Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“HOW TO MAKE A PEARL”— Living in the Dark

“How To Make A Pearl”

Living in the Dark

Amos Lassen

For the first 53 years of his life, John Kapellas lived wherever and however he wanted. Then one day he began to burn, blister and break out in rashes whenever his body was exposed to light. Kapellas learned that he is now allergic to the entire spectrum of light and has spent the past ten years living in complete darkness. His medication played tricks on him and the side effects of the drugs made him as if he were crazy and he drew gigantic abstract pictures on his wall and played the piano to as ways to deal with how he felt. The short film, “How to Make a Pearl” looks at how Kapellas copes and we see that the using his past trauma to create.

Even though Kapellas has spent more than 10 years living in literal darkness, he has learned to deal with the limitations of his environment. His social interactions, at most, are sporadic and his world has now the interior of his home yet he is able to find fulfillment and enlightenment there. He seems to have always known some kind of pain—As a child, he witnessed domestic abuse, he is a Vietnam veteran, dealt with a divorce, and lost gay friends and lovers to the HIV/Aids epidemic. Nonetheless, he has discovered the ability to look back at his past with fondness and the future with hope.

Three years ago director Jason Hanasik met Kapellas when his best friend took him to a dimly lit hallway in a grand San Francisco apartment building. At the end of that hall, there was a faint circle of light and as the two men approached, the circle disappeared and everything was pitch-black room. The man controlling the faint circle of light was Kapellas. For ten years now Kapellas has had to live by short bursts of light from a one or two-battery flashlight. Kapellas cannot be in sunlight or moonlight but he also can’t be in the light from his computer, his phone or from lamps. Kapellas’ extreme immune responses can last from hours to days. Doctors have no idea what causes his condition and, while they’ve found medications to alleviate some of his pain, he has no idea if he’ll ever leave his “cave” or his “tomb” as he refers to his home.

Hanasik said that when he reached the projected circle of, he could feel a person’s presence on the other side of it but still couldn’t see them. His eyes had yet to adjust and as he approached, Kapellas grabbed him from the darkness to give him a hug. As their bodies pressed together, Hanasik could see Kapellas eyes and kind smile. Because we don’t know why Kapellas’ body decided to react to light, the film looks at who Kapellas is and how he has come to terms with this part of his life.

Kapellas lives in a San Francisco art studio that has been converted into one enormous dark room, and he relies on an ex-lover and his adult children from a marriage before he ‘came out’, to do errands and bring him food. Every Thursday he throws a dinner party when close friends join him in the dark so that he is not completely cut off from the outside world.  

He possesses a genuine upbeat attitude about his circumstances and gets his enjoyment from his art, playing his piano and his early morning walks all wrapped up before dawn breaks. His enclosed small world is a place of reflection and this seems to provide him now with a great deal of peace.  This is a totally fascinating look at something most of us are totally aware of. If you get the chance to see, make sure you do.

“TO A MORE PERFECT UNION: U.S. V WINDSOR”— Our Heroines, Our Story

“To a More Perfect Union: U.S. v Windsor”

Our Heroines

Amos Lassen

“To A More Perfect Union: U.S. v Windsor” is a feature-length documentary that is a love story, story of marriage and a fight for equality. The film looks at unlikely heroes — octogenarian Edie Windsor and her attorney, Roberta Kaplan, on their journey for justice. Edie had been forced to pay a huge estate tax bill upon the death of her spouse, a woman, because the federal government denied federal benefits to same-sex couples She was deeply offended by this lack of recognition of her more than forty-year relationship with her partner, the love of her life and so she decided to sue the United States government and won. Windsor and Kaplan’s legal and personal journeys are told in their own words and through interviews with others of the legal team, movement activists, legal analysts, well-known supporters and opponents. This is more than the story of this pivotal case in the marriage equality movement and the stories behind it, it is our story, our journey as a people and as a culture.

“THE ICE KING”— Gay Olympic Skater John Curry

“The Ice King”

Gay Olympic Skater John Curry

Amos Lassen

Director James Erskine explores the life and career of John Curry in “The Ice King, a new documentary. Curry earned his status as an international sports celebrity through the early 1970s as a revolutionary character in figure skating, transforming the sport from a simple display of physical prowess into an art form. He won Olympic, World, European and British Championship medals, permanently changing the worldwide public’s perception of the sport. Yet Erskine’s primary inspiration comes from author Bill Jones’ 2014 book, “Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry”.

