The Coolidge Corner Theater is one of the nation's most prestigious independent movie theaters. The nonprofit celebrates filmmaking talent each year with its Coolidge Awards, where they've honored renowned artists like Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore. But one of the Coolidge's core principles as an independent art house is to celebrate new visionary and boundary-breaking filmmakers — and that's exactly what they're doing with their newest accolade, the Coolidge Breakthrough Artist Award.

The extremely talented inaugural recipient of the award, Elegance Bratton, joined GBH’s All Things Considered host Arun Rath to talk about his semi-autobiographical film, "The Inspection," which has already garnered numerous award nominations, including at the Golden Globes and Film Independent Spirit Awards. He's being honored at the Coolidge Friday, Jan. 27, after a special screening of his latest film and a moderated Q&A. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

Arun Rath: So "The Inspection" is not your first film. Is this your second major film?

Elegance Bratton: Well, I think it's my first major film. But my first film overall is a movie called "Pier Kids," which is about three queer and trans homeless Black youth that I followed verité style for five years as they used Christopher Street in Manhattan's West Village — the birthplace of the gay rights movement — in order to find chosen family. So that's my first documentary feature, and then I've done some shorts in between that movie and "The Inspection." I did a TV show, too, called "My House" when Viceland was a thing.

Rath: I'm happy to bring up "Pier Kids" because I think that's probably, along with "The Inspection," is something going into the thinking of this Breakthrough Artist award.

So let's talk about "The Inspection." The story follows a young gay man who is basically kind of estranged from his family because of his sexuality, and he joins the Marines and ends up going through a rough time in the Marine Corps. How much of that is your story? Can you could you break it down for us?

Bratton: Sure. I mean, the movie is 100% autobiographical when it comes to the hopes, fears and desires of its lead character, even if it's not a situation that I've personally been in. However, when it comes to his relationship with his mother, all of that is directly out of my life.

Rath: It's really intense stuff. As we talk about the story, let's talk about the style a bit. I've got to tell people, you just have to see this film because it's almost what you'd call a verité style, almost like a documentary. But then the perspective in it just seems to switch a lot. I don't know how you describe the style, maybe you can do it better than me.

Bratton: I mean, for me, I'm trying to encapsulate what it means for 80 years of U.S. military history to have gay service members be forced to serve in silence. While "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" gets its name in the 1990s, it's really since the end of World War II that queer servicemembers were explicity excluded from service.

What I'm doing is what I like to call a bit of a hybridization. When you're in a gnarly character's point of view, Ellis French, it's very much a handheld movie — kind of like "Beau Travail" by Claire Denis, where you're kind of living and breathing with him as he experiences this.

But when you see him in the world, it's very much a composed camera — one that is on a tripod, one that is very much stylistic and in the vein of a "Full Metal Jacket" or a "Jarhead." The idea is to create a visual language that suggests the shaky ground that queer troops stand on.

Rath: When we talk about the Marine Corps, it's impossible not to think about their cinematic history. I kept thinking about how that must have been on your mind. I'll say this as somebody who has been a journalist, covering them on-and-off for a long time: they're good at public relations, they're good at letting a very clean image get out. The style that you take seems like there's sort of a counterstatement or counternarrative to the way that we've seen the Marine Corps before. Am I imagining that?

Bratton: I think that in my experience in the Marine Corps — I mean, first of all, the military is quietly kept one of the most progressive institutions in the United States. This is the first workplace in America to be fully integrated. It's also the first workplace within which men and women get paid equally.

At the same time, it's also a place of extreme violence and, at times, oppression of people who are othered. What I'm trying to do by placing the camera on the side of my lead character, I'm hoping to suggest the complications of that, fighting for a country that, for most of its history, never fought for us. And by "us" I mean Black people and queer people.

"I personally view this film 'The Inspection' as a pro-troop film, but it's not a pro-military nor an anti-military film."
Elegance Bratton, writer/director of “The Inspection”

Rath: I've got to say, even as a heterosexual man, it was really affecting and upsetting to watch this because this history is not that long ago, and I feel like there are a lot of these stories that we just don't know.

Bratton: Well, I've had lots of people reach out to me since the film's been released. Quite a few men have experienced sexual trauma in uniform, and a lot of them are thanking me for giving voice to something that, up until this point, has kind of been a little dirty secret.

I personally view this film "The Inspection" as a pro-troop film, but it's not a pro-military nor an anti-military film. I'm really conscious of creating an environment where more than one thing can be true at once.

For me, I came to the military at a time in my life that I was at my lowest. I was in a homeless shelter. I didn't really have any support, so I needed the military to offer me a mode of transformation. That being said, the price that had to be paid very often was pretty steep. I had moments of true exclusion and true violence, but I also had moments of true camaraderie and brotherhood.

So it's not to say that this film is attempting to elide the more difficult questions, but what I'm really attempting to do with this film is to start a conversation between right and left. Because if there's anything I got out of my military experience, it's very much that. It's the ability to talk to people who are very different from me and to remember that our lives are dependent upon one another, right? I have to protect the man to my left and my right so that he'll protect me as well. I think that that lesson is something the whole world needs to hear right now, especially in this moment of such extreme polarization.

Rath: So this film, "The Inspection," it documents your trauma. I got to wondering about what the process was like — since it's not like making an ordinary film, as you're directing these actors and recreating these scenes in such detail. Is it like therapy when you're doing it, or do you have to detach yourself to be able to make the art?

Bratton: A little bit of both. My mother was killed about three days after we got greenlit by our production companies A24 and Gamechanger. So I had been in the process of grieving the loss of my mother, really, since the age of 16. It's been such a wonderful journey releasing this film into the world. And I really wanted my mother to be aware of that journey. When we got on set, actor Gabrielle Union [who plays his mother] wore my mother's jewelry, she used my mother's Bible. She really helped me bring my mother back to life.

The film has helped me have a conversation that I wasn't really able to have with her, and at times that was really emotionally trying. I cried a lot. It was a lot of different emotional triggers going on at once. So when I needed to detach to focus, I detached. But honestly, my producer and my husband — the love of my life — he said to me that, when I got on set that I had to be vulnerable, that I couldn't try to hide what I was feeling because if I did that, it would just come out in some other way.

So I tried to create an environment that was safe. And, mind you, I'm not the only person on set who had experienced the things that were being depicted in this film. We had a lot of queer people, a lot of women, people who've been bullied. And I just said, "Listen, I'm going through it. And if you guys are going through it, please just stop and tell someone, or tell me, and let's talk about it. Let's try to support each other." And I was fortunate that between [actors] Jeremy Pope, Gabrielle Union, my husband and this incredible crew of creatives, I felt held.