Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“ANATOMY OF A MALE BALLET DANCER”— The Athlete as Artist

“Anatomy of a Male Ballet Dancer”

The Athlete as Artist

Amos Lassen

Documentary team David Barba and James Pellerito are with Brazilian ballet star Marcelo Gomes as he crosses the career landmark of his 20th anniversary with American Ballet Theatre. Gomes has been a rare dancer who is a versatile leading man and\  the best partner of his generation. The filmmakers take us on an intimate journey from Gomes’ native Brazil to the stage of the Metropolitan and beyond to show just how much dedication and discipline are necessary for one to reach the top and how much physical stress is imposed on the body in the process.

Through the use of archival footage, rehearsal and privileged backstage footage and dressing room interviews, we see Gomes as a charming personality, a serious artist, and a fun-loving regular guy. The film was made over a period of seven years and it highlights spends as much time highlighting his aptitude for partnering. Several ballerinas including Misty Copeland, Polina Semionova and Diana Vishneva speak of Gomes’ technique, sensitivity and connection that makes him such a generous and Gomes’ dedication to his art is as inspiring as “the breathtaking grace and strength of his dancing.” The filmmakers have traveled the world in order to film him on stages in Athens, Saint Petersburg, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro.

In 2003 Gomes became the first major ballet dancer to come out on the cover of the LGBT magazine “The Advocate”. When local training in Brazil had taken him as far as he could go, Gomes left home at 13 and came to the United States. Gomes is very attached to his family, especially his mother. Ballet in Brazil back then, was strictly for girls and he grew up as the only male in ballet class. He had to deal with the bullying of other kids at school as a result of his feelings that he was born to dance.

He was encouraged by his gay uncle Paulo and Paulo’s longtime partner, Wolf, who often took him to the ballet. Paulo died of AIDS in 1993 but Gomes has remained close to Wolf and the example of a stable long term relationship made it easier for Gomes to accept his sexuality. After divorcing Gomes’ mother, Gomes’ father started a new family, and despite repeat invitations, he has not been to see his son dance in New York in more than 10 years. This is painful for Gomes. We see the grueling rehearsals that Gomes participates in and they usually end with him slumped on the floor and we also see his triumphant performances. Preparations and body maintenance are every bit as riveting as performances. There are daily rigors in the gym and endless stretching, massages and other treatments required for ankles that often seemed to be deformed from swelling. Ballet is seen as a career path that is taxing on the body. At 37, Gomes has had surgeries for torn ligaments in one ankle and tendonitis in the other. He lives in fear of injury.

Gomes lives with an absence of ego and a sense of gratitude. He is very much in touch with his roots and is deeply respectful of ballet history. He is very much aware of the time limit on his performing years and he understands that he is nearing the end. He has already begun moving into the next phase of his life as a choreographer.

Unfortunately, the fact of the economic impossibility of getting footage from Gomes’ anniversary performance at the American Ballet Theater along with the disappointing absence of his father gives us a film that is missing something. Nonetheless the closing footage of Gomez posing in Central Park is visually stunning.

“FAMILIES LIKE YOURS”— Becoming Parents

 

“Families Like Yours”

Becoming Parents

Amos Lassen

Six different LGBTQ families are the focus of “Families Like Yours”, a new documentary by Argentineans filmmakers Rodolfo Moro and Marcos Duszczak. We meet Patrick and Juan Luque Duffy whose surrogate gave birth to triplets to add that they are raising along side their son. Actor Denis O’Hare and his husband Hugo Redwood faced a lot of homophobia and bureaucracy before the got their son. Trans man Aspen Hawke and his wife Mandy both work with LGBT youth and they adopted ended up adopting two teenage lesbians who had really been abused by their biological families and then by their foster homes. Erwynn and Will Umali Behrens were married to women when they first met and both were already parents and their ex-wives have not had a easy time with the way things turned out.

Chris Crespo’s wife Jane Switzer was told by her doctor that she needed to hurry if she wanted to give birth and with the help of a sperm donor she indeed gave birth to triplets.

All of the stories are moving and inspiring and we really see the new family as it exists.

