Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“DANNY SAYS”— Everywhere

danny says poster



Amos Lassen

I doubt that many of you have heard of Danny Fields— neither had I. In watching this documentary about him, I learned that he played a major and pivotal role in rock ‘n’ roll of the late 20th century. He worked with the Doors, Lou Reed, Nico, Judy Collins and managed groundbreaking artists like the Stooges, MC5, and the Ramones. He was a regular at Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory. Danny was a Phi Beta Kappa kid who dropped out of Harvard Law and became a Warhol confidant, Director of Publicity at Elektra Records, punk pioneer and so much more. Danny’s opinions were once defiant and radical and actually turned out to have been prescient. “Danny Says” is a story of marginal person becoming mainstream and avant garde turning prophetic.


I would not say that this is a unique documentary but I will loudly say that the subject of the film is unique in many ways. Danny Fields was a regular fixture in the sixties rock scene and during the transition between the late sixties and early seventies, he became involved in a new rock movement that would make its indelible mark on the music world–Punk. He used his flamboyant and brash personality to promote and mentor artists who became legendary.


Brendan Toller’s film uses interviews, archive footage, and animation to tell Danny’s story. Toller obviously has much love for his subject and this labor of love is a loving tribute to Danny Fields. The film is a fascinating portrait of a truly remarkable man. This is a film that took 5 1/2 years to make. Interviews with 60 people shaped Danny in a real and round way. Danny’s life was filled with many important people and the list of his friends sounds like a who’s-who list of the music world. That such a figure who was so well known in the music industry, could live behind the scenes forever is unheard of.


The film opens with some rapid-fire interviews from music legends such as Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper who give quick insights about who Fields was. After the titles roll, we, the viewers are introduced to Danny who tells about his early years and up through college and Harvard Law, where he eventually dropped out and moved to New York. He was in his twenties when in New York and it was then he discovered his sexuality. He began working as a writer and editor, finding an in into the rock world through his pre-established channels and listening for the next big thing in music. He worked for a long time at Elektra Records that brought him to the Doors and he signed such artists as MC5 and The Stooges (Iggy Pop). After being fired from Elektra he became the manager for the Ramones.


This is not only a film about Danny Fields but it is also about the music industry. It is then that we hear stories about Jim Morrison, Nico, Edie Sedgwick, MC5, and the somewhat insane Iggy Pop. He stories are fun and fascination but they have very little to do with Fields other than the fact that he was there, trying his best to make records sell and prevent everyone from overdosing.

There is really no narrative that connects everything together and this hurts the film which does not have any structure. This does not mean that it is not a good film. Just listening to Danny talk about his life is enough to make us enjoy the entire viewing experience. We just remain unsure as to what this film is about.


And these stories never quite add up to any sort of overarching narrative. Things, for the most part, seem to unravel chronologically, moving ever forward through the ups and downs, with no real structure in sight.

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“Danny Says” is by no means a bad film. Fields himself is hilarious throughout as he talks about his roles in some of the biggest moments in music history. It is filled with hilarious stories about the heyday of rock and roll and it highlights the importance of the guy who is in the back of every photo.

blgt film


“INSIDE THE CHINESE CLOSET”— Doing Things for the Parents

inside poster

“Inside the Chinese Closet”

Doing Things for the Parents

Amos Lassen

Sophia Luvara’s intimate documentary “Inside The Chinese Closet” shoes that gay men and women in China shoulder their parents’ burden. In a desperate attempt to meet their parents’ expectations, Andy goes on a hunt for a lesbian woman to marry and Cherry looks for a baby to adopt. Being homosexual makes it hard to conform to their families’ and their society’s expectations, but both Andy and Cherry are determined to do things ‘the right way’.


Andy and Cherry are two gay people who live in Shanghai. They are the focus of this film that is a slow look at the different forces at play over the lives of gay people there. Eve though Chinese parents might be able to accept their sons’ and daughters’ homosexuality, after 35 years of the One Child Policy, they are still determined to become grandparents. With no siblings, it’s a question of heritage and continuity as well as a kind of familial social security, with grandchildren required to look after their children in their old age. But with each generation, there is progress as parents adapt from wanting a boy to wanting a healthy child, and maybe at some point even to accepting childlessness. Tradition is strong, and both Cherry and Andy’s parents do all they can to save face within their communities by persuading their children to enter into fake marriages and illegal adoption. And so to keep their parents happy, gay Chinese men and women to that end up pushing their parents deeper and deeper inside the closet. The film reveals hidden community in Chinese society and does so with style and grace.


Andy is an architect in his early 30s and his parents know he is gay but pressure him to marry and have a kid. He is therefore looking for a woman to have a fake marriage with (preferably a lesbian) but he is not sure if this is something he really wants to do or not. Cherry is a lesbian who’s already had a fake marriage that did not work out, but she now hopes to make her parents happy by adopting a child. She has never told them she is gay, but feels they are becoming increasingly aware. Again, she isn’t certain whether getting an abandoned newborn is right for her.

