Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“HOLY HELL”— Looking at a Cult Led by a Former Gay Porn Star


Looking at a Cult

Amos Lassen

Will Allen’s documentary “Holy Hell” looks at the rise and fall of a spiritual cult as seen though a former member’s twenty years as that he spent with the sect. We see stunningly personal archival footage and revealing contemporary interviews with past cult members. In 1985, film school graduate Will Allen joined a spiritual community in West Hollywood, which was led by a mysterious leader they called the “Teacher”. Allen became quickly involved and immersed. He began to document life inside the group and over time, hidden truths about their Teacher began to surface until finally his darkest secrets were revealed. The documentary contains some of 22 years of intimate archival footage that take us on quite an emotional journey behind closed doors and into a world that could not have been imagined by both insiders and outsiders.

Allen was not alone in discovering the sect called The Buddhafield, a commune of men and women living under the guidance of The Teacher, or Michel and he was one of the original members in the 1980s. He had just graduated from and, having just graduated from film school and was soon caught up in it. His documentary shows how its members (who appear as talking heads throughout) became shocked when they began to realize that their leader who appeared to be filled with compassion was actually a manipulative rapist who was in love with himself.

We meet some twelve former members through contemporary interviews, with their first names accompanying a quick statement about their involvement in Buddhafield. Since we meet them at the beginning of the film, we get the chance to learn from each why he/she joined the commune. The central idea of Buddhafield operated on the deification of Michel, who told his followers that he had what he referred to as “the knowing,” and that those chosen to likewise have “the knowing” would be given direct access and exposure to God. We see Michel proselytizing in front of his congregation and these clips are intercut with various statements from members such as one who shows her frustration that she was continually denied “the knowing” even though she had given the sect many years of unwavering devotion. Other former members speak about Michel’s magnetism instead of his ideas as being responsible for their participation in the Buddhafield. This, of course, brings the irrational answer of guidance to enlightenment and answers to the usual questions of why we are here. For these questioners, Michel gave them an alternative to religion as we know it and he claimed that he was capable of offering actual, rather than manufactured, transcendence.

It took Allen 22 years to break away from the cult and Michel who was later known as Andreas (real name: Jaime Gomez). Allen and more than 150 others were slow to realize that the Teacher who preached Zen-like, antisexual self-denial was running a major scam. Allen’ had an advantage in that he was named the official documenter of Buddhafield. In the fascinating footage we see a megalomaniac who genuinely inspired his early disciples (almost all of whom were white with great bodies). Michel drove them to participate in complex, theatre and ballet pieces that only they would see. Allen’s film uses the conventional TV approach, holding back allegations of sexual abuse as long as possible and in a sense this is a film of inversion.

Will Allen is the director and “star” of this documentary in which he shares his experience as a young man when he was trying to understand his existence and the mystery of the universe.  We also note that it was Michel’s narcissism that fueled the cult. As members keep reiterating their betrayal and unwavering adamancy that “we trusted him,” Allen never turns his camera inward to ask why those involved were willing to give themselves over to a person who was so determined to find self-gratification.

Revelations of Michel’s sexual misconduct with numerous members do not really surprise us because it’s made clear early on that he was nothing more than a psychologically disturbed charlatan who was well versed in the use of clinically obfuscating rhetoric. His promise of offering “the knowing” and providing that his members could be cleansed through group rituals and other coded and meaningless exercises was certainly deceitful. Allen, however, posits his deceit as a shocker which makes me wonder just how aware he was of what was going on. It seems to me that this is more a kind of revenge than anything else even though it is fascinating to watch.

Allen is now completely broken apart from the group and he sought to confront Michel on the streets of Los Angeles about his lies. Allen and other members seem to still be in denial about their own culpability and are pictured to be in a kind victimhood where those who support and endorse an obvious fraud aren’t held accountable for their own naïveté. Because Michel’s abuse is attributed to his narcissism and he is seen to be carrying the burden of guilt throughout the documentary. As former cult members reiterate their betrayal and unwavering adamancy that “we trusted him,” Allen instead of turning his camera on himself to ask why those involved were willing to give themselves over to a person so obviously hell-bent on self-gratification ignore this.

