Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“FREEDIA GOT A GUN”— New Orleans and Gun Violence


New Orleans and Gun Violence

Amos Lassen

Big Freedia is a New Orleans musician who is known for the form of hip-hop called “bounce” but this film is not about partying or having fun. Instead, it looks at how Freedia uses her substantial influence in New Orleans to bring attention gun violence. She was inspired to make this documentary by the shooting death of her brother, Adam.

Freedia decided to use her fame to bring attention to the issue, which disproportionately weighs on Black communities. We first get a brief look at her her rise in the entertainment business but then the film changes. We see Freedia going into a middle school, where kids in their early teens admit to carrying weapons and/or having shot at other people. She goes into a prison, with the hope of discouraging inmates from returning to a life of violence once they’re paroled. She joins with activists protesting in the streets and she appears wherever she thinks her voice will be heard and could make an impression.

Freedia engages in a relationship with a teen boy who is already on a bad path. Freedia wants him to let a feud he has with another teen drop for both their sakes, but he can’t get past the fact that his enemy tried to end his life. We really see the seriousness of the situation. When even kids barely into adolescence see gun violence as a natural part of life, it’s disaster will follow and  Freedia doesn’t is not about to give up on him.

What makes this film special is its personal tone. We see that a single voice has power and many voices increase that power. Freedia sees that, as a celebrity, she carries influence. People pay attention to her. She hopes that is enough to push thought in the opposite direction. By encouraging others to join her message, the film examines one individual’s efforts to make an impact on an important  societal problem. We get the impression that every time someone commits to ta cause, it is another step toward finding a solution. 

The film is scored with some of Big Freedia’s songs as it goes deep into examining the impact of gun violence. Freedia shows her emotions knowing that that this discussion is vital.

“CURED”— Our Forgotten Heroes


Our Forgotten Heroes

Amos Lassen

The fight wasn’t an easy one and those For the early pioneers , the fight for acceptance was not easy. They risked everything to be involved in the fight. To even be identified as an ally of homosexuals and people could end a career, or worse. However, some people dared and they paid the consequences but for the most part yet these people became heroes in the early gay liberation movement and helped pave the way for the kind of acceptance that the LGBTQ has finally received from mainstream America that was unthinkable even a decade ago. Even though there is still plenty to do, “Cured” the documentary shows how that fight took shape, with plenty of archival footage and interviews with those that took part in changing the mind of the American Psychiatric Association (which finally happened in 1973).

The film is a celebration of people of both gay and straight people of courage who have been largely forgotten by mainstream society, but are important to the LGBTQ equality movement. The gains of the last ten years are today threatened by the strengthening conservative and evangelical segment of American society makes us more aware that these people should be remembered so that they can inspire others to come forward and continue the struggle.

The documentary is related in a methodical and intelligent manner and is a timely reminder of how far the LGBTQ movement has come.

“PS BURN THIS LETTER PLEASE”— New York’s Gay Drag Scene in the 1950’s and 1960’s


New York’s Gay Drag Scene in the 1950’s and 1960’s

Amos Lassen

Set among the drag balls of the 1950’s, mostly in New York City, “PS Burn This Letter Please” mixes oral and epistolary history— interviews we see from the still-living participants of the balls and letters from a box left in a storage locker. Taken together, we get the story of the gay scene of New York and the broader United States.

In 2007, John Maloof was  a young graduate working on a history project. He bought a suitcase full of photographic negatives in a Chicago auction hoping to be able to use them in his research.  What he discovered was a fine collection of street photography that was the work of one person, Vivian Maier, who was a complete unknown. Then in 2014  letters were found in the storage locker of Los Angeles DJ and talent agent, Reno Martin. These letters were about the lives of New York City drag queens during the 1950s and 60s.  

The letters came to from  producer Craig Olsen and fiolmmalers Jennifer Tiexiera and Michael Seligman who used them to make this film, a unique look at LGBTQ history that takes us a world, pre-Stonewall days.The filmmakers spent four years finding those who wrote the letters. We never learn who the real Reno Martin is but we do meet his friends, most of whom are still alive. They live all over the country and are in their 80s and 90s. They had come to New York because of the freedom that they thought they would find.

