Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“NEVER AGAIN IS NOW”— Antisemitism Today

“NEVER AGAIN IS NOW”

Antisemitism Today

Amos Lassen

It is impossible for any thinking person not to realize that once again antisemitism has raised its ugly head both in the United States and in Europe. I am sure that other places are feeling it as well. “Never Again Is Now” shows us the present day influences of Right, Left and religious influences on rising antisemitism. Evelyn Markus, a Dutch lesbian Jew and co-founder of the non-profit “Network on Antisemitism”, came to the US with her partner Rosa Zeegers because they found pink star graffiti on their door at home. They were eager to get away from the present day rise of antisemitism. That escape became a journey during which Markus met with “globally renowned experts, Parliamentarians, religious leaders, authors, activists, playwrights and political commentators including Ben Shapiro, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and devout Muslim physician Qanta Ahmed.”

 Even here in Boston, where peace between Bostonians reigns supreme, we have felt the new rise antisemitism. I usually find out early about new films of interest to the LGBT and/or Jewish communities but I had no idea that this was coming and it is quite powerful. We see

archival films of Hitler and the war combined with films of life in Europe today. The term “Never Again” became mouthed and heard all over the world after the deaths of six millions Jews 1941-45 during the Holocaust. In my own naivete, like other Jews and those affected by the mass murders, I thought we had heard the last of “Never Again”.  We now know we were wrong.

We see that France has experienced a new wave of extremely hateful behaviors and antisemitism. There have been beatings, places where Jews congregate have been bombed Surprisingly enough, the Netherlands has also witnessed antisemitism and there has been a great deal of violence from the large numbers of Muslims that are now in Europe but there have also been problems from regular citizens who have allowed themselves to become caught up in today’s wave of hatred. There are far right politicians in Europe who are anti-Semites.

I have studied antisemitism for a good part of my life and I have never become hardened by it. Each time I hear about it, I become extremely upset and often become enraged. Watching “Never Again is Now” once again made me realize how much I am affected by racism and hatred for hatred’s sake especially when the Jews are targeted even though they have made such important and powerful contributions to the way we live today. Hannah Arendt stated, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” What me must add is that once ones tastes what it is to be evil, it is not difficult to remain that way.

Markus chroncles her personal journey to becoming heroic in the fight against the rise of antisemitism in the world.  Her parents were Holocaust survivors in Holland but because of her own personal experiences with antisemitism, she left Europe to come to America at a time when European Jews were being beaten, stabbed and even murdered and where it became necessary to have military protection for Jewish schools and synagogues. On a personal level, I attended three different sessions on security for the High Holidays in Boston and I have remained shocked since 9/11 that we mist have police both inside and outside of our synagogues during significant holiday celebrations.

 Yes, we have had antisemitic incidents and we can only wonder if history is repeating itself. Markus interviewed global thought leaders for her documentary that lets us see the situation as it is and presents a warning and a call to action.

There are those who feel that the creation of the State of Israel has led to a rise of hatred against the Jews. Markus interviewed Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Muslim born in Somalia who had left for Europe and ultimately the United States and asked him this very question to which he replied that “anti-Semitic sentiment lies buried in some people, with Israel serving merely as an excuse to demonstrate.” He reminds us that not  everything was good for the Jews before the creation of Israel. It seems to be human nature to need scapegoats and we are well-aware that these scapegoats have come from “minority groups like the Armenians in Turkey, the Rohinga in Myanmar, the Romani in Europe, the Coptic Christians in Egypt, the Hutus against the Tutsis in Rwanda,” many against the Jews and this is just to name a few.

Markus shares that she is not only Jewish but gay and she and her partner are often dismayed that often demonstrations against Jews (“not Zionists, necessarily, not Israelis, but diaspora Jews”) have caused the Netherlands to become unrecognizable because of demonstrations by Muslims who yell “Kill the Jews wherever they live.” Even non-Jews are marked for assassination if they are critical of Islam. But we also learn that most Muslims who live in Europe and the U.S. conduct regular businesses and are not political, and that a few share that violent demonstrators are not in the spirit of Islam and are caused by political Islamists.

