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“ZIYARA”— To Morocco

“ZIYARA”

To Morocco

Amos Lassen

Director Simone Bitton takes us on acinematic pilgrimage to her homeland of Morocco, as she explores her Jewish roots through the sphere of the Muslim guardians of the nation’s Jewish memory that are centered around the tradition of “ziyara”.

In rural Morocco, the country’s youngest citizens have largely never coexisted alongside Jews, although their presence is still felt in symbols, old shrines, synagogues and cemeteries. Many Muslims still maintain and find beauty in these commodities, seeing them as a timeless connection to the word of God.

Throughout the film, Bitton looks at the tradition of ziyara, a shared tradition between both Muslims and Jews. Pilgrims take a few days off in order to visit the tombs of saints, not only to pray but more importantly to commune with nature, celebrate outdoors, meet new people and exchange. Bitton revisits her original identity through the eyes of maturity and tells the story of Jews and Muslims, as has been the consistent theme in her work for decades. She finds a story of hope.

Through intimate conversations not only with those old enough to remember sharing their land with Jews, but with a new generation of Moroccans inspired by their heritage, we are with Bitton. These deeply personal insights include everyday people and specialists, all of them modest and magnificent heroes in a relentless quest for modernity, dignity, and social justice.

 

QUEERX AWARDS HONOR SNL’S BOWEN YANG, POSE’S MJ RODRIGUEZ, ELVIRA / CASSANDRA PETERSON & WNBA STAR ERICA WHEELER — AIRING MONDAY OCTOBER 11TH

THE QUEERX AWARDS BROUGHT TO YOU BY LEXUS TO HONOR SNL’S BOWEN YANG, POSE’S MJ RODRIGUEZ, ELVIRA / CASSANDRA PETERSON & WNBA STAR ERICA WHEELER

Hosts Drew Droege and Raneir Pollard Join Presenters Dwyane and Zaya Wade, Steven Canals, Peaches Christ, and Patton Oswalt for the QueerX Awards Streaming Live on National Coming Out Day with Musical Performances, Special Screenings of the Winning Films, and the Revry Visibility Awards.

Los Angeles, CA – October 8, 2021 – Revry, the largest LGBT-first streaming media network, premieres theQueerX Awards brought to you by Lexus at 5PM PST/8PM EST on October 11, 2021 for National Coming Out Day. The streaming special is the grand finale to the month-long international film festival competition, QueerX, and features dynamic music performances, full screenings of the winning films, and the star-studded Revry Visibility Awards.

“National Coming Out Day is our moment to shine a light on the best emerging LGBTQ talent and the leading voices in queer culture,” says Revry and QueerX co-founder and show producer, Christopher J. Rodriguez. “What could be a better way to celebrate this holiday than with a showcase of authentic storytellers, breakout musicians, and recognizing unapologetically visible icons.”

Show highlights include:

Revry Visibility Awards 2021: Revry’s annual honors of influential celebrities who have made an impact on the community, including: 

·         NBA star Dwyane Wade and his daughter Zaya Wade presenting to WNBA star Erica Wheeler.

·         Drag Icon Peaches Christ presenting to Cassandra Peterson aka Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.

·         Patton Oswalt presenting to Bowen Yang (Saturday Night Live).

·         Emmy nominated actress and musician, Michaela Jaé (MJ) Rodriguez will be honored.

Competition Winners & Films: International film festival winners introduce their films which then screen in their entirety.

Musical Performances: The world premiere of music from non-binary pop rocker, Chanel and the Circus, and queer rap lyrcist, Alsace Carcione. The show also features an updated gender-inclusive rendition of the Weather Girls’ gay anthem with Mila Jam’s “It’s Raining Them.”

Sponsors include Lexus, Final Draft, Tourism Spain, Florida Keys and Key West.

Film Awards Trailer (embeddable) HERE

Approved Headshots HERE

Awards Show Art HERE

About QueerX

Since its inception, QueerX has broken the mold of LGBTQ film festivals with a focus on the culture of queer entertainment. Utilizing cutting-edge technology to reach global audiences with its live festival TV channel, anyone in the world can screen the “Official Selections” for free. The competition culminates annually on National Coming Out Day with the star-studded QueerX Awards–featuring music performances, screenings of the winning films, and the Revry Visibility Awards. The festival has become a discovery platform for emerging queer musicians and underrepresented filmmakers–providing invaluable resources to connect directly to the entertainment industry. QueerX aims to create a space where artists, industry professionals, and enthusiasts alike can come together to celebrate the future of queer entertainment.

