Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“Film Hawk”— The Life of Bob Hawk

“Film Hawk”

The Life of Bob Hawk

Amos Lassen

“Film Hawk” is based on the life of Bob Hawk who for more than 40 years has championed emerging filmmakers. His triumphs include Kevin Smith (CLERKS) and Ed Burns (THE BROTHERS MCMULLEN) as well as such Queer Cinema icons as Rob Epstein (THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK), Barbara Hammer (NITRATE KISSES), and Kimberly Reed (PRODIGAL SONS). This documentary traces Hawk’s early years as a young gay child of a Methodist minister to his current career as a consultant on some of the most influential independent films of our time. Even though Hawk has produced many films and has of late directed a short film, he is best known as a film consultant. Kevin Smith’s heartfelt reminiscences give us the emotional backbone of the doc. Their relationship is very special, but plenty of other filmmakers also attest to Hawk, the man.

JJ Garvine and Tai Parquet directed this documentary but Hawk set up the boundaries as to where they could go. Hawk is also unusually candid discussing his past struggles with suicidal depression. He remains an elusive figure who is not drawn into the spotlight.

The film opens with an affecting scene of Kevin Smith recalling Hawk’s crucial role in the biggest make-or-break moment in his career. Smith remembers the disappointment of bringing “Clerks” to the Independent Feature Film Market where it played to 12 people, one of whom was Hawk, who considered it as the “undiscovered gem of the marketplace,” and brought it to the attention of influential tastemakers like Village Voice critic Amy Taubin and others. Here is where the film’s history began.

When Hawk was still living in San Francisco in the ’70s,he saw a five-hour cut of Epstein’s “Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives” and offered pages of handwritten notes that helped whittle the landmark film down to a little over two hours. When Epstein made “The Times of Harvey Milk” in 1984, Hawk correctly predicted that it would win the Oscar for best documentary feature. Hawk would later move closer his East Coast home and continue to consult with unproven filmmakers. However, I was disappointed that the film never gets close enough to Hawk.

Hawk at 80 years old has been a consultant Bob Hawk has been a fixture the Sundance Film Festival, and the indie community, for decades. He is as always an enthusiastic figure and a champion and mentor to many. This documentary is bit rough-around-the-edges portrait of an instrumental figure who still struggles to make ends meet as he devotes time and expertise to nurture creativity among those he cares about. We see his early influences on queer cinema before hitting the depths of depression and nearly taking his own life in the Nineties. Since then, Hawk has given up on fame and fortune in order to pursue projects that matter to him and his efforts have paid off big time for many of his friends and clients.

One thing that is very evident as you watch this documentary is how emotional people get when they speak about Bob. The overall narrative arc throughout this movie is that Robert Hawk gives a voice to those that haven’t had the opportunity, funds, or presence in the mainstream world.

“UNCHECHEN”— The Terrifying Situation in Chechnya

“Unchechen”

The Terrifying Situation in Chechnya

Amos Lassen

We have been hearing horrifying reports about what is going on in Chechnya where gay men are undergoing a purge and being forced into the first concentration camps in Europe since the Second World War. When gay men are imprisoned and tortured, they are forced apparently to name other gay people. Most recently it has been claimed that at least 30 people have been killed, either by the authorities or by being outed to their families with the police suggesting the family take care of it. We have heard that a teenage boy was thrown from a ninth floor balcony by his uncle (who was following the wishes of other family members) after being outed to them by the authorities.

The Chechnyan government has insisted nothing has happened and there can’t be a purge as gay people don’t exist in Chechnya. Vladimir Putin was had intense international pressure put upon him to investigate do so but there’s l little evidence that he’ll do anything.

Take Back, a theatre collective led by Julie Hesmondhalgh, commissioned a stage version of Unchechen which was performed at Contact, Manchester in May 2017. The response to the piece was so strong that it created a momentum to film the piece, in order for it to reach a much wider audience. Stephen M Hornby, the original writer, adapted it for screen. Dean Gregory and Martin Green play the lead roles.

The men fleeing from what is happening in Chechnya are too terrified to go on camera and this film is really all that we have to fill the silence with something that attempts to make this crisis real and human.

“BECOMING MORE VISIBLE”— Varied Lives/Varied People

“BECOMING MORE VISIBLE”

Varied Lives/Varied People

Amos Lassen

One of the documentaries that you will be hearing a lot about is “Becoming More Visible”. It gives us an insightful look at the varied lives and challenges of four fearless young adults. We meet “Sean, a transgender male comedian from a small affluent town in upstate NY; Katherine, a Bangladeshi transgender girl from a close-knit Muslim family; Olivia, who leaves everything behind entering the shelter system in order to be the woman she knows she is; and the unforgettable Morgin, a fully transitioned woman pursuing her musical ambitions”. The stories of the four come together in remarkable ways and this is a groundbreaking look at the transgender community. The stories are

“intercut with experts working in the transgender space: doctors, psychologists, social workers, activists, and writers like Andrew Solomon, whose book ‘Far From the Tree’ tells the stories of parents who “not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so.” 