The letters describe the balls and friendships of the period, and are written in vocabulary we seldom use today showing the evolving language of identity. We also see photos and snapshots of queens wearing chic dresses and celebrating. Here are  some misconceptions of New York’s LGBTQ scene, such as asking about The 82 Club; a popular mob-owned drag bar that were normalized and open 1950’s America and the fear of punishment by the authorities and the courage to live freely.

Here were the days when homosexuality was illegal as was dressing up in women’s clothing.  The film capturesthe joyof these gay men as they lives their lives in a restricted society. The letters are mixed in with vintage home movies, and photos.  The interviews are wonderful as we hear how happy these men were to have found a place where they belonged.



The Inspiration and the Legend

Amos Lassen

Beverly Glenn-Copeland lived in near isolation in Huntsville Ontario when she wrote and self-released “Keyboard Fantasies” which she recorded on seven tracks of a cassette. The music is a folk-electronica hybrid. Thirty years later Beverly, now Glenn began to hear, via email, from people all over the world who thanked him for his music.

A rare-record collector in Japan reissued Keyboard Fantasies and subsequent music. In the film we see Copeland commit his film and his music to this documentary by Posy Dixon.  The film is a coming-of-age story filled with both pain and happiness.

Copeland is a legendary singer, composer and transgender activist who because of the reissue of musical explorations has found a degree of fame. Throughout Copeland’s career, the music cannot be categorized or put into genre. It blends vision, technology, spirituality and place.

I love that we are finally giving our past heroes their just do and Posy Dixon brings us a fascinating story that might have been lost to us were it not for this brilliant documentary. Here is a person who has given his life and music to the screen and who shares an intimate story filled with pain and prejudice yet is able to channel those feelings into the music of hope and happiness. The film brings that music to a whole new generation and whose life is an inspiration to all of us. We gain an understanding of how social constructs have ruled how we live and not just gender but also identity, time and space. It was the challenges of his own past that allowed Glenn Copeland to face the world and even though he sees himself as an elder, he is a contemporary.



A Historic Debut

Amos Lassen

Lucia Lucas, the first transgender woman ever to perform as Don Giovanni in a professional opera, makes her historic debut in one of America’s most conservative states. Lucia Lucas is an actor and a baritone opera singer who is also transgender. Growing up in Sacramento, California Lucia studied horn and voice at California State University and then graduated from the Chicago College Of Performing Arts. She moved Germany in 2009 and decided to transition from male to female. This process began in July 2014 when Lucia took estrogen and antiandrogens and underwent female feminization surgery the following September. In 2016 she finally underwent her gender reassignment surgery. While this film is about a transgender person, that aspect of Lucia’s life is a just a part of the story. This is a film about the search for identity and her strength to be an actor and opera singer. That she is transgender is only a part of the story.

Director James Kicklighter prefers to look at Lucia’s present rather than her past, something we have already seen many times in movies about transgender people.  Here is Lucia as she is today. We do not need to know who she was in the past. She is filled with talent and immediately draws us in. Like everyone, she has problems of feeling secure but we really see more of her charisma than her insecurities. Lucia owes a great deal to the man who mentored her, Tobias Pickens who chose her to play Don Giovanni in Mozart’s opera. We see their closeness in some very tender moments here especially when Lucia speaks to Pickens about her family. It is what the two share that propels the film and it is gorgeous.

The film begins about a month before opening night and there is concern that ticket sales are slow. As Lucia and her circle discuss ways to get people to come to the opera, she cannot help but wonder if he is the reason that sales are slow. She knows that her decision to transition was the right move and she believed that her being the first transgender opera diva would give opera a needed hit in the arm. She had hoped that the publicity about her would bring new opera lovers forward. But there is something else. “Don Giovanni” is being performed in Tulsa Oklahoma and Oklahoma is a state known for its conservatism. She can’t help but wonder if true opera-lovers will come or if she will be on display as a strange attraction. Her nerves keep us in suspense as we see how she feels.

Mozart’s wonderful music is heard throughout the film as we watch a deeply personal story come to life. It is as if we are too part of the creative process of bringing the event to life. With the focus on Lucia’s exquisite voice, we forget that she is transgender and this is what makes this film so special. We simply see Lucia as Lucia— a person with extraordinary talent.

