Category Archives: Boston LGBT Film Festival

“APRICOT GROVES”— What Lies Ahead

“Apricot Groves”

What Lies Ahead

Amos Lassen

Aram is an the Iranian Armenian youth who has immigrated to the US in childhood but now returns to Armenia for the first time to propose to an Armenian girlfriend that he met and lived with in the US. He sees many cultural, religious, and national differences on the one-day trip, but little does he know that harder obstacles are ahead.

This is Iranian/Armenian writer/director Pouria Heidary Oureh’s first feature film and it is set in his two home countries of Armenia and Iran and this is rare for any LGBTQ movie.  The story is filled with beauty and it is rendered with compassion and understanding. When the main idea of the story is revealed, we are deeply moved by the journey that Aram’s (Narbe Vartan) journey.

Aram has flown from L.A. where he has been living since his father died,  and is met at Zvarnots Airport  by his older brother Arman (Hovhannes Azoyan) who has never left Armenia.  Aram is going to be staying for just one day. The reason for his trip is to formally propose to an Armenian female that he met while she was visiting America. The local custom is that the prospective groom must be accompanied by his own family members with gifts when he goes to his potential father-in-law to ask for her hand. Aram acts accordingly.

Preparing for the visit takes up the morning with the tailor, picking up gifts and flowers, cognac and cookies. When Aram finally arrives, the father of the perspective bride comes across as cold but he warms up and grants permission for the marriage.

 

The second part of the day includes a long drive to the Iranian border for a hinted-at reason but which I cannot share because it would ruin the viewing experience. This is a film that demands its audience to be patient. Oureh cleverly lets the story unfold and the surprise that comes is just that, a surprise. However, there is a sad aspect to the film in that because of the American government’s ban on Muslims coming into the country, we will not be able to meet Oureh at any of the screenings as it plays on the festival circuit.

“TAMARA”— From Teo to Tamara

“Tamara”

From Teo to Tamara

Amos Lassen

“Tamara” is the story of Teo Almanza who, upon hearing about the death of his brother, returns to his hometown in Venezuela. What was originally planned to be a short visit becomes a long trip to gender reassignment. It explores Teo’s desire to become a woman and shares his search for his true self, his struggle with societal taboos as well as his inner conflicts about who he wants to become as contrasted with what society wants him to be. Venezuela is a federal republic that is predominantly Catholic and we become aware of the hardships especially transgender men and women face on a daily basis regarding Catholicism. The film avoids the violence perpetually inflicted on the transgender community and instead focuses on the complexity of identity.

 

As a lawyer, spouse and father, Teo fits those patriarchal roles quite seamlessly, however he felt in a body that he denies as his own and this continually caused him emotional distress. Throughout the film, we are very aware of what he has to contend with as it affects the definition of who he is. This is clearly seen in therapy sessions that are juxtaposed with flashbacks and voice-over narration.

We soon find ourselves in his mind thus allowing us to be better able to relate to his circumstances. Tamara also heightens this quest for the self by displacing the protagonist from his point of origin, i.e. his comfort zone. He had found this in Paris and its bohemian lifestyle where he studied law. This displacement provides a socio-political context and therefore is a modern, transgressive and twisted look at transsexuality in Venezuela, a particular location that is heavily influenced by tradition.

We are with Teo as he is on his journey of becoming who he has always wanted to be, regardless of the natural fear of finding himself utterly alone or being made fun of for the rest of his life. We see that the assertion of self-realization can occur at any age, and that it is possible to be reborn and this is a philosophical approach that contrasts heavily with Catholicism.

In many other films about transgender characters, the feeling of empathy comes out of pity, while in “Tamara”, we tend to morally support the main character all the way through his transformation because we really admire his ability to thrive even with societal constraints and animosity regarding change. Luis Fernandez as Teo delivers a wonderful performance of the nature of Teo’s ethos. “Tamara” successfully blurs the borders between male and female.

Directed by Elia K. Schneider, the film is a reaction to the norms and the codes of conduct prescribed by a society that refuses any change attributed to the human condition. It provokes the mind and the slow pace often serves as a breather that allows viewers to both pause and reflect while with Teo.