“The Ice King” is a long overdue evaluation of his Curry’s artistry. The documentary examines how his ambition to be a ballet dancer was thwarted by his overbearing father and he turned to ice dancing which was acceptable to his father because it was classed as a sport.

Curry’s oppressive childhood was unleashed and given free rein when he was allowed to dance albeit on ice and away from his father’s influence. It enabled Curry to also covertly embrace his suppressed homosexuality.  Director James Erskine has uncovered some remarkable and rare footage of the British skaters artistry that was rewarded when he won gold at the 1976 winter Olympics. He was already the European champion and had won the World Championship too and was deservedly called The Ice King. But this was the 70’s and a far less enlightened time and all that the journalists were really interested in at the press conference was whether he was going to come out and admit his homosexuality.

His sexuality was an issue that would dog him throughout his life and what comes out of this documentary is just what an utterly tortured soul he was. His genius included mood swings, loneliness and depression and eventually injury that forced him to retire from competitive ice dancing and performing shows on ice instead. The footage of these shows performed by his own company of skaters are utterly captivating. This footage is nearly all-home movie super 8 shot by members of the audience and it seems incredible that that these shows were never professionally filmed.

What the documentary emphasizes is Curry’s dedication to perfectionism at any cost and in his case it was a huge financial cost that meant he had no choice but to perform as he was the draw for an audience. Yet regardless of the cost he generously insisted on paying everyone equally. It was a move that inevitably led his company to massive debt and bankruptcy forcing him to continue to perform even though by then his years of skating meant he was constantly in pain.

John Curry might not be a name immediately recognizable to younger sporting fans, but after a successful competitive career on the ice – topped off with a gold medal during the 1976 Winter Olympics – he blazed a trail in the world of ice dancing. His innovations are still unparalleled and the cross-pollination of modern dance and ballet are now the norm in figure skating.

A gay man relatively open about his sexuality in an era before that was accepted, Curry had traveled the globe and packed in a lifetime’s worth of exploits when he met his untimely, AIDS-related end at the age of 44.

The real strength of “The Ice King” comes from the wealth of videos, photos and private letters shown throughout. The editing is superb, and the effort it must have taken to curate these images must have been huge, with some of the videos being the only known recordings of Curry’s routines. This archive of footage, pictures and private writings gives the audience a very intimate look into the life of a very public figure.

Erskine believes and hopes that John Curry’s professional success might serve in a demonstrative capacity for sportspeople moving ahead, even now, 24 years after his death from an AIDS-related heart attack.

“SOUTHERN PRIDE”— Pride events in Trump’s America

“Southern Pride”

Pride events in Trump’s America

Amos Lassen

Director Malcolm Ingram who brought us his fine documentary “Small Town Gay Bar” now brings us a companion piece to that fine film. We return to Mississippi where we gain fascinating insight into LGTBQ rights in a post-Trump landscape. Lynn Koval, a headstrong bar owner and a team of friends (and her own Republican-voting sister), try against all odds to organize a Pride march in her local town. Meanwhile, at the same time in another part of the state, organizers of a Black Pride celebration are simultaneously striving to make a difference, despite the numerous setbacks that stand in their way. Here is the emotional story of triumph over adversity that looks at the themes of leadership, struggle, division, community and race relations and offer a sense of hope in a world that can too often appear to have none.

“DEAR FREDDY”— A Heroic Gay Jewish Sportsman Who Ended Up in Auschwitz

“DEAR FREDDY”

A Heroic Gay Jewish Sportsman Who Ended Up in Auschwitz

Amos Lassen

Rubi Gat’s powerful documentary, “Dear Freddy” tells the life of Freddy Hirsch who was born in Germany but lived in Prague before World War II as an openly gay male.

We can understand how rare that was. He was a sportsman who promoted sport and remained active even when the Nazis tried to exclude Jews from any sporting facilities. He was also a spokesperson who fearlessly negotiated with the SS at Theresienstadt ghetto, when he was moved to Auschwitz and where he set up a day-care centre for 600 children. Through rare photographs, archive footage and witness testimony, we get an extraordinary story and a celebration of a heroic figure that died fighting for the betterment of others.

