Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“THE BOY FROM MUSHIN”— Still Fighting

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“The Boy From Mushin”

Still Fighting

Amos Lassen

Even with all that we have achieved with respect to gay rights in America, we know that the fight forequality is far from over. We must remember that none of us are free until all of us are free. Our hear from but where simple disclosure could result in risking one’s life. Nonetheless there seems to always be someone who is prepared to take that risk just so that they can start on that long road for equality even though they may catch up to what we have here.

In Nigeria, that someone is Bis Alimi. He is an extraordinary self-less 41 year old gay activist, public speaker, and HIV/LGBT advocate who caused notoriety in Nigeria in 2004 when he came out as a gay man with HIV on live Television. That very same year Nigeria’s President publicly declared “there are no gays in Nigeria”.  The TV show was quickly cancelled, and although Alimi continued working co-coordinating services for AIDS patients with the International AIDS Alliance, and he co-founded The Independent Project (later, The Initiative for Equal Rights) working as its Executive Director, his life has remained in danger.

Just three years later he was forced to flee Nigeria after receiving numerous threats to his life, and he has now settled in the UK where he was granted asylum and then citizenship.  For the past 19 years Alimi has been working studiously on HIV matters and has also become one of Africa’s leading human rights activists  holding various positions. He is   is  currently the Executive Director of Bisi Alimi Foundation and a co-founder and director of Rainbow Intersection.  

Now he is the subject of a feature length documentary  that just doesn’t follow his life story to date but is with him as he finally undertakes the dangerous journey back to Nigeria for the first time since he was exiled. “The movie plans to show how this son of a policeman, born in one of poorest neighborhoods of Lagos, got himself both an education and the courage and conviction to speak up not just for himself, but the whole scared and very frightened LGBT community. Alimi has spent his life dealing with discrimination and violence at first hand that is rife in countries like his.  Seeing it how it effects his community puts a very personal face on something that is too often tucked comfortable out of sight. On the upside, the film also shows the people who have been inspired by him, and are determined to help take his legacy further’. 

The highly anticipated documentary by British filmmaker Joe Cohen has just been completed thanks to the final funding from Kickstarter and will be released in Spring 2017.

“A ROAD TO HOME”— Six Homeless Young Gay People

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“A Road to Home”

Six Homeless Young LGBT People

Amos Lassen

“A Road to Home” follows the lives of six homeless LGBTQ young people over eighteen months. Their lives are typical of the experience of the 500,000 homeless youth on American streets every night and of those homeless young people, 40% are part of the LGBTQ community.

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For four of the young people, being LGBTQ is the third strike against them. They grew up as people of color and in poor families. All six of them have been rejected by their families. The camera follows them all over New York City and we see how they learn to survive on the streets, struggle to find beds as well as a sense of purpose and direction for their lives.

In the course of their journeys, four of them get helped by the Ali Forney Center, a program devoted solely to homeless LGBTQ youth. Carl Siciliano, the center’s founder has struggled to keep its programs alive and his struggles reflect the kids themselves. We see not only the dangers of being homeless but also the fears, the loneliness and the anxiety of being homeless. We also become very aware of the broken hearts that these brave people have to deal with. Yes, the six young people that we see are determined that their current traumas will not define them for the rest of their lives.

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Director Cal Skaggs would often walk to Penn Station to take the train to visit family in New Jersey and usually saw groups of teenagers with backpacks wandering around aimlessly. He was curious about what he saw and in 2012 when he saw an interview on a local cable station with Carl Siciliano who the founder of the Ali Forney Center, a homeless shelter for young LGBT people. Siciliano explained that New York City alone has more than 40,000 homeless kids — a large percentage of them are LGBT. This statistic and the fact that he had walked by these kids so many times decided to spread the word by making a documentary — “A Road to Home.”