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This is an interesting look into LGBT life in another part of the world, where we can see the echoes and reflection of gay life in west. China is fairly new to people being able to talk about being gay. Homosexuality was only legalized in the country in the 1990s, and it remained on the official list of mental illnesses into the 2000s. Those taking part are one of the first generations to have come of age when gay sex was legal – but it still remains a taboo in the country, and the pressures on gay people to at least keep up the appearance of being ‘”normal” is very strong. That’s not least because mass migration in the last few decades means most gay people have moved to t major cities where they can live how they choose, leaving their families in more remote areas with their different traditions and expectations.


We see the cultural pressures wonder whether you would if we could do the same in situations like that. Tradition in China has parents look after children when they are young and are then they are looked after by their children when they’re old.

“THE KRAYS: KILL ORDER”— A Documentary

the krays

“The Krays: Kill Order”

A Documentary

Amos Lassen

After watching the new film about the Kray brothers, “Legend”, I felt like I wanted to learn a little bit more about his duo that terrorized London and whose sexuality has brought up a lot of questions. I was lucky enough to find Christopher Matthews’ new documentary that was released about the same time as “Legend”. It presents a first-hand account of Ronnie and Reggie’s reign of intimidation and terror and we learn this from a number of close friends and associates of the brothers during their early lives and throughout their adulthoods.

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It has long been rumored that there was something about the twins’ sexuality including that Ronnie and Reggie Kray had an incestuous sexual relationship with each other as they were growing up. Supposedly, they were terrified that people would learn they were gay although in “Legend”, Ronnie is very open about it. The twins thought that their rivals would see this as a sign of weakness and for that reason, they only had sex with each other in order to keep the secret. “Homosexuality was nothing to be proud of in the East End. However, as they became more notorious, Ronnie became quite shameless about it. It has long been known that Ronnie was a homosexual and Reggie was bisexual but the news they had a sexual relationship with each other gives a telling insight into their close connection.

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Some of the tales we hear in this film are horrifying and hits home with the reality of what happened and, out of fear, pay offs or intimidation, allowed the Krays to continue their gangland existences for so long.

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“Kill Order” shows their complexities but does not make them into heroes. It is a well-balanced film and is both compelling and critical. The twins always knew glamour was a cover for grim reality. They came from nothing and managed to create an image for themselves in a way that nobody else had done.

“REAL BOY”— A Coming of Age Story


“Real Boy”

A Coming of Age Story

Amos Lassen

real boy1“Real Boy” is the coming-of-age story of Bennett Wallace Gwizdalski, a transgender teenager on a journey to find his voice-as a musician, as a friend, as a son, and as a man. As he goes through young adulthood, he works to gain the love and support of his mother, who has deep misgivings about her child’s transition. Along the way, he forges a powerful friendship with his idol, Joe Stevens, a celebrated transgender musician who has his own demons to fight.


We meet Bennett when he is a charismatic 19-year-old with dreams of musical stardom. The film follows Bennett through the first two years of his gender transition from female to male as he learns to deal with newfound sobriety and struggles to repair a strained relationship with his mother. He seeks support and mentorship from his musical hero transgender folk singer, Joe Stevens. We watch Bennett as he grows from a teen with problems into a young man who has confidence and as he changes, so do those who are close to him.


Joe supports Bennett when his mother cannot but relapses into active addiction and shakes the foundation his relationship with Bennett. Eventually Bennett’s mother, Suzy, works through her shame and confusion to embrace and celebrate her son. And as Bennett matures and his relationships shift, he chronicles his process in his music and writes raw and catchy songs that we hear on the soundtrack.


While this is a film about a girl who becomes a boy but even more than that it is a film about a young person overcoming addiction and finding his voice — as a friend, a son, a musician, and a man.

“KIKI”— The Street and the Dance Floor

kiki poster


The Street and the Dance Floor

Amos Lassen

“Kiki” is a documentary about New York vogueing that revisits the ballroom scene made famous by Jennie Livingston’s “Paris Is Burning,” which won the grand jury prize at Sundance in 1991. Directed by Sara Jordeno, “Kiki” brings together interviews with on-the-street and dance-floor scenes to create an exhilarating, multifaceted portrait of ballroom participants, a number of whom are L.G.B.T. activists. “Kiki” an ode to gay New York. This is Sara Jordenö’s film that she co-wrote with ballroom dancer and LGBTQ activist Twiggy Pucci Garcon about the next generation of Harlem ballroom dance.

kiki1Here is a film with attitude and lots of energy. We see bright and competitive dance contests that are contrasted with the sometimes painful and challenging personal environments that the film’s subjects are forced to deal with. This is a very special addition to the ongoing stories of marginalized queer and trans life in New York City.

Today, federal government funding backs the balls and houses of New York’s LGBTQ community. They serve as crucial networks for outreach and support of queer youth dealing with such major problems as HIV, teen suicide, inadequate health care, police brutality, and underemployment.


Gia Marie Love, a trans woman who faces persistent discrimination and ongoing rejection tells us that her community is well aware of death. The film builds on the legacy of films and TV shows that showcase black and Latino LGBT characters and it reflects a sense of empowerment in the community. ”Kiki”, the title, is a nickname for the current ball scene. We see Garcon and best friend Chi Chi Mizrahi stage a dance on the site of the former Rockland Palace, a Harlem landmark that was once the venue for drag balls in the 1920s and early ’30s. The film rests on shaky ground simply because it will always be compared to “Paris Is Burning”. Livingstone’s film is a classic of the then new queer cinema and it became something of a cultural phenomenon. Of course there is also the possibility that the older film could cause many to want to see the newer.