Anti-Nazi Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil” thus letting us know that Markus wants us to speak out and up against evil. People are doing so but without much result in Europe. In the U.S. Jews can still walk with kipot on heads and draped in a prayer shawl yet the present political administration does not think that neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville are “fine people.” 

While we are called to action with this documentary, we are not informed about what we can do to end the divisions in our society that grow and grow since free speech allows for that. I do not think abolishing free speech is an answer but I am sure that there exists an answer that we must find together. By watching this incredible movie, you just might get an idea as to what you can do. Even if you do not, you certainly become more aware.

http://joinneveragainisnow.com/

“WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?”— “The Bigot Whisperer”

“WHERE’S MY ROY COHN?”

“The Bigot Whisperer”

Amos Lassen

 “Where’s My Roy Cohn” is a new documentary from Matt Tyrnauer that takes its title from a quote that has been attributed to Donald Trump at a meeting with advisors where he expressed his frustration at the purported lack of loyalty among his staff. “Where’s my Roy Cohn?,” he asked and yelled, wondering why no one would back him in his favor against the injustice of the Russia investigation. Trump had once known the former aide to Senator Joseph McCarthy, meeting him when he, Trump, was new to the world of New York real estate and Cohn was a long-established fixture of member of the mostly mafia legal defense teams. Unfortunately for Trump, Cohn died in 1986, so Trump’s cry fell flat and without reply. What you will see here is Cohn, the self-serving narcissistic sociopath that he was.

Trump does not make appear in this film until near the end and even then only peripherally. Instead, the film is focused squarely on the life of Cohn from his birth in 1927 through his career-making prosecution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg (Cohn actually colluded with the judge to push for the death penalty) to his association with McCarthy and beyond. He was a master manipulator of media who understood that one should never apologize for anything, ever and that he must never give up, never surrender. He was indicted numerous times for professional misconduct and was finally disbarred in 1986, mere months before his death from AIDS. Cohn was deep in the closet and known for his homophobic attacks on government workers.  His vicious hatred precludes any empathy we might accord to a gay man of his generation. Cohn mainly cared about Cohn.

We go through the main details of Cohn’s career until the end. This is the movie that Cohn deserves, it is slow and steady and gives facts but not much more. Tyrnauer uses traditional documentary techniques of voice-over narration, direct interviews, archival footage and photographic stills to expose Cohn’s malign influence and contextualizes him as a modern Machiavelli who influences our country today at the highest level.

He first came into the public eye as an assistant to J. Edgar Hoover and handled the prosecution of the Rosenbergs, a Jewish couple arrested, tried, convicted and executed for spying for Russia and securing Manhattan Project documents for the Russian government. Cohn,  was then a twenty-three-year-old fast-rising attorney who claimed to have not only persuaded the presiding judge, Irving Kaufman, to impose the death penalty but also to have had Judge Irving assigned the case. Cohn’s reward for the Rosenberg execution was an appointment as special counsel to the 1950’s American Senatorial disaster, Joseph McCarthy.

Tyrnauer provides compelling evidence that Cohn was responsible for much of McCarthy’s demagoguery and rise to power. Soon, however, Cohn would bring about his own and McCarthy’s fall from grace. During the Army-McCarthy hearings, direct questioning revealed Cohn had a “special relationship” with G. David Schine and pressured the U.S. Army to give Schine preferential treatment. Cohn resigned after he was humiliated by homophobic comments during the televised hearings. He, however,  claimed everybody wanted him to stay on but according to those who worked with Cohn, this was not the case.

From that, Cohn went on to be the personification of evil in 20th-century American politics. He was a mover and shaker “of dubious means”. He built his persona even though he was responsible for causing financial losses on his clients and family. We see the origins of the seditious right wing’s ascent, showing how Cohn, as  a deeply troubled master manipulator, has shaped today’s political world. He constantly defended himself by attacking his adversaries and utilized the press to generate sensational public sympathy for his plight.

