Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“UNSETTLED: SEEKING REFUGE IN AMERICA”— LGBTQ Refugees Share their Journeys

“UNSETTLED: SEEKING REFUGE IN AMERICA”

LGBTQ Refugees Share their Journeys

Amos Lassen

“Unsettled” reminds us that homosexuality is a crime in more than 70 countries, and is punishable by death in four.  During the Obama administration, LGBT asylum claims began to rise, but under President Trump nearly 70% of all asylum claims were denied by the Department of Homeland Security and this is a historic low.

Junior Mayema is a gender-nonconforming gay man from the Congo, and Subhi Nahas, a gay Syrian refugee, are featured in “Unsettled” and given the extent to which Subhi Nahas would one day use his voice to spread awareness about the staggering obstacles facing Middle Eastern LGBT refugees like himself, it’s remarkable that his journey to a new life in the United States began with the critical decision to keep his mouth shut.

In late 2012, 25-year-old Nahas was finally fleeing Syria with a taxi driver he had bribed to take him to the Lebanon border and, if stopped, to go along with the ruse that Nahas couldn’t speak. After a lifetime of persecution and escalating danger in a country where homosexuality is illegal  and where gay men were being killed by the Islamic State after the outbreak of civil war, Nahas was used to hiding his personality and “silencing myself, shielding myself,” to all but disappear.

He pretended to be deaf and mute, because he knew the moment he opened my mouth to speak they would pick up his sexual orientation; if he talked, he would sound too effeminate and killed immediately.”

Nahas is one of four LGBT refugees striving to make new lives for themselves in San Francisco who are profiled in Tom Shepard’s documentary. Shepard  met Nahas and Junior Mayema, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 2014 while volunteering with Jewish Family and Community Services of the East Bay. The nonprofit’s parent organization, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, had just received a sizable federal grant to support LGBT refugee resettlement.

HE thought it was an important time to make a film that humanizes the gay refugee experience since most really don’t understand their lived experiences. All refugees are vulnerable, but LGBTQ refugees are doubly vulnerable.

The American resettlement model has been “based on intact families being met here by members of their diaspora, maybe relatives or a mosque or community organization. But many gay refugees are escaping their families and the communities which have rejected them. For a gay Iraqi man, for instance, the last people he wants to see are other Iraqis, so LGBTQ refugees tend to be at much greater risk for isolation, and many deal with past trauma.

“For me, growing up in the Congo, there was no way I could ever hide who I was because I was gender nonconforming since I was very young,” said Mayema, 30 “I couldn’t fit as male or female. I was always in between.”

Mayema speaks about being in a Kinshasa hair salon as a boy with his mother, a pastor who is very homophobic, and refused to have a gay guy working there do her hair. She was very aggressive and said, ‘Do not touch me! If I have a child like this, I will kill him.” Mayema fled Congo for South Africa, yet found homophobia just as inescapable in Cape Town. After being repeatedly attacked, he registered with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and was granted resettlement in San Francisco. When he got on the plane, he finally felt safe, Mayema says.

. “Unsettled” follows Cheyenne Adriano and Mari N’timansieme, a lesbian couple from Angola and their wait to hear the verdict on their asylum petition at the San Francisco Homeland Security office, and later their marriage at San Francisco City Hall.

Shepard also examines “whether San Francisco is upholding its reputation as a safe harbor.” “It can be really challenging finding community and people to support you, even here,” Mayema said. He found out he is HIV-positive after arriving here, and he struggles throughout the film to find a stable, safe living arrangement.

Nahas was fortunate to be sponsored by an older gay lawyer, Fred Hertz, and his partner, who hosted him in their North Oakland home for the first three months after he arrived in June 2015. He now works as an Arabic translator and program coordinator at Uber. He also founded a nonprofit, Spectra, to support LGBT refugees.  Nahas travels to Washington just months after arriving in the U.S. to testify at the first U.N. Security Council meeting on LGBT rights.

His appearance was widely publicized and brought Nahas a degree of fame. He received awards, appeared in magazine profiles and was the grand marshal of the 2016 New York City Pride Parade.

