'Jared Dawson and the Church of Lavonia Elberton' cover for Reel South Seaon 8
Filmmaker Feature

Filmmaker Interview: 'Jared Dawson' creator on joy

May 7, 2023 by Heather Leighton

For our second-second-to-last week of our Season 8 premieres, we are featuring "Jared Dawson and the Church of Lavonia Elberton," created by Adam Forrester. The film follows Jared Dawson after his family forced him out of his childhood home because of their staunch religious convictions, and he discovered his alter ego as a radical drag performer. As “Lavonia Elberton,” Jared navigates a new sense of belonging and family within the LGBTQIA+ community of Atlanta. Stream "Jared Dawson and the Church of Lavonia Elberton" on PBS online. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Heather: How did the film come about? How did you find your subject? 

Adam: I had just moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and met Jared Dawson one evening at a local bar. He was bartending that evening, and I’m always curious about what people are up to outside of the context of a job, so I asked him what else he’d been up to lately. Jared was really transparent and open and he told me about this upcoming show where he planned to crucify himself on stage for his 33rd birthday. I thought that was really compelling, and I asked him if he’d be willing to participate in a film about that.

Heather: Can you describe the creative process and how you landed on your editing style?

Adam: When Jared and I set out to make this film I wanted it to be as collaborative as possible. Jared is an amazing performer, writer, and artist, and it became clear very early in the process of making this film that the best way to highlight all of those aspects of Jared was to create an environment that supported him. I knew the core of the film would be the performance at 7Stages, but visiting with Jared at his home and hearing his full story really made the film feel like a fully formed portrait.

Heather: What are you working on next? Anything cool to share? 

Adam: Yes indeed. I’m getting close to finishing a five-year journey to complete my first feature. It will be a complex film about a small town in the American South that was run by a crime syndicate for years. It has a lot of overlap with contemporary American politics, government, and corruption, but it's this sleepy little town that not many people have heard of. It’s also my childhood home.

Heather: After watching your film, what do you hope resonates with the Reel South audience? 

Adam: I hope that audiences are able to see Jared’s brightness and his generosity. I hope that his willingness to share his own pain with us will help viewers understand some of the barriers, the trauma, and the obstacles that people in the queer community often experience. And even amidst tragic setbacks, like the ones Jared talks about in the film, I hope audiences can see how beautiful it is when supportive environments create spaces and communities for people to simply be themselves. I hope Jared is an inspiration for us all to be truer to ourselves and to create spaces for everyone else to do the same.

Heather: Can you tell us your favorite part of the film?

Adam: Jared had this scooter that he traveled around the city on, and I’m so happy that he was up for driving around the city while filling the audible space with his songs. I think visually it is really kinetic, and it makes me think about Jared always moving, always dancing, always singing, always joyfully.


Documentary Filmmaking