Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“BROKEN HEART LAND”— With a Gunshot to the Head

broken heart land poster


 With a Gunshot to the Head

Amos Lassen

On early fall afternoon in 2010, Zach Harrington, a gay teen, killed himself with a shot in the head on his parent’s ranch in Norman Oklahoma. I can read that sentence over and over and over again and not make any sense of it. I just do not understand what killing ourselves is all about. Just one week earlier, Zach had been to a local city council meeting to support a proposal for LGBY History month in his town which is located in the Bible belt. As can be expected in the Bible-belt, when the floor was opened to discussion there were those community members who said some highly controversial things and went as far as to equate being gay with the spread of disease like HIV and AIDS.

Zack’s parents are conservative Republicans and military veterans and they are filled with grief. Their town is divided bitterly about homosexuality and now they are forced to reconcile their own social and political beliefs with the death of their son.

broken heart land

They are determined to understand Zack and when they find his private diary, they discover a portrait of their son as a boy in crisis. “Ultimately, they discover a chilling secret that Zack kept hidden for almost two years, which leads them to some painful conclusions about their son’s life and death”.

An outspoken conservative decides to run for City Council and this is the impetus they needed to join a politically active group, “MOMS: Mothers of Many” which is a bit similar to PFLAG in membership—it is composed mainly of local mothers of LGBTQ youth.

As the election grew nigh, Zack’s family, people who had once been private and politically conservative came out of that closet and left private denial behind and came out climatically to a very public acceptance of their son’s legacy. From the tragedy of losing a son, they moved to advocacy. With Zack’s suicide, they were shocked and distraught. We must keep in mind that Norman, Oklahoma is the site of the University of Oklahoma and because it is a college town, it is a bit more liberal than other Oklahoma sites. It was shocking and amazing to see that at that city council meeting there were many people supporting both sides of the argument and there was a great deal of opposition to allow the town to celebrate LGBT History month.

In this beautiful film directed by brother and sister team Jeremy and Randy Stulberg and produced by Randy’s partner Eric Juhola, we do not learn if it was that council meeting that drove Zack over the edge but we do see that his parents suffered and are suffering greatly especially when they discovered through the diary that Zack was keeping a terrible secret from them and that was that he had known for more than a year that he was HIV-positive. He had only recently shared this with friends and he certainly knew his status at the meeting where uninformed citizens gave incorrect and erroneous statements about HIV/AIDS.


Nancy, Zack’s mother recently sat down to write about the details and struggles she faced when she tried to get members of their community involved and she tells  “how certain obstacles are detrimental to spreading awareness and understanding about important LGBT issues like HIV/AIDS awareness, comprehensive sex education, and LGBT rights, especially in America’s heartland”.  

It took a tragedy and a secret for the Harrington’s to unravel the mystery behind their son’s death. This caused them to question their own sense of civic responsibility “as they undergo a harrowing transformation from private citizens to public defenders of their son’s legacy”.

Zack had had no doctor and he got his AIDS medication on the street. Oklahoma bans talk of homosexuality in sex education classes. The religious right dictates public health measures and we go back to that old “Silence=Death”. We must remember that with all the LGBT community has gained in the last few years, there are still places in this country where it makes no difference. None of us are free until all of us are free.

“THE FAMOUS JOE PROJECT”— Recording a Life

the famous joe project“The Famous Joe Project”

Recording a Life

Amos Lassen

Joe is busy dropping out of college and coming out. Her decides to record his everyday activities on a hand-held mini-video and then post the clips on the Internet. But soon after he begins this project, he meets Jesus, a narcissistic hustler drawn to the idea of constantly being on camera.

He and Jesus move to LA (where else?) and as his life spirals out of control, Joe seems unable to make sense of his own actions, yet he can’t stop filming.

