Category Archives: GLBT Film

“YOU CAN’T ESCAPE LITHUANIA”— Secrets, Memories and Emotions

“YOU CAN’T ESCAPE LITHUANIA”

Secrets, Memories and Emotions

Amos Lassen

After his star actress, Indre (Irina Lavrinovic), murders her mother, filmmaker Romas (Denisas Kolomyckis) plans her escape from Lithuania. Romas’ sexy Mexican boyfriend Carlos (Adrian Escobar) reluctantly helps them. While on the run, Romas begins shooting an improvised experimental film of the trip on his smartphone.

At the crossroad between Europe and Russia, the Baltic countries are going experiencing a strong debate on the question of LGBT rights. In Estonia, civil partnerships have been legalized and Latvia’s foreign minister has just come out while Lithuania seems to have gone in the opposite direction. The Protection of Minors law that is similar to the infamous anti-gay Russian laws, was passed in 2010 but only recently started to be applied and the government has censored two pro-LGBT ads on TV as well as a fairytale book including gay and lesbian love stories.

At the present time in Lithuania, there are no realistic prospects for gay partnership or trans-inclusive laws and censorship is very strong. Politicians seem to be getting only worse – and instead of trying to solve the issues of discrimination, bullying, lack of sexual education and now the people have begun to react. “You Can’t Escape Lithuania” is a metaphor of the LGBT community’s current situation and by telling the story of filmmaker Zabarauskas himself by his attempt to help actress Indre to escape Lithuania after murdering her own mother. “You Can’t Escape Lithuania” is a feature film about a fictional version of Romas Zabarauskas, a gay filmmaker from Lithuania. 

Romas also takes Carlos along for the ride during the escape. As they travel, Romas gives Indre an ultimatum: if she doesn’t agree to perform in one last experimental film, he will turn her over to the police. While this is a sexy film, its stylish and the actors are excellent all around.

“The Diary of Menorah Horwitz” by Menorah Horwitz— Gender, Judaism and Nail Polish

Horwitz, Menorah. “The Diary of Menorah Horwitz”, Floating World Comics, 2017.

Gender, Judaism and Nail Polish

Amos Lassen

What do you mean that you have never heard of Menorah Horwitz? Neither had I until I read this book and I have since learned that she is the drag alter ego of Portland based artist Michael Horwitz who was named as “A Queer to Watch ” by Advocate.com in 2015.. Michael Horwitz is a shy 29 year-old gay illustrator who combines Judaism and a love of drag in “all the wrong ways when he becomes Menorah”. When he performs, he dresses in “a puke colored school-girl’s uniform, stripper heels, and nails made from burning candles taped to his fingers” as he Michael Portland’s queer and punk party scene, one bad lip synch at a time. He falls in with drug happy club kids, hot tempered local divas, and some of the world’s most famous drag queens (sometimes disastrously)—all while waking up at 6 am the next morning to bag groceries”. Things change when Michael realizes that “Menorah isn’t a persona but a suggestion of the person he’s always wanted to be. What began as an imitation of someone famous for speaking their truth becomes a transition into his—or rather her—authentic self”. Menorah’s diary is an autobiographical comedy about finding one’s authentic self in the artificial world of drag, a first person account of gender transitioning and an exploration of traditional Jewish identity intersecting with new gender norms.

 

 

“ECSTASY”— Feeling the Touch

“Ecstasy”

Feeling the Touch

Amos Lassen

I am always amazed how some director’s can make films that are short and say a great deal. This is certainly true of Canadian filmmaker Kyle Reaume. In “Ecstasy” which is only four minutes long, he gives us a lot to think about. We meet a man

who would do anything to be touched by his former lover once more. “Ecstasy” explores what happens when love and violence come together and it gives us a fascinating is an exploration of the coalescence of love and violence. We get a fascinating look at the thin lines between love and hate and love and violence. This is a well-made film that will stay with long after it is over.

