Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“WHO’S GONNA LOVE ME NOW?”— Where Life Takes Us

“Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?”

Where Life Takes Us

Amos Lassen

Saar Maoz is a gay man from a religious family in Israel who after being kicked out of his conservative religious kibbutz because of his sexual orientation, goes to London where he enjoys a gay lifestyle that was denied to him in Israel. He lives the dream, but wakes up to discover a nightmare —he has contracted HIV. When he breaks the news to his family, they struggle with fears and prejudices.

primarily a movie about Saar’s relationship with his family (and his conscience), and it is also a representation of Israeli life. That representation reinforces my worries about Israel being inhabited and partially governed by zealous religious extremists.  They may not be violent extremists (governmental geopolitics aside) but they live their lives based on the writings of the Torah literalists with little or no regard for what the modern age has brought. Having come from quite a similar background, I wonder everyday how we can communicate with such strict and conservative people. I know what this attitude has coast me personally and it was what initially led me to leave America in the 1960s and move to Israel where I discovered it exists as well.

It is on this issue that the film maintains a balance and directors Tomer and Barak Heymann never let one side gain the upper hand. The film shows great patience with differences of opinion and there were times during the scenes of Saar’s family that I wept openly as I was reminded of my own life. The Heymann brothers use great restraint in allowing both sides of the family to speak, and the only time we sense really bigotry is when Saar’s ego heavy brother speaks (his wife saves the day). We see Saar’s family as unrepentant religious conservatives.  In Saar’s mother, we see a woman seesawing between loving her son and worrying about him believing in the Torah punishes homosexual behavior is punishable by death. To somewhat lighten the mood as we watch this, we see the directors’ compassion and humor as it cuts back and forth between footage of the Israeli Gay Pride parades and the scenes of the London Gay Men’s Chorus. In these we see two very different kinds of masculinity. 

Saar Maoz is 40-year-old man (when the film was made) and was a paratrooper in the Israeli Army. He was born and raised on Sdeh Eliyahu, a religious kibbutz but because of his sexuality, he was asked to leave. He had been there with his large extended family and he moved to London to kick-start his life anew and perhaps find the love he was seeking. If I find any fault with the film, it is with the actions of the kibbutz not being explained fully enough. I cannot help wonder why his parents did not speak up on his behalf. We are simply told that the kibbutz evicted him.

The film actually begins some 18 years after his leaving Israel. We learn that he had been involved in a three-year relationship with the guy he thought he would be with forever, but that forever had recently ended. After that there was another relationship that took him into the world of wild sex and drugs and Saar was then diagnosed HIV Positive. His family in Israel struggled with this and held judgmental opinions on what they considered the results Saar’s life style choices as they called it. Now feeling the need for family, Saar join the London Gay Men’s’ Chorus and there he found unconditional love and fellowship that was so important to him. It was through the chorus that he was able to start a process of reconciliation with his own biological family.

Soon Saar realized that he was standing with each foot in a different world and he knew that he had to come to a decision about the rest of his life. between the two worlds and he knows he must make a decision. On one hand there was the chance of going home to Israel and back to his family while on the other hand there was staying in London and living away from them forever. Saar shares that he had never really fulfilled the expectations his parents had for him making the decision all the more difficult. He felt that being barred from the settlement meant that as far his parents were concerned, he did not exist.

I found myself totally identifying with Saar but without the reconciliation. I did not leave my family because I had to, I left to start a life in Israel and thinking that I had said goodbye to America forever. My father and I never got along and my moving to Israel before the advent of the Messiah meant that I no longer existed for him. It was not my sexuality that was the issue (although it certainly contributed to the discordance between us). I knew that I would never see either of my parents again and until one goes through that, it is impossible to describe what kind of feeling it is. And I never saw them again. My mother died some five years before I returned to the states and, ironically, my father died while I was at the airport in Israel preparing to board the plane that would take me to America. When I returned to the States, they were both gone. I learned the hard way that we can never underestimate the power of religious fundamentalism. (It is not my life at issue, however, and you will have to wait for my book to learn what happens then).

One of the things that I really love about this film is the way stereotypes of gay men are broken down. It is not all about sex and promiscuity but about looking to be loved and to love. Something else that hit me very hard was what the film has to say about the kibbutz and communal life in Israel. Saar’s experiences reflect that communal way of life that is very much into culture and religion. I lived communally as an open gay male on a kibbutz in Israel long before Saar’s saga and really had no trouble. I found Saar to be inspiring in that he left what he knew to go to a place he did not know in order to life openly. In that, his search for his identity was much like mine with the exception that I went to Israel when the state was not yet 15 years old with the idea that I was going to help build a nation.