Picker cast Lucia on her talent but he also knows this choice was bound to be controversial.Lucia becomes Don Giovanni, a man with both masculine and feminine sides and as we see her rehearse, we can tell that she totally inhabits the role. The confidence we see in her in other parts of the film comes through in her depiction of the opera’s protagonist. She is filled with charm and we know that she will succeed wonderfully. I cannot help be proud of her accomplishments and can easily see that we will be hearing more about her. This brilliant film brings together art, talent and a transgender person who is about to give a whole new look at who we are and what we can do.

“MARKIE IN MILWAUKEE”— Alternating Identities


Alternating Identities

Amos Lassen

“Markie in Milwaukee” is a documentary that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Director Matt Kliegman follows Markie Wenzel, a transgender woman in Wisconsin, as she alternates between male and female identities. She is torn between her innermost desires and the pressures of religion and family. When we first meet her in 2013, she is a he and attempting to destroy photos and evidence of her female self, becoming, once more, Mark Wenzel. We then flash back to the process which was begun in 2005 when Mark became Markie. Mark is a deeply religious man and an evangelical preacher who has long struggled with the woman inside of him and her begging to be set free. He was then married and a father of three and was at a loss, until finally he just came out as Markie. The fact that he was 7 feet tall, weighed 400 pounds and was, in his own words, very masculine, made matters more complicated.

The greater question was whether Mark would accept himself as Markie. Mark/Markie is, actually, a wonderful example for the need for gender-neutral pronouns. The film does not judge Mark/Markie and neither does it give us any easy answers.

Director Kliegman  is open to the many different points of view from those who know Markie as both man and woman, whether it’s Markie’s former preacher (who does not favor a fan transition), Markie’s children (who also are not on Markie’s side), or the members of Markie’s transgender community (including a more liberal preacher). We see a great variety of talking-head perspectives on the experience but there is no witness more moving in their testimony, however, than Markie, themself,  both then and now.

The film is a frank discussion of an important matter and with its total access to Markie, who enjoys the intimate dissection of his process, even if he is not always sure what that process means. All we now is that Markie is a complex human being, in all their marvelous complexity and we really do not have to know any more than that.

Lately we have had documentaries have center on individuals who either transitioned or are transitioning but this is something really special. Mark Wenzel, who was born male, began living publicly as female eight years ago and has now decided to de-transition; that is, to resume his male identity. The film is a chronicle of Wenzel attempting to re-integrate himself into the world he left behind, as well as a look into his so that we may gain a better understanding of what shaped his very unique journey.

Kliegman goes back to the photographs, audio recordings, and video of Mark going all the way back to his youth. Through these, we get a sense of just how long he had been wrestling with the desire to be female and how much effort he put into trying to deny it for much of his life. Before transitioning to become Markie Anna, Wenzel married and became a devout Christian minister, but then years later, he became firmly estranged from both. His adult still seem confused by their father’s past actions, and during one especially heartbreaking interview, his daughter admits her belief that Mark broke up the family because she didn’t make him happy enough.

Wenzel then gives up being Markie Anna in an effort to re-connect with both his family and the fundamentalist Baptist church he had belonged to. Now in his mid-50s, he wears men’s clothing again, and he describes himself as having been “wicked.” He chastises himself and we get the impression that throughout the time Wenzel spent transitioning, some  part of Markie Anna felt it was wrong and a sin against her creator. He is a walking paradox yet as Markie Anna she was free and comfortable.

The fact that Wenzel himself could view Markie Anna as immoral comes across like a terrible rush to judgment, yet we also understand how isolated an existence Wenzel leads, and we come to understand just how much that wore Markie Anna down during the eight years he spent transitioning. His former fundamentalist Baptist pastor has little regard for transgender persons, but in Wenzel’s heart, it is still his church.

Real suspense derives less on whether he gets back what he lost but what will be the cost of doing so. The film closes on an optimistic note, suggesting the possibility of both.

There was the loneliness of being Markie especially in the  fundamentalist, evangelist churches makes Markie an outcast. A friend and Minister explains, God created man and God created woman and all this transgender stuff is just not natural! This explains

why Markie is so on his own. No-one from his religion  or will associate with them, let alone approve of their decision. During the first half of this documentary, Markie is in a very dark place.

