Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“WILLIAM YANG : MY GENERATION”— An Australian Queer Icon

william yang

“WILLIAM YANG : MY GENERATION”

An Australian Queer Icon

Amos Lassen

Here in the United States, the name William Yang does not mean anything but in Australia, Yang is something of a gay icon in the world of art. Yang is a third generation Chinese-Australian born in Brisbane in the 1940’s, who as soon as he was old enough moved to Sydney, the gay Mecca of Australia. He not only developed a acute  eye and remarkable natural talent for photography, but he also made his way into the circles of bohemian artists, fashionistas and gay sub-culture where he learned to fine tune his craft. In the 1970s and 1980’s. Yang’s work was seen in many leading magazines and periodicals. Yang covered social events and fashion shows and every aspect of the gay life of the city, he also developed his own avant-garde style of documentary composition that set him apart from his contemporaries.  He was also not adverse from time to time to photographing beautiful young men in interesting poses.

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In the late 80s, Yang began combining his art with other of his talents and started a series of performance art that include personal monologues and slide projections and these became the main focus and expression of his life. This film is one of those pieces and centers on the other artists of his generation that have played a important part in his life.

Yang may have many talents but unfortunately, performance art is the weakest. His face is devoid of expression and his jokes are not funny. Not being an Australian, much of what he said meant nothing to me.

“IGNASI M.” A Documentary by Ventura Pons

ignasi

“IGNASI M.”

A Documentary by Ventura Pons

Amos Lassen

Ventura Pons is a noted veteran Catalan gay filmmaker brings us a documentary about Ignasi Millet, a charismatic renowned museum expert. The opening scenes show openly gay and HIV-positive Ignasi measuring out his day’s drugs from the many that his doctors have prescribed and a few they haven’t. These include some anti-depressants that seem to go against Ignasi’s sharp humor. We then see

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Ignasi in a series of interviews with the people who have mattered most to him and are still in his once opulent life. His lifestyle has suffered a great deal with Spain’s present economic climate and we immediately see that Ignasi is made up of many contradictions. He had tried to save his failing business by re-mortgaging his house, which he will probably lose. Ignasi’s elderly father who has once been a famed painter of church murals, tried to kill himself and is now living in an old peoples home.  His mother, however, is still very active and still very much in love with her husband. She has been his painting assistant for years. His

ex wife is now in a wheelchair, and has come out a lesbian.  Their marriage lasted a full 15 years and the two remain excellent friends even now. Their two sons immigrated to London. One of them has become a successful FX designer, and the other is a prestigious photographer and an evangelist.  This family shares a bond of love and creativity. His sons had no problems accepting their father’s homosexuality (or so it seems) however they seem always somewhat overwhelmed by their father’s larger than life personality.

Everyone in Ignasi’s life, including his professional colleagues, is well spoken and has many stories. Pon’s film is not just about Ignasi, but it is also a look at a society that is n the midst of a profound financial crisis which shows no sign of easing which is both incomprehensible and frightening.  

“FASSBINDER — TO LOVE WITHOUT DEMANDS”— Challenging Taboos

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“FASSBINDER — TO LOVE WITHOUT DEMANDS”

Challenging Taboos

Amos Lassen

Rainer Werner Fassbinder was an uncompromising German director, writer, and actor who would have been 70 this year. I just cannot imagine him being considered respectable since he has always challenged the status quo. He left us in 1982 and he also left us quite a legacy— some 40 discomfiting features and two remarkable miniseries and the mystery about the source of his obsessiveness.

 Fassbinder was a charismatic character who dared to be openly gay in the movie business when that was still a radical act and in doing so he both inspired and exploited the his collaborators and lovers.