At age 40, it is difficult to be separated from family regardless of reasons and it is interesting that Saar’s parents want him to come back even though he has eschewed Orthodox Judaism and his friends in the chorus are helping him deal with his HIV status. This is such a personal and yet universal movie that must be seen.

Saar’s mother weeps for her son’s future, while his father asks if there is some way to cure this homosexual illness (like taking a pill) and he has a rough time with the chorus being named the gay men’s chorus and not just men’s chorus. I see Saar as a woeful man who at forty deals with guilt and introspection while his father trains paratroopers, and his tearful Jewish mother loves her son.

When Saar then goes back to the Kibbutz for a nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, his family who have been openly ostracizing him, criticize Saar’s sexuality and his diagnosis openly and this is very difficult to watch with dry eyes. They do not want to hear what he has to say and what they voice is based purely on their own lack of knowledge of what he is dealing with and how others in the world feel. Saar reacts quietly and calmly and reminds them that he did not abandon the family by choice and that they have basically ignored him since he left.

The Heymanns handle this beautifully and show us both sides and even linger on the arguments. It hurts to hear what one of Saar’s brothers has to say to him but then his father comes to visit him in London a thaw begin as father and son try to understand each other more. It is then that Saar begins to understand that his feelings for  his family and his homeland are much stronger than he had ever thought and he knows that the time for decisions has come.bHere is a story about the power of forgiveness and what home means even when we are not there. This is so much more than the story of a gay man at odds with his family and the expectations of society especially in Israel which today grants the same freedoms to gays as it does to the rest of the country (although it was not that way for a good part of the time that I lived there). We are reminded that people change and hearts open and things are not always as bad as we think. I do not think that Saar will ever have to worry about who is going to love him now again.

“TRANSIT HAVANA”— Three Transgender Cubans

“Transit Havana”

Three Transgender Cubans

Amos Lassen

“Transit Havana” follows three transgender Cubans who are hopeful they will be one of a handful of patients who are authorized to receive sexual reassignment surgery from the government (one that pays their healthcare bills). Once a year, Dutch doctors volunteer their services to perform these surgeries over just a handful of days. For the nation’s transgender community, this has been a blessing since few if any can afford to leave the country for private coverage. For three candidates, Odette, Juani and Malú, there is an excitement and desperation over the chance to earn a new life.

Juani is an older transman who refers to himself as Cuba’s first official transsexual and appears to have fully transitioned. Retired, he takes part time jobs to survive. He has already had reconstructive surgery but is hoping for an additional procedure to make his male anatomy function better during sexual encounters. He seems to have a head start on the others who are applying since he knows Mariela Castro, daughter of current Cuban leader Raúl Castro, the head of Cuban National Center for Sex Education and the country’s most prominent LGBT activist amongst the political elite.

Malú is a transgender rights activist who has done everything she can for her community but it still waiting for the final surgery. She is headstrong and opinionated and admits having been a prostitute at one time and is now patiently waiting for her boyfriend to get out of prison. She’s been living as a female since she was a teenager and has the support of her mother and a group of close gay and trans friends.

Odette is almost the complete opposite of Malú. She is a former tank operator in Cuba’s military and has found it difficult to connect with other members of the trans community. She works on a small farm where she does menial labor cleaning pens and feeding the animals that she loves. While her boss supports her saying her journey is “God’s will,” it becomes increasingly obvious that her mother and elderly grandmother do not. While she talks on camera about her excitement in taking the final step, director Daniel Abma does a superb job capturing her difficulty in coming to terms with being trans especially when dealing with a local church that believes surgery would be wrong in the eyes of God.

Director Abma weaves these stories together with images and moments that document how difficult it is for his subjects to live in Socialist Cuba at this point in history. Outside of Odette’s family there seems to be little disdain for how these men and women live these lives, but economically it’s a rough and arduous existence.

Mariela Castro appears in the film and is a constant reminder of how much power the regime has in Odette, Juani and Malú’s lives. She’s depicted as a hero for her support of the island’s gay and trans community yet she’s also a constant propagandist for socialism. The documentary was shot between 2014 and 2015 and one of the most politically enlightening moments is to hear Castro pontificate how the nation will never return to capitalism and then almost comically change her tune after Obama’s Dec. 17, 2014 announcement lowering some of the U.S. blockade restrictions on the island. We see Odette watching Obama’s speech with optimism over the news.