“THIRSTY”— Finding Self-Acceptance

“Thirsty”

Finding Self-Acceptance

Amos Lassen

Scott Townsend was bullied in his younger days but soon became a very special and revered drag queen by the name of Thirsty Burlington who despite fighting obstacles throughout his life discovered that what he really wanted was self acceptance. only to discover what he really wants is self-acceptance.

Scott Townsend went into the world of drag as a safe respite from his being bullied when he was growing up in the projects in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He became Thirsty Burlington, Provincetown’s Cher impersonator. In the film we see the significant events in Scott/Thirsty’s life (1970s to the present) and the dangers and the joys of living life in gender fluidity.

Director Margo Pelletier, who also co-wrote the script with Laura Kelber, uses the sort of set-ups that are familiar from musicals to show episodes from the real life of Scott Townsend (who stars as himself) and his rise to fame. The narrative includes fantasy sequences, including Scott’s Powerpuff Girl-style alter ego, who pops up from time to time in blazing pink. We meet him as a youngster (Cole Canazo), living with his mum Doris (Deirdre Lovejoy), sisters and, briefly, he’s dad in the Cambridge projects in Massachusetts. From the beginning, gender has been a slippery issue for him from the start, with the local bully branding him a “girly-boy” and people mistaking him for a girl. Scott’s love of music is encouraged by his uncle Gene (Michael Gioia). Although episodic, the film is linear to begin with, tracking Scott up through high school before mapping his start and later rise as a drag queen.

The film explores gender fluidity and the importance of being at ease with yourself. Scott’s boyfriend Christopher (Natti Vogel) has a hang up about men who don’t look like men, prompting fights about Scott’s job. The idea of flowing between identities is shown as the drag acts get ready for their performance. The film questions our perception as to whether it matters what clothes someone wears and if this affects what is under that clothing. When he is dressed as a man some people find his gender definition complicated but when he is impersonating Cher it is in some ways simpler because everyone is well aware its a guy in drag.

Scott and his impersonation of Cher shows his great talent. As an actor he also shows an ability to step back in time and shows his first walk in heels and we see him as a person who has the talent to charm his audience.

The film uses a variety of storytelling techniques, devices and it is a lot of fun, Actually each thread of the story could well stand on its own and the themes of gender identity resonate.We see the bullying that Townsend faced as a child and the bigotry he dealt with as an adult. We also see a suicide attempt, alcoholic parents, his own drinking, and poverty. “Thirsty” is really about loving oneself and how this allows others to do the same.

“Before Homosexuals”— “Same-Sex Desire from Ancient Times to Victorian Crimes”

“Before Homosexuals”
“Same-Sex Desire from Ancient Times to Victorian Crimes”
Amos Lassen

The world premier of John Scagiotti’s new documentary will take place at the Museum of Fat Arts in Boston as part of the Wicked Queer Film Festival on April 8, 2017 and judging from the filmmaker’s previous work, this promises to be a very important film.


We are taken on a tour of “same-sex desire from ancient times to Victorian crimes”. The idea for the film was inspired by gay liberation and here historians and artists join Emmy Award-winner Scagliotti on recent erotic discoveries. This continues Scagliotti produced many now-classic documentaries including “Before Stonewall” and “After Stonewall” and created the first LGBT radio show (“The Lavender Hour”) and the television series “In the Life” which ran from 1991 until 2012 on PBS.



The film explores how the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the growth of LGBT political power in the 1990s opened We learn of lesbian love spells from ancient Rome, censored chapters of the Kamasutra, Native American two-spirit rituals and more. The unearths the garden of human sexual delights and the endurance and creativity of “an army of lovers”.
 The film begins on the Greek island of Astypalaia where we see same-sex graffiti from 2,500 years ago and learn of the naturalness of homosexuality among the ancient Greeks. I really cannot think of a better way to spend a couple of hours than being entertained and educated.