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Danish filmmaker Christian Braad Thomsen was a friend of Fassbinder and he examines the complicated artist’s life and work from a psychological standpoint, empathetic holding nothing back. He looks at strikingly candid recent conversations with key intimates of Fassbinder (such as actress Irm Hermann and actor and assistant director Harry Baer) and he also uses rarely seen interviews he filmed with Fassbinder in the 1970s, Thomsen gives us a riveting portrait of a spoiled boy who was raised by disparate family members and who, as an adult tried to create an ad hoc family of his cast and crew. The film is loaded with scenes from Fassbinder’s brilliant, brutal films including his last and most overtly gay film, “Querelle”. We see how Fassbinder’s personality is reflected in his work and how he used it to galvanize his actors.

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Much of the documentary is based on Thomsen’s personal memories of Fassbinder and like many of Fassbinder’s films, this is an episodic but thorough examination of the man and his works. The film begins with the terrible reception of his first feature film “Love Is Colder Than Death” at the 1969 Berlin Film Festival and builds through photographs, stills, audio recordings and filmed interviews of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. We learn of his loose but consuming relationships with his family and the extended families he created around him. Thomsen obviously loves the film’s long takes of silence and dramatic camera movement. Not only was Fassbinder a new voice in cinema but he was also a compulsive worker who created an enormous oeuvre in film, theatre and TV before he died at the age of 37. Fassbinder is an honest and intelligent interviewee about both his films and himself. It is really these archive interviews and personal recollections from chief collaborators Irm Hermann and Harry Baer that sheds new light on the man who was Fassbinder and the spell he could cast over his actors as well as in his own sensitive, childlike and occasionally abusive relationships. This is an intimate, honest and multifaceted portrait of a man, director and friend that respectfully maintains the curtain around “Fassbinder’s most intimate relationships, his homosexuality that no doubt cast a certain bitterness over his views on marriage and procreation.” What we see is Thomsen’s love and understanding of the cinema icon.

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Thomsen discusses how seeing Fassbinder’s 1969 debut, “Love Is Colder Than Death” (which was roundly booed at that year’s Berlinale) taught him a new way of seeing film due to that film’s minimal dialogue and extended takes of characters doing more or less nothing. Thomsen’s film includes talking-head interviews and footage that he shot himself of Fassbinder both working on set and discussing his work and philosophies.

The most immediate aspect of the documentary is in this footage that has never be seen by the public before. It is absolutely fascinating to see Fassbinder expounding on his worldview so articulately even as he evinces a visibly fatigued and weary air. Beyond the exclusive footage. As if that were not enough, we also hear and personal remembrances and how Thomsen exudes love for Fassbinder even while acknowledging his complex, flawed humanity.

“SCRUM”— Seeking Acceptance in the World of Rugby

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“SCRUM”

Seeking Acceptance in the World of Rugby

Amos Lassen

Director Poppy Stockell brings us a new documentary about gay Rugby players. These men seeking acceptance and actually bares their souls on film. The word “scrum” actually means restarting a play in order to gain control of the ball and as you meet the guys, you will understand how that title applies to them. Set at gay rugby’s 7th Annual Bingham Cup in Sydney, there are 1,000 participants from 15 countries. The documentary focuses on three determined gay athletes trying to get a spot on the elite Sydney Convicts team. We meet “Aki, the Japanese outsider who worked tirelessly for two years so he could travel to Sydney; Brennan, a hunky Canadian jock who was built for contact sports but rejected by his former, straight teammates after they discovered he was gay; and Pearse, the Irish backpacker bullied in school, tired of being continually put down.” We enter the world of the Bingham Cup and the lives of these three men and aside from watching scenes of the world of Rugby, we learn about the universal themes of sports—acceptance, teamwork, and male camaraderie.

“DESERT MIGRATION”— Living with HIV/AIDS

desert migration

“DESERT MIGRATION”

Living with HIV/AIDS

Amos Lassen

Joel is living with HIV/AIDS and he and eleven or so other men are profiled in “Desert Migration, a documentary film that looks at living with the disease. Our guys here have come to Palm Springs, California and have made it their home. Joel is here so that he can live a healthy life in a community of others like him. AIDS can cause a feeling of loneliness, addiction and displacement. He and others like him received their diagnosis years ago and now they are older. We meet Juan and Doc who, like the others, are candid about themselves and are united through “seroconversion” but remain totally diverse in the way they look and the feelings they have. Directed by Daniel F. Cardone we are with the men as they go through their daily routines. We see a dignity among them that is inspiring. More important is that we can never allow ourselves to forget, even for a moment, what HIV/Aids has done to our community.

