Cynthia Preston

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The Event


Original Release Date: 2002


Set in Manhattan’s fashionable Chelsea district, among the neighborhood’s large and varied gay population, THE EVENT is an intricately structured inquiry into one man’s death that becomes a celebration of his life. Directed by Thom Fitzgerald, who earned worldwide acclaim for his haunting debut feature, THE HANGING GARDEN, THE EVENT confirms his status as a filmmaker of rare sensitivity, elegance, and heart. At once utterly contemporary, yet completely timeless in its concerns, the film boasts a large ensemble cast headed by such award-winning actors as Parker Posey, Olympia Dukakis, Sarah Polley, Don McKellar, Jane Leeves and Brent Carver, all of whom contribute enormously to the film’s towering emotional power. THE EVENT is a bittersweet drama of love, loss, and the amazing capacity we have to prevail in the face of tragedy. Fitzgerald co-wrote THE EVENT with Steven Hillyer and Tim Marback, and produced the film with Bryan Hofbauer.


THE EVENT starts as Assistant District Attorney NICOLE “NICK” DEVIVO (Parker Posey) launches an investigation into the death of MATT SHAPIRO (Don McKellar), a young man whose apparent suicide bears striking similarities to a number of other recent cases. The speed with which Matt’s body was cremated, and the conspiratorial silence that enshrouds his friends and family, are more than enough to prompt Nick’s suspicions. Though she has recently lost her own father to a lingering and painful illness, she believes that assisted suicide is wrong. It is also against the law, and she is obliged to ferret out the facts. Her interviews with Matt’s loved ones trigger a series of flashbacks that bring Matt back to life for them--and for us.


From Matt’s best friend BRIAN (Brent Carver) we get an overview of Matt’s struggle with HIV. When Matt first learns he is sick, Brian, who runs an AIDS hospice, is especially helpful and the two form a very close bond. For the most part, life for these men and their wide circle of friends, both gay and straight, remains “normal.” Then, the various drug treatments Matt experiments with stop working, and the quality of his life is severely lessened. The question is whether Brian did anything about it. From Matt’s family, many other pieces of the puzzle are provided. His mother, LILA (Olympia Dukakis), is the typical middle-class Jewish nurturer, unsurprised when her son comes out, but devastated when she learns that her “boy” is sick. Younger sister, DANA (Sarah Polley), like her mother, is heartbroken when she learns of Matt’s illness, but is completely supportive: what Matt wants is all that matters. Only older sister GABY (Joanna P. Adler), a divorcée with two young children, breaks rank with her family’s acceptance and resignation. It is she who confirms to Nick that some aspects of Matt’s death took place without her knowledge or blessing.


The chief revelation is that, as Matt’s condition became untenable, he and his loved ones organized a special, by-invitation-only event—a goodbye party at which Matt would say“ goodbye” forever. What Nick needs to know is whether Matt’s final “performance” was a solo, or whether he had back-up. In ensuing interviews with friends, she learns that RORY (Rejean J. Cournoyer), a colorful drag queen who hosts a gay cable access show, videotaped the “event.” Through a ruse Nick obtains a copy of his tape.


Given the peculiarity of the occasion, the big surprise is that the “event” seems to have been a fabulous party. Preserved forever on tape, everyone seems to be having a blast, including Matt, who has never been more alive. Glasses are raised in toast, disco music blares, drunken though heartfelt declarations are made, secrets are revealed. But the exact circumstances of Matt’s death—how, when, and with whom he actually died—took place off-camera and remain a mystery.


Rounding up all the interviewees, Nick conducts one final interrogation at the local precinct. By now, her conflicted feelings about her father’s painfully similar death have gotten the better of her and she is ready to hear the truth. What unfolds is not a scenario she – or we – would have guessed, but it is supremely fitting. Nick closes the case knowing that how Matt died is irrelevant. All that matters is how he lived, how he loved, and how he was loved.