About Revry

Revry is the LGBTQ-first streaming media network with free live TV, movies, series, news and exclusive Original programming amounting to over 5,000 titles. Its mission is to inspire exploration of LGBTQ content for the community and allies. Revry is led by a diverse founding team with technology, digital media, and LGBTQ advocacy experience. Revry reaches millions of global viewers on connected TV, Smart TV, OTT and mobile platforms including Samsung, Vizio, Roku, Apple, Comcast Xfinity, Cox Communications,Google, TiVo, and many others.

“Sapiens: A Graphic History, Volume 2: The Pillars of Civilization (Sapiens: A Graphic History, 2)” by Yuval Noah Harari— The Agricultural Revolution

Harari, Yuval Noah. “Sapiens: A Graphic History, Volume 2: The Pillars of Civilization (Sapiens: A Graphic History, 2)”,  Harper Perennial, 2021.

The Agricultural Revolution

Amos Lassen

This is the second volume of Yuval Harari’s Sapiens: A Graphic Historyand it is the full-color graphic adaptation his bestseller. The focus is on the Agricultural Revolution when humans worked harder with diminishing returns.

Using the supposition that war, plague, famine and inequality began 12,000 years ago when Homo sapiens changed from nomads to settlers seeking productivity and efficiency, we question whether they were attempting to control plants and animals. They ended up being controlled by kings, priests, and bureaucracy. Harari explores how wheat took over the world; how a union between a god and a bureaucrat created the first empires; and how war, plague, famine, and inequality became a feature of the human condition.

The characters from volume 1— Yuval, Zoe, Professor Saraswati, Cindy and Bill (now farmers), Detective Lopez, and Dr. Fiction return and investigate the impact the Agricultural Revolution has had on our humankind. We see how Mephisto shows them how to trap humans, King Hammurabi sets the law, and Confucius explains the meaning and importance of harmonious society. Modern farming is introduced through Elizabethan tragedy; we see the fate of domesticated plants and animals as tracked in the columns of the Daily Business News; urbanization is seen as a travel brochure and the history of inequality is related as a superhero detective story. This is a radical retelling of the story of humankind for adults and young adults.

“The Last Checkmate: A Novel” by Gabriella Saab— Playing Chess for Life

Saab, Gabriella. “The Last Checkmate: A Novel”,  William Morrow, 2021.

Playing Chess for Life

Amos Lassen

Maria Florkowasa is a young Polish resistance workerwho isimprisoned in Auschwitz as a political prisoner. Sheplays chess in exchange for her life, and in doing so fights to bring the man who destroyed her family to justice.

Maria, as a member of the Polish underground resistance in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, is very brave. She is captured by the Gestapo, imprisoned in Auschwitz and is very lucky. When her family is sent to their deaths, she is spared. She is well aware of her ability to play chess. The sadistic camp deputy, Karl Fritzsch, decides to use her as a chess opponent to entertain camp guards. However, he plans to kill her when he becomes tired of exploiting her skills.

When she is befriended by a Catholic priest, Maria struggles to overcome her grief and vows to avenge the murder of her family. She plays chess for her life. During four terrible years, her strategy becomes “Live. Fight. Survive”. She manages to provoke Fritzsch’s volatile nature in front of his superiors while planning his downfall. She wants to see him punished for his evil-doings.  As she carries out her plan and the war nears its end, she challenges him to one final game which will surely end in life or death, in failure or justice.

She was just fourteen-years-old when she was captured by the Gestapo while delivering documents for the resistance. After a brutal interrogation, Maria and her whole family are sent to Auschwitz, but only she survives the first day and that was because of Fritzsch who learns she can play chess and he can use her to entertain the camp guards. She knows he will kill her when he becomes bored with their matches. She is filled with guilt over the deaths of her family members and only finds the will to live when she becomes friends with a kind Catholic priest and the only other woman prisoner in the men’s camp. Her only wish is to survive long enough to bring down her family’s killer. It all comes down to one final chess match.