 

 

 

 

“EL CANTO DEL COLIBRÍ”— Fathers and Families

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“EL CANTO DEL COLIBRÍ”

Fathers and Families

Amos Lassen

“El Canto del Colibri” is a short documentary that looks at the relationships between Latino immigrant fathers and their LGBTQ family members. These Latino fathers deal with issues of immigration, faith, marriage equality, machismo, culture, and the process of their LGBTQ children coming out. Responding to requests from Tres Gotas de Agua audiences around the world, the filmmakers are taking this journey by inviting Latino men to speak frankly about delicate and deeply personal topics. This film will address political issues about LGBTQ families, social oppression, shared responsibility and acceptance of LGBTQ people as members of Latino families.

The film is intimate and deeply personal as Latino fathers from across the country speak about the impact of their children who have come out as LGBT. Filmmaker Marco Castro-Bojorque) continues a candid conversation about LGBTQ issues that are often not spoken of stifled in Latino communities, where a culture of machismo still prevails. 

While letting sons and daughters expose their struggles in asserting their identity within oppressive families and communities, the film also allows fathers to speak openly about the conflicts they faced when their fathers were alive. We hear of what were their own conflicts and fears as they think about their own experiences as sons in troubled households and open up about what they went through to rebuild the bonds of family as they tried to understand and deal with their children’s sexuality. What we see and hear is heartfelt and raw and these families are not afraid to go deeply into the issues of immigration, prejudice, and isolation, while thoughtfully asking questions of their communities, culture, and even their religious beliefs. The result is a powerful lesson on acceptance, solidarity, and humility, in a film that heals and inspires.

“UNZIPPED”— A New Gay-Themed Web Series about HIV



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“Unzipped”

A New Gay-Themed Web Series about HIV

Amos Lassen

There are many LGBT-themed web series out there, however relatively few of them have properly dealt with the issues around being HIV+. Tyler Curry’s “Unzipped” from HIV Equal Online is a documentary web series where nine guys talk about their experiences of sex, love and HIV.

The first five episodes have now been released, which look at everything from first gay experiences and what makes sex good, to dealing with issues such as broken condoms, and the things about HIV that scare the men involved.

The series starts out relatively light and funny before moving onto more serious issues, while never getting too bogged down in angst and misery.

“THE QUEST FOR THE MISSING PIECE”— A Look at Circumcision

quest1“The Quest for the Missing Piece”

A Look at Circumcision

Amos Lassen

Oded Lotan is a young Jewish guy living in Tel Aviv with his German partner. He wonders why it is so important, in the 21st century, to adhere to the ritual of the “brit”, the Jewish ceremony at which male babies at eight days old are ritually circumcised. His partner is not circumcised and he cannot seem to understand why this rite is so important. In this documentary we hear personal feelings about the practice, the fear of exclusion and the need to belong. It is presented to us a kind of fairy tale that brings modernity and tradition together. The film has animated sequences that are about Lotan’s own brit and also reflect on the complex role his sexuality and time spent away from home in Germany has played in shaping his Israeli identity.

The documentary runs about an hour and it looks at the origins and persistent custom of circumcision working on the assumption that the viewer knows that the practice of circumcision was ordered by God. Lotan complains about why he was circumcised and tries to find and understand the reasons behind it. He ignores the fact that it is just what is done and no one in his society questions it. An interesting fact that the film tells us is that about 20% of the global male population is circumcised: Jews, Muslims, many Americans, and interestingly, many South Koreans circumcise their males.

