Tying the Knot – movie review

A look at struggles of real gay couples in the US from the sixties to 2004

dvdcoverTying the Knot is a documentary first premiered in May 2004 at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The documentary was directed by Jim de Sève. His husband Kian Tjong was involved with the production along with a team of four film makers {biographies at the end of the article}. Click here to view the trailer.

Gayday Magazine interviewed Jim and Kian about their brain’s baby – but first here is a summary of the story:


Lois Marrero, police officer, her life was ended in duty while trying to stop a bank robber. Her death ended a love story of 13 years with her wife Mickie. Earl also passed away leaving behind a beloved husband of 22 years.

The story gets worse as Mickie, the surviving spouse, discovers the police department is willing to accept the women’s relationship, but unwilling to release Lois’s pension. Sam, an Oklahoma rancher, faces his deceased husband’s cousins who challenged his will in Court and tried to evict Sam from his home. 

Tying the Knot is an American documentary illustrating through the stories of Mickie and Sam the war between gay people who want to marry and those determined to stop them and deny their basic rights.  It specifically looks at the period 1967 to 2004.

As Mickie and Sam take up battle rounds to defend their lives and rights, Tying the Knot also digs into the meaning of marriage today. The documentary analyses the evolution of marriage from the Middle Ages, to gay hippies storming the Manhattan marriage bureau in 1971 to reveal the rights, privileges and love attached to the now controversial marriage institution. 

Interview with Jim and Kian

Kian Tjong and Jim de SèveQ: What made you decide to make this film?

Kian Tjong:  14 years ago, my boyfriend, who is now my husband, Jim de Sève, wanted us to make a movie about us, our story and explore the meanings of unity and marriage. We applied for a grant and when we got it, it made me feel happy and nervous. Back then, the question of same sex marriage was surfacing and becoming a hot topic in America and so it inspired us to open the movie we were making to other stories and problems bigger than us and that’s how Tying the Knot was born.

Q: What type of challenges you faced while the making this film?

Jim de Sève: The toughest part was coming up with an organic flow to so much material. We didn’t want to make a complete historical compendium but to try to show how history and personal struggles interrelate.  It was a painstaking process to arrive at the final cut. But I’m very happy with the final result. I’m still in awe that we managed to construct a piece that feels solid, captivating and emotional.

Also, Sam’s life fell apart in front of my eyes— it was very emotional and hard to just play the role of documenter. Keeping professional distance is tricky. But for whatever personal involvement I wanted to have I had to keep an eye on the larger picture—helping through this film to end the discrimination.

Kian Tjong: To me making “Tying the Knot” was an emotional journey that forced me to adapt much quicker to life in America. We started working on the movie 3 years after I left Indonesia where I had to hide my sexuality. I found myself living as who I am – an openly gay man in a serious same-sex relationship and making a movie about gay marriage, that was a huge jump to me.

Q: Did you have a particular point of view in your approach to Tying the Knot? How did you maintain an objective stand?

Jim de Sève: My point of view is that this is a civil rights issue. I don’t particularly want to give a voice to bigots or to discrimination. Nobody would suggest making a “balanced and fair” documentary about slavery or women not having the right to vote. It is just a matter of time that people will look back in horror to the days when gay surviving partners could not collect Social Security or pensions, or someone like Sam could be booted off his property.

It would be easy to ridicule the opponents of marriage rights for gays and lesbians. But I worried that people we could reach about the issue might be turned off.  I try to be respectful in representing the opposing side.  I chose some of the most influential figures.  James Dobson is the founder of the largest Christian right-wing group Focus on the Family, with an annual budget of over $100 million.  Millions of Americans listened to his radio talk shows.  He has threatened to withdraw his support from the Republican Party.  Dobson, together with a number of senators and congress members represented in the film, are the leading force behind the push to ban marriage for gays and lesbians.  They are well represented throughout the film.

Q: Notably missing are gay people who do not support marriage?

Jim de Sève:  Neither did I include straight people who don’t want marriage for themselves. People, straight or gay, can always have that choice, even after gay and lesbian couples win the right to marry.  Tying The Knot argues for the right to have a choice to marry the person we love.  The keyword here is choice.  This is not a gay documentary.  I don’t feel the need to represent an opinion simply based on a person’s sexual orientation or identity.

Q: Who is your audience?

Jim de Sève: We’re fortunate that Tying the Knot has elements that appeal to different people. Mickie’s story is about a murder, family betrayal and an emotional courtroom drama, which will appeal to a mass audience. I think many Americans will relate to Sam. He could be your father or uncle. And the daring civil disobedience actions are suspenseful and humorous. The political battles are very mentally energetic. In our current political climate, every American has an opinion on this subject.

Q: What was the most surprising thing to you in making Tying the Knot?

Jim de Sève: I was stunned that the marriage issue would explode right in front of me as I was making this film. It was frantic—being in a state of urgency almost all the time, not knowing what would happen next. By documenting events as they happen, you get an interesting view on the people working to change things. Very different from making a historical documentary.