This is a  compelling story of courage, perseverance, friendship and love.  It is heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. Saab’s writing is polished, understated, and engaging. The characters come alive for me and the descriptions are vivid. I found myself turning pages as quickly as possible as I became a part of Maria.

 

 

“Everything Within and In Between” by Nikki Bathelmess— Assimilation, Family Bonds and Identity

Barthelmess, Nikki. “Everything Within and In Between”,  Harper Teen, 2021.

Assimilation, Family Bonds and Identity

Amos Lassen

Ri Fernández has been told for her entire life that “We live in America and we speak English.” Her strict Mexican grandma, Ri, who raised her has never allowed Ri to learn Spanish. Her grandmother has also pulled Ri away from the community where they once belonged and Ri has grown up trying to fit in among her best friend’s elite world of mansions and country clubs as she tries to become part her grandmother’s version of the “American Dream.”

Ri has always believed that her mother, who disappeared when Ri was young, would accept her exactly how she is and not try to make her into someone she’s never wanted to be. When Ri finds a long-hidden letter from her mom begging for a visit, she decides to reclaim her heritage and her mom. However, it doesn’t work out that way. Her mom isn’t who Ri imagined she would be and finding her doesn’t change anything. Ri and no one else has any idea of who Ri really is. 

Nikki Barthelmess’s “Everything Within and In Between” is the story of  one young woman’s journey to rediscover her roots and redefine herself. It examines intergenerational cultural dynamics and racial microaggressions through Ri’s journey of self-discovery. We read of biracial identity complicated family dynamics, and the discovery of identity while bridging two worlds.

Barthelmess writes about heritage and family and pulls us into Ri’s story the moment we begin to read. Ri passes for white simply because she is whiter than the other Latinx kids in her school. Her grandmother wants nothing to do with her own heritage and wants to pull Ri from all things Mexican in this story of identity. This personal coming-of-age narrative is filled with changing friendships and loves in the larger picture of history and community.

“Hitler: Downfall, 1939-1945 by Volker Ulrich— The Final Years

Ulrich, Volker. “Hitler: Downfall: 1939-1945”, translated by Jefferson Chase, Knopf, 2021.

The Final Years

Amos Lassen

Ulrich Volker’s “Hitler: Downfall: 1939-1945” is the story of Hitler’sfinal years, when he got the war he wanted but his leadership led to run for his nation and catastrophe for the world and himself. 

In the summer of 1939 Hitler was at the top of his power. The Nazis had consolidated political control in Germany and a series of foreign-policy coups had brought Germany back to a major world power. Hitler began his journey of the realization of his lifelong ambition: to provide the German people with the resources they needed to flourish and to exterminate those who stood in the way. However, even with his initial triumphs, Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union in 1941 changed everything.

We learn a great deal about Hitler’s character and personality and see his insecurity, obsession with small details and narcissism that caused him to go over the heads of his subordinates and then blame them for his failures. Realizing that the war was could not be won, he began the annihilation of Germany itself to punish the people who he believed had failed to make him victorious. 

The impulsiveness and grandiosity, the bullying and vulgarity were seen early on and they were part of Hitler’s anti-establishment appeal. Ullrich says that these both raised him up and caused his downfall.  This is a study of the abuse of power and gives a lesson to all of us. Here is the Hitler that we have not known before.

This is the second volume of Volker Ullrich’s two volume Hitler biography. It is well written,  beautifully researched and gives us a great deal to think about.

“A Quilt for David” by Steven Reigns— Revisiting David Acer

Reigns, Steven. “A Quilt for David”, City Lights, 2021.

Revisiting David Acer

Amos Lassen

In the early 1990s, eight people who were living in a small conservative Florida town alleged that Dr. David Acer, their dentist, had infected them with HIV. Because David was gay and appeared to be sickly because of his own AIDS-related illness, he was the ideal scapegoat and victim. It was a time during the early years of AIDS when not much was understood, and homophobia was everywhere. Accuser Kimberly Bergalis managed to get an interview and cover story in “People” and others appeared on talk shows and on the front page of newspapers.

In “A Quilt for David”, poet, Steven Reigns examines the life and death of Acer and the society that used stigma against those who are vulnerable. We see how the present Covid 19 pandemic is also being looked at through medical misinformation and cultural bias. Reigns looks at an American history in a different light by questioning Acer’s accusers and reconstructing the life of a gay man that has been depicted with secrecy and shame.