Cohn refined his strategy over the years as the primary press leaker during his McCarthy days and gaining the friendship of the formidable press magnate, Walter Winchell, and other ambitious reporters. How Cohn had been able to pressure the judiciary was less clear. It seems that his political clout came from his wide social circle of wealthy, influential friends. Cohn was known for hosting lavish parties and mixing with almost every imaginable socialite of the day including artist, Andy Warhol, and he re-emerged as a New York power broker, mafia consigliere, white-collar criminal, and the mentor of Donald J. Trump.

Following Cohn’s lead, Trump began his flamboyant rise first on Cohn’s shoulders and then his back. Eventually, Trump became the master of personal attacks,  of sensationalism and hyperbole and using the press to get out in front of the story. The similarities between Cohn and Trump are uncanny and neither is the kind of person you would want to have dinner with..

“Roy Cohn was a corrupt lawyer, political dirty trickster, mafia associate and scumbag. He was a self-hating Jew who powered the engine of one of the worst anti-Semitic moments in American history, the demonization and execution of the Rosenbergs. He was a closeted man who refused to publicly identify as gay even as he was dying of Aids. He was so famous for being a mean bastard and there are not too many lawyers that can make such a claim.

Tyrnauer’s film is very standard collection of talking heads (including former protege Roger Stone) and news clips. We get an avalanche of facts. If there is a thesis here, it is that Trump ’s has been mentored by Cohn’s odious work.

Donald Trump was, for many years, a joke (though never a harmless one) but the damage he’s currently doing shames all because we laughed at him. The film connects Roy Cohn’s belligerent, boorish and obstructionist ways and our current President.

“PIER KIDS”— Homeless LGBTQ Kids of Color

“Pier Kids”

Homeless LGBTQ Kids of Color

Amos Lassen

“Pier Kids” is director Elegance Bratton’s documentary on the homeless LGBTQ kids of color who live around the piers in New York’s Greenwich Village. Bratton began filming in 2011 and shot footage up until 2016 by when some of the kids had grown up and a few had sadly died, but most of the scene had essentially remained unchanged.

It is Bratton’s own story that gives the movie its authenticity. Bratton was kicked out of his home when he ‘came out’ and had lived on the streets for the next few years.  He begins his film by pointing out the sobering facts that he, and the pier kids, are hardly alone.  Of the 2 million homeless youth, over 50% of them identify as LGBTQ, and then 40% of that total are people of color.

Bratton just lets his cameras roll and even though there is not a tightly defined narrative he focuses on a handful of specific kids who he captures several times over the years.  We see the tough existence for most of them face, relying on sex work and pilfering food at CVS to survive. Those who were brought up in strictly religious households have brief pauses for thought about stealing but justify it on camera as the only option they have to get by on  a day to day basis. 

The police are a regular presence on the Pier  and seem to send an excessive amount of officers to deal with the smallest incidents.  Bratton’s film rarely hints at the scary sides of life here with the presence of violence always hanging over the air.

One of the kids that Bratton particularly focuses on is a trans woman named Krystal LaBeija.  Desperate for her mother’s acceptance , she hops on a bus to Kansas City where both her mother and aunt outright refuse to see and/or understand Krystal’s reality and instead quote their deeply held religious beliefs .  The reunion is calm with a very exasperated Krystal trying to educate her family even though it is obvious they are far too entrenched in their views to ever change.  She at least does have communication with her mother which most of the pier kids are robbed off the moment they are evicted from their family homes.

Another kid looks at the camera lens and complains that he is discriminated against because he is HIV negative.  He had even considered deliberately catching the virus as he is convinced  than within three days he would then be given housing and get financial aid.  It is sadly too common a misconception but nevertheless a straw of hope that some of the kids hang on too.

This is a powerful documentary that merely observes and any thoughts or opinions we  gather are based on actions and words of the kids.    Braxton seems almost resigned to the reality that even if one day the pier kids get physical displaced, they will simply reassemble elsewhere to maintain their sense of community which is now so vital to their very being.