“CHERRY POP”— One Crazy Night

“Cherry Pop”

One Crazy Night

Amos Lassen

One crazy night in the life of a small local bar’s drag show is what “Cherry Pop” is all about. We meet a newcomer who struggles with being the outcast on his first night, a legend coming to terms with life after her last night in drag and about a bunch of back-stabbing queens with their own problems who just plain can’t stand each other.

We also see stories of some of the people who come into the bar. Chaos reigns here. There is another little twist here— a love story about a boy who falls in love with a girl, who accepts the boy for who he is even if he has a deep secret desire to dress like a woman and perform.

Assad Yacoub directed this film that centers on drag queens. Not only is the plot unconventional but it also has a revolutionary view point to bring to audiences. The film stars such drag queens as Detox, Latrice Royale, Bob the Drag Queen, Misty Violet, Mayhem Miller and Lars Berge as The Cherry.

We see claws come out and feathers are sequins fly as we watch a challenge to traditional gender roles and societal constructs of sexuality (in a non-threatening and comical way). There is lots of humor and lots of wigs as we understand the message of loving who are.

“EVEN LOVERS GET THE BLUES”— A Look at Modern Love

“Even Lovers Get the Blues”

A Look at Modern Love

Amos Lassen

Ana is sleeping with Hugo, Dalhia with Graciano who does not know where he is in life, Léo with Louis, and Arthur is sleeping with everyone in Belgian director Laurent Micheli first feature film. One night, Hugo doesn’t wake up, and Anna begins to mourn him by reconnecting with his body, abusing it, listening to it, ignoring it and, finally, freeing it. All the characters cross paths in the randomness of the Brussels night and then once again in the countryside. Love here takes on a number of different forms.


The story, which begins in the cold of Brussels’ winter, migrates, with spring, to a rural lakeside, before coming to a close in the summer heat of the city’s secret gardens. We visit the bathroom in a bar, a nightclub, have sex on a sofa bed, go to a deserted beach where bodies come together and loves are lost, searched for and are, sometimes found again. The characters’ paths cross and uncross, couples are created and then unmade and there is experimentation with an ever-evolving sexuality as our characters search for the kind of thrills that make them feel alive. We see the unease of this generation in an insecure society that wants and tries to reinvent sex and love.

Director Micheli dares to present confronting sex scenes that are far removed from the norms of the era. The sexual freedom that we see on the screen portrayed explicitly on the screen represents the idea of formal freedom. The film has a sense of vibrancy that is free from the cinematic language that so many adhere to and this freedom carries a burden of awkwardness, but brings real freshness into the film as it portrays the characters’ procrastination in their quest for meaning and freedom in their life.

For the actors (Gabriel da Costa, Adriana da Fonseca, Marie Denys, Séverine Porzio, Arnaud Bronsart, Tristan Schotte) this is their first film role and in their private lives, they all have the conviction and frivolity of their characters.

“SMALL TALK”— A Special Family Story

“Small Talk” (“Ri Chang Dui Hua”)

A Special Family Story

Amos Lassen

Filmmaker Hui-chen Huang shares her personal journey towards reconciliation of her childhood while at the same time analyzing her society’s connection to gender equality and varying identities and sexual orientations. Huang’s mother earns a living as a spirit guide for the deceased at their funerals and she never stayed at home; she was always out and about with her girlfriends instead. The daughter tries very hard to understand her mother. We get an inside look at a culture we probably are not be familiar with in this powerful documentary that is of universal significance and also extremely intimate at the same time.

The film is very timely when we consider the recent parliamentary steps towards the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan. “Small Talk” is a love letter from Huang to her mother who we learn silently suffered from an abusive relationship that came out of a forced marriage in a small Taiwanese village in the 1970s. It is also about the rejection of her sexual orientation by society and her gradual estrangement from her two daughters

As we watch and listen to conversations between Huang and her mother, we see them confront painful experiences that they shared, and in doing so discuss difficult questions regarding their love for each other. The film concludes with a conversation between the two at the dinner table, where their wounds are torn open brutally, candidly and intimately. Shot through three cameras that capture close-ups and profile shots, we see them sitting across a table with no physical contact. Even though Huang’s mother remains silent for the most part during the encounter, her eyes and movements say a great deal.

