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A feature-length documentary on Front Runners, the global LGBT running club — stories of triumph and transformation through community.

Sport has been a straight man’s club since the first official wrestling match. That’s changing as one by one, recognizable athletes come out on the grand stage of professional and Olympic sports.

While these athletes are inspirational, what about the extraordinary transformations and more accessible achievements of everyday LGBT athletes? 

Achievements of everyday LGBT athletes - Cenk Bülbül, New York City Marathon
Achievements of everyday LGBT athletes - Cenk Bülbül, New York City Marathon

This film will spotlight an underexposed creative and cultural phenomenon – LGBT athletes discovering identity, community, family and even careers - within grassroots groups all dedicated to the sport of running.

The Front Runner is a real page turner
The Front Runner is a real page turner

Published 40 years ago, Patricia Nell Warren’s The Front Runner tells the tragic tale of a gay Olympian who struggles for public acceptance of his sexuality. Her work inspired a generation of LGBT runners to bust stereotypes, create social frameworks for belonging, and make their sport a unifying force.

Today there are independent Front Runners groups in cities around the world. This film will focus on the runners themselves and their amazing stories of realization and transformation. They are a microcosm of the massive change going on in our society, as LGBT becomes a subset of the mainstream one step at a time.

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Cheering as an art form: Front Runners at the New York City Marathon
Cheering as an art form: Front Runners at the New York City Marathon

The power of their stories extends beyond the LGBT community. The poignant messages of knowing yourself, acceptance and building community will inspire viewers everywhere – gay and straight alike.

The Project

The possibilities of who to profile in this film are endless. From couch potatoes becoming triathletes, to the relief of finally being “just me,” to changing gender with nothing but love and support. These stories – and dozens more like them – frame a profound journey that has yet to be captured on film and shared on a global scale.

Megan Coryat
Megan Coryat

There’s Megan, who created a new family in Front Runners as she was coming out and breaking away from her biological family. She met her wife, left her job in non-profit fundraising, and started a thriving doggie daycare business in Harlem, New York.

A.J. Stachelek
A.J. Stachelek

There’s AJ, the out-of-shape tomboy who became a triathlete, fell in love with Rachel, decided to undergo gender transformation, and got the support to emerge an extraordinarily happy and married, father-to-be.

Gilbert Gaona
Gilbert Gaona

There’s Gilbert, the Army veteran who left behind “don’t ask, don’t tell,” overcame his fear of not fitting in and “not being fast enough,” and now wears his team singlet whenever he runs.

Meryl Wimberly
Meryl Wimberly

There’s Meryl, who couldn't break away from being “the gay girl” in every arena she achieved in. She created the freedom to be “just Meryl.”

You’ll meet them all, and be touched by others with similarly moving stories, on screen.

The project will take a creative approach to filming their stories: embedded videography. By traveling to 10 cities in the US and abroad and staying with Front Runners for a week in each location, the film will capture the spontaneous, authentic moments that express the richness of personal transformation. 


I’ll also seek to film interviews with people who have contributed to the LGBT equality movement visibly in the arena of sport. For example, author Patricia Nell Warren, George Takei (who met his husband through Front Runners), Greg Louganis, Brian Boitano, and Billie Jean King. 

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Where the money goes

Let's start with where the money won't go - five star accommodations, fancy video equipment, and a large film crew. We will rely on the generosity of a few to open their doors to host in the selected cities. All filming will be done with a crew of one; sometimes two. 

I won't be running from city to city on foot, so we'll need to pay for on transportation expenses, which accounts for a large portion of the production budget. If we are able to exceed the goal of $60,000, we will be able to add destinations - or consider far reaching locales!  In addition to a portion going towards Kickstarter and Amazon fees, a large amount will go towards fulfilling the rewards: photo prints and and photo books, T-shirts, and DVDs. Additionally, there will be personally autographed books from Patricia Nell Warren and Robert Lennon available to enrich your context of this project. These books will be issued a small reprinting for this project and will be mailed by the end of 2014 before the release of the film in June 2015.