Markie interacts with her new “friends” in the local trans community. But those are poor affairs since Markie seeks approval for her decision from a group that gives back little of real substance. Her family has left her. Her wife is gone; her children will have nothing to do with her. This is the exact opposite of the typical transition documentary. Markie is on her own and ostracized by all the nice Christian persons whose approval she once enjoyed.

He says that while “on the brink of disaster, God showed up and called [him] back.” Mark is welcomed back into the church and for the most part  his family welcomes him back. Being Markie meant permanent exile from all she held dear. Post-transition Mark says, “I’ve sinned and deserve to be punished.”

Being trans in Bible Belt America is a very lonely thing and has no place for a middle-aged, blue collar fundamentalist.The documentary was shot over a ten year period and it wonderfully  captures tone and mood rather better than it sets out the narrative that jumps back and forth to Mark before and after and in-between and is at times quite confusing. Yet, the truth we see is that a community whose central claim is that it loves the sinner is unable to love the trans person.

Please excuse my lack of ability to use pronouns here.

“LEMEBEL”— A Pioneer in the Latin American LGBTQ Movement


A Pioneer in the Latin American LGBTQ Movement

Amos Lassen

“Lemebel” is a documentary based on a true life story of Pedro Lemebel, a pioneering figure in Latin America’s LGBTQ movement. Told in a non-linear style, we meet a character who is unknown to most of us. As a youngster, he would dress up so that he could take on other personas and this caused a great deal of discomfort for him.

Lemebel was also an activist and an artist and these two aspects are totally tied together. He used his body as canvas on which to paint pictures in order to make a point.

Writer/director Joanna Repose brings together the bits and pieces of his life and assembles them into a sort of whole. Lemebel dislikes the word ‘gay’ which he sees as having little in common with the working class homosexual: the guy who grows up in poverty, who faces persecution and murder on the street. This is unlike the posh gay who may lose his job if outed, but not his life. We see that words and language matter— a fag can talk of fags but in the mouth of a smart-suited man, homosexual becomes homophobic. Lemebel is keen to reclaim words, as his catalogue of words for queer, listed out in one of his poems, makes clear.

Lemebel’s vision is revolutionary. He started out as a love-inspired hippy but understood early on the need to fight back. There is little overt political action in this film.

Lemebel was the founder  of the homosexual collective “Mares of the Apocalypse” because of AIDS and oppression on the streets. When Lemebel first began his work, under the dictatorship in Chile, gay people were murdered openly on the streets.

We see him campaign at Stonewall in the United States, demanding they take back AIDS which he sees as capitalist imposition on his country. He uses his body to make a point: the eternal outsider because despite his growing radicalization, neither communists nor socialists had much time for homosexuality.

We hear conversations, between Lemebel and Reposi, in which high politics come together with the personal.. There is a nervous energy to Lemebel, even when he is at rest. He cannot speak without music in the background and so we hear a sentimental ballad from Spanish singer Jeanette, Corazón De Poeta (‘Heart Of A Poet’).

There is a timeline of sorts, from footage of Lemebel’s early days through to his last performances when he is clearly ill. This is bookended by images shot just two weeks before his death from cancer of the larynx in January 2015.

“Lemebel” won the Teddy Award for best queer-themed documentary and it shows the aspirations and achievements of a politically motivated artist. He spearheaded a public LGBT rights movement amid the hostile environment of Pinochet’s dictatorship. Bringing together evocative archive footage, intimate talking-head interviews, and grainy home movies, we see the formation of Lemebel’s provocative queer collective, his flair for attention-grabbing performance art, and his masterly manipulation of Chile’s mainstream media.

He is fascinating when discussing the intersection of LGBT and working-class communities, and is ahead of his time when explaining his rejection of the word “gay” and his reclamation of derogatory terms like “maricón.”

The director doesn’t just film. She photographs, saves, compiles and composes thus making this a reconstruction of a life and not a strict biography.

It would be interesting to see how Pedro Lemebel would have been received, regarded and ridiculed in today’s world. He was an angry critic of the hetero-normalization of homosexuality and the idea of same-sex marriage would have made him furious.

