Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine

The 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student at the University of Wyoming, became one of the most notorious hate crimes of the 20th century, which makes his death much more significant than his life. That’s bad news for the first third or so of this documentary, directed and narrated by his personal friend Michele Josue; Shepard’s experiences growing up and coming out were typical, and none of the people Josue interviews—parents, teachers, friends—can speak of him in anything but the most tender terms. But this grows in power as it arrives at Shepard’s moonlit bludgeoning by two guys he met in a bar, the nationwide uproar over the crime, and those same interviewees’ struggle to make sense of the tragedy even after all these years. What lingers afterward is the haunting sense of someone who became an icon only because he was cheated of the opportunity to become himself.