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He learned that these young people same needs as all of us— “love and security.” When Skaggs approached Siciliano about the project, he was skeptical at first but Skaggs was able to convince him that he would tell the kids’ stories fairly. He started hanging out at the Ali Forney Center’s drop in locations, as well as where the teens would hang out and shot the film little by little, raising money to fund the project. Of those he met Skaggs said, “Youth is full of scars … it’s been rough in many ways and being gay is the last strike. In other words you’re poor, you’re a person of color, and you’re gay too, and it’s the last strike and you’re out. “They have hopes and dreams [just like all of us] and those dreams and hopes have not been destroyed by having to live on the street or the subway.”

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The film capture the center’s hard times — it lost a lot of federal funding due to the sequestration and a transgender client, Islan Nettles, was beaten to death. We see the resilience and hopes of our young people in the face of very challenging circumstances.

The documentary film was also produced by Skaggs of Lumiere Productions Inc.  While the gay rights movement has made great progress and many LGBT young people feel more confident in coming out to their parents but not all parents can accept homosexuality in their children and either leave or kicked out of their homes. So kids come out – and get kicked out – younger and younger. What middle and upper class gay men and women enjoy, this can also result in penalties for younger and more vulnerable people. “I don’t want anyone left behind”.

“BACK ON BOARD: GREG LOUGANIS”– The New Documentary about Greg Louganis is now on DVD

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“Back On Board: Greg Louganis”

The New Documentary about Greg Louganis is now on DVD

Amos Lassen

Greg Louganis is a legend in the America because of becoming the first man in Olympic history to sweep the diving events in consecutive Olympic Games, winning four gold medalss, along with five World Championship titles.

He has also become another in that he has been (and still is) a trailblazer in the gay rights movement and being one of the most high profile figures living with HIV. “Back On Board: Greg Louganis” takes a look at him.

The synopsis reads like this: “Now 55, Greg Louganis was adopted before his first birthday and grew up in Southern California, taking up diving at age nine. Throughout a difficult childhood, he was forced to deal with depression, bullying and prejudice.

‘Louganis won the silver medal in the 10M Platform event at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal at age 16. In 1978, his diving skills earned him a scholarship to the University of Miami. Three years later, following the United States boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, where Louganis would have been the favorite in two diving events, he returned to Southern California to finish his degree and diving career at the University of California, Irvine.”

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“He became a full-fledged international diving star in 1984. At the Summer Games in Los Angeles, Louganis won gold medals in the 10M Platform and 3M Springboard events. Four years later in Seoul, he became the only male diver in history to win those events in back-to-back Olympic Games.”

“In one of the most notable moments of his storied career, Louganis suffered a cut on his head when he hit the diving board during a preliminary round of the Seoul Games, but went on to win his gold medals days later. Though the American public originally lauded Louganis for his competitive spirit, it was not known at the time that he had tested positive for HIV six months earlier. When Louganis later announced that he was HIV-positive, it sparked outrage over his original non-disclosure of the virus and sparked a nationwide conversation about HIV/AIDS and sports.”

“Greg Louganis announced to the world that he was gay in the mid-1990s, but it was a not a well-kept secret in the diving world before that. During his dominance in the 1980s, many sponsors knew of his sexual orientation, which limited his marketability – just one example of the homophobia and hateful rhetoric that followed him long before and after his official announcement that he was gay.”

“Ending a prolonged absence from the diving world, Louganis has returned to mentor the next generation of American divers. e offers unprecedented access to the Olympian as he struggles with financial security and reunites with the sport that he once dominated, but did not feel accepted in. The film examines the good times and bad times, including the choices, relationships and missed opportunities Louganis has experienced throughout his career as a sports pioneer”.

The film premiered on HBO in the US on August 4th and is now available on DVD,

“COMING OUT”—Now Available for All to See

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“Coming Out”

Now Available for All to See

Amos Lassen

Alden Peters was shocked and hurt by the series of gay teen suicides so when he decided to come out himself, he brought a camera to film each conversation, hoping that this would allow him some control over negative comments.  “Coming Out” follows young filmmaker Peters on his journey coming out gay, capturing everything on camera as it happens. This groundbreaking coming of age film places viewers directly inside the raw, intimate moments when Alden reveals his true identity to his family and friends, ranging from the painfully awkward to the hilariously honest.