“ARE YOU PROUD?”— Connecting the Dots

“Are you Proud?”

Connecting the Dots

Amos Lassen

Ashley Joiner’s “Are You Proud?” is a documentary that attempts to connect the dots between the differences and intersections on the LGBTQ community that we live and love with. It goes back in time to look at historical connections and presents a “pocket history” of the early years of the movement  through personal testimonies that are linked to changing social mores and political activism.  We get a timeline through causal relationships established between events happening in the civil rights movements in the US, the Stonewall riots, the development of Gay Liberation, and legislative shifts in the United Kingdom.

We see the suggestion that there was a strategic movement between the lobbying of  Stonewall UK and the   the direct actions of Outrage UK and cannot help but see that there was friction between them. Legislators preferred Stonewalls open hand rather than risk a slap from Outrage. Both groups worked in driving change so and the film shows that differences are a source of strength. 

Issues of gender, race, class, ability, immigrant status all have a moment and a voice. The conclusion is that equality is not won without it being won for everyone. This is a generous, but over ambitious, attempt to bring down the burden of each part of the Rainbow spectrum by each faction explaining itself to the rest repeatedly.

The documentary follows the LGBTQ+ movement and all the hard work put into the battle for equality and the barriers the movement has faced; including Stonewall and the recent shootings in Orlando, Florida. It does so by bringing together archival footage and interviews from people who are part of the movement and  shows how much progress had been made over the past 50 years.

The best documentaries are the ones that leave a mark on you and really make you consider the particulars focused on throughout. We get the chance to educate ourselves on where the community was and  where it is now. The film covers the history of the movement from its highs and many lows. The shooting in Orlando, Florida is part of our history that should never be forgotten. Watching people’s reactions to that shooting in the documentary is incredibly moving and shows the togetherness created by this movement, that wasn’t shown in mainstream media. 50 years has passed since the Stonewall riots and those  riots are covered in this documentary including the reasons behind the development and the foundations. We see the movement in its glory, the achievements that it has made and yet continues to highlight that there is a lot more work still required, especially in regards to divisions that still exist today within this community. The lack of support for particular ethnic groups and those who considered themselves as transgender are also covered and demonstrate how they are marginalized in comparison to the rest of their community.

The documentary’s main objective is covering the community and the progress that has been made. Its impactful, informative and most importantly, it appeals to every single person.

Condensing our history into a 90-minute feature is quite a task and the breadth and wealth of subject matter covered by Joiner is amazing. We see our roots in the 1960’s underworld where persecution and bigotry was everywhere. The trajectory shows “the early infancy of queer people wrongly being condemned to the twilight of the night, with their urge to fight against an imposing threat growing stronger by each passing day, to gradually claw back to their place in the daylight.”

Politics here are potent. The familiarity of Welsh miners joining forces with the group LGSM (Lesbians And Gays Support The Miners) who celebrate their own 35thanniversary this year that was explored in 2014 film “Pride” is one of highlights here.  We also see the cruel robbing of romance and one’s dignity in the most devastating of fashion.

 Even though we are now living in the 21st Century, there are still people out there who are abused (both physically and mentally) just because of who they are and who they love. 

With his latest documentary director Ashley Joiner (“Pride”) shows us in the most beautiful, colorful and heartbreaking ways that the fight for equal rights and respect for LGBTQ+ people is still an extremely hard one and will never be over. Today, the means are infinite (thanks to social media), the attention huge and the attendance during the prides even bigger. However, that doesn’t mean all the problems are solved, on the contrary. 

LGBTQ people are still confronted with discrimination and there are still twelve countries in which being gay can lead to the death penalty and 72 countries in which being gay is illegal, that’s certainly not the case. Members of the LGBTQ community are being threatened, repressed and not respected by some members of the society, nations, and countries. 