Q: What were your goals in making Tying the Knot?

Jim de Sève: I want to share my discovery of marriage with my audience. I have been given trust in Mickie’s and Sam’s lives, when they should be grieving, to tell their stories. I want to share my experience knowing these two accidental participants in history. I hope their inspiring stories, despite their heartbreaking losses, will lift us, to be better people, tolerant and loving to others.

Throughout history, through false accusation and campaigns of fear, many lives have been unnecessarily destroyed. I feel that if we’re not careful, we will repeat history. A film can reach out to millions, allowing my experience to transcend to them. I’d like to involve as many people in outreach and education.

Q:  Kian, would you share with me more information about you (early life, education, career) and your personal struggles with sexuality?

Kian Tjong: Sure.  I grew up in Indonesia as the sixth of seven children.  My parents were immigrants from China. 

I found out I was gay at 11 years old.  Some of my classmates started getting crazy about the female anatomy.   I was totally puzzled.  One day I found myself drawn by a stack of playing cards that had male bodybuilders printed on one side.   Then I understood what my friends were feeling.  I started looking for explanations in newspaper, magazines and books.  What I found was devastating:  Homosexuality is a mental illness.   That put me into deep sadness.  It was a terrible way to grow up.

After graduating from college, I started going to an American library in Jakarta.  There I learned about ILGA, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund (now called Lambda Legal) and other organizations fighting for gay rights.  I wrote to them and they sent me reading materials.  I came out to 3 good friends.  Still, I knew no other gay men in Indonesia.  I wanted to move to the West, a place where I could start over.    I had that opportunity when I won a scholarship to attend graduate school in Hawaii.  After that I moved to New York and soon after I met Jim and we’ve lived together ever since.



Director……………………………………………………………………………………………….. Jim de Sève

Producers………………………………………………. Jim de Sève, Stephen D. Pelletier, Kian Tjong

Co-producers……………………………………………….. Joshua Koffman, Justin Tan, Matt Lavine

Editors………………………………………. Jim de Sève, Constance Rodgers, Stephen D. Pelletier

Music………………………………………………………………………………………………… Steve de Sève


Jim de Sève

Working from the frontlines of independent filmmaking Jim de Sève is the chronicler of America’s new culture war—the divisive battle over marriage. His home base is Brooklyn, NY, and he has produced work for Nickelodeon, the American Museum of Natural History and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Jim’s documentary, Burying the Saints, is a personal portrait of his eccentric aunts’ search for lost history. In his PBS short, Sigrid and Rudi Do New York, two Bavarian tourists experience danger and love in New York’s mean, magical streets. Jim was the DP for Seeds, about a revolutionary summer camp for ethnic enemies. Finally, Jim teaches courses in digital filmmaking and directing documentaries at Film Video Arts in New York. Tying the Knot takes “activist filmmaking” back to its roots of affecting lasting change, and the film is an example for independent producers on creating networks of support and reaching out to build community through the filmmaker’s vision for social justice.

Stephen D. Pelletier

Stephen has worn many hats in his career including director, editor, producer and consultant.  He is responsible for the production of more than 800 commercials and has overseen the taping of numerous live concerts and events.  His clients have included The Democratic Party and Clear Channel Orlando.

Constance Rodgers
Constance began her career editing commercials and moved to art films: The Beauty Brothers (dir. Bruce Weber); documentaries: Broken Noses, Let’s Get Lost, Amish: Not To Be Proud; features: Killer Dead, Igor and the Lunatics; and countless industrials: World Financial Center: Winter Garden and trailers: Lair of the White Worm. Constance cuts on flatbeds and digitally. She teaches American and world cinema and guerrilla moviemaking to urban teens.

Kian Tjong

Tying the Knot is Kian’s first film; he views it as the perfect combination of his interests in human rights activism and filmmaking. Kian received his MBA from the University of Hawaii. 

Justin Tan

Justin writes, directs and produces. He recently co-produced Burma: Anatomy of Terror, and he created and co-produced the biannual Huge Issue, a conference where gay and lesbian filmmakers collaborate in a 1-2-3 production mantra: 1 day to shoot and 2 days to edit a 3-minute piece. Justin is also producing Birds Nest Game: The Story Of Bernard Baran.

Joshua Koffman

Joshua has been in production in New York for seven years. His projects include PBS/WNET’s Nuyoricans: Puerto Ricans in New York, the Food Network’s documentary/reality series Top 5, Lifetime’s Intimate Portrait series, HBO Family’s Middle School Diaries, and the History Channel’s History Lost and Found and What Happened After. His latest film is After X, produced by his company Shuttlecock Films. Joshua has a B.A. in Film from Vassar College.

One Response to “Tying the Knot – movie review”
  1. Robert Harridge says:

    Thank you I’m very interested

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