“Kiki” is about the communal strength that comes from embracing difference. Like Livingston, Jordenö is very interested in character. This community is made up of LGBTQ people of color in a city with a notoriously brutal police force, has a lot of problems. In the context of AIDS and HIV, the frequent rejection of society and family, hate crimes and everything else, the business of living is a full time job. The drag balls emphasize this holistic, artistic identity. We hear from someone that walking the is “telling a story.” It’s all about presenting oneself and saying “I am beautiful.” It is, in a sense, an art of living self-portraiture. The film is an assembly of portraits. This is most obvious in the case of Gia Marie Love, the woman at the thematic center of the film. She is a transgender woman, but Jordenö doesn’t build her into a linear narrative of transition. Instead, she first introduces Gia as an activist and artist and then later uses a series of moving portraits that chart her shifting public image. These shots that have become a staple of nonfiction cinema are a conscious and thematically motivated gesture in this film and it is full of similar portrait shots, the subject looking directly into the camera. Many aren’t even principle subjects. Their images further this interpretation of the Kiki world as a place of self-assurance. It is a community built upon the idea of individuality.


This is defiance of the prejudices of society and we see that self-portraiture and pride can lead to being kicked out of a home or refused a job, but here it becomes an act of both empowerment and defiance. It also involves quite a bit of political activism. Jordenö includes a meeting of the Kiki Coalition, an organization of groups such as Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the Hetrick-Martin Institute and others that promote HIV/AIDS testing and education, transgender rights, ending LGBTQ homelessness, and other community issues. The Kiki scene still hangs out at the Chelsea Piers, but now the vogueing is mixed with talk of organizing for the reelection of President Obama. Related to his work fighting LGBTQ homelessness, Twiggy gets an invitation to the White House for a reception honoring LGBTQ activism. That is all new and would not have been possible before. The language has also changed. The discourses around sex work and transgender identity stand out in particular. Jordenö features a number of organized discussions, not just of political issues but also of personal ones. At one point Gia leads a conversation about the relationship between sex work and transgender identity, stressing that no one should judge someone else’s transition, no matter what path they’ve taken. Naturally this kind of political discourse does take some of the artistic fire out of “Kiki”. There are occasional moments of theatrical fantasy, but they don’t have quite the same thrill as in other recent documentaries.


brothers of the night poster
“Brothers of the Night” (“Brüder der Nacht”)

Selling Sex

Amos Lassen

Director Patric Chiha’s “Brothers of the Night” tells the story of a group of young Bulgarian Roma men, who work as prostitutes in Vienna. They came to Vienna to find freedom and money and they sell their bodies because they have little else. The guys share a feeling of togetherness even if the nights are long and it is impossible to predict what they will bring. This is not the Vienna that we usually see. The guys have come there out of poverty and to make money to help their families. They hang out at a hustler bar called ‘Rüdiger’ in the working class Margareten district. They wait, smoke, drink, play pool, dance, show off, fool around like young bulls and they talk— about their families and prostitutes and among themselves they share stories about the sex work that they do— the ‘bizness’. They have to deal with culture clash and they find themselves on a tight wire between illusion and reality and their lives are transitory, deceptive, and fleeting.

brothers1The feel moves between documentary and dramatized scenes. The film makes no moral judgments as it looks at a tale of survival and the solidarity amongst the ostracized, marginalized outsiders.

The film opens with a long sequence that gives the setting of the film. We see the Wien River with ships moving against the industrial landscape and this suggests the roughness of what we are about to see. We hear the beauty of Mahler’s fifth symphony and it contrasts with the images we’re seeing. The lives of these hustlers should be painful and filled with memories of their families at home and their inability to make money any other way. Yet their camaraderie and the support they have for each other creates a space in which they can exist happily.


The film is split in two style wise: half is a dramatization, half is documentary. The way the narrative moves backwards and forwards between styles really shows the seriousness of the subject matter. Interviews explain in shockingly apathetic terms what the characters go through, whilst the dramatization explores the emotional depth of their experiences.

The film comes across in a remarkably light-hearted manner, considering its narrative. The brotherhood shared by the young men creates a sharp juxtaposition from the grittiness and unpredictability of their lives. Most came to Austria to find work in an attempt to support their family. We hear from one who tells that even though his German is now perfect, he was fired from his first job because he did not know the language and began begging and prostituting himself shortly afterwards. No message of morality comes through this film and the conversations between the men about their work are given to us without judgment. No moral is needed here—this is simply a stark look at life and of people who have stumbled into something they’d never imagined themselves doing. They are able to get through it because of the bonds they’ve created, much like the rest of us.


When the guys first arrive they can barely speak any German at all and find that, just like back home, there are no jobs for them.  They end up providing sexual services to the old gay men who hang out at the bar and the guys realize that they can earn a great deal more than at a legitimate job.


The rent boys are frank and open about the realities of their new lives. All of them are heterosexual and although some are more  cautious about how far they will go with their clients—most will receive oral sex but they refuse to give and they seem more disdainful of the fact that their clients are old rather than of their homosexuality that doesn’t seem to cause many of them much worry or bother.