“FORBIDDEN GAMES: THE JUSTIN FASHANU STORY”— The First Openly Gay Footballer

“Forbidden Games : The Justin Fashanu Story”

The First Openly Gay Footballer

Amos Lassen

Directors Adam Darke and Jon Carey look Justin Fashanu’s legacy. He was the first openly gay footballer in the United Kingdom. He was also the first £1 million black footballer, and a figure of fascination for tabloid journalists until he hanged himself in 1998, at the age of 36.

Fashanu was one of five children born to Nigerian parents in Central London. He and his younger brother John were given up for adoption by their mother when they were still infants and raised a white family in Shropham, Norfolk. They grew up as anomalies in an overwhelmingly white part of the country. Both Fashanus were gifted footballers, and were both picked up by Norwich as schoolboys. Justin was quick, strong, and gifted in sports and off the field, he liked fast cars, nice clothes, and the adulation of being a star in a provincial city could bring.

However, it was the £1 million move in 1981 to Nottingham Forest and his being managed by the Brian Clough that was partly responsible for Fashanu’s descent. Rumors spread about his late-night trips to the city’s gay clubs and he often went AWOL causing Clough to become very angry.

Fashanu hung around the middle-tiers of English football for a couple of years, but then a terrible knee injury threatened to end his career. After expensive rehab in the US, he spent the rest of his career bouncing between the UK, the US, Canada, and even New Zealand, playing for ever-more anonymous teams. Justin’s sexuality had become an open secret by the late ’80s. When he did come out of the closet, in an interview in 1990, he spoke about affairs with male MPs.

Fashanu needed money and that the tabloids could offer him that in return for ever-more salacious details about his love life. However, he was, in effect, searching for his identity. The documentary

features interviews with John Fashanu shot specifically for the film. John talks openly about his successful effort to stop his brother from joining him as a player at Wimbledon as he recovered from injury. The week after the story broke, John gave an exclusive interview entitled “John Fashanu: My Gay Brother Is an Outcast” and followed that up with more homophobic comments to the press. The two brothers who had once been so very close, barely spoke again. While John later admitted that he regretted many of the things he said yet this interview remains a conflicted part in Justin’s story. John later said that he didn’t think that Justin was gay after all and that his brother was merely seeking attention. The two brothers were both seeking acceptance, validation, fame and a sense of identity. Despite the personal nature of the tragedy, the film is also about a time when homosexuality was not acceptable behavior.

We see a man constantly in conflict with himself, almost to the point of self-sabotage and a gifted player and magnetic personality who couldn’t find any peace. The documentary is a fascinating story of outsized highs and lows told in straightforward but tightly woven chronological form and against a background of bullying and bigotry in football. 

“LOVE THE SINNER”— Christianity and Homophobia

“LOVE THE SINNER”

Christianity and Homophobia

Amos Lassen

“Love the Sinner” is a powerful short documentary that looks at the connection between homophobia and Christianity in light of the recent attacks on marginalized groups (the LGBTQ community, immigrants and Muslims). Gay filmmaker Jessica Devaney was raised in Florida and was immersed in Evangelical Christianity there. She became a nationally recognized activist and leader among conservative Evangelicals and she left Florida and didn’t look back. She built a life that took her as far away from home as possible. The mass shooting at Pulse was a wake up call and she wondered if she had missed opportunities to challenge homophobia. Her film looks at our responsibility to face bias in our communities and to push for dignity and equality for all. Geeta Gandbhir co-directed the film.

“GARETH THOMAS V HOMOPHOBIA: HATE IN THE BEAUTIFUL GAME”— Gay in Football

“Gareth Thomas v Homophobia: Hate in the Beautiful Game”

Gay in Football

Amos Lassen

It has been fifty years since the partial decimalization of homosexuality took place in England and Wales and Gareth Thomas takes a look at what he sees as the last bastion of open homophobia in sport – professional football. Meeting fans, players and pressure groups alike, he wants to find out what is preventing gay footballers from coming out.

In the world of rugby union, openly gay former Wales and Lions captain Gareth ‘Alfie’ Thomas has proved time and time again that “where there’s a will, there’s a way” or in his case – there’s a winner. We see how difficult it is to face the disturbing reality of the truth behind homophobia in the not so beautiful game and that there is a apparent lack of a support program for any footballer thinking about coming out to his teammates and the public alike.