It is almost like a reality show; “The Famous Joe Project” follows Joe in and out of issues with friends, money, where he is going to live, being rolled, beaten, trying to take his life, etc. Most of the “actors & actresses” were very convincing as to their relationship to Joe, some were disgusting, some nice and friendly. Joe seemed to be this innocent guy who was trusting and easily taken advantage. The script was right on in so many circumstances and as in so many reality shows we’ve had your villains and our good guys, and they were all convincing in their roles.

“THE CASE AGAINST 8″— At the Supreme Court

the case against 8

“The Case Against 8”

 At the Supreme Court

Amos Lassen

In May 2008, the State of California allowed same-sex marriages to take place but then the right was quickly withdrawn in November with the passage of Proposition 8. Prop 8 (as it’s more widely known) was a state constitutional amendment that was championed by opponents of same-sex marriages to ban these marriages, thus stripping these couples of their rights (the same rights that heterosexual couples can enjoy, such as social security, pension and benefits). Two separate couples who were denied their marriage licenses then sued their local county clerks offices and set in motion events that would become one of the greatest victories for human rights America has ever seen.

Ben Cotner and Ryan White, two filmmakers covered these events during the five years that they took place and this movie is the result of that. Here they document the struggles, the snags in the road and the achievements of the two couples and of the legal team as well (Ted Olsen and David Boies).


The film opens with a lot of legal talk by the two top American lawyers and then goes on to become one of the most fascinating and important documentaries we have. While our community was euphoric about the election of Barak Obama as president it was also disheartened when we learned that same night that voters in California had passed Proposition 8, albeit by a slim majority. Overnight they had taken away the legal right of same-sex marriages in the State. It was a bitter blow for those still wanting to marry and it created sheer confusion and dismay for the 18000 couples that had wed in the past few months. Almost right away the talk of preparing a legal challenge in the federal courts took place but it did not happen until someone came up with the idea of using Ted Olsen in that fight. Olsen did not seem to be a likely choice— he was not only a prominent Republican who had been the US Solicitor General but more famously had been the chief advocate in the US Supreme Court in Bush vs. Gore which resulted in George W. snatching the Presidency from Al Gore who had won the popular vote.  There was a great deal of opposition to Olsen from many sections of the gay community who thought he was a ‘mole’ planted by the Right wing, and also many in the Republican considered him a traitor to their cause.

Olsen did not waste time in showing his sincerity for the overturn of Prop 8. He persuaded David Boies, a prominent Democratic lawyer who had been his opposition when he was Al Gore’s lawyer, to be his co-counsel. The two not only had a great deal of respect for each other, but they brought different skills to the case and made an invincible team.

 Olsen explained the reasoning for his own stance very clearly in the film. “Marriage, he said, is a conservative value. It’s two people who love one another and want to live together in a stable relationship, to become part of a family and part of neighborhood and our economy. We should want people to come together in marriage.” It was one of the many times in this riveting documentary that Olsen quietly demonstrated what an outstanding humanitarian he really is.


 Chad Griffin and the leadership of American Foundation of Equal Rights (AFER) mounted the legal challenge. What we see here is not just the determination and commitment of the legal team but we also realize just much gay activism has changed. Griffin’s team of lawyers and the lead counsels mounted the whole campaign with such sheer professionalism, micro-managing every minute detail that made for an impressive compelling argument.  The strategy was to focus on the very obvious facts of the matter with the reality that this was about a basic human right. The opposition had huge funding but it relied on hotheaded rhetoric and their own personal opinions steeped in bigotry and hate with little regard for the proven facts.

Boies personally supervised the taking of depositions from all the expert witnesses the opposition put forward and he was so relentless that all but one withdrew before the first trial. David Blankenhorn, the one who remained, was the cause of some humor when the Team uncovered that aside from the book that he written on marriage, his only other qualification was his Masters Degree on Victorian Cabinet making.  When he was being cross-examined by Boies on the witness stand he. This was the beginning of the collapse of the Opposition’s case.