They all look out for each other with genuine concern. They are very much friends even though they may be competing for the same clients and they freely discuss their latest exploits and how much they made. Their aim is to get enough money to buy a house and a car to set themselves up back home in Bulgaria where, even though they are in their early 20’s , they have wives and children. The one who doesn’t is lectured by his friends on how much he must save up to buy a bride, even though they admit that their own marriages are far from happy.  One confesses that he had earned a great deal of money and then fell in love with a Austrian hooker who spent all of it and then left him when he was broke again.   It seems that they are all discovering how to be wild and free and irresponsible which is something that they had not been allowed to do back home.

“SUITED”— Bindel & Keep

suited poster


Bindel & Keep

Amos Lassen

Jason Benjamin’s “Suited” is a look at Brooklyn-based tailoring outfit Bindle & Keep that tailors suits for those outside of the gender binary. For transgender people tailored clothing is not a luxury but it many cases a necessity and an affirmation of identity — a release from the unwelcoming cisgendered conventions of retail clothing. We meet six contrasting clients through the measuring and fitting process and hear personal testimonies making this quite a film. It will begin airing on HBO this summer.


The business was founded in 2011 by Daniel Friedman, a straight cis former architect who turned to tailoring with the initial intent of making clothing for the Wall Street crowd but this changed when the met transmasculine Rae Tutera, who joined his business as an apprentice before persuading him of the commercial potential in a high-end couturier for the trans and genderqueer community.

Since then, the company has grown even larger than the doc implies: It now employs a team of tailors in the Big Apple and Washington, D.C. and has a nationwide client base. Each of the film’s case studies is introduced via the website appointment form that brings them to Bindle & Keep for the first time and it outlines their essential dilemmas in a section headed “The More We Know.”  The first client that we met is Appalachian-born transgender male nurse looking for a wedding suit for his impending marriage to fiancée Joanna: His is the narrative in which the film most extensively invests and we follow not just the wedding preparations, but a medical procedure important to his personal self-realization as a man. 


We hear supportive testimonies from Matteson’s  straight-laced family. Everett Arthur, an African-American law student from Atlanta is next and we see that he faces both parental and professional discrimination for his decision to live as a man. He wants and needs a courtroom-ready suit. There are four other customers that gender-nonconforming cabbie Melissa Plait, who wants to see out her 40th birthday party in pinstriped suit; transgender adolescent Aidan Star Jones, who wants suitably masculine attire for his upcoming bar mitzvah; and attorney Jillian T. Weiss who needs a suit Then there is Lena Durham’s younger sibling Grace who lives with an androgynous identity and wants a “dark wool suit … to run around in.

What I  wish we were able to see is some of the tailors’ own art and craft and to learn about the suits’ unique shaping and construction.“Suited” is a compassionate study of personal transformation from the inside out and perfect and present what has already been made. Transitioning is mainly about having one’s body brought into line with a person’s true identity and one of the issues is that trans men and women see that traditional gender specific clothes do not suit them and their new lives. When Rae Tutera transitioned from Rachel, he approached Daniel Friedman about making him a custom suit.  Rae was so very impressed with it that he asked Daniel to take him on as an apprentice tailor to learn the trade, and he never left.


Now some five years later, Daniel who is a straight man and Rae have garnered quite a reputation and a group of customers. Rae and Daniel have developed a deep understanding that they need to know exactly what their clients hope to achieve with their new clothes, and when we see their customers joyous faces, we realize that they are doing a wonderful and needed job.

“MAPPLETHORPE: LOOK AT THE PICTURES”— Relating to Mapplethorpe

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“Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures”

Relating to Mapplethorpe

Amos Lassen

“Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures” is an examination of the life and work of the revered and controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.


“You can do it as a hobby, but what are you ever going to do with art?” Mapplethorpe’s father chided him. He never understood the desire of his mischievous, provocative artistically inclined son. Little did he know that Robert would go on to become famous for his stylish black and white photography that were often challenging in their brazen explicit sexuality. The film is bookended by a public trial at which time an outraged senator yelled, “Look at the pictures” referring to this “known homosexual”. That is just the intention of this film by filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. They present the photographer’s work to the audience and allow them to decide for themselves whether they appreciate Mapplethorpe’s combative aesthetic, or whether they agree with the grumblings of conservative offence and that what Mapplethorpe produced was not art and is, in effect, “ugly, degrading, obscene”. Even those providing commentary are conflicted with two of the artist’s models suggest his compositions have no hidden philosophical musings while there were those who saw the devil and God in the work. These claim that Mapplethorpe himself said that he wanted “to see the devil in all of us.” No one can deny that his photos are incredibly striking.


Mapplethorpe never shied away from pornography; yes the camera lingers equally on a curator snapping on a rubber glove as she handles a Polaroid exhibition invitation that is a picture of Mapplethorpe’s penis or even his membership card for the grimy Mine Shaft club where he found lovers and models. The still shots are interspersed with archival footage, audio from recorded conversations and talking heads with various people that knew him well. We hear from siblings to lovers and models and admirers who share humorous anecdotes as well as reflection on the artist’s ambition and vanity.