74 million people are facing the struggle these days and so it’s important to hear as many different voices as possible such as the ones from Lisa Power (founder of Stonewall, Terence Higgins Trust, LGBT Switchboard and GLF), Sami Cee (LGBT Against Islamophobia) and Son of a Tutu (Drag performer). In total there are 36 voices heard loud and clear among the masses of colorful footage, vibrant and lively scenes. “Are You Proud?” becomes one of the voices of the generation and is likely to inspire and rightly those who see it.

“LATTER DAY JEW”— A Conversion

“Latter Day Jew”

A Conversion

Amos Lassen

Conversion is no matter in Judaism yet as serious at it is, we can still laugh about it as we see here. Comedian H. Alan Scott shows us just that. You might have seen Scott on Ellen and The Jimmy Kimmel but here he gets personal. You see, Scott was raised Mormon and he decided to take a religious journey that ended in a bar mitzvah. Here is his very funny journey, front and center in this personal documentary that includes his standup and chats with prominent Jewish comedians as well as clips from famous onscreen conversions (“Sex and the City”, “Family Guy”) and even a trip to Israel for Tel Aviv Pride and blowing a shofar. It is hilarious to see him,  a 30-year-old man training for his bar mitzvah with a room of 12-year-olds and this is one of the best scenes of the film although all of the scenes that challenge his conversion are great.

We find ourselves with these questions: “What does it mean for his relationship with his Mormon family in Missouri? How did his scare with cancer impact his religious journey? How does his gay identity intersect with his religion and does the Mormon stance on LGBTQ issues impact others leaving the faith?”

 

We might not get the answers but we do get a fascinating film that is filled with great humor.

“QUEER JAPAN”— The Diversity of the LGBTQ Community

“Queer Japan”

The Diversity of the LGBTQ Community

Amos Lassen

Graham Kolbein’s “Queer Japan”  gives us a look at how traditional Japanese society is slowly embracing the queer community and it shares the stories of  a few of the more outrageous and larger than life characters in the community.  

The documentary begins with Kolbein’s investigation of Tokyo which now has an LGBTQ district with more bars/clubs/stores than any other major city. It is also more diverse than most too with not just an impressive number of lesbian bars, which are closing everywhere else around the globe.  There are also some specialized venues that cater for people on the extreme ends of the queer spectrum.

Some of what you will see here includes a scene with a self-identifying female performance artist with a major rubber fetish who constructed a giant rubber pig from which rubber clad piglets came out and sucked on her breasts in the most surreal manner. Gengorh Tagame, the famous manga artist gives a fascinating interview explaining how he explored his own love of sado-masochism by starting “G Men”, one of the first ‘hentai’ anime and manga pornographic explicit gay magazines in Japan.  He combines that with “My Brother’s Husband”, an all-ages manga series  that teaches young kids about being gay.

Tagame co-founded “G men” with the publisher of “Badi”, a more generic gay magazine that began in 1994 but hasceased being published this year, while “GMen” keeps getting stronger.

From Kyoto, we see an interview  with Simone Fukayuko, a very famous drag queen who totally ignored  the  four muscle near naked men behind her who were touching each other up.  Her legendary party “Diamonds Are Forever” that has been growing stronger and has the most diverse crowd.

We see that the queer scene in Japan is wonderfully healthy even with several negative aspects.  Aya  Kamikaya is the sole elected transgender politician and sponsored the law which was amended to insist that any person who wish to officially register another gender must have their reproductive organs removed first. Japan has also seen the resurgence of a racist  Far Right movement that has the LGBTQ community in its sights too.

“BEFORE STONEWALL: THE MAKING OF A GAY AND LESBIAN COMMUNITY”— Newly Restored for the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots

“Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community”

Newly restored for the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots

Amos Lassen

In 1969 the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village, leading to three nights of rioting by the city’s LGBT community. With this outpouring of courage and unity the gay liberation movement had begun.

Before Stonewall pries open the closet door, setting free the dramatic story of surival, love, persecution and resistance experienced by LGBT Americans since the early 1900’s. Revealing and often humorous, this widely acclaimed film relives the emotionally-charged sparking of today’s gay rights movement, from the events that led to the fevered 1969 riots to many other milestones in the brave fight for acceptance.

