On November 16th, the Bruka Theater will host the Reno film premier of “Matt Shepard Is A Friend of Mine.” Produced and directed by friends of Matthew Shepard, the documentary focuses on Matt as a person, rather than the tragic hate crime that took his life 15 years ago.
One of Matt’s closest friends and a co-producer of the film, Zeina Barkawi, is a Reno resident and HOPES board member. HOPES had the opportunity to interview Zeina and learn more about Matt and his connection to Reno.
NNH: How did you know Matt?
ZB: We went to boarding school together in Switzerland when we were juniors and seniors in high school. Our parents worked for the same company overseas, and we became really close. It was a small school and we would also see each other outside of school when we visited our parents. Our birthdays were two days apart, so we had this tradition of celebrating together at school and then again during Christmas with our families.
People know the name “Matthew Shepard” but they don’t know who Matt really was. What can you tell us about him?
That’s a big reason why we did this film. A lot of people know his name or his face, but don’t really know who he was. They just know his story, and now that it’s been 15 years, people know even less about who he was and what happened to him. If you’re 20 years old today, you were 5 when this happened.
Matt was 21 when he died. He was a really, really good friend. He was adventurous and open-minded and was always interested in other cultures. He went everywhere – to Japan and the Middle East; he traveled a lot. He was goofy, quirky, and fun. He was very small, but his personality was so big. When he laughed, he would laugh with his whole body, and he was very lively.
How did you become involved in the documentary?
The director, Michele Josue, approached me about 3 – 4 years ago. She’s a friend who went to high school with us and ended up studying filmmaking and said, “let’s tell our story and share more about who Matt really was.” The timing felt right, as it had been about 10 or 11 years at that point, and she was someone I trusted. I felt she had the personal connection and the sensitivity to do this. I was the first person Michele approached. She wasn’t as close to Matt’s family since she was younger than us, so I helped her open those doors and get in touch with the right people.
We spent time in Wyoming and Denver, and Michele went to Switzerland for additional filming. A lot of people donated time, money, and energy into doing this. Donations from friends and campaigns from people we didn’t even know helped us raise funds for the documentary.
It had to be heart wrenching to relive everything. What did you come away with after the experience? How did it affect you?
It was healing. I wouldn’t say full closure but it forced me to face some of the facts and fears I had avoided. Even though I was so close to him and the family, there were some details I just never knew about the investigation. In the film, we go through some of Matt’s old letters. Letters we sent him, letters he never sent us. So it took us back and that was really difficult, but also very healthy.
What would you like people to come away with after viewing the film?
A better knowledge of who Matt was as a person. I think there are still issues out there. Matt wasn’t the first or last hate crime – big city, small town, it still happens. There are different degrees of hate crimes and we want people to see the effects they have on people, families, and communities and hopefully change behaviors and make people think.
And for any young people who feel like they’re alone or don’t have resources, hopefully this will help them feel connected to something bigger and know that there are resources out there for them.
The last place I saw Matt was in Reno, so for me it’s interesting because it came full circle. He visited me in Reno in August of 1998 when I was a senior at UNR, and then he died that October.
It’s strange that it’s been so long because in some ways it feels like just yesterday. It’s such a surreal thing to go through at any age, but even more so when you’re younger. I remember there was a big vigil on campus at UNR, and everyone was talking about Matthew Shepard, and I just kept thinking, this is my friend Matt, and it was just so surreal.
I’m happy that we can bring this film to Reno and share it with the locally community. We are hoping to show it again in the near future so stay tuned for more screening news.
Matt Shepard Is A Friend Of Mine
Saturday, November 16th – 7:00 pm
Q&A with co-producer Zeina Barkawi to follow
Tickets can be purchased in advance for $10 for students/seniors and $12 for the general public at brownpapertickets.com. Day of tickets are $15; due to limited seating, purchasing in advance is recommended.
For press inquires, please contact:
dominion3 Public Relations