Years earlier, Allen came as gay to his parents and his mother kicked him out of the house.  Will’s sister was already a member of “The Buddhafield”. Michel, who liked to sport Speedos and Ray-Bans, was sexually exciting to him so he decided to join her.  Michel used basic Eastern tenets of living in the now with no judgment to guide his followers.  When Will joined, he was made the filmmaker for the group and was to record everything for posterity, so he had a close-up of the goings on. Everything seemed to be going along well with naked pool parties, orgies and the like but by the fourth year, things started to get dark. Michel had tasted power and realized that he could manipulate his followers any way he wanted. It was then that no sex was allowed among members, no books, no TV and no radio. Michel had developed what he called “The Knowing Session,” as a way to find enlightenment and sex was involved.  As passed, despite some negative feelings by some of the members, a kind of mass hysteria developed as everyone fell into line with the more and more bizarre practices and demands of Michel.  It became one of those things where no one wanted to admit what he/she really felt. Yet by 2001, people started to question and wanted to leave, but when they did, they were demonized. Michel told those who wanted to leave that if they left, something bad would happen to them.  And then in 2006, it came out that Michel had been having sex with all of the young men all along, despite the fact he acted like he was asexual and didn’t want anyone else having sex.

As the public became aware of stories about cults, pressure was put on Michel and his followers, so he moved the group from L.A. to Austin.  There he decided everyone would build a theatre and learn ballet and put on a show that eventually was performed only for cult members. We learn that Michel was once a dancer with the Oakland Ballet but we never learn whether becoming a cult leader was part of his life plans.  It appears that when megalomania set in, his life changed.  We then learn that Michel had been a porn actor under the name of Jaime Gomez who came to porn after having had a small part in “Rosemary’s Baby“. With this new revelation, the group fell apart and Michel disappeared. Will eventually tracked him down in Hawaii where he had started ANOTHER CULT, now calling himself Ryji which means God King.  Will is able to confront Michel who feels no guilt and remains unrepentant.

Watching the film, we see and hear from ex-members who share why they were drawn in and at the end of the film, there is a montage of those who stayed, those who left and what happened to them. We get to see a cult grow and how it all happens.  Those who were members were smart, good-looking young people searching for something more and finding a charlatan instead.  If you have ever wondered why someone would join a cult, this is the film to see.

“DIVINE DIVAS”— Drag Icons of Brazil

“Divine Divas”

Drag Icons of Brazil

Amos Lassen

The Divine Divas are  icons of the first generation of Brazilian transvestite artists in the 1960’s. One of the first places that hosted men dressed as women was the Rival Theatre that was run by Américo Leal, grandfather of this film’s director, Leandra Leal. We see the intimacy, the talent and the stories of a generation that revolutionized the sexual behavior and defied the morality of a time.

Eight artists have come together for a 50th anniversary reunion and their stories are as diverse and different as their costumes. The documentary is greatly influenced by the experiences of the filmmaker. Leandra Leal practically grew up at the theater; her grandfather, owned it and presented that first showcase for transvestite performers. Her mother, Angela Leal, brought her to the theater from an early age, and so she was very influenced by the warm and loving environment she found there. Because her mother was an actress, it was entirely natural for Leandra to also become an actress, which she did in her early teens and she was widely acclaimed in her country.

With that kind of background, it’s no surprise that “Divine Divas” is a celebration than an expose of some sort. Because of her friendly relationships with the performers, they open up to Leandra right away. They remember how it once was with pride just as other entertainers would do. We become immediately aware of the Divas’ musical talents and stage presence as we ware when they speak the many unique challenges they faced over the years. They tell it like it is, and describe how difficult it was for them individually in their younger years. Some struggled with their own identities at a time and in a culture that looked down on anything or anyone out of the ordinary and expected.

The film revolves around the preparations for the reunion and this makes it easy for the performers to talk about their experiences over the decades. Each individual is different, of course therefore giving us a broad view of identity issues is related. We also get an overview of the culture of Brazil in the 1960s and 1970s. Through archival footage and photos we see what life was like for the performers. Occasionally the footage is quite revealing, but even when private parts are exposed briefly, the spirit remains accepting and matter of fact. The times have changed yet the artists who are now older have not really changed. They are still strong, resilient and proud. And they can still sing, dance, entertain audiences and act as examples to younger performers.