Those of us who have been around for a while remember all too how we have had to live lives of secrecy and discrimination simply based on our sexuality. We have had to deal with discrimination and questions about who we are and how we live and love. Even though things are so much better now, the past history has left an indelible mark on us and we have been scarred. Reigns takes this very serious as he returns honor to those who died of AIDS and looks at Acer’s life and death as representative of the way we lived. As I read, I was moved to tears and uplifted by hope. This is not only Acer’s story but our story as well. Now, some thirty years after his death, Acer becomes the symbol of hate and lies that have hurt our community for way too long and Reigns’ words bring this home to a new generation.

Poetry is based on emotion and it is impossible not to be emotionally moved by what we read here. We do not often get a look at what happened during AIDS in the way we do here and while it is heartbreaking, it is also liberating. I have long been a fan of Reigns as a writer and as a person and he has surpassed himself with “A Quilt for David”. Each word is important and shows his devotion to his subject. I find it hard to write about this book as I am so deeply affected by what I read here. I am quite sure I will never forget it.

“Sweat: A History of Exercise” by Bill Hayes— Exercise

Hayes, Bill. “Sweat: A History of Exercise”, Bloomsbury, 2022.

Exercise

Amos Lassen

Bill Hayes’ “Sweat” is a cultural, scientific, literary, and personal history of exercise. Exercise is a form of physical activity that is different from sports, play, or athletics and was an ancient obsession that has been largely overlooked. “Bill Hayes runs, jogs, swims, spins, walks, bikes, boxes, lifts, sweats, and downward-dogs his way through the origins of different forms of exercise, chronicling how they have evolved over time, dissecting the dynamics of human movement.” 

The main historical figures is Girolamo Mercuriale, a Renaissance-era Italian physician who tried to revive the ancient Greek “art of exercising” through his 1569 book “De arte gymnastica”. Hayes ties his own personal experience as well as ours-to the cultural and scientific history of exercise, from ancient times to the present day and we gain a new of understanding its place in the 21st century.

“The Postmistress of Paris” by Meg Waite Clayton— Love and Danger

Clayton, Meg Waite. “The Postmistress of Paris: A Novel”Harper, 2021.

Love and Danger

Amos Lassen

Set in the dark early days of the German occupation in France, Meg Waite Clayton brings us a love story and a tale of danger and courageabout a young American heiress who helps artists hunted by the Nazis escape from Europe.

Naneé was born in the Midwest with a spirit of adventure. When German tanks enter Paris, she joins the resistance. Known as the Postmistress because she delivers information to those in hiding, she uses her charms and skill to find the hunted and get them to safety. The story is based on the real life Chicago heiress Mary Jayne Gold. She worked with American journalist Varian Fry to smuggle artists and intellectuals out of France.

Naneé moves from social butterfly into artistic circles as she participates in a resistance network dedicated to smuggling people out of Occupied France and into Spain to Portugal and, eventually, America. After meeting Jewish German photographer, Edouard Moss, Naneé and he are drawn to one another; and even as they are pulled apart by situation and circumstance, their futures are meant to come together.  Fine writing, complex characters, and an exciting plot make this quite an enjoyable read. This is a book about loss, love and trust  that will have you turning pages quickly.

 

“The Falling Girls” by Hayley Krischer— Relationships

Krischer, Hayley. “The Falling Girls”, Razorbill, 2021.

Relationships

Amos Lassen

Shade and Jadis are the best of friends. They share everything from clothes, toothbrushes to matching stick-and-poke tattoos. But when Shade unexpectedly joins the cheerleading team, Jadis has trouble understanding what is happening to her best friend. Shade loves being in a group of girls and she loves being disciplined to push her body to the limits. She is drawn to The Three Chloes—the three girls that rule the team.
 
Jadis is not ready to give up on Shade and the pull between her old best friend and her new teammates influences Shade as she tries to find her own way. When one of the cheerleaders dies under mysterious circumstances, Shade sets out to get to the bottom of her death.

This is an exploration of the relationships between teen girls and a story of loss and betrayal, and the effects on at a friendship. While these relationships can be healthy, there’s a thin line between close friendship and obsession. We see what can happen when that line is crossed. I was both mesmerized and disturbed by what I read yet I could not stop reading.