“MY WONDERFUL WEST BERLIN”— The Queer Safe Haven of West Berlin

“My Wonderful West Berlin” (“Mein wunderbares West-Berlin”)

The Queer Safe Haven of West Berlin

Amos Lassen

Berlin seems to always have had vibrant and subversive subcultures and we see here that the queer scene played a major role in creating that subculture. Yet gays in West Berlin suffered greatly under the infamous “Paragraph 175” that made homosexual acts between men a crime up until its reform in 1969. Raids and arrests in bars were common, but was unable to challenge gay life and the city turned into a gay capital. The late seventies brought great sexual and political freedoms to Berlin thus allowing for an intense social intermingling between the gay-, hetero-, and transsexual …

In West Berlin in the 1960s it was possible to find bars where men could be left to themselves and this made Berlin a magnet for young gay men. We meets some of them in this documentary and see that they are still active members of the community today,. They share those early years in the city with us. Their memories are of a community that fought steadily for its existence. They had to deal with considerable social repression in the 1970s and a collective gay identity began to emerge that was known as the “West Berlin homosexual campaign”. They fought for the abolition of paragraph 175 and the overthrow of patriarchy. Ruined buildings become the venues for new ways of living together such as all-male communes or the ‘queer house’. A decade later, AIDS hit Berlin. Director Jochen Hick explores queer lifestyles in the West of the city and the roots of a fascination that the metropolis still holds as a refuge.

Today’s hip image of Berlin is based on the city’s vibrant and subversive subcultures, which originally emerged within the grey walls surrounding West Berlin. The queer scene played a major role in creating that subculture, with its sexual diversity and its wild and unconstrained party culture, ranging from notorious clubs to CSD. Many of the scene’s actors, such as the Gay Museum, the Teddy Award, AIDS help organizations, and the queer magazine Siegessäule originated before 1989.

Yet gays in West Berlin suffered greatly under an incongruous provision in German law – the infamous “Paragraph 175” – that made homosexual acts between men a crime up until its reform in 1969. Raids and arrests in bars were common, yet ultimately failed in suppressing gay life in West Berlin. Instead, the city turned into a gay capital. The late seventies in particular were a period of great sexual and political freedoms and more intense social intermingling between the gay-, hetero-, and transsexual worlds. Then AIDS struck, wrecking greater havoc in Berlin than in any other German city.

The film covers the period from the end of WWII to the fall of the Berlin Wall. We get a picture of the gay scene from political activists, partygoers, hedonists, club owners, musicians, fashion designers, a DJ, and a make-up artist. Never before seen archival film footage completes the picture by allowing viewers to travel through time to a hitherto unknown West Berlin.

Homophobia was an integral part of the West German constitution. Even with the Article 175 criminalization of gay sex in the West Germany, the activists paved the way for gay liberation. Through the use of talking heads and archival footage we learn a great deal here. Many icons of German gay life appear here including publisher Egmont Fassbinder, Salome the artist and filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim among others. We see these icons both in historical footage and in the present day and this gives a remarkable depth of perspective.

The film celebrates drag clubs, cruising spots, pick-up bars, radical bookshops and infamous nightclubs (with darkrooms) and we see the role that these played in laying the groundwork not only for Berlin’s radical left-wing spirit but also musical genres such as techno, disco and even punk rock. We also see the hardcore elements.

We see the sadder aspects of Berlin’s gay life as well especially the anti- AIDS movement and learn that government and the church simply didn’t do enough to help those who were dying in the tens of thousands. The freedoms of today were built on the backbone of struggles made by many who either died of AIDS or were simply murdered for who they were. 140,000 men who were wrongfully arrested haven’t been pardoned, and Germany still hasn’t allowed gay marriage.

There were disagreements as well, such as whether capitalism was better for gays than socialism, or if the city has lost its charm because of gentrification.

“JAMES BEARD: AMERICA’S FIRST FOODIE”— “The Dean of American Cookery”

“James Beard: America’s First Foodie”

“The Dean of American Cookery”

Amos Lassen

James Beard is a cookbook author, journalist, television celebrity and teacher James Beard who changed the way we think about food. Here we visit food through Beard’s eyes and learn of his life via interviews, archival footage and animation.

