Award-winning documentarians Amy Geller and Allie Humenuk blend the deeply personal and undeniably political with their latest documentary film, The Guys Next Door, exploring the lives of a gay couple raising two daughters and the married mother of three who served as the surrogate mother, bringing both families together. Filmed over the course of four years, Geller and Humenuk put a human face to the national discussion on gay marriage and gay parenting, all while raising questions about the definition of family in the modern age. An official selection of the Sarasota Film Festival, The Guys Next Door enjoys its world premiere this weekend.
First hearing about the story and Rachel Segall’s offer, at the age of 41 and with children of her own, to serve twice as surrogate mother for her friend Erick Mercer and his partner Sandro Sechi, Geller envisioned a documentary about surrogacy. Humenuk said no. “I’m not as interested in films about topics,” she explained. “I like films about people, and topics come out through that.” She agreed to help film early footage to get the project started and the pair headed to New York, where Eric and Sandro lived with their first daughter, Rachel Maria.
Segall was visiting along with her children, eight months pregnant with who would be Eric and Sandro’s second daughter, Eleonora. “And when we walked into the apartment and saw their dynamic, there was something there that was incredibly rich,” said Humenuk. The two families interacted as one, with an energy, an openness and “a sense of play,” said Humenuk. “I looked at [Geller] and said, ‘If you want to jump off a cliff with me and do a character-driven film, let’s do it.’”
Filming on and off in the years following, the duo caught all the big moments, such as Eleonora’s birth and the families’ initial reactions, “but some of the richest stuff comes out of just daily life activity,” said Humenuk. “The small tensions and moments of humor.” The hard part was knowing when to stop filming, knowing when they had the story they needed. For her part, Humenuk says she could have filmed the family for years more. “But there’s a lot going on right now in the world around gay marriage, gay parenting and surrogacy and it’s a ripe moment to get this story out there,” she said. “It’s really a positive portrait of what a gay family can look like, and if people can see some of themselves in this family then it might be able to at least get people thinking differently about gay families.”
Celebrating its world premiere this weekend at the Sarasota Film Festival,The Guys Next Door screens Saturday, Apr. 2, at 5:45pm with the cast and filmmakers in attendance, and then again Monday, Apr. 4, at 9:15pm.