Editor's note: This story originally ran in the Idaho Statesman on Sept. 26, 2006.
During the fall of 1955 came a moment in history that put a blight on Boise, then a seemingly idyllic Western town where the simple, all-American dream was possible.
For many the dream came crashing down when accusations that men were propositioning young boys for sex unleashed an investigation that became known as "The Boys of Boise." It started when four men were arrested on Halloween.
By the end of the year, fueled by inflammatory anti-gay editorials in The Idaho Statesman, nearly 1,500 men were interrogated, nine were imprisoned with life sentences, careers were destroyed, families torn apart and national news was made, said filmmaker Seth Randal, whose documentary about the events "The Fall of '55" will show as one of 50 films at this year's Idaho International Film Festival.
Randal is one of several Idaho filmmakers whose work is being shown at the festival next to internationally successful films and award winners from other film festivals.
For Boise to be thrust in the national spotlight like that was mortifying for most residents, Randal said.
"This was unsavory, especially in the 1950s when, in general, society had a different view of homosexuality. People thought it was a contagious disease. It was deeply troubling at the time and still impacts people living here, " he said.
The story captured Randal's curiosity back when he was a high school student in Nampa. It wasn't until after college, when he came back to Idaho to work in broadcast media that he had the chance to do anything with it.
"I thought it was fascinating that a scandal of this scope had happened in my back yard, " Randal said.
Randal read John Gerassi's book, which was written 10 years after the event. That led him to microfilm newspaper articles in the Idaho Free Press in Nampa. Then as a news producer at Channel 6, he pitched it as a TV documentary. He eventually left the station and took the project with him. He finished it independently while he worked at Channel 7 with the aid of a slew of volunteers who donated their time, talents and helped raise money to complete it.
"I knew that I couldn't do it alone for it to be the quality I wanted it to be. I started asking people in local filmmaking for help. A lot of my Channel 7 co-workers helped doing research, lighting and photography, " Randal said.
Though in many ways it plays like a TV documentary, Bruce Fletcher, who programs the film festival, couldn't pass up a chance to show it and create an interesting event. There will be a panel discussion after the film with views from both sides of the issues.
It's still difficult for people involved to talk about it. Many moved away. Randal had to work very hard to get people to agree to the interviews, even traveling to some.
Some people say the arrests and investigation were justified. Others describe the time as a witch-hunt akin to the McCarthy hearings on Communism. The story made newspaper headlines around the country, such as "Male pervert ring seduces 1,000 boys, " although many of the "boys" were adults.
"It's a bit of local history that is still relevant today, " Fletcher said. "Have our attitudes really changed? Maybe they have, maybe not."
When Randal sat down to write the script, he wanted to take a different approach than Gerassi, he said.
"John uses a lot of conjecture and opinion, and that was one of the things that caused a lot of pain for people. I wanted to approach it from a neutral point of view and state the facts and not delve into stories where we didn't have a lot of facts, " Randal said.
After six long years and a huge outpouring of community support, there's a finished product to be proud of, but not without a price, Randal said.
To complete the project, Randal put his career on hold and even lost a relationship, he said.
"I have more gray hairs than when I started working on it. Would I do it again if I knew it would take me six years? Probably, " he said.
Making this film has changed Randal's direction a bit. Though he is currently looking for work in television production, he wants to do longer-range projects and possibly tackle another documentary with a subject that is again close to home. He wants to examine the attack on Wake Island by the Japanese after Pearl Harbor.
Wake Island is a tiny atoll in the Pacific Ocean. When the attack happened, a small military garrison and more than 1,600 Morrison-Knudsen employees defended the island for about two weeks. Many were killed and some of them became prisoners of war.
"It was like a modern day Alamo. They weren't even trained. The story that interests me is what happened here as wives became heads of families without knowing the fate of their husbands, " Randal said.
It's a story he stumbled on while he was doing research for "The Fall of '55" in the obituary of the father of one of the men who was prosecuted .
His two other sons had been captured at Wake Island and it was written that the strain of that killed his father.
To say that what happened during the fall of 1955 is controversial is to underplay it. Fifty-one years later it still has some nerves raw, Randal said.
In a way, the Boys of Boise is a story that won't go away. It was revived 10 years later with the book, then again in 1995 when the "Family and Child Protection Act, " which tried to limit the rights of homosexuals, was on the ballot.
"In some ways it's still surreal to me that this could have happened in this community that I love so much, " Randal said.
It shows at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Egyptian. The Ada Country Human Rights Task Force will present a panel discussion following the film.
"The Fall of '55"
Seth Randal's film will show at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Egyptian Theatre. For details about the film and the panel discussion following the screening, check out the IIFF guide inside this edition.