Beard was a Portland native who loved and regaled the Pacific Northwest. At a time of “all things French,” Beard appreciated what America had to bring to the table and it was James Beard who introduced Julia Child to New York thus helping her gain her place as a culinary grande dame. It was James Beard who helped to pioneer and expand the food media industry into the billion-dollar business it is today.

Since Beard’s death in 1985, the Beard Foundation and House have continued his mission. The foundation is at the center of America’s culinary community and is dedicated to exploring the way food enriches our lives. It helps aspiring culinary students realize their dreams by supporting them on a path to success and the Beard name has become synonymous with culinary excellence and each year thousands gather in New York City for the James Beard Foundation Awards. However, while the name is well recognized, the details of Beard’s life have often been unknown.

Through interviews, memories of Beard are shared, as is his influence on the modern culinary scene. The film looks at the big themes of Beard’s life as well as the food. We learn of his relationship with his mother, his love of the market, his brave choice to be openly gay at a time when it was dangerous to do so and his devotion to flavor and friends. We also learn how the food world has evolved since his death. The film takes us to the places he loved including his childhood home of Portland, the restaurants of San Francisco that he frequented with his mother, great public markets like Pike Place Market in Seattle and of course his adopted final home, New York City. By bringing current footage together with archival footage, interviews and animations, the documentary captures the color, spirit and genius of James Beard.

Among those appearing in the film are James Beard Award Foundation President Susan Ungaro and Executive Vice President Mitchell Davis, James Beard Award winners, and noted chefs including Pepin, Waters and Daniel Boulud.

Beard was forced to keep his homosexuality a secret publicly although he was out to his close friends. He was able to come out publicly before his death in 1985. In his memoir, he wrote: “By the time I was seven, I knew that I was gay. I think it’s time to talk about that now.”

 

“VARICHINA”— The True Story of a Fake Life

“Varichina”

The True Story of a Fake Life

Amos Lassen

Lorenzo de Santis was from the village of Bari, Italy. Bari is in southern Italy as is economically depressed. Back in the 1970s, Lorenzo was the only known gay there. It could just be that Lorenzo was so flamboyant that other gay men stayed in the closet. Mariangela Barbanete and Antonio Palumbo decided that he was a worthy study for a documentary and they reconstruct with actors and interviews with people who knew him and/or lived in Bari when he was there.

Lorenzo was an outrageously flamboyant dresser and as he walked down the street in feminine attire, he would defiantly answer those who yelled at him with colorful and often obscene language. He was known for flirting with the men there and telling them that once they run of our women, they would come to him. There are hints that there were those who did come for him secretly.

Lorenzo was much more comfortable being with the women and remembering that the 70s were not the most accepting decade in LGBT history, it was also a safe place for him to be. We do not learn much more than his being an out gay man so I am not sure that there was enough thought about making this film. Lorenzo was a curiosity but there is not much more to say about him.

“THE VOICELESS” Male Rape Victims

“THE VOICELESS”

Male Rape Victims

Amos Lassen

According to the 2014 National Crime Victimization Survey, 38% of rape victims are male and one in six males is sexually assaulted before the age of 18. We see that sexual violence does not discriminate against men.” Vanessa McNeal’s “The Voiceless” examines the stigma associated with male rape. We meet five men share who their accounts of being sexually assaulted and how they coped with a situation that is still considered by many to be taboo.

Some of the men kept this to themselves for years, some ran away from home and some turned to violence and joined gangs. Despite their different backgrounds and strategies for coping, all five have one thing in common and that is that none of them received justice for what was done to them. McNeal says that our society maintains that sexual violence can’t and won’t happen to men.

We see that sexual violence doesn’t discriminate gender wise and it does not care about gender and/or race. The five men we meet come from completely different walks of life. McNeal looks at the taboos and stereotypes that haunt male survivors, as well as issues that masculinity and that keeps men from coming forward. McNeal noted some similarities between male and female survivors. For both groups, the guilt and shame that follows sexual assault, as well as the traumatic experiences that victims go through and we see that men are often neglected in this conversation. 

“One of those survivors, Ivan, is a former Iowa State track athlete and Iowa State graduate. During his youth in Africa, he was molested multiple times by a babysitter at a young age. His experience with sexual assault didn’t end when he moved to the United States. Here, he was sexually assaulted again by a young girl who lived in his neighborhood. In the film, Ivan discusses how sexual assault affected the way he viewed masculinity, women and relationships, and about the importance of telling someone. 