I believe that one of the reasons that Lotan is fascinated by circumcision is because he is a secular Jew and never goes to services at a synagogue. I understand that his parents are also secular yet they have followed the commandment to circumcise their son.

As Lotan tries to remember what his own “cutting” was like he tells us that he does not remember the initial pain and that it has returned at different periods in his life. As he goes on the quest to find out more about circumcision he shares some interesting information—“In the U.S., 6 or 7 out of every 10 males are circumcised.” There are “650 million circumcised men in the world, one fifth of the entire male population.””Circumcision is indisputably the most common surgical procedure in the world.”

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We meet Galit, a young female lawyer at a meeting of “Parents of Intact Children” and she tells us that, “Cutting a perfectly healthy organ, [an operation] that is medically unnecessary and irreversible, constitutes assault.” Then we meet a mohel (a specialist who performs Jewish ritual circumcisions) who argues otherwise. We also see Muslims celebrating their own circumcision rituals with festive dancing at a huge ball. As for Christian circumcision, it appears to back to the Apostle Paul, who wanted pagans to convert to Christianity.

In Bud Berkeley’s book “Foreskin” we learn that a man can lose 20% of his sensitivity in the penis because of the operation while there are those who claim that uncircumcised men are more likely to contract AIDS. For whatever reason, Lotan does not report on these two facts.


Lotan starts by sharing his personal experience, which is very much about living abroad and being different and this is the reason that he decided to go on this journey of learning about his and others’ penises. His investigations take two directions— historical and demographic research which leads him to being aware that the custom is rather widely practiced in different parts of the globe because of religious or medical reasons, the other direction deals with the investigations he makes in Israel, questioning family, rabbis and mohels, people who oppose the tradition and chose not to follow it for their sons in a society where the ‘brit’ is norm, and people who approach it in an almost mystical manner. We really do not learn anything new here but it doesn’t matter because the film is interesting and well made. There is some good low-key humor here and an interesting twist at the end. After spending almost an hour questioning circumcision, Lotan goes along with the tradition of the Jewish people. He has approached his subject with style and produced a good spirited film.

I just want a note about a certain Russian-born porn director and porn film studio owner who is constantly patting himself on he back for being a good Jew and a true friend of Israel. He is not circumcised and the reason is obvious—there is something about uncircumcised men who make porn films and he does see why removing a bit of skin is important especially because he makes more money as an uncircumcised man. There is some kind of aura about uncircumcised men that people enjoy seeing on screen. Cutting his penis would mean cutting his income and so he remains uncut yet always mentions what a good Jew he is. If circumcision is the first Jewish rite one goes through, I can only surmise that this person is Jewish only because it is to his financial advantage to be so.

“GAME FACE”— A Documentary about LGBT Athletes

game face poster

“Game Face”

LGBT Athletes

Amos Lassen

Just like the rest of us in the LGBT community, athletes want to be accepted. The new documentary, “Game Face” is a documentary that focuses on athletes during their coming-out experiences. We immediately become aware of the obstacles that LGBT athletes deal with throughout their careers. Today younger athletes have LGBT role models such as Michael Sam, Jason Collins and Brittney Griner who all came out while pursuing professional athletic careers and with that they were featured in Sports Illustrated, Time and CNN. What we learn about here is what they went through before the big announcement. Filmmaker Michiel Thomas looks at two closeted athletes as they struggle with balancing their love for sports with either/and their sexuality and gender identity. We miss the real emotions and the struggles that athletes face before they announce to the world who they are. The film shows us just that.

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Thomas, 29, knows firsthand what it’s like to be an athlete with a secret. In Belgium where he is from, he played three years of professional basketball. He tried to push his same-sex attractions aside to focus on sports. However, he did not do so until he moved to California when he was 23 but did not come out until a year later when his parents came to visit. They accepted him but he also realized that this was not always the case for many American athletes. He tells us that some of his friends lost scholarships by coming-out and many had trouble with their parents to the extent that they left home and went away either to school or to continue their athletic careers. He speaks of a friend he lost to suicide and how it was when, after coming-out, a new world opened for him and that world was one of rejection. He began searching for people who had not yet come-out and he met Terrence Clemens, a gay basketball player who planned to attend a junior college in Oklahoma and Fallon Fox, a transgender mixed martial arts fighter. This was at the time that neither athlete had come-out publicly.