“THE DAYDREAMER’S NOTEBOOK”— Seven Short Experimental Films

“The Daydreamer’s Notebook”

Seven Short Experimental Films

Amos Lassen

Over the last forty years, director Michael Saul has been obsessed with daydreams and we see that in this anthology of seven short, experimental films. I, personally have loved his work and these films are a special treat. This collection contains his short films “Nightcrawler”, “Euphoria”, “Cons”, “Idol”, “Boat 14”, “Subterranea” and “The Cipher and the Boar”, all of which are new to me. Saul provides an informative and moving narration as he reflects on his work and the biographical elements in his films.

These are experimental films so it might take a bit of patience until it becomes clear where these films are going and those that stick with them receive wonderful rewards. Some of the films are hypnotic and dreamy and reflect the filmmaker’s childhood. To summarize them here would not be fair for those who want to see the anthology but I can say that we see emotion, love and sensuality. The casts include David Allan Payne, Austin Jolly, Rob Westin, Jeffery Payne, Gabriel Paal, Lindsay Marquino, Vince Perez. Saul also wrote the screenplays and produced the anthology.

“OUT OF IRAQ”— The (Un)Impossible Love of Two Gay Soldiers

“Out of Iraq”

The (Un)Impossible Love of Two Gay Soldiers

Amos Lassen

Coming out of the closet for most of us means facing social and family barriers, which most of us eventually overcome. However, for most people in the Middle East (except Israel), coming out of the closet almost inevitably translates as coming out of the country or being murdered. Homosexuality is mostly perceived as some sort of contagious disease for which the only solution in death.

“Out of Iraq” is documentary that follows Nayyef Hrebid and Btoo Allami from the days when they met in a US military camp in 2004 in Iraq (following the American and British led invasion of the country), through their struggle to stay together and to leave the country, all the way to their marriage in Seattle here in the United States. Nayyef worked as a translator and had a university degree, which helped his entry to the US. Btoo was denied refugee status several times, and he fled to Lebanon, where he lived in a limbo for several years waiting for an application with United Nations Human Rights Commission to be approved. Nayyef and American human rights lawyer and activist, Michael Failla, supported him throughout his dangerous situation. Btoo only left the Middle East when a gay Canadian vice-consul helped and because of that he moved to Vancouver.

The resilience of the two men’s love is remarkable. They never gave up hope, and they communicated daily and several times through Skype throughout the years they were apart. Nayeef had a very large wallpaper with a picture of Btoo right next to his bed and the two men remained an integral part of each other’s life during the ordeal, constantly emphasizing that they have a physical, emotional and spiritual connection. In the west, it is easy to become desensitized to love because of the tremendous availability of channels for relationships (night clubs, phone apps, etc), and they may find it difficult to relate to such an epic and profound relationship. This documentary reminds us long-lasting love does exist.

The movie reveals that US refugee policy is not easy. There were concerns that Btoo may have witnessed torture in Abu Ghraib (and therefore became a whistleblower) and this prevented his consecutive applications from succeeding. What this shows is Americans weren’t so supportive at all. Yet towards the end of the movie Nayyef does literally fly the American flag, oblivious to the fact that the US caused the war that destroyed his country. He recognizes that gay men enjoyed far more freedom under Saddam Hussein than now. Ultimately Btoo and Nayyef embrace the American dream and settle here.

In 2004 when the two men were in the army, the last thing either expected to find love. But that’s exactly what happened. The beauty here is that they were in danger and could have killed at any moment but it was their love that made them forget that and fight for a better life where they would be together.

The film follows their journey from their first encounter on a battlefield in Iraq to their marriage in the United States a decade later. We see what a difficult journey this was. Members of the LGBTQ community are severely oppressed in Iraq and in a recent survey, it was found that 43 percent of respondents in the country believe being LGBTQ should be a crime.

Then in 2009, when militants started targeting Iraqi translators, Hrebid was put into an increasingly dangerous position and was then granted asylum in the U.S. and he came to Seattle. Allami, however, had a much longer road to asylum. The film follows the emotionally painful and physically dangerous years the two men spent apart, as they tried every option they could think of to be reunited again.In addition to their love story, the film also explores in detail the difficulties Allami faced while trying to seek asylum. Many of the agents he faced also did not seem sensitive to the issues of LGBTQ asylum-seekers. Today, the couple is now advocating for changes to the process in order to prevent others from facing similar setbacks.