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The film also consists of interviews with experts and ultimately he presents us with a heartwarming exploration of a common experience across queer generations. Everything is captured on film as it happened and we see and hear the raw, intimate moments when Alden reveals his true identity to his family and friends. The reactions, range from the painfully awkward to the hilariously honest. Peters’ story bridges generations and societal divides and the film causes us to think about what really means to live and honest life. His film takes us to a place of understanding and acceptance of self and community.

Peters searched for a film that showed the coming out process of coming out but he found nothing but fiction. Every coming out story was told in hindsight, and nobody discussed what happened immediately after coming out. He wanted to see that entire process. As he began planning how he would come out to his family and friends, he decided to make the film he wanted to see.

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While this is a personal and subjective film, it also includes the voices of Peters’ entire family, his friends and the LGBT community. This could very easily be an academic film about social issues yet it is fast moving and certainly relevant to a young audience.

Peters included videos from LGBTQ youth from around the world to broaden the film. He also speaks to author Janet Mock, developmental psychologist Dr. Ritch Savin-Williams, journalist Zach Stafford, sociologist Greg Hinckley, and YouTuber Kayla Kearney. In this way the film becomes a framework for LGBTQ youth to pay attention to digital community and issues larger than themselves as well as an accessible resource for families of LGBTQ youth and those unfamiliar with the LGBTQ experience. While making the film, Peters learned that people around the world wanted the same documentary to exist.

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Peters wanted to selflessly make a film for others and found that it was much easier “to go through an intensely delicate, vulnerable process with a camera”. It’s what gave me support, structure, and safety.

“I found people to interview to add context to the personal journey. Zach Stafford, a writer for The Guardian, speaks about how LGBTQ youth use the Internet to explore their identities before exploring them in real life. Dr. Ritch Savin-Williams, a developmental psychologist, explains the fallibility of stage models of coming out. Greg Hinckley, a former sociology professor of mine, tells me to stop asking people what I should do next, and to instead go figure it out for myself. Janet Mock, author of Redefining Realness, discusses the importance of sharing your story. I reached out to YouTubers and included many coming out stories in the film, and spoke with Kayla Kearney, who came out to her high school at an assembly in a video that went viral.

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The end of the film is a moment of comfort, a benchmark in the formation of my identity as a gay man. I’ve grown a lot since we stopped filming, but the resulting feature documentary depicts a complete coming out like never before. It’s the film I wanted to see years ago when I was alone in my college dorm watching coming out stories on YouTube.”

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“In September 2015, Coming Out premiered at the DOCUTAH International Documentary Film Festival, where it won the Audience Choice Award. After each of the two screenings, parents came up to me in tears, sharing their gut-wrenching stories about their journeys accepting their LGBTQ children. I learned about suicides, children getting disowned, and families leaving their church to support their children. One young man told me his parents say they love him, but also include “but” afterwards. “We all have our own challenges we need to face,” he told me with a smile. Two parents shared a story about their gay son. After years of rejecting him, they finally left their church and embraced their son for who he is. I could see the pain and challenges in their faces and voices”.

“WOMEN HE’S UNDRESSED”— The Double Life of Cary Grant

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“Women He’s Undressed”

The Double Life of Cary Grant

Amos Lassen

One of the most fascinating aspects of “Women He’s Undressed” is Orry-Kelly’s relationship with the Cary Grant. Orry-Kelly was an Australian-born costume designer who created the clothing worn by Rosalind Russell in “Auntie Mame” and the wonderful flapper dresses for Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like It Hot”. He began his film career in 1932 and stayed with it until his death in 1964 and he won three Academy Awards for his incredible designs in hundreds of classic movies.

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The documentary uses archival footage, interviews with people like Jane Fonda and Angela Lansbury—who worked with him as well as recreations of key moments in his life to give us a look at a man who was outspokenly gay at a time when it was often career suicide. We also learn of his hush-hush relationship with screen icon Cary Grant.