The movie begins with what was a retrospective of his work at Getty and LACMA and this is ultimately a chronological retelling of Mapplethorpe’s story. Along with that we an immediate indication of his lasting appeal that is emphasized by subsequent footage from auctions and the court case which followed his death from AIDS in 1989. Artistic merit is a subjective thing, of course, but this documentary also tells the fascinating story of the artist while allowing his work to speak for itself.


Whether you’re an avid follower of Robert Mapplethorpe career or just now hearing about him, this documentary is a comprehensive look at his controversial oeuvre. This is a meticulously researched film that chronicles Mapplethorpe’s upbringing as a devout Catholic in rural New York, his young adulthood years renting out a small room in Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel with Patti Smith and his eventual death after contracting AIDS. Interviews with Mapplethorpe’s family, models and lovers slowly give us a picture of a man who was loaded with artistic genius yet who sacrificed personal relationships in the name of his art.


I see the purpose of this documentary is to mine through Mapplethorpe’s body of work and this is where the film is the strongest. Despite the graphic nature of Mapplethorpe’s portfolio, we see clearly that he had an uncanny knack for capturing the unorthodox beauty of his subjects—even those dressed in latex bondage gear.


Despite the exhaustive catalogue of Mapplethorpe’s photographs that are on display throughout the film, the documentary doesn’t really succeed in humanizing its subject. It’s easy to say that Mapplethorpe’s work speaks for the artist, but we learn that Mapplethorpe was a self-centered perfectionist who threw a tantrum when his brother’s name appeared on an exhibition invitation before his own. It was not to really relate to the artist or the e dynamics surrounding Robert’s relationship with his younger brother Edward Mapplethorpe. It hurt to see how Edward’s hero worship of his older brother was met with derision and manipulation.


I also would have liked to have seen more than just fifteen of the film’s 108 minutes dedicated to the lawsuits that conservative watchdog groups levied against the museums that featured Mapplethorpe’s final exhibition. We are challenged to reevaluate our own boundaries about what art can be and had there been a bit more exploration into the national controversy as a result of his work, it would have been easier to do so.


The documentary is snappy, confidently explicit overview of the photographer’s work and it deals quite openly with Mapplethorpe’s ruthless ambition and personality. Born to English and Irish parents in Queens, New York, he took on the ritual and symbolism of his Catholic upbringing early on and used it to create some of the most sexually provocative artwork of its time. Bailey and Barbato trace his life from childhood to college to his relationship with Patti Smith and his time as a resident in the legendary Chelsea Hotel where he came out, and where he found fame and fortune before dying of AIDS complications. The name “Robert Mapplethorpe” didn’t become a familiar one for many until after his death, when his final exhibition “The Perfect Moment” became the center of a culture war fight over obscenity, arts funding, and sexuality. Notoriously bigoted Senator Jesse Helms led the charge by challenging his colleagues to, as I said before, “look at the pictures.” “To look at the pictures,” reminds us to consider the artistry of the man. The screen is filled with his work, from his innocuous and striking flower photos to his inventive portraiture to the often shockingly graphic depictions of sex acts, S&M, and the like. The film contextualizes the work to his biography, especially that he grew up in a rigorous Catholic family, for instance, and that influence is certainly present in his imagery and compositions.


As an introduction to the man and his work, this is excellent— the filmmakers wanted to tell his story in his words, rather than make it a re-examination of one particular person’s perspective and it tries to humanize an artist who’d been demonized, but not by ignoring his own demons. There is still the question as to whether or not Mapplethorpe sold out and there are many, many opinions on that.




A few days ago the BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival announced that its opening night movie would be The Pass, starring Russell Tovey. Now the rest of the programme has been announced, including the info that it will closewith Catherine Corsini’s Summertime at BFI Southbank, while the Accenture Gala will be the European Premiere of Neil Armfield’s Aussie movie, Holding the Man, with more than 50 features and 100 shorts screening, plus a range of special events, guest appearances, discussions, workshops, club nights and more.

BFI Flare 2016 will be divided into 3 sections – Hearts, Minds and Bodies – with key themes emerging including British film and new British talent, transgender representation and Queer Science and new technology:

LGBT content in British film and new British talent: BFI Flare presents three distinct and impressive new UK feature film productions with the World Premiere of Opening Night Gala, Ben A. Williams’ The Pass, Barak and Tomer Heymann’s Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? and The Departure (dir. Andrew Stegall), with the latter two BFI Film Fund supported. The Festival also screens British co-director Fenton Bailey’s Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures (co-directed with Randy Barbato) and launches the second year of BFI Flare LGBT Filmmakers’ Mentorship (in partnership with BAFTA and Creative Skillset) to support new UK film talent.

Transgender representation on screen: following a year in which transgender visibility broke through to the mainstream, BFI Flare explores representation in the media with Meet Silas an onstage event with Silas Howard, the first transgender director on Amazon’s Emmy and Golden Globe winning Transparent. Through a new series of events Transform, BFI Flare will also bring together actors, filmmakers and casting directors to probe current practice in fiction and non-fiction film and TV and hosts a trans acting workshop at BFI Southbank.

