“This is what queer cinema needs to be – homegrown, authentic, brutally honest” – Seattle Gay Scene

A model queer activist, poet and community advocate, Jesus (Maximillian Davis) prides himself in his work with the Seattle LGBT community. At the same time, Jesus is having unprotected sex and cheating on his long-time partner (Samonte Cruz). Jesus’s world implodes when he discovers that he is HIV positive, forcing him to confront his innermost fears, his relationship with his ex-boyfriend, and a future living with HIV. Faced with the unknown, Jesus is pulled from the brink of self-destruction by Sister Alysa Trailer (Brian Peters), a drag nun who leads him down a path of self-discovery.

‘heart breaks open’ is a feature film about queer life, public health and community accountability. It was written as a four page outline and transformed to a feature-length project through a collaborative filmmaking process. Actors used improvisational acting to create dialogue and action. Documentary filmmakers captured performances using cinema verité techniques. Seattle locations and their staff were used to create an undeniable meditative realism.

In a nuanced and subtle way, ‘heart breaks open’ comments on the notion of a ‘second coming’ of the Christian Jesus Christ. The film deviates from the traditional 3-act story structure, commonly used in fiction film, and follows the path of the Christian ‘Stations of the Cross’. Instead of a cross, HIV is our Jesus’s burden to bear. Instead of the daughters of Jerusalem, Jesus is met by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, “an order of 21st Century [drag] nuns dedicated to the promulgation of universal joy and the expiation of stigmatic guilt.”

‘heart breaks open’ strives to provoke. Who would Jesus be if he were with us today? What would be his cross to bear? How would we crucify him? Would he crucify himself?

‘heart breaks open’ was fiscally sponsored by Three Dollar Bill Cinema and was produced by Dual Power Productions. We’ve also partnered with Gay City Health Project, Lifelong AIDS Alliance, and the Seattle chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — The Abbey of Saint Joan.


  • Winner: Best Film – 2011 Red Wasp Film Festival
  • Nomination: Grand Jury Prize – 2011 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival


  • Director: Billie Rain
  • Producer: Basil Shadid
  • Editor: John Boucher
  • Assistant Director: Alix Kolar
  • Cinematography: Basil Shadid, James Longley, Alex Walsh
  • Sound Engineers: Matt Sheldon, Dennis Schweitzer, Eric Goetz, Chad Findley
  • Talent: Maximillian Davis, Brian Peters, Samonte Cruz
  • Composer: Eric Goetz
  • Post Audio: Brendan Hogan
  • Writers: Basil Shadid, billie rain, Maximillion Davis, Brian Peters, Samonte Cruz, Qwo-Li Driskill


  • 2011 – Mar 31 to Apr 6: 25th BFI London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (2 screenings)
  • 2011 – April 28 to May 7: Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
  • 2011 – May 25 to 29: KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival
  • 2011 – June 2 to 5: Minnesota Out Twin Cities Film Festival
  • 2011 – July 10: Berlin – Entzaubert Queer DIY Film Festival
  • 2011 – July 21 to 28: New York LGBT Film Festival (2 screenings)
  • 2011 – Sep 9 to 10: Philadelphia Gender Reel Fest
  • 2011 – Oct 6 to 13: Tacoma Film Festival
  • 2011 – Oct 14 to 23: Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
  • 2011 – Oct 22: Bryan, Texas – Red Wasp Film Festival
  • 2011 – Oct 21 to 30: Cape Town, South Africa – Nu Metro, Hyde Park (2 screenings)
  • 2011 – Oct 21 to 30: Johannesburg, South Africa – Nu Metro, V&A Waterfront (2 screenings)
  • 2011 – Nov 3 to 12: Reeling 2011: Chicago LGBT Film Festival
  • 2011 – Nov 11 to 19: Portland – 38th Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival
  • 2011 – Nov 15: DVD & Video On Demand Release
  • 2011 – Nov 18 to Dec 1: Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
  • 2012 – Jan 13: Capitol Theatre – Olympia, Washington
  • 2012 – Feb 17 to 26: Out in the Desert: Tucson’s International LGBT Film Festival
  • 2012 – Feb 29: Free Screening @ The Vera Project – Seattle, WA
  • 2012 – June 17: Heart Breaks Open Screening & Discussion – Providence, RI
  • 2012 – Oct 5: Trans*_homo Exhibit – Berlin, Germany

What People Are Saying:
“Bursting with the raw energy of an almost cinema-verite-like feel and gorgeous poetic narration, HEART BREAKS OPEN is a stunningly moving film.”
Scott Cranin (Dorothy’s Closet)

“HEART BREAKS OPEN is a triumph for the LGBT community as it combines prevailing elements of responsibility, intervention, accountability and heartbreak with an underlying but indubitable message of love.”
Dara Kim (LAAPFF)

“A raw look into one man’s personal struggle, as his perfect, community-building, LGBT activist life is tarnished by a moment of weakness.”
Ada Tseng (Asia Pacific Arts)

“Set against Seattle’s wet, moody backdrop, [Heart Breaks Open] refocuses attention on the consequences of casual, unprotected sex in an era where HIV is no longer as visible as it once was. It also reasserts the importance of community – while the worst of the physical manifestations may not be evident, the director suggests, the psychological and social issues within the gay community remain as serious as ever.”
Out In Africa Festival

“HEART BREAKS OPEN is a powerfully acted, achingly beautiful story about the love, and accountability, that binds our community together.”
NewFest Film Festival

“The daring of a movie like HEART BREAKS OPEN is found in its fearless exploration of the victimizer, the one upon whom guilt, shame and remorse is automatically – and perhaps justly – thrust.”
Justin Jagoe (The Film Confessional)

“The film’s credibility lies in its attention to detail, and its deft navigation of complicated topics no surface understanding of — or at least concept of — could advise. More people could benefit from seeing this movie than probably actually will.”
Michael Caigoy (Cinema Sucks)

“It is difficult film to watch, but HEART BREAKS OPEN thrives in that difficulty.”
Justin Jagoe (The Film Confessional)

“What is striking about the film is just how upfront and honest it is about living with HIV. There is no glamorisation or over-egged melodrama, just a very sober and matter-of-fact portrayal of one man’s predicament.”
James Waygood (So So Gay)