It is the camera that gives the pretext of opportunity for the filmmaker to physically and emotionally connects with her mother. It is only from behind the lens that Huang is able to fixate on the facial expressions of her mother and show every wrinkle in her mother’s face. The tension breaks when the filmmaker’s aunt, after being asked whether she knew that her sister likes women, rushes inside to announce, “I need to do the laundry”. It is this moment (along with several repetitive sessions of back-and-forth questioning of “Did you know?” and “I didn’t know”) that shows the tremendous need of “small talk”. Here we become very aware of the importance of giving a voice to those who remain silent for too long, those who are despised and discriminated against, and those who should be freed from feelings of shame.

“Small Talk” gives a message is universal and speaks to an audience regardless of nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic background. It is Huang’s feature directorial debut and she should be very proud.

The film is a meditative exploration into the past of her family with each layer revealing a little more about who her mother Anu is (as a Taoist priestess, a lover to many girlfriends, a dependable friend, and an absentee mother). It is the identify of a mother that Hui-chen wants to understand, since Anu has made it clear that she never wanted to get married nor have children. Huang attempts to break down the wall that stands between herself and her mother for the past 20 years. The film also includes interviews with Anu’s past and present lovers, Anu’s siblings, as well as home video shot over the course of the last 20 years to present a daughter’s vague understanding of her lesbian mom.

The ultimate reveal comes when Huang finally gains the courage to have “the conversation” with Anu, which will either free mother and daughter from their shared painful past or further estrange them.

“DISCREET”— Revenge and Masculine Fragility

“Discreet”

Revenge and Masculine Fragility

Amos Lassen

Travis Mathews’s new film, “Discreet” is the story of an older man who returns home after years in hiding and struggling to control his demons. He learns that his childhood abuser, who was at the center of his pain, is still alive. Our man begins to plot his revenge while at the same time dealing with the concept of masculine fragility in modern-day America. The film looks at the complex potential of YouTube in this story of a childhood abuse victim whose fixation with a well-meaning video blogger confuses his connection to the real world.

This is a meditation on many contemporary social ills and presents a vividly worldview. Mathews gives us the first queer film that addresses the subject of alt-right influence on outsider identity in Middle America. There are even Trump-Pence campaign signs that date the proceedings precisely.

Gay drifter Alex (Jonny Mars) hears voices of and sees two very different cultural spheres that influence him equally and they cause disorientation and have a deleterious effect. In one ear is the aggressive Conservative pro-Trump lobby that comes with far right talk radio and that encourages his most violent, reactionary attempts at self-assertion. On the other ear is the peaceable New Age self-help counsel of minor YouTube sensation Mandy (Atsuko Okatsuka) whose videos suggest and advocate finding solace in the routines and rhythms of the everyday. Alex is eager to please Mandy and meets her at her home in Portland where he gets into making his own video art. However, it soon becomes very that Alex is mentally unbalanced and has a very different idea of what is therapeutic. Alex then returns his hometown in Texas to confront the trauma of his youth and unexpectedly comes into contact with his childhood abuser and finds that who he had once considered to be a monster is now disabled. Alex assumes the role of caretaker, even though the possibility of retribution remains with him. Mars’ dour performance holds viewers away from him. We see how he feels about his sexuality by his visits to porn shops on the edge of town and Craigslist motel meets arranged on Craigslist. Yet Alex remains an enigma. The more he goes off the deep end, the more he drifts.

Mandy is never quite a full embodiment of the millennial liberal movement that both encourages and cruelly spurns the protagonist’s difference. “Discreet” reflects the inchoate identity it seeks to portray and it begins to agitate its audience.

There can be a paradoxically public intimacy to YouTube culture that is paradoxically artificial and there is little sense of personal connection. YouYube seems to prey on loneliness among those watching. We become aware of racism, internalized homophobia and the general fear of being seen and hiding behind a computer screen does not prove that someone is discreet or not.