He was flamboyant in life, in work, in words, in activism and in thought but his more controversial ideas have been omitted from this documentary.

“SNAP: YEAR OF A QUEEN” Crowning the Homecoming Queen


Crowning the Homecoming Queen

Amos Lassen

Director Parker Sergeant’s documentary, “Snap: Year of the Queen” focuses on the annual Cherry Grove event in which the members of the Art Project there come together to crown their Homecoming Queen for the summer season. This is an honor that comes with great honor and great responsibility. In 2017, Emilio “Ginger Snap” Deluca’s wore the crown and ran all over the island in platform heels to open shows, cut ribbons at community events, perform at fundraisers did this all with his own unique flare. As you might imagine, it was a very fast paced few months of filming during which Ginger Snap had to be filmed intensely. Ginger had to open up and be real while acting in another persona.

. So maybe, if you weren’t capturing all those intimate moments I might not have been inspired to be so open. Ginger has been doing drag a long time yet felt like something was missing. He wasn’t sure what he was contributing to the community and what his future was to become.

He had had a lot of issues with his own family dealing with his gender exploration and could relate to the struggles of others with similar issues. Seeing how excited people became inspired. He hopes that queer kids all over the internet world will get to see this film and see themselves in him. He wants them to realize that “there’s a whole fabulous gay community out there for us”.

Drag is trending now and plenty of gay guys love to come to the shows, but they think drag is beneath them but we see something different here.

“I’ve been very blessed to have my career going so well and I don’t want to disappoint everyone who supported me all these years. But I’m having a ball and I’m very focused. When my little nephew tells me how excited he was to see me on Watch What Happens Live, it makes me understand what all this hard work is about. I want to make people happy, that’s really all I care about when I get on the stage at Lips or I’m doing a show in full drag on a sweltering hot day in Fire Island”.

“KROW’S TRANSformation”— Meant to Be a Boy

“KROW’S TRANSformation”

Meant to Be a Boy

Amos Lassen

Kayanna Kian was never comfortable with “her” body or given name. She knew since she was a child that he was meant to be a boy. He struggled deeply with his identity throughout his youth and took a new name, Krow. When he was just 12-years-old, Krow began a career as a globe-trotting “female” fashion model. He had a glamourous lifestyle but never felt fully comfortable, despite all of the praise and attention for his good looks. At eighteen, Krow began the journey of physically becoming male. Through honest and sometimes heart-breaking interviews, we learn how Krow’s decision affected those closest to him. We see the continual challenges Krow still faces, including hormone therapies and invasive surgical procedures. As Krow grows in confidence in his new body, he comes back to his career in the fashion industry, taking his first job as a male model on the runway at Paris Fashion Week.

Director Gina Hole Lazarowich’ focuses on Krow’s transformation from female to male international supermodel. This intimate film follows the lives of a small transgender community that are centered around Krow’s transition (all female to male op). We see family photos and film as Lazarowich cuts back and forth between Krow post op and pre op making this a different journey to ‘transformation’ that usually focus more on narrative and case studies. 

Krow stays within the fashion industry as a model, but has to reshape his skills. This film is important as is highlights the different levels, processes and routes that one has to take and access before making such a big decision, and what happens during the process. I found that it changed the way I thought about gender reassignment, hormone therapy and psychiatry that I have had and for me, this was especially personal since my niece began FTM surgery at the age of 41. 

This is also a personal film for others with the film capturingthe intimate moments which really shake Krow’s journey. Krow is a very powerful, enigmatic presence on screen.

“HOUSE OF CARDIN”— A Life and Career


A Life and Career

Amos Lassen

“House of Cardin” takes us into the mind of a fashion genius and legendary French designer Pierre Cardin. Cardin was originally known in the 50s and 60s for pioneering outrageously trendy ready-to-wear fashions and in this documentary, we see his origins as an apprentice all the way through to his current position ruling a fashion empire.

We have interviews with Cardin himself and with his associates, models, and customers including Sharon Stone, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Alice Cooper, and Naomi Campbell. Aside from the documentary here we have almost 2 hours of bonus material including rarities from Cardin’s archives and extra interview footage along with a CD of the soundtrack and 16-page booklet.