“SATURDAY CHURCH”— Shedding the Stigma

“Saturday Church”

Shedding the Sigma

Amos Lassen

In “Saturday Church”, director Damon Cardasis introduces us to Ulysses (Luka Kain), a 14-year-old boy, struggling with gender identity and religion, who starts using fantasy as a way to escape his life in the inner city and find his passion in the process. The film works to help shed the stigma that some people on homosexuality and transgender people that still exists in today’s world. The film tells a simple story while letting everyone know that being gay or different shouldn’t matter and it doesn’t.

Ulysses deals with bullies, both at school and at home. He is fatherless, and has just been “taken under the wing” by his religious and stubborn aunt Rose (Regina Taylor). Ulysses is an innocent young man who is just starting to discover who he is sexually and as a young adult. Rose detests some of his behavior while Ulysses sees what he does as acts of freedom in a society that sees them as shameful.

He goes into the West Village world of Christopher Street in New York City, where homosexuality is commonplace and nothing to be ashamed of and discovers Saturday Church”, an establishment that Ulysses is welcomed into with open arms by a group of transgender women. He is shy and reserved at first and does not know what to make of this place and its inhabitants. As he continues his journey toward adulthood, he meets a love interest and forms a strong bond with his fellow “churchgoers.”

He faces some very complex moments that are filled with charm and beauty. We watch Ulysses break out in dance in some really wonderful musical moments that are scattered throughout the film. In fact, we are watching something of a musical and the dance numbers are spectacular making this an original looking at growing up and coming out.

The scenes in the streets are gritty and real and the film is not only deep and meaningful, but it is also visually stunning. This is a human story that is relatable to all and is really a journey of self-discovery.

Luka Kain has great emotional depth and he carries the film. The themes of love and acceptance remind us that people come in different shapes, sizes, genders, race and at the end of the day, none of that is really important. What’s important is the human connection and acceptance and love and truly being oneself. The actual Saturday Church program

was held at the St. Lucas Church in the West Village of New York City and it provided social services, food and a safe space for LGBTQ kids from the surrounding area every Saturday. The kids would come in and talk to somebody about what was going on in their lives, or for job advice, or counseling or housing advice. There was a gymnasium that was adjacent to the cafeteria, and the kids would vogue and dance and perform there.

For the first 15 minutes, “Saturday Church” but after about fifteen minutes into it, it changes when we meet Ulysses is like so many other countless teen movies, from “Pariah” to “Viva,” to name just two semi-recent breakouts. (Because teens tend to reject anything older than six months, the LGBT film circuit has a near-unquenchable appetite for virtually identical coming-out stories, as otherwise-generic offerings prove revelatory to virgin eyes.)

However familiar his predicament, it’s still heartbreaking to watch as fatherless 14-year-old Ulysses who associates shame and anguish with each of this desires. He wrestles with what he believes to be a damnable identity in private, especially after his aunt Rose threatens to kick him out of the house if he doesn’t shape up. Director Cardasis invites us to discuss issues of intolerance and hypocrisy as we see that it still exists right here in the United States.

 

“Nobody’s Watching”— Anonymity and Freedom, Pain and Loneliness

“Nobody’s Watching” (“NADIE NOS MIRA”)

Anonymity and Freedom, Pain and Loneliness

Amos Lassen

Nico (Guillermo Pfening) is a young Argentine actor in his mid-30s who is fighting against odds to find fame. His life and the film are about the struggle of self-imposed exile; how the pleasures of anonymity and freedom contrast with the pain of loneliness and loss that shapes immigrant experience. NICO, mid 30’s, is a young Argentine actor fighting to build a career in the US, without assistance, or connections and he is always near heart-breaking failure, but often blinded by the hope of immediate success. He left a promising acting career in Argentina after a tumultuous fight and break-up with his mentor/producer and comes to New York, believing that his talent will help him find success “on his own” and prove his self-worth. However, that’s not what he finds. He sees that he is too blond to play Latino but his accent to strong to play anything else. He realizes that he is stuck between identities: that of the successful South American actor, and temporary immigrant needing to work odd jobs and take under-the-table employment as he searches for the ever-elusive role part that will provide an adjustment of status.