Queer Science and new technology: while BFI Flare looks back at 30 years at the forefront of LGBT cinema in the UK, it also provides a vision into the future with an exhibition at BFI Southbank Year Dot: Queer Film + Technology since 1986; an event that explores the intersections of sexual identity, science and technology with Queer’d Science: BFI Flare Sci-Tech Lab and launches a new partnership with Crossover Labs on XO LGBTQ, an intensive training programme designed to counter the lack of visibility for LGBTQ issues in the interactive media and games industries.

The festival opens on Wednesday 16 March at London’s Odeon Leicester Square with the World Premiere of The Pass, starring Russell Tovey, Arinze Kene, Lisa McGrills and Nico Mirallegro, with cast members in attendance. This powerful drama focuses on the lives of two young Premier League footballers on three momentous nights over ten years, and is produced by Duncan Kenworthy (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually). The Festival Closing Gala on Saturday 26 March is at BFI Southbank with Summertime [La Belle Saison] dir. Catherine Corsini, a passionate story starring Cecile de France, Izïa Higelin and Noemie Lvovsky which follows two very different women who fall in love against the backdrop of 1970s feminist street protests in Paris.

The Accenture Gala of the European Premiere of Australian hit Holding the Man, a moving and tender film memoir that recounts 20 years in the life of Tony Conigrave; Ryan Corr and Craig Stott excel as the lovers, supported by an exceptional cast which includes Anthony LaPaglia, Guy Pearce, Geoffrey Rush, and Kerry Fox.

As a special feature in the anniversary programme, screenings will continue on the day after our Closing Gala (Easter Sunday 27 March) with a Second Chance Sunday devoted to 2016 Festival best-sellers and a selection of LGBT archive gems from the Festivals’ history. Every ticket on Second Chance Sunday will be offered at the discounted price of £8. As a highlight of the day there will be a screening of the film that tops a brand new critics’ and programmers’ poll of the top 10 global LGBT films of the last 30 years. The result of this BFI poll and all the films screening on Second Chance Sunday will be announced soon.

A rich and full 30th Festival main programme screens at the cinemas of BFI Southbank between the 17th and 27th of March with Special Presentations including Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, an in-depth and uncompromising portrait of the life and work of the legendary photographer Robert Mapplethorpe by award-winning World of Wonder duo Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (RuPaul’s Drag Race, Inside Deep Throat); Rebel Dykes, a work-in-progress screening event of Harri Shanahan and Sian Williams’ documentary which explores the forgotten ‘herstory’ of lesbian punk London in the 1980s. Festival alumni Jacques Martineau and Olivier Ducastel (Jeanne and the Perfect Guy, Drôle de Félix) join us following their world premiere in Berlinale, with Theo & Hugo, a finely crafted and provocative drama.

With transgender issues having been major International news in 2015, the Festival will also shine a spotlight on representation in Transform, a series of events on trans acting on screen. Flare alsos welcome Silas Howard, the first trans director on Emmy and Golden Globe-winning Transparent who will talk about his work which ranges from pioneering 2001 trans feature By Hook or By Crook to music videos for Peaches, and of course, Transparent.

Other highlights include two new British features backed by the BFI Film Fund, Andrew Stegall’s The Departure, a touching debut about a mother and son struggling with their relationship starring Juliet Stephenson (Truly, Madly, Deeply) and Alex Lawther (The Imitation Game), and also Barak and Tomer Heymann’s Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? fresh from Berlin International Film Festival, which sees an HIV positive Israeli finding an adoptive second family in London as a member of London Gay Men’s Chorus.

A one-off Sing-A-Long, dress-up Calamity Jane at the BFI IMAX will celebrate everyone’s favourite cowboy/girl Doris Day with this dazzling new digital restoration presented on the biggest screen in Britain.

In addition, industry delegates will have access to a range of special talks and events, and Flare will also present the second in-take of its talent development project, the BFI Flare LGBT Filmmakers’ Mentorship Programme, delivered by BAFTA with funding from Creative Skillset, which helps talented LGBT identified filmmakers build professional skills and networks. LGBT film gets an International spotlight with the return of fiveFilm4freedom. This ground-breaking project developed in association with the British Council sees five LGBT short films from BFI Flare available online for free throughout the Festival. With last year’s films seen in more than 130 countries worldwide, this is a truly global project. Join the conversation at #fiveFilms4freedom with campaign focussed on Thursday 17th March when people will be encouraged to watch an LGBT short film in recognition that ‘Love is a Human Right’.

More info on the film’s three sections: Hearts, Bodies and Minds (taken from the programme announcement)

HEARTS includes films about love, romance and friendship. Features include the winner of the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival, From Afar dir. Lorenzo Vigas, a compelling tale of a middle-aged man in Caracas and his varied encounters with a dangerous young men; Mika Kaurismäki’s 17th century lesbian costume drama The Girl King, set at the court of Queen Christina; and Naz and Maalik dir. Jay Dockendorf, a tale of two young gay Muslims in contemporary New York. The search for identity that is the perennial tale of coming out and coming of age is reinvented for the current generation in films such as Akron dirs. Brian O’Donnell and Sasha King, where student lovers in Ohio are almost torn apart by unsuspected shared history; Michal Vinik’s Barash an Israeli girl-meets-girl, teen drama, and Natalia Leite’s Bare a US story of Nebraska girls out for fun starring Glee’s Dianna Argon and Paz de la Huerta. From Mexico, I Promise You Anarchy dir. Julio Hernández Cordón offers a portrait of skater-boys seduced by the promise of the rewards of crime.

