Berkeley Filmmaker Satirizes Lesbian Parenthood

Friday June 20, 2003

Sometimes it takes more than a village to raise a child. Sometimes, it takes the Village People. 

That’s the gag at the heart of “Teaching Teo,” a new 15-minute “mockumentary” by first-time Berkeley filmmaker Diane Dodge about raising a baby in the Bay Area’s gay community. 

“We’re just kind of laughing at ourselves,” said Dodge, 43, a San Diego native who has lived in the East Bay for years. 

The short, which premieres Sunday afternoon at the 27th Annual San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, begins with Teo, the real life infant son of a Berkeley lesbian couple, sitting in the laps of his astrology-conscious parents. 

“He’s a special being,” says one of his mothers. “He’s a pale pink being.” 

“I think more rose, actually, than pale pink,” his co-mom says, sparking a testy tit-for-tat on the child’s true “aura.” 

Soon, the gurgling baby is off to absorb the wisdom of his parents’ friends—a style and etiquette coach, a beauty sleep expert, a cross-dresser and a group of civil disobedience specialists. 

If approached by police at a protest, Teo is told, he can either get arrested or “go limp.” 

“Which is good to do this one time,” says a leather-bound Carlos Morales, in a cheeky sexual reference. 

Morales, a friend of Dodge’s, traveled north from San Diego in February to take part in the filming. Almost all the other actors and actresses in the film are Berkeley friends and, according to Dodge, simply play exaggerated versions of themselves.  

Teo’s parents actually do have a psychic, Dodge said. The sleep consultant in the film is, in fact, a sleep consultant. And San Francisco resident Franco Beneduce, the style and etiquette coach who teaches Teo about salad forks and fabrics, is on track to be “the gay Oprah.” 

“We just magnified everything 5,000 percent,” said Dodge, of the largely improvised film. “We kind of did everything over the top.” 

Dodge is one of five Berkeley filmmakers with work in the festival, which began June 12 and concludes June 29. Two of the films have already shown, but Ann Meredith’s short, “Strap ‘Em Down: The World of Drag Kings,” plays Saturday at 1 p.m. at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre. Berkeleyan Nancy Kates is the co-director of “Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin,” a documentary on a gay civil rights leader that will show at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco Monday at 6:30 p.m. 

Dodge, who taught English as a Second Language at Berkeley’s Willard Middle School for eight years and served as Associate Executive Director of the Berkeley YMCA for three, is a novice filmmaker. She shot “Teaching in Teo,” with the help of some more experienced friends, after just a weekend of training at San Francisco’s Bay Area Video Coalition in January. 

“At the beginning it was stressful because I was pushing myself to learn fast,” she said. “But then it was fun.” 

Dodge said she came upon the idea for the film, shot on digital video, when her circle of friends began chipping in to care for Teo. She made the short “just wanting to demonstrate this model that happens a lot in other countries and probably should happen more in the straight community here -—a village raising a child,” she said. 

The premier of “Teaching Teo,” which will screen at the Castro Theatre Sunday at noon as part of a series of shorts on gay and lesbian parenthood called “Mamas and Papas.” Tickets are $6. 

Teo, who turns one on Saturday, will be at the screening—but only after receiving another lesson in style from his “village.” The baby, according to Dodge, will roll up to the theatre in a long limousine, sporting a t-shirt tuxedo.