QFest Film Preview: Documenting the Story of Robert Drake

One director's journey from Ireland to Philadelphia to document the story of gay-bashed writer Robert Drake.

Robert Drake revisits Ireland for the first time since his attack.

In January 1999, the unthinkable happened to Philly gay-lit writer Robert Drake. Having traveled to Sligo, Ireland, to research a novel, Drake was assaulted — in his own apartment — by two men he’d encountered earlier that night at a neighborhood bar. The men, who were sentenced to eight years in prison in connection with the crime, left Drake for dead in a pool of blood. Unable to speak for weeks as a result of brain-damaging acute head trauma, and beaten to the point of paralysis, Drake was thought to be the next Matthew Shepard — but unlike Shepard, Drake lived to tell his story.

Enter Pamela Drynan.

Feeling immensely inspired after reading an article about Drake’s story in the Irish Times in 2008, she acquired funding from the Irish Film Board to further pursue the story. The Ireland-based filmmaker soon after found herself at the doorstep of Drake’s Philadelphia apartment, pressing his doorbell with shaking nerves. She knew this would be her only shot at making the documentary film she’d been envisioning.

“I walked through his door, and instantly found that he was very warm, welcoming, charming and actually very humorous. We sat down and talked for a bit, and he said, ‘Where do we start?'” says Drynan. “I felt like I came at the right moment — a time when he wanted to reconnect with and tell his story.”

Drynan says she used 100,000 euros worth of funds from the Film Board as well as a chunk of her own money to produce the documentary, which was shot in 2010 and 2011 in both Philadelphia and Ireland. The film, titled Where I Am,  is a portal into the present-day life of Drake — a glimpse of how he’s coped with the assault more than a decade later. The 69-minute film follows his footsteps through the locales of Ireland where he lived his life leading up to the attack.

“I was very impressed with Robert’s bravery to confront his past and his willingness to confront forgiveness by going back,” she says. “At one point in filming, Robert was very moved when he approached a village in Dublin, where he remembered once being very happy. He basically broke down, and it was a very emotional moment because the crew, everyone who worked on the film, we were all very fond of Robert — very protective of him. It was a defining moment for all of us, and it was a brave moment in filmmaking, I think, because — with Robert’s permission — we continued filming. And it was moving for me, because he told us later that he cried because of all the happy memories he remembered.”

Though the documentary has already premiered in Europe, Where I Am‘s July 12 screening at QFest will be its U.S. debut. Those interested in speaking one-on-one with Drynan and Drake can attend the post-screening reception, to be held at Knock from 9-11 p.m. following the premiere.

Premiere details:

Fri., June 12, 7:15 p.m., $11, Ritz East Theater 1, 125 S. Second St.

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