 AFER’s search to find the perfect Plaintiffs on whose behalf the Law would be challenged was impressive.  More so that the two couples who were selected were four of the most self-effacing brave individuals who were willing to step out of their comfort zones and allow every facet of their lives to be examined in minute detail.  They were to be in the public gaze for the next 5 years. 

 Kris Perry and Sandy Steir had married in 2004 and had four sons, whereas Jeffrey Zamillo and Paul Katami had been together for 6 years and wanted to marry before they started a family.  They allowed the filmmakers to record even the very painful experiences of highly personal questioning that they faced when they engaged with Olsen on practice runs. This endeared them even more to us all. 


 The Federal Trial before Judge Walker resulting in Prop 8 being struck down, and the subsequent Appeal by the Opposition that failed leading to the whole Case winding up in the US Supreme Court was covered extensively in the media. Here we see what went on behind the scenes and we get a very highly personal look at some of the crucial and personal highlights that made this struggle seem even more poignant. When the victorious four Plaintiffs are finally on the steps of the Supreme Court after the Justices struck D.O.M.A. down, Chad Griffin passes them his cellphone. Barak Obama was on the line from Air Force One giving his congratulations.

Later we see Katami and Zamillo at Los Angeles City Hall where they are about to be married by the Mayor himself.  It is the first day that same-sex is legal again in California but the Clerk refuses to give them a License as she claims she has not been officially notified.  The ACER lawyer accompanying the men makes a quick call and then passes the phone to the Clerk’ s Supervisor. On the line is Kamala Harris, California’s Attorney General who orders him to issue the license immediately.

Cotner and white approached AFER about making this film even though no one had any idea how the legal action would turn out. They were given unprecedented access and were there filming every single step of the five year battle. They spent endless emotional days and sleepless nights with the entire team and the Plaintiffs and they produced a remarkable concise and spellbinding account that covered this historic turning point in a style it so richly deserved. “It perfectly captured the sheer energy of all the people who put their own lives on hold and gave this fight their all to enable gay men and women should be accorded this basic human right and with such dignity”.

The focus here is on the effects of the lawsuit on the handpicked plaintiffs, bringing a sense of purpose that edifies the whole experience. Witnessing the acceptance of their parents and children shows how far society has come from an age where marriage was perceived as one-man, one-woman. By drawing attention towards what this lawsuit means to those involved, it just shows that there is something worth fighting for. 



“Two: The Story of Roman & Nyro”

Twin Sons

Amos Lassen

Songwriter Desmond Child and his lifelong partner, Curtis Shaw went on a journey to create a new modern family. This film documents that journey. They met and connected with Angela Whittaker, the woman who would carry their twin sons, Roman and Nyro, into the world.  We are with them from preconception through the boys’ first 10 years in this personal and powerful story of these unique individuals whose lives become inextricably woven together in magical and unexpected ways. “Two” ‘is testament to the universal power and ultimate triumph of love – that it is love that makes a family, affirming modern families may be modern in their making, but timelessly human at their core’.


Roman & Nyro  are the children of musician and songwriter Desmond Child  and Curtis Shaw. Child wrote such songs as Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” and Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ la Vida Loca”. He and Shaw have been together for 24 years.

“Child and Shaw define their homosexual relationship on heterosexual terms, with Shaw repeatedly referred to as the boys’ “mother.” They and the twins’ biological mother, Angela Whittaker, allegedly arrived at their arrangement via dream visions while on a sojourn to India. They never contemplate the ethical and moral implications of surrogacy, nor articulate the personal significance of parenthood”.

Adoption apparently wasn’t even under consideration before the couple resorted to the presumably costly surrogacy, and the subject of gay adoption rights most certainly isn’t on the agenda of this one-way dialogue.