It all begins ambiguously with the sound of frying bacon, an image of an Asian woman holding the sides of her head and, eventually, a body being wrapped in garbage bags. From this point, the plot gradually unfolds slowly and I found it to be unforgettable even when the film is over.

During the course of the film, Alex spends time with John, an older, despondent man with a nervous twitch and arranges discreet hookups in local sex spots. Eventually he connects with Zack, a teenage employee at the local donut shop. Here the film begins a series of twists and turns as it reflects Alex’s dark psyche. We are all aware of urgency that surrounds us with the new presidential administration. We want to act on this but we are not sure how.

“Discreet” is a minimalist thriller that reflects our time without being didactic and preachy. Our government is actively trying to confuse the populace about what’s real, and they’re doing it by inciting a death and destruction narrative. We are being hit with a degree of brute force that’s measured in relation to how scared they are. Straight white men see how demographics and culture are shifting away from their self-interest, and they probably would prefer to see the world go down in flames—as a show of masculinity rather than to concede, compromise. We see that there’s a lot of trouble to be had with most things “discreet.” Discretion is central to Alex’s struggle and he responds to the isolated world that he struggles to overcome. He tries to take down the community of people with discreet actions that rely on each other to stay safe.

“AFTERIMAGE”— Avant-garde Artist Władysław Strzemiński

“AFTERIMAGE”

Avant-garde Artist Władysław Strzemiński

Amos Lassen

Opening in New York May 19 and in Los Angeles on May 26. It is a look at one of the Polish director, Andrzej Wajda’s favorite artists Wladyslaw Strzeminski, an important figure in avant-garde painting in the first half of the 20th century in Poland. He was an assistant to Kazimir Malevich and the author of the artistic theory of Unism.

Strzeminski (Boguslaw Linda) is seen painting in his flat/workshop as a crew of workmen hang an enormous portrait of Stalin to the outside wall of his building. Printed on a red fabric, the portrait totally blocks the view from the window of Strzeminski’s workshop and plunges his whole flat into a blood red light. It becomes impossible for the artist to continue with his work and he feels as if he has been sentenced to prison. He has been cut off from the outside world, as if he had been put in jail. He protests and reacts violently. The film is a reflection of the painter’s struggle against the communist powers bit by bit, take away all of his rights. Seeing that Strzeminski is not willing to accept the new socialist realism movement being imposed upon artists and art teachers, he is dismissed from the Lodz Graduate School of Visual Arts, where he had been teaching History of Art and taken off the list of members of the artists’ association. He has no livelihood and he is humiliated, penniless and deprived of the food stamps he had been given by the school and the association. He goes deep into poverty, is disabled and seriously ill and eventually meets a tragic end.  

Strzemiński rose to prominence in the interwar years. Having lost an arm and a leg in the First World War he took up the brush and was an internationally acclaimed painter and theoretician by the time he was at odds with the Communist government of the 1950s. Instead of looking at Strzemiński’s experimental nature, or channeling the energy of his dissidence, this is more of a classical drama.

 

The film opens in shades of red as we see Strzemiński’s Lodz apartment and its window covered by the enormous Stalin banner. He puckishly rips a hole in it so that he can let in some natural light for his work that becomes little more than visuals and mostly broad-brush strokes. The government tries to order Strzemiński to fall in line before they interfere more interfere with his life in retaliation for his obstinacy. Even after being relieved of his lectureship, he remains adored by his pupils and venerated by contemporaries, but it becomes clear that this more due to his mind than his manner.

Linda gives a performance of charisma but lacking charm and we see that he’s brilliant but carrying deeply held scars despite the missing limbs (played down as an incidental detail). His mood was clearly the reason for his divorce from his wife and it is very evidenced in his relationships with a love struck student (Zofia Wichłacz) and his own young daughter, Nika (Bronislawa Zamachowska) who has a curt and almost antagonistic relationship with her father, yet she’s a ray of sunshine in an otherwise dark film.