“LOVE, SCOTT”— The Year After

“Love, Scott”

The Year After

Amos Lassen

Laura Marie Wayne’s documentary “Love, Scott” is a sensitive and richly moving portrait of a young man left paralyzed after a homophobic attack. One horrific  night, after leaving a bar in his hometown of Nova Scotia, musician Scott Jones was viciously targeted for an attack that left him paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Although it appeared to be a homophobic hate crime, the assault was not treated as such in the courts or by the media.

As Scott rebuilds his life, he is forced to make some kind of sense of the way the incident was reported, while at the same time struggling to make peace with his attacker. The documentary covers the year following this life-changing ordeal and looks at the impact of the attack on Scott’s life, both physically and mentally. The documentary is a tender, heartbreaking and inspiring testament to Scott and his strength and resilience.

“QUEERAMA”— A Century of Gay Rights and Desires on Film

“QUEERAMA”

A Century of Gay Rights and Desires on Film

Amos Lassen

I was very lucky to get a chance to see a screening of director Daisy Asquith’s documentary, “Queerama”. While it is basically a reflection on the shifting status of LGBTQ people within the United Kingdom field of pop culture landscape, it can also be seen as quite universal. The film is a summation of the societal changes regarding in the LGBT community in the last century or so. It is a loosely structured montage of archival footage that spans decades yet it really does not have a whole lot new to say. However, the empathy and energy by which these images and ideas are edited together into a single piece make the film an entertaining and often poignant tribute to the progress made, as well as an implicit acknowledgement of the progress that still must be made.

There is no formal narration but rather a pop soundtrack. As well introducing new subjects for the film to explore (be it gay night life, or the threat of physical assault faced by the openly queer) and providing the odd piece of statistical data or historical context regarding British LGBTQ life, there is a lot to see here.

It’s easy to laugh at the old-fashioned voiceover and its naïve insights on homosexuality, “Queerama” also looks at the harmful consequences of the widespread ignorance implied in these decades-old clips. Much of the film sees an intriguing push and pull between the hardships faced by members of the LGBTQ community, and the love and exuberance found even in tough times such as the segment on HIV/AIDS.

Structurally the film is loose but there are also moments where the film seems at a loss for how best to use its 70-minute runtime and sometimes retreads familiar points with another batch of footage. The fluid sense of style keeps it watchable even when it isn’t so revelatory. The pop culture excerpts that are usually explicit in their queerness, but sometimes implicit are the film’s most exciting and richly supported insights.

We see that queerness has always been a part of British life, persisting in neighborhoods, films and TV shows whether noticed or not. This is a must-see for any movie buff that is into celebrating British LGBTQ history in the cinema.  Asquith created her fascinating film with the help of British Film National Archive and the documentary covers a century of gay experience including “persecution and prosecution, injustice, love and desire, identity, secrets, forbidden encounters, sexual liberation, and pride.”   We are guided through the relationships, desires, fears and expressions of gay men and women against the backdrop of a time of incredible change.

“STUDIO 54”— Home of 70s Hedonism

“Studio 54”

Home of 70s Hedonism

Amos Lassen

Studio 54 was the epicenter of 70s hedonism. It not only redefined the nightclub, but it came to symbolize an entire era. Its co-owners, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell were two friends from Brooklyn who seemed to come out of nowhere to suddenly preside over a new kind of New York society. Now, some 39 years after it opened, we have a feature documentary tells the real story behind the greatest club of all time

Director Matt Tyrnauer shares the tales of hedonism on the dance floor at Manhattan’s legendary discotheque have already been told dozens of times in dozens of ways and the film finds life from the same-old clips showing crowds of beautiful and sweaty dancers inside and irate customers being refused entry at the door. Ian Schrader gives us the definitive look at Studio 54 and the people it attracted. For a dance club that lasted for a mere 33 months, “54” managed to help change the nature of pop music and the views of a countercultural society while mainstreaming underground black, gay, lesbian, transgendered communities by tying them to the allure of celebrity and the unapologetic abandon of a theatrical nightclub.