Child says that this film “is as close to home as it gets”. He and Shaw decided at one point that it was time to start a family. They did the research and found out that they could have our own biological children.  Child states, “When people say that marriage rights should be denied because gay people can’t procreate, that’s not true.” He says that this film puts their story on display for others to see – and possibly gain hope from. “What we did, was to document from the beginning, the way we created our family. At first, we were doing it so we could show other gay couples that it is possible, and how we did it. Then, it became a much bigger movie – because it has been twelve years in the making. Our little embryos are now talking and speaking for themselves. They have turned out to be great kids and very articulate.”

We get the film at an important time in history; a time “when hearts and minds are fractured and debate rages over equality,” says Heather Winters, director of TWO. “I’m honored that Desmond and Curtis trusted me to tell their story and invited me into their lives in such an intimate and poignant way.” Child adds “I think that we are at a turning point in America. Right now, we are the last group that doesn’t have full human rights – the rights of citizenship. We work jobs, pay our taxes, and raise our families. It’s time that people get over whatever their problems are with us, and embrace them in the same way that people got over a black man and a white women marrying. That took a long time. It’s important for all Americans to understand that their own rights are protected by protecting our rights. Maybe somewhere along the way, some group will decide ‘We don’t like that group anymore, so we think we will stop them from voting or having rights, or this and that. That’s tyranny – not what America is all about.”


Child says that in authorizing such a personal film about their family was so that others would understand. Roman and Nyro Child were born May 8, 2002, in Miami Beach. Child (called “Daddy”) and Shaw (“Papa”) decided to raise the boys in Tennessee — ”the belt buckle of the Bible Belt,” Shaw said.

“He’s made the sacrifice to let us be where we want to be,” Shaw says of Child. “I prefer Nashville to anywhere else we’ve lived. The kids do, too. It’s easier, people are nice. If I’m less stressed out, things run more smoothly.”

The family lives on “eight acres we’ve collected over the years,” Shaw said. “The kids share a room, they’re in the same class at school and the same soccer team. Both take guitar and piano lessons, and Spanish lessons.”

The dads and their sons remain close to Whittaker and her mother. “We believe we’re part of the same family,” Shaw said. From the start, Child, Shaw and Whittaker documented their journey on video. These “home movies” became the basis for the documentary.

Roman thinks the film is “pretty cool” and so is its message: “Everybody has rights. They should just be inspired by this movie. People say gay parents can’t have children and we proved them wrong.”


eye on the guy

“Eye on the Guy: Alan B. Stone and the Age of Beefcake”

A Beefcake Documentary

Amos Lassen

Directors Philip Lewis and Jean-François Monette bring us a new documentary about a pioneering photographer of man’s physique. Alan B. Stone is featured in this short comprehensive film. Using vintage footage, old pictures, and varied interviews. Beginning in his teenage years, Stone suffered from excruciatingly painful arthritis but nevertheless went on to become a master of homo-erotic photography while remaining in many ways a common suburban dweller. He was in love with his city of Montreal, perhaps his third biggest love after photography and his male models. We see this in his work.

He quietly revolted against the moral conventions of post WWII Canada, exposing the beauty of thousands of body builders, fishermen, construction workers, cowboys, and the like, at a time when extreme discretion was required. His “muscle” magazines of the 50s and 60s gave way to the openly porn gay that soon became very popular among gay men.


The film explores the little-known world of Montreal’s physique photography scene – a distinct gay subculture Operating under the social radar of post-war Canada, Stone produced thousands of images of men – from Montreal bodybuilders to Pacific coast fishermen, from rodeo cowboys to the construction workers who built Expo 67.

Like his American contemporary, physique photographer Bob Mizer, Alan B. Stone was a cultural pioneer. Before the first wave of gay liberation, and long before Calvin Klein’s poster boys marched into public view, Stone was taking hundreds of erotic photos of men and running an international mail-order business from his Montreal basement.