There is a minus to the film and that is in not spending enough time justifying who did or didn’t make the list. It’s an important part of the story that gets relegated to a short rant from one of the movie’s frustrated subjects.

“Transit Havana” is important, however, is because it sheds a spotlight on the lives of trans people living a country that at this particular moment is also in transition. It’s an emotional, painful and clearly political process, but the perseverance of Odette, Juani and Malú to become whole is inspiring for those fighting for trans rights closer to home.

Cuba is a country of stark social and political conflicts and paradoxes, and perhaps no one epitomizes these contradictions better than the few transsexuals living in the country’s capital. Despite major advances and the staunch support of Mariela Castro, Odette, Juani and Malú they still deal with religious intolerance, discrimination, sexism, poverty and sometimes a life in prostitution. Meanwhile, they wait for surgeons from Belgium and the Netherlands to perform a much-coveted sex change surgery on them.

These transsexuals have to reconcile a number of forces in their lives: Catholic faith, the army, a dictatorship and prejudice. They fight to turn the religious and political argument in their favor. They believe that God loves them all the same, and that sexual revolution in intimately connected to values of their country.

In total, only 27 Cubans have undergone sex-reassignment surgery and there are 19 more on the list. On average, only five surgeries are carried out every year. This number might be small, but it carries a very strong social message. It’s not just the transsexuals that are being transformed. In reality, the whole country is transitioning.

“KINGS, QUEENS & IN-BETWEENS— A Documentary

“Kings, Queens, & In-Betweens”

A Documentary

Amos Lassen

“Kings, Queens, & In-Betweens” is a documentary on drag queens, kings and transgender performers in Columbus, OH who struggle with the “complexities of gender expression, identity, sexuality, discrimination, family, & politics–all with humor, pathos, & duct tape”. Seven main drag performers, gives rare insight into an underground community and captures how a Midwestern city full of terrific performers manage what they do.

in Columbus, Ohio, and using the door of drag as an entryway, we meet Nina West, The Reverend Roy Rogers, and Dr. Cool Ethan as they get ready to go on stage and we see their dedication and their love for what they do. They are wonderful examples of creative expression, community involvement, and political activism.

My Personal Ten Best LGBT-Themed Films Of 2016— The Ten Best

My Personal 10 Best LGBT Films List 2016

The Ten Best

Amos Lassen

 

We can look back at 2016 and see that there have been some great LGBT-films this year. These re my personal favorites and while there were many films I loved this year, I have managed to get the list down to ten but have added a very special 11th film, “Something for Everyone” which finally was released on Blu ray and DVD in November is every bit as much fun as it was when it was released to movie houses in 1970.

10. “You and I” (Breaking Glass)

Summer in Berlin. Jonas is planning a trip through the little known area of the Uckermark in preparation for a photography project. He invites his best friend, Phillip, to come along. They haven’t met since the time they spent together in London. So they pack up their Mercedes camper and take off across uncharted territory, stopping whenever they see something they like, taking pictures and generally enjoying a laid-back road trip. The fact that Phillip is gay has never been an issue for either of them. When they pick up a hitchhiker named Boris, however, who shows Jonas some interesting spots and starts to make moves on Phillip, the friendship of the two starts to fray. Maybe three’s a crowd after all? By the end of the summer, things between Jonas and Phillip won’t ever be the same again.

  1. “Kiss Me, Kill Me” (Embrem)

“Kiss Me, Kill Me” is a murder mystery told at its best. It is a story that sends you in many directions guessing until the end. Just when you think you had it figured out…. It happened again…and then a third time. David Michael Barrett gives us plenty plot that keep you on the edge- of-your-seat and the tension never stops. I love a good thriller, and this film keeps us guessing. Visually the film is stunning and the pacing is excellent. It is edited in such a way that you stayed on your toes as you watched the film towards the end.

  1. “Closet Monster” (Strand)

Oscar is a teenager, just coming into his own in life. Coming from a broken home and living with a difficult father, he’s seeks an escape and hopes to get by being accepted into a makeup school in New York. His father thinks Oscar may be dating his female friend, but actually Oscar is more interested in his male co-worker at his new job. As the weeks go by, the pressure begins to build for Oscar as he increasingly feels trapped. Eventually they reach breaking point, with the memories of a horrific homophobic assault he witnessed as a child always haunting the back of his mind.

