Mat Hayes

Mat Hayes, a Decatur native, wrote, directed and acted in "Cognitive." [COURTESY PHOTO]

A Decatur native’s short film addressing the interaction between the church and a member of the LGBTQ community is creating a buzz in the festival circuit.

“Cognitive” by Mat Hayes, a Decatur Heritage and Auburn graduate currently living in Los Angeles, has been selected for 19 film festivals, including events in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Tampa Bay, Memphis, Cincinnati and Birmingham. The film won best short at the Las Vegas International Film Festival and was nominated for best short at the Love International Film Festival in Los Angeles.

The film opens with a 30-something gay man, played by Hayes, talking with his therapist about his experience at church as a child.

“It’s autobiographical in that as a kid I thought I had AIDS because of what my church taught on homosexuality,” the 34-year-old Hayes said. “As a child, I heard what AIDS was and I heard that it was God’s punishment for the LGBTQ.”

“Cognitive” marks Hayes’ writing and directorial debut. To fund the project, he launched an Indiegogo campaign with a goal to raise $5,000. He raised $22,000.

“I received a lot of support from people in what I call my first circle, my hometown and my church,” Hayes said. “The other half of the support came from middle-age gay men who are still looking for that validation to be told they are OK. The trauma that so many of us have gone through with the church is pretty much lifelong.”

Hayes plans on hosting a screening of “Cognitive” at the Alabama Center for the Arts this year. A question and answer session with LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ-friendly clergy will follow the screening.

“My goal was never to paint the institution of church as a negative thing. I still am a Christian and go to church. I just want to challenge the rhetoric used,” Hayes said. “Part of this is not only healing my inner child, but also speaking to those kids who are still in those pews and hearing those messages.”

To find out more about “Cognitive” and watch a trailer, visit or 256-340-2441. Twitter @DecaturLiving.
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