The film shows an introduction to the physique magazine development, the hidden gay expression of sexuality during that time, and the art in Stone is photography”.  In order that others might enjoy his work, Stone ran a thriving subscription service from the basement of his aunt’s home in Montreal selling pictures to repressed gay guys everywhere. These ‘beefcake’ pictures were the porn of that time before Playgirl, et al came into being. Interestingly, it was only when Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau declared in 1967 that the government would no longer have a role in the bedrooms of Canadians that the full frontal porn have today took off.

Montreal had been a center for male-physique photography in the ’50s and ’60s. Aside from the male-physique photography, Stone captured a broad spectrum of other subjects in his work. Stone also did extensive travel and landscape photography. Stone was a true pioneer in his field and added a great deal to the art of photography in Canada and internationally.

“CAUGHT INSIDE”–– Looking at the Taboo of Being a Gay Surfer




    “Caught Inside”

  • Short Documentary – Looking at the taboo of being a gay surfer

  • What’s it like to be in the ‘manly’ world of surfing, but to be gay? Despite the stereotype of it surfing being filled with chilled out dude, the short documentary Caught Inside suggests it’s still a place where homosexuality is rarely spoken about.


    The seven-minute doc follows ‘ three gay surfers who have all recently come out in a sub-culture where they say homosexuality is still a taboo.’It’s an interesting subject and one that should be more fully explored in the upcoming Out In The Lineup, which completed a successful Kickstarter campaign at the end of last year. That doc follows two gay surfers as they travel the world finding the best waves.


“HUSTLABALL BERLIN”— A Documentary That Bares All


“Hustlaball Berlin”

A Documentary That Bares All

Amos Lassen

This just in….

“Hustlaball Berlin” is a documentary that explores the Hustlaball experience, where porn stars, hustlers, DJs, and customers meet on and off the dance floor at the famed and decadent Kit Kat Club (of Cabaret fame). There are live performances and interviews with Colt models Carlo Masi, Chris Wide, Luke Garrett, Gage Weston, and Adam Dexter, Falcon Model Dean Monroe, plus Collin O’Neil, Willfried Knight, Frederick Ford, Marlone, and an international line-up including Muktar, Marco Montana and Jack Stuart (Brazil), Kriss Stahl and Tommy Ritter (Germany), and Mike Power (London).

(This is obviously not new—some of the models listed have not been in a movie for a few years and one of them has been dead for over a year—-but it sounds like fun anyway).

“DADDY AND PAPA”— Struggles, Challenges and Triumphs

daddy & Papa

“Daddy & Papa”

Struggles, Challenges and Triumphs

Amos Lassen

 “Daddy and Papa” is a documentary that uncovers the struggles, challenges, and triumphs of gay fathers and their children. Through the stories of four different families, including the filmmaker’s own, it explores issues such as surrogacy, interracial adoption, gay divorce, and the battle for full legal status as parents. We are given a revealing look at some of the gay fathers who are breaking new ground in the ever-changing landscape of the American family.


Johnny Symons directed this film with an ulterior motive in mind. He wanted, in part,  to help dispel the widely accepted stereotypes about gay men, through film. He portrays gay men as they are, as full complex human beings, challenging myths about gays. He also wants gay men to see themselves represented accurately.  This is his personal narrative and he takes on his journey to parenthood with his partner William, through adoption from the overburdened foster care system; it also follows three other gay male families and their unique paths to parenthood. Symons explores his doubts, challenges, and sometimes unexpected joys he and William find adopting through the foster system.