Caleb, a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, told about being sexually assaulted by a co-worker later in his life. He viewed his assailant as a father figure who used their relationship and alcohol to take advantage of him. Caleb’s experience led him to self-harm until police intervention made him seek help. However, legal barriers and victim blaming caused the case against his perpetrator to be dismissed.  He was bitter and angry but has chosen to tell his story to help to show the truth about the myths and stereotypes that surround male sexual assault.

Jassim who grew up in Saudi Arabia, where of homophobia and silence makes sexual assault unlike any country in the world. Since the time he was a child, Jassim was molested countless times. He’s been the victim of more than one kidnapping where he was assaulted, often by multiple men, all of which went unreported. Had this happened here it would have been seen as a small incident here in the United States, to his community, it was nothing more than a small incident. In most of Saudi Arabian culture, there is easier access for men to violate men than to violate women. For Jassim, being a part of this film could put his life in danger if he goes back to his home country, as any homosexual acts, consensual or not, can result in a death sentence. Nonetheless, Jassim believes that almost everyone in his home country has experienced sexual violence.

Dakota is a graduate student at the University of Northern Iowa and he shares his experiencing sexual violence as a gay man. During the first semester of college, Dakota began a relationship with another student. At the time, Dakota was still questioning his sexuality, so he kept the relationship quiet. After a few months, a Valentine’s Day date ended back at the man’s apartment, where they decided to have sex. Dakota, however, became uncomfortable and, after his pleas to stop went ignored, what was to have been consensual sex became rape.  

Finally, Will, an activist from Des Monies who works with police and youth shares that he was molested by his stepfather when he was young. He discusses how his experiences made him feel angry, afraid and unsafe in his home. Will turned to gang life and lived off the streets as a young adult, until his friend was shot during a gang fight. That same experience saw Will on the wrong side of a gun as well, only to be saved when the gun jammed. What we hear time and again is “I just wanted to run away and get away from everything. There just did not seem to be anywhere to go”.

“REBELS ON POINTE”— Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

“REBELS ON POINTE”

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

Amos Lassen

Documentary Filmmaker Bobbie Jo Hart brings us an affectionate profile by Canadian award-winning documentarian Bobbi Jo Hart  of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo,  an American all-male proudly gay Ballet Company corps that presents parodies of romantic and classical ballet. This is a cinema vérité approach that not only takes us behind the scenes but also on the road as they go on their world tour.

We begin with their history of 43 years from the time the company gave late night cabaret performances in a loft in the meatpacking district of Manhattan.  It’s current Artistic Director Tony Dobrin  began as a dancer in 1980 with Company and is now regarded as a father by the very international group of young performers. Dobrin explains how the Trocks, as they are fondly referred too, strive to provide the diversity that has always been missing from traditional ballet companies.  

When the company began they were shunned by all the grant-giving foundations and because of that they have had to do whatever they could to survive. When the AIDS pandemic hit New York very hard, it was terrible for the company and Dobrin’s own partner was one of the people they lost. There is a lot of talent in the group talent and we see that when they pirouette around the stage on pointe with the same elegance as any prima ballerina.  Playing all the roles in each ballet makes it a little tough on the dancer playing the male role and having to lift a heavier than normal ballerina. Whilst all are capable of performing ballets with such grace and precision, it is the humor and parody that they add that brings them audiences.

The dancers themselves are quite a group of men of different shapes and sizes and ages too, and like any collective of gay men that are literally together for so much of their day, they have bonded like a real family.  By the time The Trocks celebrated their 40th Anniversary it had three married gay couples in its company.  

There is one standout oddity of the movie; an overly earnest Scottish Dance Critic and what she has to say about the Trocks and the state of ballet in general. This is atypical from the type of commentator who pompously and rather patronizingly tries so to intellectualize art, and unintentionally, it becomes very funny. The Trocks are regarded as one of the founding institutions in LGBT history, and we see that the reason they are highly regarded is because of passion for dance and life in general both on and off-stage. .

“CARLOS JAUREGUI: THE UNFORGETTABLE FAG”— The Argentine Gay Leader

“Carlos Jáuregui : The Unforgettable Fag”

The Argentine Gay Leader

Amos Lassen

.Carlos Jauregui was the man responsible for bringing visibility for the LGBT movement in Argentina and it would never have been the same without him. This film tells his life story and we see that he was the most recognized LGBT activist from the 80s and 90s in Argentina.

Every LGBT community has a hero and this is the story of one such person; the man who was the outspoken and driving force for equality in Buenos Aires.

When Carlos Jáuregui graduated from the University in the late 1970’s, he went to graduate school in Paris, and then spent two years in New York where he saw how other countries had moved forward in he area of gay rights— so much more than Argentina. When he returned in 1982 after the fall of the Military Dictatorship and was replaced by an openly elected President, Carlos was able to found and establish the country’s very first LGBT organization, Argentina Homosexual Community (CHA) and became its first leader. 