Tyrnauer takes us through behind the scenes footage, fabulous photographs, great songs and interviews not only with the patrons but also with the artisans who helped build the place. The story of Studio 54 is widened in ways that do justice to both its historical importance and the resonance it continues to have.

“49 PULSES”— We Can Never Allow Ourselves to Forget

“49 Pulses”

We Can Never Allow Ourselves to Forget

Amos Lassen

When I first heard about this film, I was not sure that I really wanted to see it. What happened in Orlando at Pulse was difficult and although I never wanted to forget it, I was not sure I wanted to see it again.

On June 12, 2016, a gunman walked into a crowded nightclub in Orlando, Florida and shot 102 people, murdering 49 of them. At 2:00 AM, the Pulse nightclub was winding down its weekly Latino night. The building was dark, crowded, and loud. Patrons were making plans to leave when a gunman, who began firing in every direction, ambushed them. Customers tried to escape, but the killer followed them. For the next three hours, he terrorized victims while playing hide and seek with the police.

Filmmaker Charlie Minn tries to answer several questions that remain unanswered about the tragedy of that night and these include why the perpetrator chose Pulse nightclub and why it took over three hours for police to stop him. Through his interviews with the survivors, police, family members, and city officials, Minn pieces together how one of the largest mass shooting in American history took place.

Minn says that he made the in order to honor the victims. “I am fully aware of the sensitivity surrounding the tragedy and would never make such a movie unless it was to pay tribute to the victims by telling their stories of humanity and heroism.”

“DRIES : an intimate portrait of fashion designer Dries Van Noten”— Fashion as Art

“DRIES : an intimate portrait of fashion designer Dries Van Noten”

Fashion as Art

Amos Lassen

The only thing about fashion that I know is that I wear what I like. I know nothing about catwalks, prices, couture and fashion houses. But I must admit that there is something artistic about it. I just recently discovered this film about Dries van Noten and I see that he is innovative, creative and influential than Dries van Noten. Reiner Holzemer’s documentary, “Dries”, takes us into his life and mind. Dries is Dutch and for the last twenty-five years he has been at the top of a very top of a highly competitive and multi-billion-dollar industry. He is an extremely private person and this is the first time he’s allowed a filmmaker to look at his private life and be with him through his creative process. The documentary was filmed over a year, and covers four collection. Along with that, Dries gives an insight into what makes him who he is and what are the driving forces in his life.

Dries van Noten is unassuming and down to earth. He is very, very driven and he makes sure that his home life is settled. He struggles to keep his independence and to stay at the top and we might think that this is at odds with domesticity. His clarity of vision which is quite extraordinary but I find the most fascinating thing about him is his quiet and intimate personage.

 Today, fashion designers are every much celebrities as are those they clothe but Van Noten is an exception to that. He is perfectly happy to be at The film starts tracing his steps when he trained at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and by the time he left in 1980 was recognized as part of the Antwerp 6. This was an informal group of young fashion designers who were determined to make their own mark in an industry which to date had not considered their city/country as a source of creative fashion.

Dries exhibited his first menswear collection in London with the group in 1986 when he got his first order from Barney’s and he has been moving forward ever since. Director Holzemer filmed Dries in front of a screen showing several of this past runway shows which not only gave us an opportunity to see how his style kept evolving, but also as Dries narrated it he could be completely candid about each of his collections. He is totally honest pointing out the seasons where success alluded him, particularly in the early 1990’s when minimalism was the trend. 

 

His truthfulness extends to his own personal behavior when he confesses to being more a control freak that likes to allocate every minute of his time usefully, even when he takes a rare day off visiting famous gardens in England. This appears to be totally fine with his husband and business partner of the last 30+ years, Patrick Vangheluwe, who supports Dries in all of his demands.

The main pleasure of the film is seeing Dries and his creative team at work in their wonderful converted warehouse in the center of Antwerp as they prepare each collection in every detail and then how they painstakingly break it down to what will end up on one of his beautifully choreographed runway shows and then in the stores.

The continued success of Dries is not only his not just his remarkable flair for fashion but also that he has avoided Haute couture and insists that everything he designs be sold in stores. He also has refused to sell the business and has kept Dries Van Noten as his very own.