The film captures how teen life can sometimes feel both banal and extreme at the same time. We actually feel like we are a part of Oscar’s world.

  1. “Seed Money” (Breaking Glass)

“Seed Money” is the story of Chuck Holmes, a San Francisco pornographer turned philanthropist. Holmes helped create and shape gay identity in the years after Stonewall, and later became a major contributor to gay advocacy groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the LGBT Victory Fund, only to find later in life that while his money was welcome in philanthropic circles, he sometimes wasn’t. BONUS FEATURES (OVER 90 MINUTES OF INCREDIBLE EXTRAS!) – DELETED SCENES – EXTENDED INTERVIEWS WITH JIM BENTLEY, TOM CHASE, CHI CHI LARUE, JEFF STRYKER, JOHN WATERS AND MORE!

  1. Lazy Eye” (Breaking Glass)

When Dean, a graphic designer in Los Angeles, notices a sudden change in his vision, an ex-love from 15 years earlier contacts him unexpectedly in hopes of rekindling their relationship. When the two meet at a vacation house in the desert near Joshua Tree, secrets are revealed and passions rekindled that threaten to upend both of their lives. Forty-eight hours later, neither will ever be the same. Please note – this is the special Extended Director’s Cut that was not shown at festivals. DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Deleted Scene, Blooper Reel, Film Festival Q&A

  1. “Holding The Man” (Strand)

Based on Tim Conigrave’s bestselling memoir, the film covers a roughly 15-year period, starting in the mid-70s when Tim (Ryan Corr) is in a Catholic high school and first begins hanging out with his crush, John (Craig Scott). The film follows their relationship, which sees them getting together, splitting up, Tim experiencing the growing gay hedonism of the time, and their difficult reunion. Eventually their story comes face-to-face with the 1980s AIDS crisis, interspersing Tim’s AIDS activism, diagnosis, and the fact John becomes symptomatic before Tim, with the story of their earlier relationship.

“Holding The Man” mixes sadness and happiness, as well as humor. These are gay guys who do gay things and the film brings that to the fore. While at one point Tim’s drama teacher reminds him he is more than just his sexuality, this is a movie that wants to show that statements like that can just be a way to try and get people to hide the breadth of their sexuality, from those who rather wouldn’t see.

4. “London Spy” (BBC)

What begins as a chance romance between two people from opposite walks of life one an antisocial investment banker (Alex Edward Holcroft), the other a slacker romantic (Ben Whishaw) quickly unravels when the reclusive banker disappears under suspicious circumstances, exposing his real identity as a spy and forcing his lover down a dark path to reveal the truth. Created by acclaimed best-selling author Tom Rob Smith and co-starring Academy Award-winner Jim Broadbent as well as Emmy-nominee Charlotte Rampling prepare to enter the exhilarating world of British espionage. But don t let your heart get in the way of the truth.

3. “Theo and Hugo” (Strand)

After meeting in a sex club, Theo and Hugo feel a connection and decide to leave together. However, their flirtation seems to come to a swift end when Theo admits he didn’t use a condom. Unsurprisingly, the HIV+ Hugo is far from impressed. After Hugo arranges for Theo to go to the hospital to arrange tests and post-exposure prophylaxis, it seems like that will be it for them, but over the course of 12 hours they find themselves increasingly drawn to one another.

This is an explicit film, which starts out with on-screen erections, and sex. The first 15 minutes has no dialogue at all, its just men having sex. However, after that, the film evolves into something else. It is a romance, and often a rather sweet, sincere and charming one. The film speaks to modern gay life, for good or bad, in a way few other films have, while retaining a uniquely Gallic sense of romance, which nods at fantasy while never actually going there.

2. “Downriver” (Breaking Glass)

After being locked up in a youth detention centre for his involvement in the death of another child, James (Reef Ireland) heads back to the secluded area where the crime took place, hoping to get some answers, not least what happened after he had an epileptic fit and the body went missing. His return brings him back into the sphere of the unpleasant Anthony, who it appears may also have been involved in the boy’s death but escaped punishment. With James’ mother (Kerry Fox) pretending she’s his aunt, and James’ quest taking ever darker turns, he begins to understand that even more disturbing things may have been going on than solely the drowning of an innocent child.