It was a difficult decision to tell his story so publicly, he said because he is so private. “But I knew I had to speak up and open the gate for others. No one else was going to.”

Shephard started this documentary before 2016.  Up to then this country stood by its old policy of giving refugee to all those in need.  In fact Shepard points out at the beginning of this documentary that half the population of the USA were born into immigrant families.

Shepard lets the stories unfold without comment other than to note that the number of refugees accepted into this country last year was the lowest ever.  The visuals alone are enough to remind us just  how low the US has sunk by downrightly refusing to providing these needy and desperate the safe haven they need just to survive. 

“CHURCH AND STATE”— Legalizing Gay Marriage in Utah

“CHURCH AND STATE”

Legalizing Gay Marriage in Utah

Amos Lassen

Holly Tuckett’s and Kendall Cox’s “Church and State” is a documentary about the surprise federal court ruling in 2013 that legalized gay marriage for Utah and that caused a fierce legal battle in a state where Mormon church values control the Legislature and every aspect of public life. It follows the story of a loud yet inexperienced gay activist and a tiny Salt Lake City law firm that came together to get rid of Utah’s gay marriage ban. The lawsuit is not widely known and it all probability should have failed but instead, it opened the doors for the Supreme Court decision  that legalized same-sex unions nationwide.

The battle between state and federal government is always intriguing and for many Americans the Mormon religion is an enigma. The filmmakers give us a  fair and accurate depiction of “The Church”. We see clips of their “prophets” as they provide statements on homosexuality condoning violence against LGBTQ people while at the same time one man shares his violent reaction to a homosexual advance for which he proudly said that he was not sorry for. We see a good deal of hate and meet heroic lawyers who take on the case. We also see many happy gay people getting married in Utah despite the adversity of the place.

The film shows us the reason we have the First Amendment and is for everyone who cares about keeping our government from becoming a theocracy.

The way that Utah history is covered is extremely well balanced as is Mormon history (LDS). We experience what went on in Utah through the eyes of the people living there and this is an important film for both for current and future generations to understand the difficulties that led up to the Supreme Court case requiring equality in the treatment of all human beings and the right to marry in all states. The film reduces misinformation about Utah and may help reduce the escalating suicide rate among young people in the LGBTQ community who feel rejected by their families, peers and faith community.

“HOLLY NEAR: SINGING FOR OUR LIVES”— A Retrospective

“HOLLY NEAR: SINGING FOR OUR LIVES”

A Retrospective

Amos Lassen

This documentary film, “Holly Near: Singing for Our Lives” was originally broadcast on PBS’s “American Masters” series. It is a brilliant example of how filmmakers, in this case Jim Brown, can shed light on history and people overlooked by the mainstream. I remember reaching adulthood to the songs of Holly Near, Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez and Judy Collins but in recent years, they are not listened to nearly as much. This film concentrates on Near and  cements her central place in recent American history as both musical artist and activist.

Near has been a major player in crucial movements such as the Peace Movement, Women’s Rights, LGBT and even indie music. She was one of the originals whose record company Redwood Records has become a model for self-distribution.

Famous women like Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda are interviewed to properly give Near’s role as a progressive work and we see her winning personality, great empathy and terrific musical ability. This retrospective brings us into focus at a time when her songs are so needed. Her anthems for social justice still resonate today.

We have new Interviews with Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, Ronnie Gilbert and Kevin Bacon in addition to performances and interviews, there are an additional 8 Minutes Not Seen on the Original American Masters® Broadcast.

Holly Near has been performing for well over 50 years and in the process she created what Gloria Steinem called, “the first soundtrack of the women’s movement.” The film documents the story of the activist and her art. Her anthems call for women’s rights, gay rights, anti-war protests and all human rights; her music speaks directly to the world’s young political activists of today and it is “an important testament to a time-a time of protest and coalition building, and the weaving of a multicultural consciousness always rooted in contemporary activism.” 

