Documentary tells tragic story of lesbians' murder

BY SHARON GITTLEMAN

ROYAL OAK - Don't expect to see car chases and explosions in Brian Alexander's first movie.

He'd rather fill the screen with images that make you think and touch your spirit.

"I'm not looking to make Hollywood movies," said Alexander, 43, a Royal Oak resident. "I'm looking to make slice-of-life movies. Movies that are real and have a heart. Movies people can identify with. Definitely movies that are LGBT."

Alexander, a former student at the Troy-based Motion Pictures Institute of Michigan, is currently planning his first movie - a documentary about the lives and tragic deaths of lesbian activists Susan Pittmann and Christine Puckett.

A fund-raiser for the project is planned for 7 p.m., on May 20, at Renaissance Unity Church, located at 11200 E. 11 Mile in Warren.

The event will feature a CD release concert by singer/songwriter Susan Herrick.

Pittmann and Puckett, former board members at Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center in Ferndale, were murdered by an elderly neighbor at their rural Huron Township home on May 5, 1992.

Alexander said the murder had two motives - a feud about a fence and the killer's contempt for the affectionate gestures made by the two women in his presence.

"He was not a happy man," said Alexander, who is gay.

The women's killer was found guilty of two counts of murder and died in prison three years ago, he said.

Puckett was just 36 when she died, Alexander said. She was survived by her son. Pittman, a mother of five children, was 53. The couple had been together about three years.

"One of the reasons I wanted to do this movie was because there's an art gallery at Affirmations named after them - the Pittman-Puckett Gallery," he said. "Young people or people new to this community have no idea who they are."

Opened in 1992, the Pittmann-Puckett Art Gallery displays LGBT artists' work or exhibits of interest to the gay or lesbian community.

Once Affirmations moves to its new location across Nine Mile road in Ferndale, Pittman-Puckett's permanent collection will comprise the first Michigan gallery devoted to LGBT artists.

While he didn't know the couple, Alexander came to the candlelight vigil organized in their memory, held in front of a Detroit courthouse just a month after their murder.

"You had two women who weren't safe in their own home. This could have been anybody," he said. "I thought this is a story that needs to be told."

Young people may not know the perils LGBT people once faced just living their everyday lives, he said.

"Things were a lot different then. This was way before 'Will & Grace,'" he said. "So much has changed in the last 14 years. Even in the Affirmations' newsletters in those days, people writing the articles didn't put their full name for fear of being found out to be gay."

The film will also touch on Affirmations' history and the Triangle Foundation. Triangle was dedicated to bringing Pittmann and Puckett's killer to justice, he said.

The documentary's footage will include interviews with friends, family members, co-workers and community leaders.

Shooting will start this summer. Alexander plans to complete the film by the end of the year.

"My goal is to get it into the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival," he said.

Director John Waters is Alexander's inspiration.

"He's not conventional. He's off the beaten path," he said. "He's very polite. He's very easy to talk to. Outside of his mustache you wouldn't know there was anything different about him."

Alexander, who has studied photography and currently works in facilities management at the Renaissance Unity Church, laughed when asked if he dreamed of collecting an Oscar one day.

"That would be nice," he said. "One of my goals for whatever films I make in the future - I want them to be stories people can relate to. I'm not in it to make 'Lord of the Rings.'"

Gay-themed movies, like the one he's making about Pittmann and Puckett especially touch his heart.

"I have a passion for this," he said. "I believe in this."

To follow the progress of the documentary, check out http://www.pittmannpuckett.com on the Internet.

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