It’s the sort of film that could have easily seemed nasty and exploitative, but thanks to an excellent central performance from Reef Ireland and a plot that keeps the viewer hooked – even as it takes ever more disturbing turns – it works brilliantly. Sustained by a tense and macabre tone, Downriver is a massive step above most other gay-themed fare – indeed, there aren’t many other dark thrillers like this that have included gay content and didn’t seem to be doing it for shock value or for other negative reasons.

  1. “Moonlight” (Lions Gate)

A timeless story of human connection and self-discovery, “Moonlight” chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami. It is a vital portrait of contemporary African American life and an intensely personal and poetic meditation on identity, family, friendship, and love as well as a groundbreaking piece of cinema that reverberates with deep compassion and universal truths. We get extraordinary performances from a tremendous ensemble cast and the film is profoundly moving in its portrayal of the moments, people, and unknowable forces that shape our lives and make us who we are. This is not only a wonderful gay film

it’s one of the best films of the year and a cultural milestone in many different ways.

Special Mention:

“Something for Everyone” (Kino/ Lorber)

Newly re-mastered in HD!

Seduction and Murder Scandalizes German Nobility!

The great Angela Lansbury and Michael York star in this slick blend of drama and black comedy with a fairy tale setting in a Bavarian castle. In post WWII Germany, the aristocratic Von Ornstein family has fallen on hard times. Countess Von Ornstein (Lansbury) can’t maintain her castle, but things begin to look up with the arrival of a handsome and young footman named Conrad (York) who apparently can do anything asked of him. Determined to become a member of nobility, Conrad one by one, cons, seduces, corrupts and compromises everyone who crosses his path. Set in the authentic 100-year-old castle, this polished mix of humor and suspense with a great twist ending truly offers “Something For Everyone”. Legendary Broadway producer, Harold Prince made his feature film directorial debut with this film written by Hugh Wheeler and based on the celebrated classic novel, The Cook by Harry Kressing. It is every bit as great as it was some almost 50 years ago.

Note: I have been asked thousands of times about which movie is my all time favorite and that is such a rough tough question bit without a second thought I will have to say that my favorite movie has three screen greats, Katherine Hepburn, Peter O’Toole and a very young Anthony Hopkins, “THE LION IN WINTER”. The script is great and the performances are historic.

“PROJECT GELB (YELLOW)”— A Film by an Asian Guy About Asian Guys

“Project Gelb (Yellow)” :

A Film by an Asian Guy about Asian guys

Amos Lassen

I must admit that I know nothing about Asian gay people aside from the few films I have seen over the years. In fact, I really do not really know any Asian gay guys. “Project Gelb (Yellow)” is, as I say above,

a film by an Asian guy about Asian guys. Canadian/Asian filmmaker Francis Luta looks at how Asian men are seen in the world of cinema and gay culture, and how this is reflected from their childhood. Luta decided that it was necessary to look art this when he was working for a modeling agency and was ordered to stay out of the sun because if he looked too exotic, he would become his marketable. He also learned that being a gay Asian male (Gaysian), he was either being fetishized or dismissed.

Luta interviewed men who turned out to be very pragmatic about the reality that there is a profound and definite anti-Asian sentiment in gay culture and this has become more evident and visible with the popularity of which became more evident with the growth of dating apps such as Grindr where we can easily see profiles “no fats, no fems, no Asians”. While it is easy to say that this is a personal preference, we cannot deny that it is a racist statement. It should have not surprised us to read that a National Task Force survey learned that 82% on non-white gays experienced discrimination from white gay men.

This is a short documentary that calls for further study of this. Without a doubt what we see here is something that gay Asians experience on a regular basis but I am willing to bet that many of us, if not most of us, have ever really thought about it.

“DRAGGED: THE FILM”— The Drag Queens of New York

dragged

“Dragged :The Film”

The Drag Queens of New York

Amos Lassen

.Danish filmmaker (who now calls New York home) , Christopher Birk, gives us a sweet look at the lives of several New York drag queens and explores their particular journeys that took them to perform in various bars and clubs. The journeys were often difficult and filled with frustration showing us that being a drag queen is not all glitz, glamour and fun. Yet even with financial troubles and homelessness, they have determination to pursue their dreams. What is common among them is that when they are in full drag and completely made up, It is the moment that matters and everything is put aside. Their lives have been far from easy. We can only wonder why anyone would put themselves through such rough lives. Chances for success are small. And yet there is RuPaul who has succeeded, I am sure, beyond his wildest dreams. We see a young RuPaul who was then unknown admitting that he had to use sex and/or the sense of sex to make a dime.