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Orry-Kelly hated those who were not true to themselves. There was great pressure to hide his sexuality but he replied that he had to be who he was. Cary Grant and Orry-Kelly were once involved romantically and then they went their own separate ways. But there was a time when Grant reconnected with the designer after many years and then we learn it was because he wanted to know if Orry’s memoir (that he was rumored to be writing) included information about their relationship.

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Orry wrote about Grant in his memoir saying that he thought that Grant had been a victim of the time. No one had a childhood like Cary Grant. His father lied to him telling that his mother died when in reality she had deserted him and then wound up in a mental institution. Her husband, Grant’s father, locked away because he wanted to remarry. Cary then joined a vaudeville troupe and when he got to New York, he met Orry and got work on Broadway. Orry talked about Grant’s issues in his book and this film leaves no questions about their relationship.

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They probably were lovers. However, Orry felt very betrayed by Cary. Later, there was the pressure  on Cary to conform. We see Orry, as a complicated but fascinating man. whohad class.

“SCREAM QUEEN :MY NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET”— A Documentary Film

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“SCREAM QUEEN :MY NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET”

A Documentary Film

Amos Lassen

“Scream, Queen” is a documentary film that focuses on the gay experience in Hollywood horror. It explores how that experience has changed in the three decades since Mark Patton’s controversial portrayal of Jesse Walsh, the object of Freddy Krueger’s latent desire in Nightmare on Elm Street 2. It looks at the infamous homoerotic subtext and the special place the film holds in the Nightmare franchise as well as the gay film canon. When it was first released “Nightmare on Elm Street 2” was considered controversial yet today it is now being looked back upon with a new appreciation and fondness by horror aficionados and fans of the series. 

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Now some thirty years later, Patton Mark asks what all the fuss was about “when teenager Jesse Walsh danced just a little too freely and screamed a little too loudly while running from everybody’s favorite crispy, wise-cracking villain”. “Scream, Queen!” features interviews with celebrities, film historians and fans so that we can get a deeper understanding of the social and political climate back when the film was released in 1985, as well as the positive and negative reactions it received – and how those reactions compare to the reactions of today’s audiences. 

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Horror films, and slasher movies can either be empowering to women, or very misogynistic, depending on who you ask and how you perceive what is on the screen. (Personally, I’m in the empowering camp.) Slasher movies almost always, s center around a young female protagonist. Men are killed in these movies but they’re almost always disposed of quickly and then the killer spends the 90 minutes of the movie’s runtime in a slow, sexualized cat-and-mouse game with the heroine of the story.

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There is one great exception to this slasher film rule and that came in 1985 in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge”, the only movie in the series with a male lead, teenager Jesse Walsh, who moves into 1428 Elm St and has to contend with Freddy Krueger. Jesse was played by Mark Patton, a young gay actor who was in the closet professionally, but found himself cast as the main character in a movie overflowing with gay subtext.

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When the movie was released, Reagan’s America was not only homophobic, but the panic of AIDS was everywhere. When it was released, the gay references and subplot went right over almost everyone’s heads except the young queer fans who were excited to see themselves represented on screen in a mainstream genre film.

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At one point in the film, Jesse is confronted by his homosexual gym teacher after winding up at Don’s Place, a gay S&M club. It is fairly certain, if not being explicitly stated, that Jesse was gay.

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Patton recalls,” I wake up in the middle of the first movie that I’m the lead actor in, and realize there’s a gay subtext in it. In 1985, Hollywood was very homophobic and very AIDS-phobic. If you were gay, you were hiding.”

“CONFESSIONS”— The Sexy Truth About Gay Men

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“Confessions”

The Sexy Truth about Gay Men

Amos Lassen

Mark Bessenger who gave us “The Last Straight Man” has a new film about gay men and their sex lives. Bessenger takes us into the minds of his characters to their personal thoughts about what being gay is all about. Some of what we see and hear is dark, sexy and intense and some is funny , romantic and shocking. We see and hear here what even our best friends will not discuss with us.