BONUS FEATURES 

  • Over 30 minutes of additional interviews
  • Live performances of “One Good Song” and “Somebody’s Jail”

About Omnibus Entertainment/Film Movement

Omnibus Entertainment is the genre imprint for Film Movement, a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films based in New York City. Since 2002, it has released more than 250 feature films and shorts culled from prestigious film festivals worldwide.  Film Movement’s theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign art house titles. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. In 2015, Film Movement launched its reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Peter Greenaway, Bille August, Marleen Gorris, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, King Hu, Sergio Corbucci and Ettore Scola. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com. Visit www.filmmovementplus.com for more information about Film Movement Plus, the new subscription streaming service from Film Movement.

“STONEWALL OUTLOUD”— Bringing Stories to Life

“STONEWALL OUTLOUD”

Bringing Stories to Life

Amos Lassen

What happened that night in June at the Stonewall Inn has become legendary and the time has come for us to get the real facts about that what really happened from those who were actually there. We do know that the first recorded archival accounts by those who were there did not take place until twenty years later with the audio documentary, “Remembering Stonewall.” Now StoryCorps has preserved the historic accounts of those events and this year began an effort to record the stories of the LGBTQ community through its app.

Thirty years after the firsthand stories were recorded, filmmaker Fenton Bailey has brought them to life in “Stonewall Outloud.” Narrated by RuPaul, the film honors the past by bringing it into the present and reminds everyone how vital  and important the actions taken that night became to the LGBTQ Community.

We can now listenito the words of those who had paved the way for them” as some of today’s most recognizable LGBTQ community members (Lance Bass, Daniel Franzese, Michael Turchin, Charlie Carver, Laith Ashley and more) channel their spirits. More news about this will be forthcoming.

“KILLING PATIENT ZERO”— The True Story

“KILLING PATIENT ZERO”

The True Story

Amos Lassen

We have all heard about “Patient Zero” as the man who would be identified under this damning codename. Over time, however, he has become increasingly forgotten. Patient Zero was named in journalist Randy Shilts’ influential “And the Band Played On”, the book that finally brought the AIDS conversation into the mainstream years after its first reported outbreak. A  French-Canadian flight attendant named Gaetan Dugas was widely believed to be the first person who brought the disease to the USA and around the world. He died three years before the book’s publication, so he did not see how his place as a footnote in the epidemic was twisted so that he became something of a manipulative villain; friends of Gaetan were bemused at his depiction as a man who deliberately spread the disease.

Shilts died of AIDS related complications himself in 1994, and was accused by many of internalized homophobia because of his negative portrayals within his work. Looking back now, Dugas may look irresponsible. He refused to take medical advice and continued with his sex life as normal until he had concrete proof as to how the virus was spread, but now we know that he was just foolish on a catastrophic level. He was opposed to being an evil man with intent to harm others. Eventually, it was revealed that he was one of many people with the virus and not the originator but this was years later after the damage had been done, and the myth of patient zero has left a lasting impact while the truth about him has been forgotten.

Director Laurie Lynd doesn’t shy away from criticizing Dugas for his actions, but the film is dedicated to his memory and puts his reckless behavior in the context of the gay liberation movement. It shows  why so many gay men refused to give up one of the few joys they had in a culture that was opposed and hostile to their existence. Lynd conducted more than 40 interviews for this documentary, many of whom were subjects in Shilts’ original book, looking to find truth behind the harmful myths. The media’s depiction of the “gay cancer” at the time was seemingly designed to reinforce harmful stereotypes of gay men and their sex lives, with conservative governments across the world refusing to even acknowledge the crisis due to a hatred of gay people. The interviewers say that if this were disproportionately affecting straight men, there would have been an urgency to find a cure a lot sooner. An interview with Shilts’ original publisher convinced him to take out the minor Patient Zero story from the book and sell it to the conservative tabloid the New York Post. This shows that the worst stereotypes had to be indulged Shilts had to pare down his own findings to get noticed, and as a result, he harmed the LGBT community.

