Partners’ documentary explores unexpected, unconventional relationships

Faley Goyette

A man with a cat for a significant other. A couple in an arranged marriage. A woman who believes everyone’s husband should go to jail for at least a little while.

These are the relationships — from conventional to obscure, romantic or otherwise — in Boston-based filmmaker Henry Horenstein’s 2018 documentary, “Partners.” The film is an unscripted, feature-length documentary about a wide variety of relationships.

Fifteen unique interviewees will appear on screen for its first Austin screening at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at grayDUCK Gallery. This documentary explores themes of acceptance and the meaning of partnerships through raw, honest conversations.   

“It’s a timely message right now,” Horenstein said. “People should just accept other people and the choices they make and hope that they’re happy. It’s pretty simple.”

Horenstein drew some of his inspiration for “Partners” from a main subject in one of his previous documentaries about burlesque. In it, the person talks about a community of people that didn’t feel accepted in other spaces but found belonging in burlesque. That film, along with others, inspired him to create an interview-style documentary.

Jill Schroeder, owner and director of grayDUCK Gallery, has showcased Henry’s photography work before, but she has yet to see this film. After watching the “Partners” trailer, Schroeder said she’s most excited for Horenstein to speak about the subjects after the screening.

“I’m pretty open-minded. We’re in an arts community,” Schroeder said. “I’m intrigued by some of the partners that I haven’t ever been exposed to. I just feel like it’ll open people’s minds to the term ‘partners’ and make us more understanding.”

Horenstein said he had many friends in unusual relationships who were then able to connect him with others. In making the documentary, Horenstein traveled across the country to interview interesting partners.

In some interviews, Horenstein said he didn’t even ask any questions. Conversation came naturally as they grew comfortable in front of Horenstein and his small crew. People talked about how they met, changes in their relationship and conflicts between them.

“Partners” cameraman Jon Gourlay, who has worked with Horenstein before, said anytime Horenstein has an idea, the project is worth pursuing.

“It is an incredibly human experience to be able to connect with folks, whether it’s watching the movie or literally getting to be there recording those things,” Gourlay said. “Just (going) through all of that is an experience I’ll never forget.”

Although some of the relationships may appear unorthodox, Horenstein said the featured people seem to be happy. With 15 different interviews discussing their relationships, Horenstein said hearing their first-hand accounts is what is interesting.

“So often in relationships people will say, ‘This one ought to be with that one,’ or ‘Why is he with her, her with him?’” Horenstein said. “And you realize that people need what they need. Who are we to judge, really?”