Experience the fascinating and unforgettable, decade-by-decade history of homosexuality in America through eye-opening historical footage and amazing interviews with those who lived through an often brutal closeted history.

On DVD, iTunes & Prime Video August 6

“Entertaining and enlightening.” -Los Angeles Times

“Funny, courageous and touching.” – Seattle Times

“Intelligent, moving!” -The New York Times

“The personal and profound stories of LGBT Americans that populate this Emmy award-winning film remain timeless, and so does its urgent reminder of the personal and political battles facing the LGBTQ community.”
– Ms. Magazine

“You owe it to yourself to see it.” – Judith Crist, WOR-TV

Narrated by iconic author Rita Mae Brown

Groundbreaking interviews with:
Ann Bannon, Martin Duberman, Allen Ginsberg, Barbara Gittings,
Harry Hay, Mabel Hampton, Dr. Evelyn Hooker, Frank Kameny
Audre Lorde, Richard Bruce Nugent, Jose Sarria
and many more!

Executive Producer: John Scagliotti • Director: Greta Schiller • Co-Director: Robert Rosenberg
Produced by Robert Rosenberg, John Scagliotti & Greta Schiller
87 minutes, color, 1984

About the restoration: The 16mm negative was scanned and digitized at Periscope Films in Los Angeles. The file was then color corrected at Edition Salzgeber in Berlin, who created the ProRes and DCP. Director Greta Schiller supervised the process and approved the new master.

“THE MOST HATEFUL SMALL TOWN?”— Harrison, Arkansas

“The Most Hateful Small Town?”

Harrison, Arkansas

Amos Lassen

Before moving to Boston, I spent seven years living in Arkansas, a state I had never given much thought to. Here I was a white gay Jewish single male living in a place that was not known for the diversity yet I was surprised at how accepting I thought it was. But that was Little Rock, a town with a viable and active Jewish community that took care of its own. After Hurricane Katrina, I was relocated to Pine Bluff Arkansas, a town that also had once had a large Jewish community during the heyday of railroads but that now had become a basically all black town after white flight changed the composition of the residents. I thought to myself that there was something very strange about this but it took a few years before I realized the implications.

I know people that have moved to Arkansas, specifically Little Rock and who have fallen in love with living there and, in fact, I actually felt that way for a couple of years until I took a good hard look at where I was. Now looking back at Arkansas from Boston where freedom for all is how we live, I see so much of what I did not see while living there.

I also met a filmmaker here that shows us something about a town in northeast Arkansas that shatters the concept of freedom and diversity. Lawrence Ferrara, while planning a movie about something else altogether,  found himself in Harrison, Arkansas, a place that has been called the most hateful small town in America.

I learned about Harrison much the same way he did; by chance. For many Arkansans living in the south of the state, Harrison is something of an embarrassment. For other Arkansans, Harrison is an extended reflection in the way they feel about race and difference. It was not until I had traveled to Eureka Springs, a small diverse, gay friendly town in the Ozarks that I learned about Harrison. To get to Eureka, one goes through Harrison and I was later told that we go through Harrison without stopping and that as LGBT or black or Jewish people, we are not welcome there. Admittedly I did not think much about this until Ferrara made this film and it all came flooding back. Here is Harrison as seen by an outsider gay male and what we see is shocking (and a bit hopeful). We hear Southern white people say some shocking things about their nonwhite and “different neighbors. I have to admire Lawrence Ferrara for making this film, for daring to show us what is in Harrison while at the same time showing it to the people of Harrison that there are those there that still use outdate concepts of religion (as they choose to understand it) to validate their hatred for others,

Ferrara met with some very important Harrisonians (or at least those who though they are important) from the mayor to the chief of police to the head of Kingdom Identity, a radical white supremist group and to the head of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and his daughter (both of whom let Ferrara know that he was a sinner and not loved by their God). I did occasionally hear racist talk when I lived in Arkansas but never to the degree that we hear it here. We hear from citizens that are more than satisfied with the way things are but we also hear from those who are not. We also hear from those who simply do not see the hate that is all around them. We also see here those who are trying to change what has been Harrison’s negative image for so long.