As far back as she can remember, Leandra Leal was aware of the transvestite artists of Rio de Janeiro’s Rival Theater. It was one of the first clubs to openly feature men dressed as women. This Leal’s first directorial effort and even though the film is at times uneven, it pays tribute to eight of these performers as they reunite at the venue for a 50th anniversary performance.

The opening shot is gorgeous with the camera focusing closely on one of the drag performers as she prepares to go onstage at the Rival. Her glitter glows and her lipstick and false eyelashes give her face an abstract impressionism. Her hands are wrinkled hands but they hold a great deal of history and we see pleasure and pain.

We see talking-head interviews, onstage performances from the 50th anniversary show and archival footage (mostly of the divas in their younger days) and through these we get to know the performers. They have been all over the world and they challenged the morals of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1967 and 1985. Leal views her subjects in a present-tense vacuum, more concerned with the behind-the-scenes intricacies of their reunion show and the cattiness of some of the rehearsals than anything else. Whenever there is a focus on the Rival as a kind of radical oasis, the film comes alive.

“Before Homosexuals”— “Same-Sex Desire from Ancient Times to Victorian Crimes”

“Before Homosexuals”
“Same-Sex Desire from Ancient Times to Victorian Crimes”
Amos Lassen

The world premier of John Scagiotti’s new documentary will take place at the Museum of Fat Arts in Boston as part of the Wicked Queer Film Festival on April 8, 2017 and judging from the filmmaker’s previous work, this promises to be a very important film.

We are taken on a tour of “same-sex desire from ancient times to Victorian crimes”. The idea for the film was inspired by gay liberation and here historians and artists join Emmy Award-winner Scagliotti on recent erotic discoveries. This continues Scagliotti produced many now-classic documentaries including “Before Stonewall” and “After Stonewall” and created the first LGBT radio show (“The Lavender Hour”) and the television series “In the Life” which ran from 1991 until 2012 on PBS.

The film explores how the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the growth of LGBT political power in the 1990s opened We learn of lesbian love spells from ancient Rome, censored chapters of the Kamasutra, Native American two-spirit rituals and more. The unearths the garden of human sexual delights and the endurance and creativity of “an army of lovers”.
 The film begins on the Greek island of Astypalaia where we see same-sex graffiti from 2,500 years ago and learn of the naturalness of homosexuality among the ancient Greeks. I really cannot think of a better way to spend a couple of hours than being entertained and educated.

“THE LAVENDER SCARE”— The Witch Hunt That Was

“The Lavender Scare”

The Witch Hunt That Was

Amos Lassen

With the United States was gripped in the panic of the Cold War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower deemed that homosexuals were “security risks” and ordered the immediate firing of any government employee discovered to be gay or lesbian. This brought about a vicious witch-hunt that lasted for forty years and ruined thousands of lives. At the same time, it forced an unlikely hero into the forefront of what would become the modern LGBT rights movement.

This is the first feature-length documentary film to tell the story of the U.S. government’s ruthless campaign in the 1950s and ’60s to hunt down and fire every Federal employee who was suspected to be gay. The McCarthy Era is remembered as the time of the Red Scare and the hunt for Communists in the United States, but it was also the Lavender Scare, vehement purge of homosexuals, which lasted a long time and ruined many more lives. Before it was over, thousands and thousands of Federal employees lost their jobs.

The film is based on the award-winning book by historian David K. Johnson and it opens up a chapter of American history that has never received the attention it deserves. We see the ways the Government used to identify homosexuals. We go inside interrogation rooms where gay men and women were subjected to horrible questioning. The stories that we see here and told by those who experienced them and these are first-hand accounts.

We see how the government’s actions brought about an anti-gay frenzy that spread throughout the United States at a time when The New York Times used the words “homosexual” and “pervert” interchangeably, and public service films warned that homosexuality was a dangerous, contagious disease.

There is no question that the story will make people angry and break hearts but the message that we get is inspiring and we become very aware of the sense of hope that was shared by so many good Americans who were forced to suffer at the hands of a few.

The irony is that instead of destroying American homosexuals, the actions of the government had the opposite effect and stirred a sense of outrage and activism that helped ignite the gay rights movement. However, this was at a terrible cost.