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He tells us that a reporter threatened to expose Fallon as transgender. She then had two choices—to tell her own story or wait for another journalist to write it as an exposé. “Sports Illustrated, CNN and others covered Fallon’s 2013 coming out. Other female fighters asked for their belts back. Some refused to fight her. Another played Aerosmith’s ‘Dude Looks Like a Lady’ over the area’s speaker as Fallon walked to the ring.”

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This film follows Clemens and Fallon as they experience lows and eventual highs. The fighter became a national role model and a featured guest at the Nike annual LGBT Sports Summit in Portland. This was so important and we have to see that Nike gave support and have continued to do so. Collins no longer plays professional basketball. He retired last November, a year after coming out. Sam eventually was drafted and Fox still struggles to draw willing opponents. The reality about gay athletes has changed but it is still there and there is still a lot of work to do.

“CANDID LOVE”— Relationship Struggles

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“Candid Love”

Relationship Struggles

Amos Lassen

Director Kurtz Frausun captures a gay couple’s relationship struggles and the death of a parent, set in the backdrop of their Plano, TX apartment during a snow storm. Jon and Daniel have been working on building a life together after both have experienced recent difficulties. But the news of Daniel’s father having an aneurysm sends the already strained relationship into a panic-mode when he must go to Wisconsin to be by his dad’s side. Unfortunately, by the time he arrived, it was too late. His father had fallen into a coma and the family decided to end treatment. Jon remained in Dallas, trying to keep the home going and being strong for Daniel to rely upon and their phone calls to one another became a source of both hope and heartache. But with Daniel’s history of alcoholism and depression, a failed marriage to a woman who was the “love of his life” overshadowing his mental health, and Jon’s bi-polar fluctuations, the strain becomes very, very difficult.

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The viewer is thrown into the middle of a relationship between two men that’s in crisis. We do not actually meet Daniel until he returns. We see right away that ‘doing their best’ for these men isn’t necessarily the same thing as succeeding. They are both damaged; balancing mental health issues, drug use and addiction, as well as pasts that neither have completely left behind. Even their sexuality isn’t simple, as while Daniel identifies as gay, his greatest love was a woman and it’s clear he still hasn’t completely gotten over the end of that relationship. We certainly become aware that sexuality is part of the cause and effect of the issues they face. They have broken up on several occasions but have ended up back together – they seem to love one another, but they also argue terribly as they take out their frustrations on one another making it difficult to see whether they are clinging to one another in a desperate search for stability that those who don’t share their problems probably wouldn’t have the need or the means to deal with.

I wondered why I was watching the lives of these two guys. Their issues are so personal that they are none of my business. There are times that it seems that the director also feels that way and even says so. What Frausun is doing is reminding us that these are real people and not just a series of problems and issues. It’s easy for us to sit outside their lives and judge. than looking underneath. The film does a fine job of putting these men’s lives in perspective, expressing their humanity and that their issues are complex, and that what may seem toxic on the surface also offers connection and solace to two people who often seem adrift in life, desperately hoping for an anchor. As with many of the other people in their lives, they seem to offer as many problems for one another as solutions. However the sad thing is that the more context there is, the more difficult it is to see their way forward.

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Breaking up would not solve anything but it is quite hard to imagine them finding happiness together. We are left in a quandary as there are no easy answers and these are immensely complex problems these men are dealing with. Neither man is really equipped to handle the other’s problems. But who would? There’s a sense by the end of the documentary of feeling powerless in the face of issues and problems that don’t have easy answers. There are stories like this all the time in real life. These two men are people who we cannot just forget. What we see is that underneath the complex issues of things such as mental health and addiction are real people looking for love and happiness.