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There is fun here to be seen. We see Dame Edna and Charles Pierce at their best and there are laugh out loud moments but it seems that Birk tried so hard to cover so much and the film doesn’t do that.

“Dragged: The Film” was filmed over the course of two years and instead of emphasizing the glamour associated with these drag queen performers, we go into their backgrounds, artistic processes, and the impact that drag has had on their lives. We look for answers to the questions that mainstream has had with the concept of drag—“What makes a Drag Queen? Is Drag acting? What are the benefits and the rewards? Does it make you a better person?” (the list goes on and on) and the drag queens themselves try to answer these questions.

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We see what New York is to queens today as well as in the past and we hear from one who was part of the scene when it was still illegal. We see that there are those drag queens that are political and have a great deal to say.

 “Dragged” takes us closer into the LGBT community and the lives of drag queens and transvestites and the many different levels of struggle they have to face on their daily lives. There are people who are either fearful or ignorant or simply aggressive towards drag queens and we see competitive world of NYC nightclubs, from shows to stand up shows and how they have stood up to attack from others and other drag queens

This is very much a “New York Story” and basically, it seems to me, for those that are familiar with life in Manhattan and who know that there is a struggle everyday that inspires us and also break our hearts. It is difficult for anyone to survive the outrageous coast of living in New York and when someone is a drag queen it is that much harder to make ends meet. We understand that those we see here have been through this. We become aware of their vulnerability and hear stories that are difficult to hear.

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Every Drag Queen has a two layers: the make-up they add on and the strong attitude that they must maintain at all times, always keeping aware of where they are. We see drag queens as real people and learn of many of their issues. Here we see that they consider drag to be who they are. They are people we can identify with, who have many of the same issues, problems, joys and challenges that everyone else has. They just do drag.

“GROWING UP COY”— A Landmark Civil Rights Case

growing-up-coy

“Growing Up Coy”

A Landmark Civil Rights Case

Amos Lassen

Coy was born biologically a boy but began to identify as a girl when she was 18 months old by wearing dresses, having long hair, and loving the color pink. She was one of triplets and has two sisters. Her father, Jeremy Mathis is a former Marine, and her mother, Kathryn, is a freelance portrait photographer.

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During kindergarten, the Mathis parents notified the school in the Fountain-Fort Carson School district that Coy had identified as a girl and should be treated as one. However, when she was in first grade, they received a letter stating that Coy could not use the girl’s bathroom and that the best solution would be to have her use staff bathrooms or a gender-neutral one in the school’s health office.

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This outraged and upset Coy’s father and mother who took her out of school and began their own home schooling program. After thinking things through, they decided to have Michael D. Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, handle their fight for her rights. Silverman met them in Colorado and decided to use the case as a critical test of how state anti-discrimination laws are applied to transgender students.

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This film, directed by Eric Juhola looks at the efforts of a six-year-old trans girl and her brave parents to defend her rights. Silverman shares that there are 17 states and the District of Columbia offering some form of legal safeguards for transgender people.

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The film is a fascinating portrait of how parents, support their trans-gender male-born six-year-old within the family, then against public opinion when Coy goes to elementary school and they request Coy’s use of the girls’ bathroom. Today this is quite an important and hot issue but Juhola met the family in 2012 with his attorney friend Michael Silverman of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund as they prepared to file a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division against the school system. The news had just begun to shift back then.

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Kathryn, because of her profession, has lots of pictures of their large blonde brood: older sister eight-year-old Dakota, younger autistic sister three-year-old Auri, and the six-year-old triplets: Lily with cerebral palsy, their only male child, Max, and Coy. The photos show Coby as an unhappy little boy until by 18-months-old his parents give into his demands to wear his sisters’ clothing and wish for their anatomy. They consulted a psychologist specializing in nonconforming gender identity and send Coy off to kindergarten in the suburbs of Colorado Springs, an area known for evangelical mega-churches and for proselytizing at the nearby Air Force Academy. Anti-government and anti-Planned Parenthood billboards are all over the landscape in the foothills of the Rockies. The lawyer warns that their legal strategy has to include a media plan for educating the public.

