The filmmaker who looked at pederasty without flinching.

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Kidding Around

In 1994,
the first annual New York Underground Film Festival featured Adi Sideman’s
Chicken Hawk, a documentary about mostly middle-aged boy-lovers and their
support group, NAMBLA (the North American Man/Boy Love Association). The screening
was, to say the least, contentious. Altercations between NAMBLA members and
its opponents erupted in the audience. Many walked out. Everyone was reeling
after viewing the film. It was, indeed, an auspicious beginning for the fest.

The 10th
annual Underground Film Festival (opening March 5 at Anthology Film Archives)
is screening Chicken Hawk once again. New York Press discussed
the film, its history and its continuing impact with Sideman.

First off, I’ve heard
that you’re heterosexual. Is this true?


I should assume, then, that
you’re not attracted to young boys?

No, I’m not.

So what
compelled you to make Chicken Hawk?

When I was
growing up, we had a pedophile in my neighborhood who molested a lot of kids,
including me. Years later, he committed suicide. Afterward, I thought the events
were freak things and didn’t think about it much at first. Then, during
my first year at NYU, I took a class on sexual deviance in society, and the
professor devoted 45 minutes to pedophilia and NAMBLA. I remember finding it
very strange that NAMBLA could exist freely in the public sphere, and thought
it would make a great subject for a documentary. It was only later, when I was
eight to nine months into making Chicken Hawk, that I realized this was
a very personal project and a way for me to discover who these people really

When the
film first premiered, the reaction it received from some quarters was pretty
hostile. How did you feel about that?

The film
was controversial even before there was a rough cut. My NYU mentor George Stony
wanted me to “get the point of view of the victims,” and put in a title screen
condemning pedophilia. But I wanted to film a movie about the perpetrators and
let the audience make their own judgment. So when Stony and another professor
saw the final cut, they asked that their names be removed from the credits.
The premiere was a circus, with demonstrators and pedophiles and Straight Kids
USA, a conservative group, all in full force. CNN and the four networks walked
into the theater in the middle of the screening, and John Waters shouted, “Get
out! It’s only a movie!” In fact, there were demonstrators in front of
theaters in several cities. Even if they’d never seen it, people wanted
the film off the screens. The mere fact that pedophiles were allowed to state
their position was enough to drive them mad. But in the end, the demonstrators
only managed to call more attention to the movie. Although it was banned in
certain states and countries, it played theatrically in 15 cities in the U.S.

In today’s
conservative climate, it seems to me that many would be even less hospitable
to your film’s subject matter than they were when the film first came out,
particularly considering the recent Catholic priest scandal. Do you agree?

I don’t
know. But the film is screened in psychology, sociology and criminology departments
across the country, and I’m often invited to speak. I met the head pedophile
hunter for the FBI, and he had a copy of the movie and had screened it in his
department. It’s rewarding that people find educational value in my movie.
It’s not a mass-market flick, certainly, but over the past decade, the
media has desensitized the public. It’s much harder to shock them now.

Some have
said that you were too sympathetic to boy-lovers, that you glorified them and
seemed to be advocating pederasty. Any comments?

I believe
that I let the men in the film hang themselves. I never looked at them as monsters,
though I knew that their passion was destructive and criminal. They really do
get a hard-on from little boys, and they believe that if they have these feelings,
it can’t be bad. Their actions, of course, have tragic effects on the victims,
but I wasn’t telling the story of the boys. Child molestation has been
explored from that angle many times. I was studying the perpetrators, and what
I found out was that these guys are tragic figures. I understand people who
thought the film favored pedophiles. The topic is so visceral to so many that
they feel merely addressing these men as members of society, as human beings,
is in itself legitimizing them and thus elevating their status.

There seemed
to be an obsessive, self-delusional quality in the men depicted, an inability
on their part to face up to some of the negative consequences of their desires
and actions.

Right. They
choose not to see the long-term negative impact of an adult luring a child into
having sex. They want to show society that we are wrong and they are right,
that the age-of-consent laws should be changed.

I found
Leyland Stevenson, one of the men in the film, particularly repellent. How did
you feel when he spoke with obvious joy of taking his young “friend” on a camping
trip and having sex with him? That was such gross manipulation on Stevenson’s

Once we’d
filmed that scene, my cameraman and I expected Leland to call and ask us to
keep it out of the movie. I don’t know what I would have done if he had.

heard that members of NAMBLA rehearse with each other the statements they give
to the press in order to avoid incriminating themselves. Do you think they might
have bamboozled you?

I have no
idea if they rehearse in that way or not. I’m sure, though, that not all
of my subjects were totally open in front of the camera. But they weren’t
successful if they did try to manipulate us. I mean, I’ve never heard anyone
come out of Chicken Hawk and say, “Yeah, the government really should
lower the age of consent to eight or 12.” The men in my film revealed a slice
of their tragic lives to me and the audience.

How do you
feel now that the film is about to be re-released? Are you ready for another

If the movie
stirs emotions after 10 years, it’s a great thing. The more discussion
there is about the subject—and if we can treat the pedophile’s fixations
instead of demonizing them—the better off our children will be.

Chicken Hawk shows
on Sat., March 8,

at Anthology Film Archives, 32 2nd Ave. (2nd St.),

212-614-2775, 7:30 p.m.