlade returned to Westfield for the 2014 WHS production of The Laramie Project, a play that documents Shepard’s murder through a variety of interviews, and was amazed. The play and her film go hand-in-hand in telling Shepard’s story. “Matthew Shepard is a Friend of Mine is an in-depth exposé of Matt’s life,” said McGlade. “Over the years, he became a gay icon, and Michele wanted to expose him as a person. The Laramie Project touches on that story but exposes all the people involved in a different way.”
In 2016, Matthew Shepard is a Friend of Mine won a daytime Emmy award, but its influence is greater than any award could recognize. “More people understand that Matt could have been their brother, their friend and their son,” McGlade said. “Everyone we’ve talked to claimed that they have been impacted greatly by the film.”
McGlade will continue her work as a documentarian. She is currently working on Dear Walmart, an expository documentary about the treatment of the company’s employees. “Documentaries are really what I like best,” she said. “I love capturing reality and telling stories in a way that is real for people. It is such a powerful tool.”
For aspiring WHS filmmakers, McGlade suggests taking advantage of every opportunity. “The industry is evolving all the time,” she said. “It is important to involve yourself in many opportunities but also have a thick skin. Not everyone is going to be the director or writer or producer, but people should explore all pieces of filmmaking, as there really is room for everyone.”