Other expenses include purchasing hard drives to store and back up footage, insurance, legal fees and music licenses. On that note, we're excited to have composer Andy Monroe on board. Andy will score and put together the soundtrack for the film. 

Belong to Something Amazing

We expect the film to be completed by June 1, 2015 - to kick off Pride Month next year. Every Kickstarter backer's name will be in the credits, because you've helped produce this film!

Front Runners at the New York Pride Parade/March in 2012
Front Runners at the New York Pride Parade/March in 2012

Participation levels start at $10 for basic supporters and range to $10,000 for producers. Whatever level you’re able to participate, you are part of the team and will receive regular updates on progress and full credit in the film.

All together: Racing hand in hand through New York's Riverside Park
All together: Racing hand in hand through New York's Riverside Park

“If not for Front Runners, I don’t know what would have happened.” - Dave Pitches

What it means to be LGBT has changed markedly since the first Front Runners club formed in San Francisco in 1974. State by state, legislatures are moving toward marriage equality in America. Similarly, the stigma and related persecution of homosexuality is lessening in countries from Ireland to Australia.

Marty McElhiney runs like a force to be reckoned with
Marty McElhiney runs like a force to be reckoned with

It’s easy to think that the challenges of being LGBT are over. Not so. As the furor around the Winter Olympics in Sochi demonstrates, depending on where you are, coming out remains an individual, family, and/or social struggle. Many in the Front Runners community are literally running for their lives.

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2014 is the 40th anniversary of the publishing of The Front Runner. The LGBT runners who began forming groups at that time are getting worn in the laces. Now is the time to get them on film before they hang up their shoes.

#brightpinkshorts - running fashion has come a long way since 1974!
#brightpinkshorts - running fashion has come a long way since 1974!
Ladies of Front Runners then
Ladies of Front Runners then
Ladies of Front Runners New York now
Ladies of Front Runners New York now

Out for the Run

Being a gay athlete means something special. For most Front Runners, it’s still about pioneering: coming out, standing out, speaking out, looking out for others - and being out - for the run. In the spirit of belonging, everyone is welcome in this Kickstarter project. Participation levels start at $10 for basic supporters and range to $10,000 for producers. Whatever level you’re able to participate, you are part of the team with regular updates on progress and full credit in the film.

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Dave Lin and the filmmaker at Awards Night 2013 - a rare sight of Da running a race (photo by Ben Ko).
Dave Lin and the filmmaker at Awards Night 2013 - a rare sight of Da running a race (photo by Ben Ko).

Who's this Da Ping Luo guy?

I was born in Canton, China, and I grew up in New York City. A musician by training, I started my career in arts administration - with stints at Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, and Park Avenue Armory. After joining Front Runners New York in 2009, I started photographing races in Central Park and running-related events. In 2013, with the support of my family and friends - I transitioned into photography full time. I'm passionate about meeting new people and learning about their stories, and documenting them. I get along with people easily and pretty much unobtrusive by nature, so I’m able to capture moments of authentic emotion on camera. 

On a personal note, I met my fiancé, Fred Pfaff, in Front Runners in 2010, and we will be married in New York City this June!

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Thank you so much!

I'm so excited to tell this story! It's already been inspiring to hear how many of you are excited to see the film.  If you have a Front Runner story to share, please e-mail me at dapingluo@gmail.com. Thank you so much for your support!

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Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

This documentary is a major undertaking - with filming planned for multiple locations and individuals throughout the world with the crew of one. A major risk and challenge will come down to editing the film, and winnowing down so many stories, thousands of hours of footage, and form a thread that connects them all, without getting off the beaten track, all condensed to a 75 minute film to be delivered by June 2015.

As Jonathan said in the video above - Front Runners has also given me a lot of courage to attempt things that I wouldn't have normally otherwise. One of the things I've learned recently is that I shouldn't be afraid to ask for help. I'm fortunate to have built a network of talented friends whom I can rely on for expertise that will help me see the film to the proverbial finish line.

FAQ

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