Calgary

'Queer Hutterite': Photographer reflects on colony life in documentary

The life of a 24-year-old photographer who grew up on a Hutterite colony in rural Manitoba before moving to Calgary after coming out as gay — is at the centre of a documentary nominated for a couple of Canadian Screen Awards.

Kelly Hofer says his life has been 'such a journey'

Kelly Hofer, centre, and Laura O'Grady speak with The Homestretch host Doug Dirks about a film profiling the 24-year-old Calgary-based photographer. (The Homestretch)

The life of a 24-year-old photographer who grew up on a Hutterite colony in rural Manitoba before moving to Calgary after coming out as gay — is at the centre of a documentary nominated for a couple of Canadian Screen Awards.

The doc Queer Hutterite: Misfit on the Colony — is up for best original program produced for digital media — non-fiction.

It tells the story of Kelly Hofer, and was directed by Laura O'Grady who is also nominated for best direction. Both spoke about the film to The Homestretch on Friday.

"It's really good to have that story validated because it's been such a long journey to get to this point and even going forward there's such a long journey ahead," Hofer said.

He left his home entrenched in Hutterite culture about five years ago, but he says it took nearly four years to make the decision to move off the colony.

"It was difficult to leave such a closed off culture and come to such a progressive open culture, that is Calgary and even the "gay scene."

He followed to join his sister, who helped "normalize" things.

O'Grady heard about Hofer speaking on local radio in Calgary about coming out as a gay man. She researched him online and said she was captivated by his photography which was sympathetic and respectful to his former life.

She chose to focus the documentary on his life after he left and his memories of his childhood as told through the lens of his photography.

O'Grady says the film has since spurred an ongoing conversation that is "generally respectful."

"People have their own points of view but if we can have a civilized conversation about agreeing to disagree, I think that is really helpful in trying to understand each other even if you don't agree with one another."

Although Hofer says he's not allowed to return home to visit family, he often looks back to the Hutterite culture for inspiration on dealing with hardships. 
Kelly Hofer is a photographer and gay-rights activist based in Calgary. He was born and raised in a Hutterite colony near Wawanesa, southeast of Brandon. (Kelly Hofer/Twitter)

Despite facing constant negative comments online, he remains committed to gay rights on colonies.

"I've just learned to deal with it and it never really ends."

But he's not one to complain.

"[My life is] actually really positive, really happy. I do all the stuff I love."

The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television will announce the winners for digital and immersive storytelling on March 9.


With files from The Homestretch

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