Gareth has discovered the shocking view that since no player in the Premier League is “officially” gay, there is “seemingly” no need for such a program. Yet with around 5,000 professional footballers in the UK, such is not only a statistical improbability, but also a sheer impossibility. Indeed, Gareth’s own agent confirmed that he knows of a number of gay footballers that are living lies and in fear. What is so shocking is the “normality” of homophobia. As bad as verbal abuse is, it is nothing when compared to the appalling abuse found online Gareth offered to meet with those who posted such hate but they all declined.

More than willing to meet Gareth however were others who shared his desire to show homophobia the red card one of whom is Amal Fashanu, the niece of Justin Fashanu; namely the sole player in the UK ever to come out while playing the game only to suffer a tragic end. Credit must go to all those players who participate/d in the likes of Kick It Out, Football v Homophobia and Rainbow Laces, all being praiseworthy campaigns aimed at challenging discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity at all levels in football. There are run by those who truly care about making the game a beautiful one but the absolute power to make it so, again does not lie with them. It is with the Football Association and the Premier League itself. Gareth requested meetings with FA Chairman Greg Clarke and PL Chief Executive Bill Bush to discuss the situation with them direct. They declined to meet.

Gareth went where some would have preferred him not to and he so with legal advice. He created formed his own “Code of Practice”; an action plan aimed at eliminating homophobia within professional football and one that he duly emailed to the Football Association, the Premier League, the Professional Footballers’ Association and all 92 clubs in England and Wales. What they will do with this highly constructive document remains open to question.

Gareth is a man who gets things done and here he’s done his upmost to address the issue of homophobia in professional football head-on.

“GLITTERBOYS AND GANGLANDS”— The Miss Western Cape Contest

“Glitterboys and Ganglands”

The Miss Western Cape Contest

Amos Lassen

In “Glitterboys and Ganglands,” a documentary directed by Lauren Beukes, three contestants in the Miss Gay Western Cape contest are featured in interviews leading up to the contest as well as in their performances competing against each other. Miss Gay Western Cape is the largest drag performance contest in South Africa and while lighthearted, the film addresses issues such as poverty, sexual violence and HIV.

This is a slightly unusual beauty pageant. It follows following the lives of a ballroom dancing mechanic, a pre-op transsexual trapeze artist and a pageant power couple. The contestants are queer and black, or mixed race and female impersonators. It is intenerating that this pageant take place in a community where historical social issues of poverty, gangsterism and conservative attitudes towards sexuality are part of the context of the lives of the contestants.

This documentary was shot in 2010 but because the setting is the rather deprived Cape Flats area of Cape Town in South Africa, it has a very distinctly old fashioned feel to it.  The area is populated by ‘Coloureds‘ a multi-racial ethnic group, and time has definitely stood still for the local populace, especially the LGBT community that must constantly deal with blatant homophobia.

This is the story of the area’s most important annual pageant where the competing drag queens hope that by winning, they will take the first step to a more glamorous life. Filmmaker Lauren Beukes chooses to follow three of the contestants starting with all their preparations in the run up to the event. Kat Gilardi (“The Princess”) is managed by her boyfriend Errol who was a runner-up in Mr. Gay South Africa and who designs and make all her costumes.  Kayden van Eerden has 59 beauty pageant wins under her belt and thinks that this pageant is hers for the taking. The fact that she is a pre-op trans woman causes some consternation and objections to the fact that this disqualifies her but it brings a crude rebuttal from the Organizer who says that anyone still packing a penis can enter.

The third contestant is Eva Torez a young car mechanic who is preparing to enter the pageant for the first time, and it is he who almost unemotionally bears witness to how rough the area is with both of his brothers being killed within a few months of each other. Despite this, he is optimistic with a bright outlook on life. 

When the week of the Pageant arrives and all the contestants start rehearsing and the camaraderie between them all is touching and quite genuine.  They are very creative at designing and making their own homegrown costumes out of presumably very small budgets, and it is only Kayden who works at McDonalds during the day who spends big bucks for her couture gown (without a hint of where the money came from to pay for it).