The film’s first half looks at the sexual freedoms of the 70’s, following the Stonewall riots that closed the previous decade. By doing this, the spread of the disease and the reluctance to step away from sex lives is understandable if not justifiable. We see the promiscuity considered by many people in polite society at the time to be a sinful trait under a lens that ignores all judgement.  This was after years where trips to nightclubs and bathhouses were the only joys in life away from the hostility and scorn of the world at large and we clearly see why there’d be a reluctance to step away from that lifestyle. Through the use of talking head interviews, Lynd helps younger audiences understand why this disease was able to spread so widely, without judging as to the reasons why it happened.

It turns out Patient Zero didn’t really exist, and even if he did, he wasn’t Gaetan Dugas. When the CDC was frantically trying to crack the disease, they interviewed Dugas who was very forthcoming. They used every piece of information he offered. Dugas’s extensive recollections helped them piece together a cluster chart that helped them identify the sexually transmitted nature of the disease. He was labelled patient O – O as in Out of California (which is where the first 56 men they interviewed had lived; Gaetan was the 57th, and he did not). This was 100% factually incorrect, but Shilts who was completely angered at the government’s lack of response decided to galvanize the world with his book which was read and talked about, regardless of whether it was completely or even remotely true.

“Killing Patient Zero” is profound and a great educational documentary is vital to our understanding of the AIDS crisis. It should be a key text for people researching that period of history. It should also be compulsory viewing for everyone who wants to feel a sense of community and appreciate how the past shapes the future.

“MADAME”— A Difficult Relationship

“MADAME”

A Difficult Relationship

Amos Lassen

Swiss director Stéphane Riethauser’s first full-length film, “Madame” is an honest and unflinching portrait of an aspect of his past in desperate need of reconstruction. The title refers to Caroline, the director’s grandmother (and muse), an elderly woman who is anything but resigned. She is a seemingly controlled and bourgeois individual with a surprising strength of character. 

We see the close and often difficult relationship between the director and his grandmother who is an undisputed model of courage and determination. The direct and wholly sincere dialogue which establishes itself between these two people is seen through the rich family archives: short films shot in super 8 (filmed by the director’s father, but also by the filmmaker himself when we was just a small boy), footage of Riethauser questioning his grandmother and slides and photographs of the family as well as through visual testimonies of the director’s past. 

Riethauser uses his film to give meaning to an aspect of his past which isn’t always linear. His current status as a director and spokesperson for the LGBT cause seen through out the suffering he has had to deal with in the past. He has felt obliged for a very long time to conform to a patriarchal, bourgeois version of society dominated by alpha males. The most important thing, it seems, is to “appear” to conform physically and mentally to a standardized version of “masculinity” which is both ridiculous and extremely arduous. Men, as described by the director’s father, should “be courageous, fight for their family and their country. Yet, today we are taught that  gender roles are not biologically fixed but socially constructed. 

Riethauser not only paints a picture of the strong bond he shared with his grandmother but he also explores the patriarchal and bourgeois society within which genders must be interpreted and performed by following enforced instructions. The young Stéphane ended up creating his own alter ego called “Riton”, a façade of pure arrogance and machismo behind which he could hide and disappear. By doing this, the clichés surrounding gender are revealed. The director converses with the affluent, grandiose and complicated character of his grandmother, but he also uses his own inner dialogue, looking for traces of the “self” that lies hidden beneath the way he behaves as a result of a past governed by bourgeois respectability. 

 The power of this documentary is in the balance between intimacy and meticulousness, between the humor and the tragedy that is found in a reality based only on appearances. Film permits Reithauser to express all those things that he was unable to say about love and sex during his childhood and adolescence. He takes a dispassionate and ironic look at how things once were, and, for this reason, we get a liberated voice to a past that is dominated by “things unsaid”. 

Madame is Caroline, a ninety-year old self-made woman who´s countered and overcome sexism all her life with wit and with humor. Stéphane is a victim of  homophobia. when he tries to overcome that which he´s internalized, he finds his grandmother externalizing it for and onto him.  The sufferings of grandmother and grandson both come out from sexism. However, as the film moves forward and he comes to accept his homosexuality, she becomes part of the problem.