“FtWTF: FEMALE TO WHAT THE FUCK”— The Construct of Gender in Western Society

“FtWTF: Female to what the fuck”

The Construct of Gender in Western Society

Amos Lassen 

“FtWTF: Female to what the fuck” is a documentary film that looks at the constructions of fe/maleness in western society and explores the lives of 6 people who cross the boundaries between these 2 genders. The purpose of this film is to create awareness for diverse transgender identities beyond the binary construct that exists today. Gender reassignment via hormones and/or surgery is only one part of the exploration of one’s identity and we must remember that not all trans people choose this route or want to. We explore life beyond the gender binary and look at the questioning of heteronormativity, the search for a livable masculinity that fits with one’s own trans* identity, friction with the wider queer-feminist community. We also look at coming to terms with change, grief, cyclical endings and new beginnings as we attempt to find out if there is ever really an endpoint or an arrival.

We have an encounter with gender transgression, by which the gender border is crossed in the same direction each time: from a specific starting point (female/woman) to a temporarily open end point (“what the fuck”). The filmmakers portray six people who for different reasons take on a transgender identity and live it out in different and changing ways.

Our protagonists confront the conditions consequences, and sometimes bizarre circumstances of their decision. They do so in open and sometimes humorous ways and it is amazing to see this.

“FtWTF” has faced the tremendous challenge of bringing gender transformations onto the screen without tragedy and pathos. The film, which can be situated at the center of queer art production does this by engaging in political analysis and well-informed on feminism. The people we meet here are heroes of gender difference, heroes who live their desire for masculinity, and constantly critically question in his own way.

Katharina Lampert and Cordula Thim directed this story of the six people who fit somewhere along the genderqueer spectrum, but most of them are still undecided exactly where they want to be right now on this sliding scale. All of them were born as women but have chosen to transition to some degree to either become transmen or settle for a non-binary role. On camera they speak about their journey to date and what it means to them. 

Several are like Mani who is self-assured about the fact that he does not want to be regarded or defined by either of the traditional genders, and even though he is comfortable with this, those that he meets often finds that outsiders/strangers experience difficulty with accepting this. Nick who is at ease with his new body and with his ongoing relationship with polyamorous Deniece who seems to enjoy shocking people with her own fluidity.

What is shocking to discover is the bureaucracy that Austrian society make anyone undertake if they wish to have their new gender accepted, such as the months of paperwork just to be allowed to adopt a new name that is not on the ‘official register’ of approved names.  We learn that before 2010 any FTM had to undergo a hysterectomy before they could be legally change their gender. 

This is a compelling film that continues the essential dialogue about helping understand all the many differences within the trans and genderqueer community.


“The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin”

More from Maupin

Amos Lassen

We know Armistead Maupin as a great storyteller and one of the first gay writers to gain crossover status. What some of you might not know is that Maupin is also a man who captures the mystery of history, especially the history of the LGBT community. There is a great deal more that we did not know about him before this wonderful documentary was made.

Maupin was born at the end of World War II into an aristocratic Southern family. He had a privileged childhood and was raised in North Carolina. He did two tours oversees with the Navy and began to write while working for What was even more surprising  we discover is that after young Maupin did a couple of spells overseas serving in the US Navy, he cut his writing teeth working for Jesse Helms, the segregationist senator who was also one of the ugliest and nastiest homophobes in the Senate at the time.

In 1971 he was offered a job with the Associated Press’s San Francisco Bureau from which he never looked back. Maupin says that he was still a virgin until he was 26 years old, and didn’t come out as gay until he was 30.  He shares fascinating facts with filmmaker Jennifer M. Kroot including that even though he came out late, he made up for it by having many sexual experiences, one of which was with movie star, Rock Hudson. (I also have a wonderful Rock Hudson story so feel free to ask about it sometime).

In 1974 Maupin began his “Tales of the City” novels about San Francisco, the place that many considered to be the gay capital of America. At first, he wrote it in daily installments for the San Francisco Chronicle chronicling what was going there. He was not afraid to also add stories about the AIDS epidemic that took so many people from us. Maupin has said that he does appear in “The Tales of the City” but as a composite character. He has stated that “I’ve always been all of the characters in one way or another.”  In fact Michael Tolliver’s letter to his parents by which he came out as gay was actually based on what Maupin wrote to his parents.