The organizers do a good job of making the event look as glamorous as possible and everything on the big day goes extremely smoothly. That is until Kayden doesn’t even make the cut for the Top Five and she cannot wait to get out the Theater claiming the whole thing is rigged. 

‘Princess’ claims the crown and when the local tabloids catch her embracing Errol they dub the pair the ‘Posh & Becks of the Cape Flats’, which gives them great joy. This is an intriguing documentary filled with enthusiasm. It is more than just a moment in the spotlight; it is a rare opportunity for the contestants to be true to who they really are. 

“A QUEER COUNTRY”—- Israel from the LGBT Perspective

“A Queer Country”

Israel from the LGBT Perspective

Amos Lassen

I spent many years of my life living in Israel and can vouch that it is a complicated country to say the least and I am actually surprised that I stayed there as long as I did. I arrived in Israel long before gay liberation and along with many of my gay friends, lived a closeted life. We did set up the first gay liberation organization and I do not think that any of us thought it would get to where it is today. There is no such thing as pinkwashing in Israel and I am emphatic on that. Looking at Israel from the outside, it’s difficult not to see the divisions and conflicts; especially the secular versus conservative religion. Yet nowadays and against that backdrop, Tel Aviv holds one of the biggest gay pride parades on the planet.

British filmmaker Lisa Morgenthau’s documentary, “A Queer Country” looks at Israel from an LGBT perspective. We meet some of the more interesting and thought-provoking issues queer people in Israel face. The film contrasts the largely secular and open Tel Aviv with the more staid and religious Jerusalem, where gay issues are far more political and difference less tolerated.

We meet those who’ve faced difficulties due to the fact Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities rarely accept LGBT people, and who have therefore had to find new ways to hold on to their beliefs outside of the world they were once part of. The film also addresses the accusations of pinkwashing that have been leveled against Israel. This is the allegation that the Foreign Ministry has promoted Israel’s acceptance of LGBT people to try and deflect criticism from allegations of human rights abuses against Palestinians.

We hear from a variety of people who show that things are often far more complicated than they first appear. With pinkwashing, we face whether it is a cynical attempt to gloss over the fact that not all minorities enjoy the benefits LGBT people do, or is it a legitimate way of promoting a nation that often finds it difficult to get positive stories on the international stage? I believe it is neither and does not exist.

In the early part of the film many participants talk about how Tel Aviv is a gay haven yet it was also the scene of a 2009 shooting at a gay centre that killed two and injured 15 others, while in 2015 Jerusalem Pride saw a fatal stabbing by an Ultra-Orthodox Jew angry the city had allowed the celebration. Some of the most interesting parts of the film are when it looks at the dichotomy of a country set up to be a secular, plural society, but where that plurality means they have to try and find ways for some very different and sometimes extreme views to live alongside one another.

“A Queer Country” does not come to conclusions. It presents a variety of thoughts and opinions. However, there is nothing about LGBT Arabs in Israel, as while the movie engages with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how that relates to LGBT people, it does so almost exclusively from one side of the issue. This means that some people, perhaps unfairly, will find the film is to be one-sided. Nonetheless, the film does a good job of including a diverse array of interviewees from within the Israeli Jewish community. We hear from a strict orthodox psychologist who thinks that everything that is gay is wrong. We also hear from gay Jews who are conflicted about their status compared to Palestinians, to a trans man and his family on a kibbutz where they’re trying to live their lives in a way that they feel honors God, although there are others who might disagree.

The one theme that comes up over and over is that of people trying to find synthesis between being gay and Jewish, something many people, and perhaps Israel as a nation, is still trying to deal with. This is an issue that seems to go beyond just LGBT issues, such as when one person talks about the fact religious bodies have complete control over marriage in the country and we understand that it’s not just gay people who can’t marry but also many of those who fall in love with people outside of Judaism.

The film helps puts context on issues that are often presented in rather one-dimensional ways. It shows that, as is so often is the way, things are more complex than they first appear, and that while Israel may be the most gay-friendly country in the Middle-East, LGBT people still face difficulties that are both relatable and very specific to living there, and that even within Israel there is division about how their status relates to other groups.