The documentary is beautifully structured and narrated, as it examines the sexism in society, founded on homophobia, and so encompassing that it makes Stéphane turn against himself and against nature.

Madame and her grandson are both very charismatic and together with the narration, the structure, the editing, the music, and the attempts to understand oneself and each other makes this both a glorious and timely film. “Madame” goes way beyond a standard autobiography to look at the stifling of human desires that can take place even in the most comfortable setting.

Granted, Riethauser grew up in an affluent Geneva family and where, as the firstborn son, he was pampered and adored by his attractive parents. This adoration came at a price, though and he felt pressure to grow up into an exaggeratedly masculine alpha male, something he was clearly not destined to be or do. We shows us sex roles anew: “a conception of women as mystical, helpless, and revered; men as controlling, aggressive and entitled, with shame and hate the fate of anyone who dares to move beyond the constructs.” We enter the milieu in which he grew up, and his first-person narration adds to the slow awakening and eventual withdrawal from that environment.  At the same time, a parallel story  about his grandmother Caroline comes forth and we see her concealing pain beneath her rough exterior without a trace of self-pity. Like her grandson, she was punished for wanting something other than what proper Swiss father figures decreed was what was expected of her. Riethauser has a stronger than usual awareness of male privilege, and his empathy for his grandmother is moving. For her part, she encourages him to lead the fullest life he can.

The film traces the director’s his life journey to become a liberated man and gay activist in his forties. He beautifully exposes the repression he was lucky and young enough to escape.

“DRAG KIDS”— Four Youngsters

“DRAG KIDS”

Four Youngsters

Amos Lassen

Four very different drag performers under twelve-years-old meet and celebrate themselves in Megan Wennberg’s documentary” Drag Kids”. Nemis, Stephan, Bracken, and Jason have dealt with tremendous  scrutiny over their brief drag careers, but what we see is a celebration. We follow the four young people as they prepare for the biggest performance of their lives at Montreal Pride where they demonstrate “the importance of artistic expression, community-building, and non-judgmental support for people of all ages.” This is a film about about gender, art, and affirming parenting that makes you both laugh and cry.

 Despite their different skill sets and birth gender assignments, the four are all pre-pubescent children who participate in the art of drag. The most famous of these children is Nemes, who goes by the name of Lactatia, a Quebecer who’s already being heard in the drag scene and has a worldwide following. Wennberg shows all four as they practice their moves before they go out into their regular gigs, each bigger after the one before.

We watch the children make decisions about how to appear in public and gives us a glimpse of the local scenes where these queens perform, which is mostly in the global north. Lactatia invites the other young queens to perform in Montreal where they perform a number together yet they’re  on stage as individuals with artistic minds. There’s also something fascinating watching adults cheer on children who are being their true selves.

Children and drag queens have a lot in common so it’s only natural the mainstreaming of drag is attracting younger kids. We have four very different youngsters from different cities who are drag queens, but don’t know any others their own age. They meet in Montreal and prepare for a Pride performance.

Director Wennberg captures the disappointments that come with liking something as a kid that is primarily accessible to adults and the joy of misfits meeting members of their own tribe. The high-pressure performance and meet-up conceit instigated by the documentary shows their insecurities and obnoxious behavior. Drag queens, like children, can be quite mean. Though Drag Kids is refreshingly open-minded about gender, it misses opportunities to go deeper into the more complex and uglier emotions that reflect the acceptance narrative.

Laddy Gaga, Queen Lactacia, Suzan Bee Anthony, and Bracken Hanke are the  stage names for the kids in the film that film focuses on them. They strut and sashay around the house, get up on stage individually, and then perform  Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ at the Montreal Pride Parade. 

The kids are charming, hilarious, and have enough sass and confidence to back up their aspirations. They have great one-liners and that take down the patriarchy, religion, the 80s, homophobia, and general intolerance towards them. 

The documentary champions self-expression and champions the people that support it. The parents of each of the four drag queens are encouraging and show kind love. It’s hard to keep a grin off your face as you watch.

“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.