BODIES features stories of sex, identity and transformation. This richly diverse selection of films includes Rigoberto Perezcano’s Carmin Tropical a murder mystery set in the world of Mexican trans nightclubs, a disturbing German narrative of a hotel-worker who becomes a fetish sex-worker in The Chambermaid Lynne dir Ingo Haeb, while Laura Bispuri’s Sworn Virgin, starring Alba Rohrwacher, gradually reveals the story of an Albanian whose transition to living as a man involves complex cultural traditions.

The World Premiere of Real Boy dir Shaleece Haas is cause for excitement; this moving and breathtakingly honest, coming-of-age documentary features Bennett Wallace, a 19 year old trans musician searching for the acceptance of his family.

Some other fascinating documentaries explore different aspects of sex: Femme Brutal is a celebration of a queer-feminist artists’ group who use burlesque as a way of focusing on women’s desire for the female body; Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story dir. Michael Stabile is an account of an important 1970s gay pornographer, the creator of the influential Falcon Studios; Raúl de la Morena and Antonio Centeno’s Yes We Fuck is an uncompromising account from Spain of how disabled people are determined to explore their sexualities.

MINDS features reflections on art, politics and community. We celebrate iconic London pop artist, Duggie Fields with a series of ultra-rare screenings of his own work and films in which he’s featured. Yvonne Rainer: Facts are Feelings dir. Jack Walsh offers documentary portrait of the radical dance legend, while Gillian Armstrong’s lavishly illustrated documentary on the legendary costume-designer Orry-Kelly, Women He’s Undressed has a starry cast to discuss the genius of his costumes including Jane Fonda, Angela Lansbury and Ann Roth. Barbara Hammer’s artistic take on poet Elizabeth Bishop, Welcome to the House examines the literary, lesbian life with her usual flair. We mark the centenary of the death of Roger Casement (executed for treason in 1916), with a screening of a rare 1960 television play The Trial of Sir Roger Casement, plus a talk by Casement’s biographer, gay activist Jeff Dudgeon.

In part of our programme of archive screenings celebrating highlights of 30 years of the Festival, we are delighted that Donna Deitch joins us in London for a rare 35mm screening of her seminal and much adored work Desert Hearts, which was the only lesbian film that screened in our original 1986 edition.

Yet we also aim to look ahead at where queer cinema and media is heading in the near and distant future. The Atrium at BFI Southbank will feature gallery exhibition, Year Dot: Queer Film + Technology since 1986, exploring the intersection of queer lives and technology from Sadie Benning’s Fisher Price camera experiments to Tangerine shot on an iPhone while the Queer’d Science – BFI Flare Sci-Tech Lab will probe the interactions between queer bodies and culture, and science and technology over the last 30 years.

While films and film cultural are at the heart of what we do, the atmosphere at BFI Southbank brings people from far and wide. This year we return with the hugely popular BFI Flare Club Nights (Fri 18, Sat 19, Thu 24, Fri 25 and Sat 26) at Benugo Lounge and Riverfront with our favourite DJs and newfound friends including Pitch Slap!, Sadie Lee and Jonathan Kemp, Pink Glove, Club Kali, and for Closing Night Bad Bitches and Unskinny Bop.

Tickets go on sale via on 24th February for BFI members and 29th February for non-members.

Many of the films will be making the American LGBT circuit later.

“UNCLE HOWARD”— The Life and Work of Howard Brookner

uncle howard poster

“Uncle Howard”

The Life and Work of Howard Brookner

Amos Lassen

Aaron Brookner’s “Uncle Howard” is a fond tribute to his hero-worshipped relative, Howard Brookner, who was involved in a great deal of professional activity of independent filmmaking before dying of AIDS in 1989 at age 34. He was fascinated by (and part of) his era’s Manhattan art scenes and this documentary has a lot footage of late and still-living luminaries from William Burroughs to Madonna. The film does not spend a lot of time in Howard’s early years but instead goes right into Aaron’s efforts to retrieve so much material that remained untouched in Burroughs’ onetime Manhattan studio “The Bunker” for over thirty years. Once he stops being stonewalled by their current caretaker, poet John Giorno, Brookner gained access to a treasure trove of outtakes and errata from Howard’s first feature, “Burroughs: The Movie” (1983) — some of which he watches now with Jim Jarmusch and Tom DiCillo, who worked on that project before their own directorial careers took off.

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Howard was a handsome, erudite gay man who wrote his university thesis on Burroughs and won the poet’s trust. He even managed to share Burroughs’ heroin habit for a time but this does seem to have been ongoing.