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The film is strongest at showing the personal stress from what follows but unlike reality TV stars who want to be famous, this became a media nightmare for the family. After their announcement in Denver, local, national, even international press surrounded their house and their phone never stopped ringing. TV news clips emphasize they were depicted in salacious promotion and headlines. The father is a media relations major at Colorado State, so maybe that helped at handling press conferences and balancing the media’s need for access to their child with Coy’s fatigue at rationalizing his choices as other children acted out their resentments. During all of this, the parents struggled to continue home schooling their kids until the school agreed to accept them on their terms. Their ten-year marriage also began to wear down in front of the camera.

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Since the Mathis’s victory in 2013, it became a model for other states and the recent directive of the Federal Departments of Education and Justice establishing trans students access to bathrooms of their choosing, we could only hope that the family moves to a more fluidly accepting place where personal choices don’t have to be defined by a binary litigious system.

“A QUEER COUNTRY”— A Look at LGBT Israel

a-queer-country-poster“A QUEER COUNTRY”

A Look at LGBT Israel

Amos Lassen

Having lived and loved in Israel for many years, I was anxious to see “A Queer Country” since I had been so involved in the gay liberation movement there. For those who look at Israel from the outside in, they do not see the conflicts and divisions that are part of Israel life. Many are unaware of the problems and conflicts of secular vs. religious Jews but it is very much there yet Tel Aviv manages to have one of the largest gay pride celebrations in the world. I can remember back to the 80s when gays were closed and the only place to meet was in public parks at night. It was not until so many of us were tired of being arrested that we met the police head on and carrying 2 by 4s. We had had enough and that was the start of the end of police harassment. I am very proud that I played a part in that.

a-queer-country

Lisa Morgenthau is a British filmmaker and her documentary, “A Queer Country” is a look at Israel from an LGBT perspective. Unlike Michael Lucas’ earlier film this is not a travelogue meant to bring gay people to Israel.

This film begins with issues and starts contrasting the largely secular and open Tel Aviv with the more closed-minded Jerusalem where gay issues are far more political and difference is hardly tolerated.

We hear from gay Israelis who have faced difficulties because Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities rarely accept LGBT people, and who have had to find new ways to honor the beliefs of the closed world that they are no longer apart of. The film also addresses the horrible and unfounded accusations of “pinkwashing” that have been leveled against Israel by both gays and straight people. These are specific allegations that the Foreign Ministry has promoted the country’s acceptance of LGBT people to try and deflect criticism from allegations of human rights abuses against Palestinians. There is one person who I think of being so bitter by this and feels that Israel is covering up some terrible secrets but I know and she knows that are a lesbian she could not live in the Palestinian state she yearns for. She considers herself to be an intellectual and indeed has a following of others who think like her yet not of them would ever leave America to live there.

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With these and various other issues, the film avoids pushing an agenda and lets the voices of a variety of people be heard and we see that things are much more complicated than they appear at first. With “pinkwashing” and its cynical attempt to gloss over the fact not all minorities enjoy the benefits LGBT people do, we see the promotion of positive stories that we might not otherwise see.

Many participants have something about how Tel Aviv is a gay haven and it’s straight-friendly but then we forget that in 2009 there was a shooting at a gay center that killed two and injured 15 others We cannot forget the fatal stabbing by an Ultra-Orthodox Jew during the 2015 Pride March in Jerusalem. He claimed to be angry that the city allowed the celebration to happen.

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I think that the movie is powerfully interesting when it looks at the country that was set up to be a secular, plural society, but that plurality has come to mean finding ways for some very different and who sometimes hold extreme views to live alongside one another.

The movie makes no conclusions; that is for us after we watch the movie carefully and experience Israel as she is. instead presenting a variety of thoughts and opinions. We don’t get the perspective of LGBT Arabs in Israel yet the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is looked at as to how it relates to LGBT people. However, it does so almost entirely through the eyes of Israel and some may claim that the movie is one-sided. The documentary does include does a good job of having a diverse group of interviewees from within the Israeli Jewish community. For example, we meet a strict orthodox ‘psychologist’ who thinks everything gay is wrong, we meet gay Jews conflicted about their status compared to Palestinians, a trans man and his family on a kibbutz where they’re trying to live their lives in a way they feel honors God eve though others may disagree. If there is an overall theme here, it is Israelis who try very hard to be both Jewish and gay.

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This goes a bit deeper than just issues facing the gay population. For those who are not aware, what is going on is not just about LGBT issues when we see that religious bodies have complete control over marriage in the country and this means that it is just not just gay people who can’t marry, but also many of those who fall in love with people outside their own religion or denomination.

I have to say that the film held my interest from the very first frame but then I am an Israeli-America who worked so hard that it would be better in Israel for the gay community. We see that the issue of being gay in Israel is quite complex beneath the surface.