One scene that particularly was upsetting for me was when Ferrara goes to a barber shop for a shave and he waits until he is lathered up and the barber is holding a straight edged razor to his neck and he dares to ask him if he would still shave him knowing that he is gay.

The only other mention of LGBTQ issues is a short interview with a teen lesbian student at Harrison High who challenged the school’s administration by bringing a lawyer to school so that she would be allowed to wear a pants suit instead of a dress to a school function.

There is an interview with a concerned citizen who wants to change the way that the town is seen by others and the mayor and several police officers seem sincere about acceptance and change and perhaps sensitivity training might help and we can hope that it will. Yet Harrison is a town where the utmost authority seems to be the misinterpretation of the Bible. We can hope it will get better but we can only wait and see.

I cannot emphasize the importance of seeing this film enough and we all owe Lawrence Ferrara a big thank you for daring to bring it to us.

“108 (CUCHILLO DE PALO)”— Violence and Prejudice Against Gays

“108” (“Cuchillo de Palo”)

Violence and Prejudice Against Gays

Amos Lassen

“108” is Paraguayan-Catalan documentary about the violence of Stroessner dictatorship against homosexuals and also about the prejudice against gays. The director Renate Costa makes a posthumous investigation about the life of her gay uncle, about whom she did not have much information because of the prejudice within her own family. Indeed, her father has an important part in the film and it is amazing how she has been able to capture homophobic statements so impressively and sincerely. The relationship between father and daughter works both as the spine of the and as a parallel story. The interviews gradually unveil the story of director’s uncle and there are two evidences we clearly see here: Stroessner has been a nightmare in Paraguay (with consequences which continue) and homophobia kills.

 Through talking heads and interviews, we meet  old, queer friends of Costa’s uncle and it is very hard not to tear up. Some interviewees seem lost between anonymity and individuality, an ambiguity of personhood that possibly dovetails with their experience as second-class citizens. (One man who is afraid of being ostracized for confessing his sexuality, allows himself to be seen as a spectral silhouette) The ineffable delivery of this testimony, however, ultimately precludes the speakers’ sketchy environments; their delicate inflection forms a rich emotional landscape that the filmmaker further complicates by keeping herself almost constantly in frame (albeit turned away from the lens). This additional “first-person” context makes, for example, the fondness with which an aging dance teacher speaks about bailing her former students out of jail on what were essentially “flamboyance” charges all the more alarming. A similarly strange but touching moment occurs when a local quasi-celebrity transsexual weeps over Rodolfo’s bygone beauty and hugs Costa.

Costa’s conversation with her conservative father, Pedro shows that she wants to know why her uncle Rodolfo had no clothes in his wardrobe to wear to his own funeral when he died 15 years prior; Pedro uncomfortably dances around an answer.

We eventually learn through Pedro’s double-speak that his brother was one of hundreds of homosexuals that were falsely persecuted and exposed under Alfredo Stroessner Matiauda’s dictatorship. What follows in the film are the fruits of Costa’s investigative efforts to flesh out the details of her uncle’s life through the recollections of family, friends, and members of Asunción’s burgeoning LGBT not-quite-underground; an oral history of what was previously silent oppression slowly takes shape alongside more picayune factoids about Rodolfo. (We learn of infamous cleanliness, his early career as a flamenco dancer, his disinclination to work, his tendency to self-medicate, and the inexplicable fortune he left behind; alleged sources of income include everything from honest retail to pimping.)

Costa attempts to transcend the micro and macro details of her uncle’s tragic life by wildly alternating between them.

Costa herself cannot properly articulate the impact of her uncle’s sexual orientation on his personality—as if such a thing were possible. “What attracted me about my uncle was his joy,” she says cagily at one point, and not long afterward the film cuts to archival VHS footage of her grandmother’s 80th birthday party where “joy” seems to be a tired euphemism.

