Sam DiGiovanni and Tyler Rabinowitz
📷 : Used with permission, rubbertape
Located off the coast of southern California, Catalina Islands (or Catalina) boasts wonderful activities, restaurants, and accommodations for our vacationing pleasure. Why, then, would anyone go there to camp? Gus, Will and Brian do – and they make the trip every year to relax and reconnect. Catalina is about the bond the three have shared since childhood and their intentional efforts to remain close.
The late twenty-something trio differ in several ways. Will is African American and Gus and Brian are White. Gus and Brian are secure in their chosen careers and Will is in flux after recently dropping out of law school. Gus is gay and his friends are not. Their relationship is unusual since most of us engage in gender homophily, meaning our closest friendships tend to be with people whose sexual orientation is the same as ours.
Researchers found that the quality of male cross-orientation friendships is high. This is remarkable given that most heterosexual males hold steadfast to traditional views of masculinity. So, the idea of men being friends, let alone, good friends with someone of a different sexual orientation is astonishing. But in Catalina, Gus (Sam DiGiovanni), Brian (Ben Holtzmuller) and Will (Ronald Peet) are comfortable divulging their personal and professional struggles to one another without fear of judgment or criticism. This comfort level is something we typically find with our parents, close family members, and occasionally, long-time best friends – people we trust to offer support and encouragement rather than a snicker and/or admonishment.
Researchers also found that close cross-orientation friendships usually predate disclosure of the gay member’s sexual identity. Sharing their sexual orientation with their heterosexual friends creates the space for the group’s relationship to grow deeper and more supportive. Gus, Brian and Will exemplify this as their friendship began when they were just kids and their depth of caring for one another has deepened over the years. Part of this consisted of the men gradually, over time, shedding their ideas about what constitutes masculinity.
There are cases, however, in cross-orientation friendships, when heterosexual group members pull away because of concerns about being hit on by their friends who are gay. There are also instances where gay members make assumptions about their friends’ ideas about them, leading them to keep their sexual identity to themselves or avoid their friends for fear of ostracism and ridicule. Catalina touches on this dilemma when Gus, obviously hesitant, hits on one of his friends. This pivotal moment risks the film falling into stereotypes about both gay and heterosexual men. The film, though, reaches beyond these tropes to center this moment as a test of their friendship, so we can watch with bated breath if it will bend, break, or hold firm under these taboos.
Among the many things I learned from a dear friend of mine who recently passed away, was to be intentional in loving the people you say you love. Catalina crystallizes this and for that reason, I found this film quite moving. Director Tyler Rabinowitz’s work makes us consider just how much richer our lives could be if we were intentional in letting go of our phobias and the contempt they breed. Catalina depicts this possibility along with the stumbling blocks that can occur along the way. How we handle them says something about us and the importance of our friendships. The short isn’t a tearjerker, just a 16-minute depiction of what it means to call someone a friend despite your differences. As for camping - don’t mind me. I like the outdoors, but I just crave modern amenities like plumbing, glass plates, and a roof over my head.