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“Confessions” is made up of sixteen monologues from various gay men. We hear from “The Actor,” “The Wrestler,” “The Porn Agent,” “The Beard,” “The Sweet Sixteen” and many more who share their deepest secrets and most taboo desires in quick, vignettes. I understand that on the DVD there will be six additional interviews. What I really like here is the diversity of who we see and hear.

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For me this is a new kind of movie and cannot be classified to any one genre. We not only are entertained; we are also educated. You will see actors that you have seen in other LGBT movies and who here are brutally honest. These include Dylan Vox, Peter Stickles and Mark Cirilo. This time we see the characters as we do not usually see them, I am totally in love with there movie.

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“Confessions” puts characters on screen that we do not often get to see and I fell in love with the charm of this film.

“FOR LOVE AND FOR LIFE: THE 1987 MARCH ON WASHINGTON FOR LESBIAN AND GAY RIGHTS— Now Available

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“For Love and For Life: The 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights”

Now Available for Purchase

Amos Lassen

Jane E. Biren’s amazing documentary is now available from Frameline. “For Love and For Life” places the 1987 March on Washington in perspective among the major political events of our times. It looks at and recounts how the events were organized, and creates all the immediacy of being there. This exciting presentation explores all six days during which 650,000 lesbians, gay men and their supporters came to Washington, DC and made history. This was also the inaugural display of the Names Project Quilt as well as the largest civil disobedience ever at the Supreme Court and the first community Wedding and Harvey Milk Memorial and we see these in this film. We hear the speeches and sounds of the March, a comprehensive narration, and hundreds of dramatic images. The documentary is emotionally powerful and enormously entertaining.

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Just read this sample from the narration: “We came out in awesome numbers and we came together with open loving hearts. What was most often remembered was the feeling of unity of belonging, the caring that people showed to strangers and acceptance of difference and new a spirit of empowerment. It gave us a vision of what we are struggling to achieve as a movement…”

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“I ALWAYS SAID YES: THE MANY LIVES OF WAKEFIELD POOLE— Extended Director’s Cut Now Available

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“I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole”

Extended Director’s Cut Now Available

Amos Lassen

Wakefield Poole is a man to remember—dancer, choreographer and director; Poole was an early gay liberation worker. He made porn films but he says he was not a pornographer. He was first and foremost a filmmaker, one who used his backgrounds in theater and dance to make other movies that were sensually and erotically beautiful and he challenged both the mind and the status quo. There were those that loved his work and there were those who felt that he was doing little more than “dirty movies”. Now you can see Jim Tushinski’s wonderful documentary on Poole on Vimeo on Demand with exclusive extras or on iTunes or Amazon.

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Poole was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1936 and his life certainly was not one that could have been lived in Florida. He felt New York beckoning and in 1957 he joined the company of Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

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Jim Tushinski has been working on this film for years and he should be very proud of what he gives us. He shows us a man who was openly gay at a time when not many gay men were out. He has been overlooked as a gay icon and historical figure but he was a pioneer in both of those fields. Poole lived at a strange time in American history and to be open about his homosexuality at a time when the closet was home to so many but he even went a step further and pushed sexuality onto the big screen. At that time, anyone involved in pornography could be put in jail or at the least face a trial and a heavy fine. To become internationally famous for making erotic films was something for a young man from the South. I believe it is fair to say that Poole invented the modern gay porn film but that is just one thing about Wakefield Poole. He was quite a dancer having danced on and choreographed for Broadway. He owned a boutique in San Francisco; he was an avid art collector and a leader.

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The year 1971 was a very important year for Poole. His film “Boys in the Sand” was screened at a New York movie house and this caused a revolution. The film was made on a very tight budget with a few friends and a hot new young man, Casey Donovan, who went on be a major person in gay erotica. So what was special about “Boys in the Sand”? First of all it had a bit of a story, good looking actors, a beautiful setting (The Pines) and sex. It was not just porn—it had a wonderful director in Poole.

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One of the amazing aspects of this film is the amount of research that director Tushinski did in order to give us a complete picture. Using Poole’s autobiography, “Dirty Poole: A Sensual Memoir”, Tushinski tracked down the people and the events that played important parts in his life. The director also had the plus that his subject was not just alive but a partner in the creation of this film.