Maupin was one of the first to write about AIDS and, like so many of us, still cries over those we lost and can never be replaced. Maupin shares his happiness about his husband who is 30 years older than him and he tells us about ‘outing’ closeted gay people. We learn that Maupin is writing his memoirs that will be published in the fall and he shares that another “Tales” television miniseries in the works.

“I AM THE AMBASSADOR”— Rufus Gifford

“I am the Ambassador” (“Jeg er ambassadøren II”)

Rufus Gifford

Amos Lassen

Rufus Gifford, openly gay former American ambassador to Denmark, is not your typical diplomat for many reasons and the chief one is that he has his own reality show made by Danish television. Actually it is a documentary series, not a reality show.

The cameras follow Gifford around, doing what he does as ambassador and each episode also offers a candid glimpse into his personal life in Copenhagen. We see him say goodbye to his golden retriever as he heads off to work, embrace his husband Stephen DeVincent and ride with him as he travels to Danish high schools to talk with young students.

The idea to chronicle Gifford’s life on TV was proposed by Danish television producers and is based on his experiences as an ambassador. When he first took the job, Gifford was traveling around Denmark and really trying to get a sense of how the US Embassy in Copenhagen really fits into the culture in Denmark. One of the things that really struck him was that Danes really had not a clue about what we did. There was sort of a fascination with his work, but there was this perception that he would play golf during the day and go to cocktail parties at night and in between, go into the Embassy.

Gifford’s was a political appointee serving under President Barack Obama and some Danes urged the ambassador to mount his own campaign for the US presidency. Most Danes are on a first-name basis with the affable 41-year-old with leading-man looks and that is a result of the success of the documentary. Gifford prefers the word documentary to describe the show because “frankly, I’d like to have as much distance between me and the Kardashians as possible.

Since 2014, it has given viewers an up-close-and-personal look at foreign relations and his personal life. We see him bantering with his then boyfriend, now husband, veterinarian Stephen DeVincent, being briefed at the embassy; lunching with the Danish defense minister (“It’s our job to help build an international coalition [in Iraq]”); learning Danish; singing a cappella about commerce with the trade minister to “New York, New York”; working out at the gym; hosting an outdoor screening for the entertainment industry at the residence; attending gay-pride events; and celebrating his 40th birthday with an intimate gathering of American friends and at Rydhave, the 1885 villa where the couple live with their golden retriever, Argos (“Argie”). When aired for the first time, the show became an immediate hit—and went on to win Gifford the Danish equivalent of an Emmy.

The idea for the show began with a YouTube video, a State Department–produced, meet-the-ambassador promo that got the attention of TV producer Erik Struve Hansen, who’d recently done a reality show with a Danish pop star. Struve Hansen says he saw beyond “corny” scenes of Gifford introducing himself in Danish, kayaking with DeVincent on the Potomac, and talking about Denmark. Instead he saw a guy who “looked like a Hollywood film star” and was “warm and had good energy.” Gifford was also open about his sexuality and active on social media and is the very model of a modern diplomat.

The ambassador was about a year into the job when Struve Hansen approached him about the show after Gifford had spent having spent a lot of time getting to know Danes. After studying at Brown University, Gifford fled the Boston bedroom community of Manchester-by-the-Sea for a career in Hollywood where he became a film producer. But by 2004, he was having a late quarter-life crisis and decided to go to business school, quit his job anyway and volunteered for Kerry’s presidential campaign—appointing himself “California house-party coordinator,” speaking at weekend campaign parties, and collecting donations. This led to his eventual hire by the campaign. Post-election, he made a name for himself as a political consultant. In 2008, he turned down a job with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, hoping to get a call from Obama whom he’d met and briefly spoken with in 2007.By 2012, Gifford was finance director of the president’s re-election campaign, helping to raise $1.2 billion. In 2013, he became one of the first openly gay ambassadors confirmed by the Senate.

On the show, Gifford shares that how as an anxious kid he needed his mom at the front of the school’s pickup line every day—and how she later discovered he was gay by reading his diary. Gifford is candid on-camera, speaking to viewers as close confidants. The result is a charismatic portrait that’s has had Danes loving him and DeVincent and Argie.