What he wanted for the fledging community was to be visible and he and his lover at the time became the first openly gay couple to be featured in a major magazine spread. This was very controversial at the time.  It cost him his job as a University Professor,  but strengthened his ambition to raise the stakes even higher.

His brother Roberto who was also gay moved to Buenos Aires but he was not an activist like his brother. When they both were diagnosed with HIV, Roberto went public with the news and became a AIDS activist.  Oddly enough Carlos kept his own diagnosis private, (probably to protect Pablo his lover, who not only had the virus but was beginning to decline, but he still never revealed his status even after Pablo died).

Like so many other gay partners, the moment that Pablo died after Carlos had nursed him for ages, his late partner’s family turned up at the apartment and threw him and his belongings out on to the street.

In 1992 Carlos led  Argentina’s very first Gay Pride March, which even though it was sparsely attended and most of the marchers wore face masks for fear of being recognized and losing their jobs, it was a major success. In 1994 when the Catholic Cardinal made a public statement saying that the LGBT  community should be banished to their own country. Carlos then began legal proceedings against him.

Carlos’s biggest legacy is the fact that he insisted that to survive and prosper the LGBT community had to completely unite. “The movement he claimed had four ‘legs’ : gays, lesbians, transexuals and transvestites , and if any one of the ‘legs’ were missing the ‘table’ would fall down”.  This made him one of few gay male leaders anywhere that insisted that the movement should all be totally inclusive.

When the country’s National Constitution was changed in 1994, it gave Buenos Aires the right to write its own constitution.  So two years later Carlos drafted what cane to be known as Article 11 of the Statute of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires. It proposed that one could no longer legally discriminate against people on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  However as soon as he submitted this, Carlos started getting very ill and time was running out for both the passing of the Law and his own life.

His very last public appearance was in that year’s Gay Pride March, but by now there were newer and younger voices prepared to take over for him.

After he died all of his colleagues from the political group GAY DC sat in the public gallery of City Hall as the Law was debated. Each of them had a photo of Carlos pinned to their chest, and Article 11 passed unanimously paving the way for more important laws in the future that would cover issues such as civil unions.

There was one last march where Carlos was still the figurehead and that was when his coffin was paraded through the streets because people wanted to publicly say goodbye to him with the dignity that he had taught them to be about their own lives. 

Writer/director Lucas Santa Ana  had to rely heavily on some patchy archival footage and a collection of personal photographs of varying qualities, but nonetheless Carlos’s story shines is bright and interesting to know about.

“ALL MALE, ALL NUDE”— Welcome to Swinging Richards

“ALL MALE, ALL NUDE”

Welcome to Swinging Richards

Amos Lassen

Swinging Richards of Atlanta is the only gay strip club in the heart of the Bible Belt. The club is located in Atlanta and “All Male, All Nude” is a new documentary by director Gerald McCullouch about the club. McCullouch says that Swinging Richards is “a unique symbiotic relationship to witness and experience night after night. There is so much common respect and appreciation.” He was amazed and intrigued by the relationship many of the straight entertainers had with their gay regular customers.

McCullouch is from Atlanta but is now based in New York and he has spent over five years on the documentary, interviewing dancers, staff members, customers, and shooting footage. Now the film is ready to be seen and will premier at the Atlanta LGBTQ film festival Out On Film as I am writing this.

Gerald McCullouch is familiar from the Bear City movies and the independent film, “Daddy” as well as being or as one of the lab techs in CSI. Now we can also call him a director and he decided to focus on America’s only all nude, all male, gay strip club, Swinging Richards. The film is a look at the taboo world of male stripping. The men who participate on stage and the men who watch them take off their clothing defy categorization. There are straight men, gay men, bi-sexual men and those who are gay for pay only when the money is to support themselves and, sometimes their families by dancing nude for a diverse clientele of gay men, straight women, business men in town for work, married couples and everyone in between.

On the stage, the men range in age from their 20’s up to their 40’s and connect with customers in a money making venture. Each relishes, defends, enjoys and/or detests their career choice and now looks back on life’s lessons that led them to where they are now. Together the men, onstage and off, have fostered an original family unit.

McCullough has been working on the film for four years as a solo venture. Many of us see Atlanta, Georgia as a home for mega churches and religious followers, however, we see here that it is also a Mecca for adult entertainment, having one of the densest populations of strip bars in America. However, only one of those has an all male, all nude staff that is geared towards a gay clientele.