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As I stated earlier Poole was a man of many faces and had friends and co-workers everywhere and from all classes of people. Some of you may be surprised to learn of his work with such Broadway luminaries as Richard Rodgers, Michael Bennett and Stephen Sondheim. He transitioned from stage to screen after seeing some Andy Warhol’s experimental films. He was well aware that gay porn was of inferior quality and decided that he could make quality gay porn films and thus “Boys in the Sand” was born in 1971. He made a star of Casey Donovan and brought porn to the attention of many. Poole said his porn “challenged the mind”—the quality of the film both artistically and plot wise was certainly a step up from what had been available until then. When we consider that the film was screened in a movie theater, we realize that it was indeed something quite big. This was a revolution for gay porn and for Poole. The film was made on a skimpy budget and featured Donovan and some of Poole’s friends but it created a whole new atmosphere and feelings about erotica. This was the first time that hot gay men had hot gay sex on screen and it became a very hot ticket attracting both gay and straight people.

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Poole’s next stop was San Francisco where he and Harvey Milk were close friends but unfortunately Poole became a coke addict and this cost him his art collection and leaving some of his artistic integrity on the side, he began to direct porn that was mass produced for a gay porn studio. Looking back at his life we are lucky to have him and see him get the kind of recognition that he deserves and yes, even though parts of this review is written in the past tense, Poole is very much alive. Even more important, this is not just a film about Wakefield Poole, it is a look at gay history.

“QUEER CITY”— Who We Are

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“Queer City”

Who We Are

Amos Lassen

Ever since the Stonewall riots of almost fifty years ago, life has become dramatically different for LGBTQ people. Before Stonewall we were identified by our oppression but have you stopped to think what identifies us now? But who are we now? 

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The gay movement began in New York City and just we have changed so has the city. “Queer City” looks at those untold stories. It does this through the lives of a highly diverse group of men and women who live there giving us a selection of stories that provide a compelling portrait of new American lives. We also see something about what the future holds for the LGBT community. There are still hateful bigots hanging around and there is still major opposition to who we are and how we live and there are scars we carry with us.

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We see the routine and the special in the film as it attempts to chronicle how we exist during a major time of change in this country. There are times that the documentary is absolutely hilarious and there are times that it is heartbreaking. The film brings the stories together almost like a fictional narrative and while this is set in New York City, the stories are resonant and relevant to every member of our community.

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We meet and follow “a tough, cool, working-class Latina from Queens with a gift for storytelling and a knack for falling in love”, an eighty-year-old English painter who grew up in the London Blitz and later sought refuge as a gay man in New York who now teaches art to Alzheimer’s patients, an exuberant bisexual woman who has forged a highly successful career as a director of gay adult film, a young, street-smart Haitian man who grew up gender-identified as female, a Brooklyn lesbian couple who met as undergraduates at Yale 25 years ago, and aNew York City politician who was a major force in passing New York State’s same-sex marriage bill”.

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We get to know these people as the movie moves. This is a film that is as important for the “straight” viewer as for “non-straights.” We become aware of the tension between generations in the LGBT community and we see how the term “queer” which we hated so much has become embraced by the younger members of our community. It has become a defining word for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and trans folk. Director Draper Shreeve puts forth his thesis that LGBT folk are much the same and are defined internally by their mutual oppressions instead of accepting the negative definitions by outsiders. We hear and see interviews that are sincere and powerful.

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There are surprises throughout the film and it is beautifully photographed. I understand that the people we see here were selected because Draper wanted “People who were truly interesting in themselves; that they had stories we had not heard before. But I also wanted to include as diverse a selection as possible across race, gender, age and class. I knew we could tell only so many stories, and could not represent everyone, but I wanted to catch some of the mix of queer American life in 2015.” We see the people here doing ordinary things and this shows us that gay people are just like everyone else. This is an absolutely fascinating film and if I had to settle on saying what the main point of the film is, I would have to say it how we live and how we have not only accepted ourselves but how we have embraced our sexuality and identity and empowered ourselves.