In Argentina people saw him as famous and so nice that people used to take selfies with him right on the street. But now he is in the United States with an uncertain future, working as a nanny, stealing goods from stores, and keeps lying to his friends about non-stop offers he receives from well-known producers. In reality there was nothing happening.

We learn that Nico is not only running away from Argentina, but rather from a complicated relationship with Martin and from his own inability to find a balance between him and his marriage. Nico seems to be in love with Martin, but he is also in love with acting. Yet, despite having a likable look for the camera, the actor from Argentina is not so in demand in New York.

The story moves very quickly. We see him as a very anticipated viewer who went to watch a movie expecting it to be great but in the end got really disappointed. It is always interesting to know what actors do or not do while nobody is watching them but after seeing Nico’s situation, we may not want to know this ever again. What Nico does everyday is awaken to say good morning to dreams he has not yet accomplished. He bids farewell to fame and faces the uncertainty of life that not many can deal with. We learn that Nico’s character from a telenovela was put in coma in order allow the actor to embark himself on a journey towards his dreams but in reality, Nico was in coma as well until he arrives in New York. But by the time he wakes up, he will have to see the world the way it is and whether or not he does so you will learn only by seeing the film.

It is disheartening to fall from having been a much-loved actor in Argentina to being someone that no one notices in New York. With each role Nico takes on, he puts on a new persona in order to fit in. He performs the ideal bartender, the up-and-coming actor, the friend, and the father figure. But when old friends from Buenos Aires come to visit, he needs to juggle the image of his old life with the reality of the struggling actor in New York City.

Julia Solomonoff has given us a portrait of immigrant solitude. Nico faces the difficulty of finding not only a home, but himself as the film looks at how we adjust when we lose our audience. Guillermo Pfening just won the Best Actor Award at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival for his role in this film.

“AS GOOD AS YOU”— “A Serious Comedy About Grief”

“AS GOOD AS YOU”

“A Serious Comedy About Grief”

Amos Lassen

Heather de Michele directs a screenplay by Gretchen M. Michelfeld, “As Good as You”. We are all aware that grief can affect us in many different ways, but it’s often the reason that we may behave in a manner that is very difficult for others to understand or accept.  When Jo’s (Laura Heisler) wife dies after she has nursed her for 18 months, her life falls apart.  Jo is a published author who has now to deal with writer’s block and has, of late, become somewhat obsessed with having the baby that she and her late wife never got around to doing.  At 41 years old, she knows that her biological clock is ticking away, and so she is plying on the pressure on Jamie (Bryan Dechart), her much younger brother-in-law to keep to the promise of being the sperm donor she got him to make at her wife’s memorial.

Otherwise Jo’s life seems to center around just two close friends. Lisa (Anna Fitzwater) is an aspiring photographer who owns a seedy bar that never seems to have any other patrons besides Nate (Raoul Bhaneja) who drinks his days away there.  Both of them are in love with Jo and are competing for her affection. Joe, however, very carefully avoids their overtures until one day Lisa turns up at her house with a bottle of bourbon and she finally lets her guard down.

Just after they finished their “roll in the sack”,  Jamie turns up and is horrified to see his late sister’s wife already moving on. He was there to tell Jo that after the brutal psychological interview they had to undertake with Dr Berg (Annie Potts) a psychiatrist, he had changed his mind about being a donor.  She reacts by rejecting Lisa who then angrily runs off. We next see a dejected Jo getting drunk again, but this time in another bar, where Nate happens to be, and now it’s his turn to fulfill his dream of sleeping with Jo. He. however, is shooed away after the sex is over.

Jo has now alienated the three main players in her life but this is the wake-up call that Jo really needed and now with a slight push from Dr Berg, she has to accept that it’s time to finally realize and accept that she needs to move on with her life in a positive manner. 