The 2015 season finale in which Gifford and the DeVincent got marred at Copenhagen’s City Hall, on October 10, in front of friends, family, and a big crowd, including press gathered outside.

“FREE CECE”— Violence and Women of Color

“Free CeCe”

Violence and Women of Color

Amos Lassen

Jac Gares’ “Free CeCe” is a powerful film that will challenges our beliefs, encourages empathy, and changes your minds. It is a call action.

CeCe McDonald is a transgender woman of color and this is the story of her fight for survival and justice after she was brutally attacked. Laverne Cox interviews Cece and a number of other people to break down the situation and delve deeper into violence and women of color. When CeCe was with her boyfriend and a couple of friends walking on their way to a local bar, an argument started between Cece’s group and another group. CeCe was confronted by a woman who smashed a glass in her face, leaving a violent gash on her cheek and then she was chased by a man who pursued her in order to attack. Fortunately, CeCe survived the incident using scissors as a self-defense mechanism and killing the man. She did what she had to do in order to protect her life. Instead of being victimized, CeCe was arrested and incarcerated with second degree murder charge. After CeCe pleaded guilty, she was placed in a male prison, instead of an appropriate female prison.

That incident shifted the course of the rest of her life—as well as the lives of thousands of others. Worldwide support from various organizations and the LGBTQ community helped CeCe’s story get told. Cece has become a leader; her bravery and courage to continue fighting for her life has become an inspiration for young women to always defend themselves in situations where life is at risk.

This is not just a documentary, it has fostered an international movement. Its emotional yet highly educational content demonstrates the importance of addressing transgender issues. It is especially difficult for transgender women of color to live peacefully. Statistics show their lives to be at higher risk of facing danger.

Here is a story of prosecutorial injustice and a sobering look at violence against trans women of color. The documentary has many layers, each one worthy of a documentary in its own right. The introduction of CeCe’s “crime” opens the door to a serious discussion about race and white supremacy, an important and prescient topic in our current political world. Neither CeCe and her friends, nor the white people who fought with her disagree that harsh words were exchanged, but it is the reactions of CeCe and her friends to being called racial slurs which emphasizes that this was a hate crime, and that the man’s attack was sparked from a need to “validate his white supremacy.” Neither the prosecutor nor the white people who fought with CeCe acknowledge the crime for what it is, and it is from this that CeCe’s journey of self-acceptance and courageous screams for justice.

We get an expose of how crimes against trans women, particularly of color, are routinely swept under the rug or marginalized. Stories like this resonate not just with trans women or women of color, but all women who continuously see rapists or abusers pitied by a sympathetic press. 

CeCe’s and Laverne Cox go on a road-trip looking at various trans women communities. In spite of all the death, sadness, and frustration they both remain somber and optimistic but desperate for a change to come.


“Small Town Rage: Fighting Back in the Deep South”

ACT UP Shreveport, Louisiana

Amos Lassen

“Small Town Rage: Fighting Back in the Deep South” is David Hylan and Raydra Hall’s documentary is that is a small town story, a local history lesson and a memorial to those who didn’t make it.” The documentary examine the work and influence of ACT UP Shreveport in the conservative Deep South. Being from the South and from Louisiana, I want to explain that what many consider to be the South is southern only by location. New Orleans, my hometown is not a Southern city as we imagine, say Natchez, Mississippi or Nashville, Tennessee to be. New Orleans is more of a seaboard city. Shreveport, on the other hand is a southern city that incorporates something of Texas and something of the south. In order to look at Shreveport, we must discard the southern stereotypes. When we think of activism, we tend to think of people who live in big cities and who hold demonstrations. To really understand this film we must forget what we know about activism and big cities and think about the stigma that many attach to LGBT life.

In the 1980s, when HIV was spreading unchecked across America, smaller places were affected as well as big cities. Suddenly there appeared to be communities that even many gay people had not known were there. Shreveport, Louisiana was a small town that , to fight back and fight AIDS.

Five members of the core group, Act Up Shreveport survived and this is their story. The film is structured around interviews with them, illustrated by photographs taken at the time, newspaper articles and archive footage. Naturally some of what we see is upsetting and now years later it is still a difficult topic. People lost many friends and met with prejudice encountered they tried to do something about it but do not worry, this is also an inspiring story about courageous people who never let their lack of numbers destroy the faith they had in their ability to bring about change.