Directors P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes give us a finedocumentary about  the haute-couture icon with wonderful footage of Cardin’s work and a keen sense of who he is as an individual and how he changed the  industry.

Pierre Cardin was born Pietro Cardin in the countryside near Venice in 1922, grew up in France and has become one of that country’s most iconic designers. The film traces his career from his first steps as an employee at Paquin in Paris in 1945, where worked on the exquisite costumes of Jean Cocteau’s classic “Beauty and the Beast” and then going to become the head of Christian Dior’s atelier and later founding House of Cardin in 1950. 

Through archival footage and talking-head interviews, Ebersole and Hughes show us the creative genius of Cardin, who freed women from the tyranny of figure-hugging clothes and corsets and whose new ideas about shapes, tissues and colors that are still taught in schools today.

A lot of his futuristic work from the 1960s and 1970s still looks strikingly modern today and anyone with an interest in fashion will recognize quite a lot of what we see here and it is still thrilling to see Cardin’s range of output over the course of his long career. I found it surprising to see how much the global fashion brands of today, such as Louis Vuitton, Dior or Saint Laurent are influenced by Cardin as a person and a brand. He was the very first to branch out from haute couture into ready-to-wear — in 1959 he was even thrown out of the French federation for haute couture when he decided to make designer dresses on a budget for the mass market  — and also into things such as perfumes, (sun)glasses and ties. Today, this is how the big brands make most of their money and in retrospect his expulsion seems almost quaint.

Cardin was also the first to branch out internationally. He traveled to Japan, China and Russia when those markets were hardly open to any products from the West, thus making him the grandfather of the global fashion world we live in today.

Unlike all the other designers, Cardin, who is now 97, never sold his company to a big conglomerate. A lot of the money he made was invested in new adventures — furniture design, cars, you name it — and in the arts. In 1970, he opened Espace Cardin, a theatre in the former Cafe des Ambassadeurs in Paris, where avant-garde theater and music was programmed.

In his own theater, Cardin discovered Gerard Depardieu, who was a stagehand, and told him to get onstage. In 1980, the designer bought the famous restaurant Maxim’s, after having been turned away once for not wearing the proper attire 20 years earlier. He turned it into a franchise. In 2001 he bought the Chateau Lacoste which housed the Marquis de Sade for several years, and started a much-respected musical drama festival in its stone quarry.  

Cardin has become a mentor to many now-famous names, including Gaultier and Philippe Starck, who also appears as a talking head alongside Jean-Michel Jarre and Dionne Warwick, who wore Cardin on the cover of her Make Way for Dionne Warwick album. Sharon Stone and Naomi Campbell rave about him and Campbell stresses the importance of Cardin having women of color on his catwalks years before anyone else did. The film also pays homage to Cardin’s face of the 1960s, Japanese model Hiroko Matsumoto.

The footage of Cardin in the present sadly doesn’t amount to much more than a few soundbites and there is a sense that this project represents a bit of a missed opportunity to have him reflect on his life, work and career in a deeper way. Cardin certainly seems to enjoy being feted everywhere he goes and this is very much deserved. We do not, however, learn much about Cardin’s love life, even if we do hear about both Jeanne Moreau and Andre Oliver, who seem to have been his most important lovers. Several people from Cardin’s inner circle are interviewed, including his nephew, Rodrigo Basilicati Cardin, the brand’s artistic director; Maryse Gaspard, the director of haute couture; and Renee Taponier, the curator of the Cardin museum. They only shyly broach the subject, so the timeline and what exactly happened with Moreau and Oliver remains vague. In archival footage, Cardin suggests that it was actually helpful that Moreau was an icon as well, so they could both leave their public image at the door and this just makes us want to know more about their relationship. 

Overall, this documentary is a highly entertaining and perceptive take on Cardin’s life and how he shaped both the fashion and branding in the fashion world and beyond.

Ebersole and Hughes prove that the grandiose assertions about Cardin are true. He never had to facethe distractions and demons that bothered  Halston or Yves Saint Laurent. Cardin dressed the Beatles and put his name on thousands of items from perfume to cars to jet planes. It is the very stylish editing that makes this such a fascinating look at the world of Cardin.  That plus the access to the man himself gives us a look at him that we might never have had.