This is an authentic depiction of how challenging parenthood is for anyone, with a focus on the additional struggles that gay men face. Told with a light, witty touch and good pacing, this story holds up, and would interest anyone. The film was nominated for a national Best Documentary Emmy Award and the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize, and is the winner of dozens of awards. Below is some of the praise:


“Inspirational!” -Stephen Holden, “The New York Times” “The film educates, inspires and entertains.” -Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao, Founder & CEO, Center for Family Connections, Author, “The Family of Adoption” “A superb presentation…illustrates the critical importance of children having loving and caring parents, whether they be traditional or gay.” -Alvin F. Poussaint, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School “Poignant and compelling…A winner of a film that I would like to make universally required viewing.” -Elizabeth Bartholet, Professor of Law, Harvard University.


limited partner posted


Richard and Tony

Amos Lassen

Richard Adams, a Filipino-American Richard Adams and Australian Tony Sullivan became one of the first same-sex couples in the world to be legally married in 1975.  After applying for a green card for Tony based on their marriage, the couple received a denial letter from the Immigration and Naturalization Service stating, ‘You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.’ Outraged at this letter, and to prevent Tony’s impending deportation, the couple sued the U.S. government, filing the first federal lawsuit seeking equal treatment for a same-sex marriage in U.S. history. This is a story of love, marriage and immigration equality and it set precedents that until now many of us are unaware of… until now

 Thanks to a courageous county clerk in Boulder, CO, Richard and Tony were one of the first same-sex couples in the world to be legally married.

Over four decades of legal challenges, Richard and Tony figured out how to maintain their sense of humor, justice and their privacy whenever possible. Theirs is a personal tale parallels the history of the LGBT marriage and immigration equality movements, from the couple signing their marriage license in Colorado, to the historic U.S. Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage in June 2013.  “Limited Partnership” celebrates Richard and Tony’s long path towards justice and citizenship as they challenge the traditional definitions of “spouse” and “family.”

Long before the current battle over same-sex marriage was even a consideration, Richard and Tony were boldly suing the U.S. government for the right to be married, and then for the right to have that marriage recognized so Tony could get a green card and not be deported. 

But in the age of Anita Bryant, the backlash to their love-story-turned-legal-challenge proved to be something fierce. First came an utterly shocking response from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, then an unexpected outpouring of hate and bigotry from the general public, and then the ludicrous choice to either live apart or leave the country together (of course, they had to choose the latter—but with great consequence). Director Thomas G. Miller takes us back and forth through the decades with this pioneering and persistent bi-national couple, two unsung heroes who paved the way for the eventual defeat of DOMA.

“BACK ON BOARD: GREG LOUGANIS”— The Greatest Diver Ever

back on board1

“Back on Board: Greg Louganis”

The Greatest Diver

Amos Lassen

Four time Olympic champion Greg Louganis is the subject this documentary and we are made aware that his life was not always easy. In fact in 2011 he was not in the news and was actually struggling to pay his mortgage. Next thing we knew was that he had decided to return to diving to mentor the USA Olympic hopefuls and he believes that this is a way to come back into the public eye and regain the fame he once had as well as to once again be financially secure. This may be his best chance to regain the notoriety — and financial stability — he enjoyed at the height of his career. Louganis who is now in his fifties did not gain endorsement contracts and finances seem to have always been a problem for him. While others make big money from the endorsements, Louganis did not and this is by and large because he is gay. (I bet that if had gotten a chance to endorse Wheaties, gay men all over the world would by it).


In the 90s, Louganis revealed that he was HIV positive and the media went wild. This film is an intimate look at Louganis today. We see his private struggles and his public triumphs.

It follows him over the past three years as he struggles with financial security and reunites with the sport he once dominated but that he never felt really welcome in it. With his good looks, charm, courage and grace, we would have thought that everything with him is fine. We watch as he rises from a difficult childhood to become the greatest diver of all time.

He has been a pioneer for the LGBT community just because of who he is. He is an American legend and he has combated prejudice, fought for civil and equal rights and raised his voice against intolerance of any kind.

The film includes footage of Louganis at his best as he dives beautifully. We become aware of the strong bond he still has with his former coaches and mentors. He admits to having been ostracized and that hurts to watch but then we learn that he is coming back to his sport as a USA Diving team mentor for 2012 London Games. Cheryl Furjanic directed this with love.