Facebook Twitter

`Dear Jesse’ draws eerie comparisons

SHARE `Dear Jesse’ draws eerie comparisons

Love him or hate him, North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms is definitely an original.

And though outspoken lawmaker, gay filmmaker Tim Kirkman does his best to balance his portrayal of Helms in "Dear Jesse," Kirkman obviously disagrees with him politically.The result is a fascinating documentary that draws some odd parallels between the New York director and his sworn enemy.

Following Kirkman's journey back to North Carolina after a painful breakup, "Dear Jesse" begins as a filmed "letter" to the man commonly referred to as "Senator No." The filmmaker tries to persuade Helms to at least understand those he would condemn.

Set during Helms' successful 1996 re-election campaign, the film also includes interviews with North Carolina residents whose views or lifestyles would be frowned upon by Helms, such as Mike Nelson, the openly gay mayor of Carrboro; Patsy Clarke and Eloise Vaughn, founders of Mothers Against Jesse in Congress; and students at Appalachian State University, who successfully lobbied against plans to have Helms speak at their commencement.

In fairness, though, Kirkman also speaks with Helms defenders.

However, one person not on hand to defend the senator is Helms himself. The lawmaker refused to be interviewed for the documentary and still has not seen it (although that hasn't stopped him from issuing a blanket condemnation of it).

In addition to having intelligent interview subjects (who would make interesting documentary subjects themselves), what makes "Dear Jesse" work is the fact that Kirkman isn't malicious. He actually takes the high road several times when it would have been easier to stoop to name-calling.

The film has a few dead spots (a couple of dry interviews), but the ties that bind Kirkman and Helms are eerily compelling.

"Dear Jesse" is not rated but in PG territory for some mild profanities and racial slurs.