“GARDEN OF STARS”— AIDS, The Stillborn & The Brothers Grimm

“Garden Of Stars”

AIDS, the Stillborn & The Brothers Grimm

Amos Lassen

The Alter Sankt-Matthäus-Kirchhof is in the Schoneberg section of Berlin. It is famous as the burial site of the Brothers Grimm. However, this film is isn’t about them but about a man whose life has become linked to the cemetery.

Ichgola Androgyn is a gay drag queen who used to be involved in experimental art and various other slightly hippy-like pursuits. Almost accidentally he got involved with the cemetery, which he helped change it from Victorian institution to something more welcoming that is designed as much for the living as the dead.

He began his association with the graveyard during the AIDS crisis, when it almost became the ‘gay cemetery’ due to the number of young men being buried there. The cemetery now includes a beautiful AIDS memorial. Ichgola also helped found the ‘Garden Of Stars’, a place to bury stillborn children. Ichgola specializes in this work— he organizes the funerals for these babies, and makes sure that the Garden is both a place of sadness and solace, covered with bright colors and flowers. He also gives tours of Alter Sankt-Matthäus-Kirchhof and helps to run a small café in the cemetery’s ground.

This film is Ichgola’s story and it introduces us to him and his ideas. He’s an interesting man, who manages to mix the seemingly contradictory qualities of being a bit of a bohemian dreamer with practicality.

We see how his sexuality influences everything about him while not taking over his personality or mean that everything he does is ‘Gay’ with a capital G. Ichgola’s life in the cemetery is undoubtedly informed by growing up gay before it was accepted and getting involved in a more free-thinking culture outside the mainstream. This allowed him to look at a graveyard that was stuck in a time and see what it could be. What he has created respects the past, while looking to the future and makes us realize that death is part of life.

We see some moving moments and get an interesting look at a gay man “whose freethinking life and attitudes have been translated into a new and potentially better way to handle death”.

“SEX AND SINGLE GAYS”— Mature Men Share Sexual Intimacy In Social Groups

 

“Sex & The Silver Gays”

Mature Men Share Sexual Intimacy In Social Groups

Amos Lassen

Each month, New York Prime Timers members participate in “sex parties”. In this film, we learn what it means for them to continue to practice free love despite the advancement of age.

We know that sexual desire doesn’t just evaporate once we get older. On the contrary, with maturity comes wisdom and experience and both of these make men better lovers. This is exactly why the documentary, “Sex & The Silver Gays” is so important.

Filmmakers Charles Lum and Todd Verowtell the idiosyncratic story of the New York City chapter of a national elder gay men’s organization, Primetimers. Among the many elderly activities, the members also actively participate in monthly sex parties. With the film, we are invited us to an intimate gathering that explicitly illustrates their carnal activities and explains who they are, their own shared histories, and what it means to their lives to have and enjoy consensual sexual celebrations together for a long as may be possible.

“HOT TO TROT”— Same Sex Competitve Ballroom Dance

“Hot to Trot”

Same-Sex Competitive Ballroom Dance

Amos Lassen

Gail Freedman’s “Hot to Trot” takes us inside the world of same-sex competitive ballroom dance as it follows a small international cast of four men and women, on and off the dance floor.

Ballroom dance is once again becoming popular here in America, as well as abroad and it has even become a widespread competitive event, known “dancesport”. Same-sex couple dancing is also becoming popular.

The film is “an immersive character study and an idiosyncratic attack on bigotry”. This world of dancing is one in which personal passion meets political muscle. Away from their extraordinary dance feats on the dance floor, the characters’ back stories frame their struggles and conflicts in life.

We meet Ernesto, a Costa Rican former meth head; Emily, a severe lifelong Type 1 diabetic, who wears an insulin pump 24/7, even while performing; Russian dance champ Nikolai, who came out only a few years ago and longs for family acceptance; and Kieren, whose identity was created in a strict New Zealand military environment. The film follows them over time and through their relationships with others, and themselves.

Here we see dance as a form of personal power and political engagement that simultaneously shapes and reshapes their identities and helps them overcome personal challenges. As these dancers evolve, we really understand the real impact of the LGBT politics.

“Hot to Trot” is about empowerment and is therefore, a film for all of us including those who do not self-identify as members of a historically marginalized community. We see that our identities are multi-faceted, that they don’t just depend on gender, race, religion, etc.