The Shreveport group was inspired by Act Up in New York City, and by the various other chapters in the nations major cities. It began with just three members but quickly grew and used the idea that it was a book club in order to get meeting space – this was not the sort of town where people acknowledged the existence of gay people, let alone wanted to make contact with them at a time when rumors about AIDS ran rampant. There were some straight allies who were there from the very beginning and we certainly hear about them here.

“Small Town Rage” looks at the impact of AIDS across the community, beginning the stage at which gay men were mysteriously dying to that at which women, especially black women, were dying in large numbers without no one willing to say that they were suffering from the same disease. There’s a lot of focus on battles with the medical establishment, with the doctor who helped the group and he reminisces about the tricks he used to extract medicines from a system that was unwilling to help.

We also hear ethical questions about whether or not it’s ever ethical to out someone and the cost of doing so to the other people involved. Indeed, we see that big things can begin in small places.


“This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous”

Testing  Love

Amos Lassen

.In 2008, Gregory Lazzarato, a young, nationally ranked Canadian diver, walked away from diving and began a YouTube channel focused on makeup tutorials. He would never allow himself to be intimidated by bullies either online or in school. Lazzarato became the fierce, outspoken Gregory Gorgeous, amassing a loyal following who found strength and inspiration from his public coming out as a gay male.

Despite this success, there was a secret that was revealed in a December 2013 video titled “I Am Transgender.” Motivated by the death of her mother, the YouTube star took on the new name Gigi Gorgeous. Gigi had the support of her father and brothers and now gives us a candid look at her transition. Two-time Academy Award–winning director Barbara Kopple (“Harlan County U.S.A”., 1976; “American Dream”, 1990) shines a spotlight on her subject’s uplifting, empowering message of self-acceptance and Gigi becomes a self-assured, happy and, gorgeous young woman.

Gender transition processes are of interest to those going through them. However we have seen this portrayed in so many nonfiction and narrative forms that we now question if this is as compelling to everyone else.

Documentarian Barbara Kopple thinks it is and profiles Gigi Gorgeous who began attracting a following and is a celebrity and an LGBTQ role model with the very simple message of “Be Yourself”. This glossy documentary fails to show conflict or depth in a personality who should be very interesting.

Gigi Gorgeous , by Daniel Bergeron. Indiewire. 2017. Must be licensed through Getty Contour. No PR/No Release on file

Transgender rights are a major social-justice issue today but Gigi Gorgeous is not a particularly articulate spokesperson, nor does she seem to have experienced any real problems aside from trolls on the Internet. She’s a transgender celebrity and a self-made princess primarily interested in being glamorous, and with the means to get there first-class. It’s easy to see why people in more challenging circumstances might see that image as encouraging, something to aspire to — but such individuals would be much more interesting than Gigi.

Greg Lazzarato was born in 1994 in Toronto, a middle child and an extrovert at an early age. His mother died of leukemia in 2012. Gregg was a competitive high-diver and might have made it to the Olympics if he hadn’t walked away from it. Identity issues were already taking precedence and he expressed there in makeup tutorials that he began posting on YouTube at age 14. Naturally he got his share of homophobic insults but these videos won a fast-growing following and it did not take long before “Gregory Gorgeous” attracted a manager and was making money from product endorsements. He came-out online as gay (but not seen in this film), and later as transgender and others saw him as an inspiration for some fans.

The gender transition began after an announcement in late 2013, with various surgical and other procedures following. Her father David was supportive. We see Gigi doing some modeling, but mostly she is just a professional celebrity and loves buying lingerie and really aspires to be a mainstream commodity.

Much of “This Is Everything” consists of YouTube, home-movie, broadcast, and other preexisting footage and the original footage doesn’t go any deeper into Gigi’s personality so I can only think that there is really nothing newsworthy there. However, there is on scene shown under the closing credits when Gigi was detained at the airport and refused entry to Dubai last August because the United Arab Emirates classifies transgender persons as an illegal “imitation” of gender. We do see Gigi Gorgeous as a human-rights spokeswoman. She is the champion only of herself.