Ruthie Berman and Connie Kurtz seem like your typical 60-something Jewish ladies from Brooklyn. And they are in many ways, but they just also happen to be lesbians.
As married women living conventional lives in the early '60s, the best friends raised their kids together and worked as community leaders. But everything changed when Kurtz's family moved to Israel in 1970. The sadness the women felt in leaving one another, and their joy upon Kurtz's return, made it clear to them that there was more to their relationship than simple friendship. By 1974, the women had left their husbands and children and moved in together.
When three-time Oscar-nominated documentarian Deborah Dickson heard their story, she knew she wanted to put it on film. The result is, "Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House." The title refers to a line in the film, "What was a friendship in the kitchen ... became a love affair which included the bedroom." Drawn to stories of people "who are struggling against odds or against society or against prejudice," Dickson says she also "loved their love story."
But the story was complicated. Their decision to give up their children has never stopped being painful for Berman or Kurtz. And though they have made peace with their children for the most part, Berman is still estranged from her youngest son. "That's what I call the price they paid," says Dickson, "you know, to be who they are. I think it's just tragic."
The flipside is, of course, the extraordinary love between these two women. Together for more than 25 years, Berman and Kurtz say they are beshert, or soul mates. They still dance together, and flirt. Poolside, we hear Kurtz exclaim to a bathing-capped Berman, "I should take a picture of you now. You're a real beauty."
"Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House" screens as the centerpiece film at Outfest, July 16 and 18. For more information, visit www.outfest.org.