While this is a comedy there is really nothing to laugh at and at times it becomes quite melodramatic. Heisler as Jo is quite good but she does test the patience of the viewer and those around her. We just do not feel much sympathy for her as a grieving widow because she really seems too busy to stop and grieve.

“SAY YES”— Planning for the Future

“Say Yes”

Planning for the Future

Amos Lassen

“Say Yes” is a new feature coming to us from Steward Wade and it needs a bit of help. I chose to use the title of “planning for the future” because this is film that I am sure we will want to see and in order for us to do so, Wade is asking that we help in the cost of the film. Below you will find a link to do just that.

The film is the story of a woman who plans her husband’s romantic life with another man for after she dies. She realizes she is dying and tries to ensure that her husband and beloved brother continue on after her death as a romantic couple.

Wade who wrote and directed the feature films “Coffee Date” and “Tru Loved” as well as directed “Such Good People” has teamed up with executive producer, Alan Reade, the man who produced Wade;s web series, “Coffee House Chronicles” to make this drama. It is the story of an unconventional love triangle between Lily, a young woman dying of cancer, her loving husband Beau, and Lily’s “almost identical” twin brother, Caden.  When Lily sees the two men she loves most becoming close in the process of caring for her, “she nurtures their budding attraction in the hopes that they can find true love with each other after she is gone”.

Wade tells us that he does not think we have ever seen a a love story quite like this. The film explores how a new generation of men are more open to various forms of intimacy, love, and sex.  The story also explores grief, how our beliefs in dealing with death are not often seen on screen.

To learn more about the story, as well as the cast, please visit our crowd-funding campaign athttps://www.pinkstart.me/en/sayyesmovie

“BONES OF CONTENTION”— LGBT Repression Under Franbco

“Bones of Contention”

LGBT Repression Under Franco

Amos Lassen

“Bones Of Contention” is about the unknown story of LGBT repression under the dictator Francisco Franco and explores what happened to LGBT people during Spain’s fascist regime. This is the first time that we hear their stories on film.

Over a hundred twenty thousand victims were done away with during the Franco regime. We are told that most of the victims were buried in a mass grave. Today the families of the “desaparecidos” lead a grassroots effort to uncover and identify the bones of their loved ones despite opposition from the Spanish government. We cannot help but ask how a country excavates a past that is actively suppressed.

The film weaves together two strands, the historical memory movement’s campaign to uncover the past, and the search for the hidden lives of lesbians and gays under Franco. These strands are connected through Spain’s most famous poet, Federico García Lorca, who was killed by a right-wing firing squad in the first few weeks of the Spanish Civil War. The mystery of his missing remains and the debates over their significance are the narrative spine of the documentary. Lorca has become the symbol today for both the historical memory movement and the LGBT movement. We want to the know how that story fits into the context of the larger human rights struggle.

In less than three decades, Spain has changed from a deeply reactionary dictatorship that violently persecuted the LBGT community into the forefront of equality rights. Spaniards more than any other country in the world now believe that homosexuality is morally acceptable and Spain is attempting to reconcile its socially progressive present with its brutal past, and to dissociate amnesty from a lack of memory.

The openly homosexual writer Federico García Lorca was the most prominent of the 500,000 victims of the Franco and we learn that his body is still in an unidentified mass grave alongside with 120,000 others. Lorca’s writings punctuate the narrative.

Gay men and transvestites were routinely beaten and arrested during Franco’s Regime, which also subjugated women and violently chastised political opponents and defectors of any type. This was done with the enthusiastic support of the United States. We learn that upon release from prison, gay men and transvestites would not be able to reintegrate, and most either committed suicide or resorted to prostitution. Lesbians suffered less oppression simply because the Regime couldn’t even conceive that two women could having sex. They were simply ignored and forgotten.

While an interviewee that we meet here thinks that reclaiming bones is a crucial step at making amends with the past (he has located his grandfather’s and reburied them next to his grandmother), García Lorca’s surviving niece Laura thinks that this is disrespectful to other people and to the memory of the site of execution. She believes that these bones – including her uncle’s – should be left to rest where they are.

The famous Spanish actor Miguel Ángel Muñoz is the narrator of the film that was directed by Andrea Weiss.