Andrzej Wajda and his film is homage to an avant-garde artist who fell foul of stifling Stalinist rules. Strzeminski was a martyr to Stalinist orthodoxy, but we also see a hint of personal identification with him from the director. Stalin murdered his father, after all, so this undimmed animosity is entirely understandable. 

In the film, the artist is in his late 50s and an inspirational lecturer at the Higher School of Visual Arts in Lodz, an institution he helped to found. However, history went against Strzeminski as Poland embraces a Stalinist code of Socialist Realism, which decrees that all art must “meet the needs of the people.” Abstract painters are suddenly suspect due to their “formalism” and “American cosmopolitanism.” These accusations ruined careers and even lives.

“Powidoki” rez. Andrzej Wajda
Zdjecia: Pawel Edelman
fotosy: Anna Wloch
www.annawloch.com
anna@annawloch.com

When Strzeminski defiantly stands up against these new strictures, his political overlords punish him severely. And we see him as a brave, almost saintly resistance fighter for artistic freedom. “Afterimage” is an elegant movie that is beautifully lit, tastefully art-directed, and handsomely shot.

“CLAMBAKE”— Women’s Weekend in Provincetown

clambake poster

“Clambake”

Women’s Week in Provincetown

Amos Lassen

In 1984, a few of women innkeepers in Provincetown, Massachusetts got together to find how to entice summer guests back during the seaside town’s offseason. Back then there was no email and social media so they wrote letters to the people who had stayed with them in the past and invited them to return to Ptown during the autumn months and especially to a clambake weekend. This was “Women’s Weekend,” and over the next thirty years it has continued and even was responsible for other lesbian gatherings in Provincetown. Ultimately, “Women’s Weekend” became one of the most popular lesbian events in the world.

clambake1a

Andrea Meyerson’s “Clambake” is a new documentary that is about that very weekend and how it made Provincetown into the lesbian destination that it has become. Meyerson chronicles the history of Women’s Weekend using archival footage and archives, interviews with celebrities and founders, and current events and performances and she gives is a fascinating and often funny look at what is possible when a few people with innovative ideas try something new. Actually the event is two years older now since the film was made in 2014. Women’s Weekend has become one of the oldest noncommercial women’s event in the United States. Even more important than that is the fact that Ptown offers a safe and very welcoming environment for women to come together and enjoy each other’s company. I doubt that at that first meeting anyone could have imagined what this would become.

clambake2

There is something magical about Provincetown and it has its own sense of history in that it is where the Pilgrims landed when they came to America before they went to Plymouth. In its early days, Ptown was a Portuguese fishing community. Artist began to movie there and they began the unique artist’s colony that exists there still today. Not long after that gay people began coming to Provincetown and they made the town into one of the very popular tourist destinations and as many at sixty thousand people come there during the summer months. What makes the town so special is that everyone can be themselves and all are welcomed.

clambake3

In the film, director Meyerson speaks to many of the original women innkeepers who are responsible for the first Women’s Weekend and we learn that they were worried that no one would come. In actuality there were some 200 women who came to that first weekend and they almost ran out of food. Listening to these interviews, we sense the passion they share as innkeepers. We also learn that they are not afraid of work and many hold other jobs in addition to running beds and breakfasts.

clambake4

One of the things I noticed on my first trip to Provincetown is the wonderful sense of camaraderie that exists there and the respect that each person has for the other. We do not have many places like Ptown in the United States and that is what makes it so special. Many of the very same women who organized this event are also those who worked so hard when the AIDS epidemic hit this country. In Ptown they mobilized to help in any way they could and this was so very painful especially when AIDS devastated the gay community that was there.

clambake5

The female performers that go to Provincetown never hesitate to sing the town’s praises and they love to perform in front of the large crowds that gather to see them. Above all else, Meyerson has shows us the joy that abounds in the town and the wonderful sense of community that exists there. Women’s Weekend has become so popular that now there is an almost hundred page guide to the events that take place during that time. One of the highlights of my life is my first visit to Provincetown and this movie shows us why those who come to Ptown come back again and again.

blgt film