Howard had such charm that we gained access to a very reluctant Robert Wilson, the theatrical avant-gardist whom he profiled in a second documentary feature (1987’s “Robert Wilson and the Civil Wars’” Howard already knew he was HIV positive by the time he began making his first narrative feature film, “Bloodhounds of Broadway”, a Damon Runyun-based Roaring ’20s ensemble piece featuring Matt Dillon, Madonna, Jennifer Grey, Rutger Hauer, Randy Quaid and numerous others. Because the work was so exhausting, it hastened his death from AIDS-related causes just a couple weeks before its Cannes premiere.

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Brookner’s time with Burroughs and other like-minded artists gives us archival glimpses here of Patti Smith, Allen Ginsburg, Andy Warhol, Laurie Anderson, John Cage and many more. His personal life is less well explored, despite interviews with surviving relatives, colleagues and his long-term boyfriend, author Brad Gooch. We see parts of a video-diary made toward the end of his life, and he is calm and composed rather than revealing. A different side is seen in family photos and home movies, where it’s clear why Aaron loved him so much (aside from his being a creative role model), he was clearly a wonderfully fun and affectionate uncle. His nephew appears to have inherited some of his uncle’s temperament as well as physical resemblance; Aaron’s narration is often touching, but it does have a slightly formal, histrionics-resistant air.

The film offers both an introduction (or re-introduction?) to the director’s uncle and is a somber meditation on talent lost. The documentary takes in Howard’s experiences in the New York gay scene, but focuses mainly on the “Burroughs” shoot as a signifier of his uncle’s emerging talent. Howard began the production as a film student fresh out of university and his ability to gain the trust of the then-near-deified poet shows a very particular skill that would have proved an invaluable directorial quality. With the early ‘90s boom in American independent film just on the horizon, not to mention the Queer New Wave, there are reasons to believe Howard would have quickly done very well in Hollywood. Jarmusch’s presence, both as a goofy kid on the Burroughs shoot and his appearance in the documentary as an established auteur, only works to hammer that point home.

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What Aaron has is an archive of audio and celluloid that his uncle left behind, seemingly largely untouched over the years, in Burroughs’ legendary “Bunker.” This treasure trove, which largely consists of master copies of footage from the Burroughs production gives a look behind the scenes (or scene, more accurately) during the last wild days of pre-Giuliani New York, before the AIDS epidemic decimated the city’s gay community. Aaron found footage of Andy Warhol dropping by for dinner, Burroughs goofing with Allen Ginsberg on a rooftop, and the writer conducting a mad piece of surgery-themed performance art.

Aaron puts himself front and center at the beginning and tail end of the film adding an emotional weight to the film even if he comes off as a little conceited at times. He dug through the outtakes of a 33-year-old non-fiction feature to flesh out the ghost of his childhood hero, his uncle. The result, however, is more than a warm portrait of one man and his small body of work but also a moving journey through a largely vanished New York, a place where outsider artists and creative risk-takers came to connect and grow.uncle howard4

Looking back from today, Aaron points to the loss of two beacons from the era as symbols of what Manhattan has become: the Chelsea Hotel and St. Vincent’s Hospital. The Chelsea still stands but is undergoing a major upgrade, leaving behind its history of “bohemian folly,” while St. Vincent’s, where Brookner’s uncle and thousands of others were treated for AIDS-related illnesses during the crisis years, has been torn down and replaced by condos.

Just as the older Brookner had to get around the reclusive Burroughs’ notorious guardedness to make his film, so does his nephew have to win over John Giorno, the caretaker of the partially converted YMCA space. The dusty archive contained therein is a wealth of material and lots of footage of the Howard talking with Burroughs and other interview subjects between takes. One associate observes that that Brookner knew how to talk to Burroughs and that was what gained him access to the man. Howard Brookner rarely appears to have been without a camera in his hand, and throughout the movie, Aaron threads warm, funny moments from their family life as captured by his uncle, featuring the latter’s parents and grandparents.

“In more recent interviews, Elaine Brookner admits with wry self-awareness to the classic Jewish mother’s disappointment when her son chose to pursue filmmaking instead of law. With a candor that excludes sentimentality, she describes coming to accept Howard’s homosexuality, and reveals that being charmed by his boyfriend, the writer Brad Gooch, nudged the process along”.


Video diaries from Brookner’s final years, after he became HIV-positive, add intimacy and insight, especially in the way his natural levity and warmth appear undiminished. The picture that we get is of a man who lived his life exactly as he wanted, with no time for regrets. He seemed to accept his illness with calm forbearance, expressing sorrow only for the people who would mourn him.

The challenges of making an ambitious movie while dealing with a debilitating illness didn’t prevent him from bringing his 7-year-old nephew onto the set. Aaron maintains considerable privacy about his own feelings while seeming to take great comfort in reawakening the memories of people who loved Howard, including longtime partner Gooch.

The doc’s l final sequence is a heartbreaker. “After shooting a New York sunset, Howard twirls around wearing a hoodie and a goofy smile, dancing to The Pretenders’ “Hymn to Her” while the fading ghost of Manhattan watches him through grubby loft windows. The words sung by Chrissie Hyde neatly sum up the rewards of this soulful tribute: “Something is lost, but something is found.”

In his farewell note to his parents, who although they had difficulty accepting  his sexuality, they still loved Brad ,  Howard wrote :- It really isn’t a problem having a short life as long as you have lived it doing exactly doing things that really mattered to you …. and that is exactly what I have done.