“AFTER 82”— The Untold Story of the AIDS Crisis in the UK

“AFTER 82”

The Untold Story of the AIDS Crisis in the UK

Amos Lassen

Five years in the making, “After 82”, a new documentary, is  the story of the AIDS epidemic in the United Kingdom and it is told via  first-hand accounts in the voices of people who actually lived that story. For some of the people we meet here, this is the first time they have talked publicly about their HIV status. This is a powerful, simple, straightforward, unvarnished film that does not shy from the truth.

Directed by long-term partners Ben Lord and Steve Keeble, we learn  about what really happened in the UK during the early years of the AIDS pandemic. The film took almost six years to make and actually began When others heard about the project, many came forward with their stories and memories.  People wanted to speak  about their experiences of living with HIV. The majority of the stories here are being told for the first time and many of those that share their stories are first generation of HIV survivors who witnessed the tragedy and who will never forget this important period of  history. Keeble initially did not think that anyone would really want to talk and relive those times, but it was while working on it that he realized that the time to make a documentary on this topic was right. “During the pandemic,” he says, “everyone was just doing what they could. When the medications came, everybody had a chance to reflect on what had happened, and there was that sufficient gap that allowed people to say, ‘Okay, now I’m ready to talk.’”

Director Keeble has noticed that “for some reason, we don’t seem to want to remember these guys who were initially like guinea pigs; it just seems that they’ve been forgotten. How can you progress when you won’t remember what happened originally?” It is so good to see that in both film and literature, AIDS has not been forgotten by those who lived through the epidemic— how can we forget when there was a time that going to funerals was just par for the course and sometimes as many as three the same day. If AIDS is ever forgotten it will not be by the generation that experienced the disease and loss of life. “It was so surreal, because every day, there would be candles lit up for those who’d died; it was almost like we accepted it. And some of the guys were younger than me, and I was 31 at the time!”

“We hear a lot about what happened with HIV and AIDS in America,” reflects Lord, “But we never hear anything about what happened in the UK. I think that’s because people here like to move forward, they like to brush things under the carpet. We don’t talk about it, we don’t acknowledge it. That’s why I think Steve and I were fortunate that people came to us; they trusted us with their stories, and it became very much a responsibility. Despite the hard times making the documentary, we never said we were going to give up because we owed it to the people in the documentary who shared their stories with us. But also, those people told us about their lovers, their friends, their partners, their relatives who died of AIDS related illness, and so we owed it to them as well.”

Actor Jonathan Blake is prominently featured in the documentary. Blake was one of the first people to have been diagnosed with HIV in the UK and has been living with the virus for over thirty years. Blake “is a real character; he talks, and he smiles through it. That’s the way he is dealing with it. He’s the kind of person that you think, ‘okay, this guy’s survived it, so whatever happens, he’s still here.’ He’s kind of like your guide and takes you through the film.”

Another narrative featured here is the Terrence Higgins Trust , the first charity in the UK to be set up in response to HIV and AIDS. The charity was established in 1982 and named after one of the first people in the country to have died from the AIDS virus. His partner, Dr. Rupert Whitaker, is also interviewed in the film.

Here in America, we have always wanted to know what was happening [in the UK], because although you knew, you weren’t quite sure.” However, their documentary is very much about making sure that the stories of the early years of the AIDS pandemic are not forgotten. “A lot of younger people, especially in our community, are not aware of the AIDS pandemic. We owe these people and future generations within the LGBT community and outside to remember what happened. It’s like our holocaust. You can’t forget, you can’t become complacent.”

Even though all the vehement hatred stirred up by a fear-mongering homophobic media has disappeared, it’s still difficult to shake off some off the lingering stigma about being HIV+ or having the AIDS virus. It was not easy to watch this film because it opens old memories yet it such an important film and does a great deal for the LGBTQ movement by adding to the record of our past.

Here is a documentary that informs a younger LGBT generation and the public alike, about the strides that have been made in the fight against HIV which is no longer a death sentence, and yet with prejudice still existing the fight needs to continue.