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Israel may be the most gay-friendly country in the Middle East but LGBT people still face difficulties that are both relatable and very specific to living in that country.

“OUT RUN’— Trans in the Phillipines

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“Out Run”

Trans in the Philippines

Amos Lassen

The leaders of the world’s only LGBT political party wage a historic quest to elect a trans woman to the Philippine Congress. In this film by S. Leo Chiang and Johnny Symons, we see the party mobilizing working-class transgender hairdressers and beauty queens. The party has to face the harsh, transphobic climate of the Philippines, three transgender hairdressers and beauty queens are trying to make history by running for office as candidates of the Ladlad party, the world’s first LGBT political party. The political hopefuls make themselves visible in the battle for rights and acceptance and follows the party as it tries to bring its voters out of the shadows to fight for representation by winning three seats in the Philippine Congress and their chances of success are pretty good. If every member of the LGBT community gave them their vote, they can actually win those seats.

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They did not include same-sex marriage in their campaign but they probably should have. However, The Philippines is a Catholic country. As a result, they decimated because they did not pay enough attention to the important issues. The time has come for LGBT issues to be addressed and the film does.

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The film does the best it can given the bad situation it would have been so much better had the party won and if the party had carefully thought about the issues.

Nonetheless, the cinematography is beautiful.

“THE TRANS LIST”— The Range of Experience

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“The Trans List”

The Range of Experiences

Amos Lassen

The Trans List is an exploration of the range of experiences of Americans who identify as transgender (an umbrella term for those whose gender identity does not conform to that typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth). No two experiences of trans people are exactly alike. We see that self-identifiers include terms such as “trans- sexual,” “genderqueer,” “bi-gender,” and “non gender-binary,” and these are just a few of the many. This film introduces us to a diverse group of eleven individuals who tell their stories in their own words and of their experiences with identity, family, career, love, struggle and accomplishment.

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Filmmaker Timothy Greenfield Sanders and writer and transgender rights activist Janet Mock bring together a diverse group of fascinating trans men and women to talk about how their own journeys that have resulted in such joy and peace of mind.  In her introduction before the interviews Janet Mock tells us that these are stories of triumph but they do not overtake the tragedies that many trans Americans deal with and there include  limited access to shelter, healthcare, education, and employment.

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We meet Caroline Tula Crossley, a British actress/model who worked undetected for years, and shares that her very successful modeling career led to a part in 1981 in the James Bond movie ‘For Your Eyes Only’ which resulted in headlines in the tabloid newspapers declaring ‘Bond Girl Was A Boy’. It caused Crossley to seriously consider suicide, yet she continued modeling and became an advocate campaigning to petition for changes in the British law concerning transsexuals.  She did add however say that one of her detractors cruelly told her after she had gender-realignment surgery that regardless of how she looks she will always be “a mutilated male”.

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Muscular U.S. Army Sergeant Shane Ortega was filled with confidence as he tells of his pride serving in the armed services, even though army regulations still do not completely recognize his gender and at times, he must wear a female uniform. Overtly masculine porn actor turned motivational speaker Buck Angel describes himself as ‘a man with no dick’, but while remembering the tough time he had growing up as a girl brings tears to his and to our eyes.

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Of course there is Caitlyn Jenner who has used her Olympic fame and Kardashian ties to constantly be in the news. She does stress that she is not a spokesman for the community and that she simply speaks just for herself.

The youngest talking head was a very self-assured student Nicole Maines, who took her case to the case to the Supreme Court (with the support of her parents) after being refused access to female restrooms at her Maine high school.  She made a point of stressing that starting her transitioning at such an early age caused her far less stress and gave her a great deal of happiness than if she had delayed it until she was an adult.

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Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Bamby Salcedo is a Latino activist who shares how she was so incensed and horrified by the brutal 2002 murder of transgender teen Gwen Araujo. Salcedo’s past was one of the grimmest related as her life has involved prison and drug usage (that are now over) as she takes the role of an activist to young people transforming.

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Laverne Cox tells how that just a couple of years ago she couldn’t find  any work,  and now she is the very first trans actor to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy.  Cox radiates her happiness and recounts her joy at finding herself on the front cover of Time Magazine and this helped liberate her so she could finally ‘own’ who she really is.  We are badly in need of dialogue about the trans community and it helps all of us to understand and appreciate its sheer diversity even more.