Prodigal Sons, a story about identity and reconciliation, is also a documentary that goes a long way towards proving the maxim that truth can be stranger than fiction.
Filmmaker Kimberly Reed had been estranged from her adopted brother Marc McKerrow until they came together at their high school reunion. In Prodigal Sons, we learn that McKerrow suffered brain injuries from a car accident in his twenties and loves reminiscing about his pre-injury past, a time that the transgendered Reed wants to forget: when she was Paul McKerrow, the captain of the high school football team. As Reed continues to work on her relationship with her brother, the film turns its focus to McKerrow’s birth parents, as he finds out he is the grandson of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth.
Reed says that she is stunned by the wide audience that has managed to see Prodigal Sons during its two years on the festival circuit and select city screenings, no doubt buoyed by an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. ‘You never expect to be on Oprah and have that wide of a reach, especially with a story that is so personal and intimate,’ she says.
Prodigal Sons got the Oprah showcase after Reed and Big Sky Films Productions mounted a campaign to get the doc in the hands of Harpo Productions. ‘The producers there are really interested in non-fiction stories and we got word that they were tracking our film,’ Reed says. By the fourth attempt at getting DVDs into the right hands, Reed was able to land a coveted spot on the show. ‘The whole thing is pretty surreal when you’re sitting in the green room of Oprah’s show, realizing you’re about to go on stage,’ she says.
In the film Reed effectively presents the sensitive issues surrounding Reed’s gender transformation and McKerrow’s mental illness. For her efforts, the Florida Film Festival awarded Prodigal Sons the special jury-selected Fearless Filmmaking Award, while the Nashville Film Festival gave them the special jury prize of Bravery in Storytelling.
With the release of the DVD through First Run Features, Reed believes there’s plenty of room for outreach and partnering. She says that beyond general audiences, those most enthusiastic about the DVD release seem to be therapists and counselors who will use it for educational purposes. ‘Our film shows not just ‘this issue’ or ‘that issue;’ it shows a whole family terrarium, in which these issues are growing and being dealt with.’
As for McKerrow, whose mental health had deteriorated by the doc’s end, Reed says he was proud of the film and okay with having the full extent of his condition depicted.
‘Marc slipped a lot after what you see in the film and he wasn’t able to travel on the festival circuit much but in an effort to keep this film ‘our film’ … I would call him during the screenings as much as I could. It’s very important to have his story told,’ says Reed.
Sadly, McKerrow passed away in June, of complications from a nocturnal seizure. Reed emotionally recalls that during the making of the film, she had a conversation with one of the producers about how the doc was a love letter to her brother. ‘I thought this would be a tribute to Marc, but I didn’t think it would be a posthumous tribute to him for another 50 years,’ she says.