Category Archives: GLBT documentary

BACK ON BOARD: GREG LOUGANIS— A New Documentary

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“Back On Board: Greg Louganis”

A New Documentary about Greg Louganis

Amos Lassen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The film premieres on HBO in the US on August 4th.

“DEEP RUN”— Growing Up in Rural North Carolina

deep run

“Deep Run”

Growing Up in Rural North Carolina

Amos Lassen

Cole Ray Davis is a young transgender male living and growing up in rural North Carolina. He and his girlfriend Ashley have difficult challenges to face. Their families are hostile as are church members and if that is not enough, finances are not good. Even with these problems Cole and Ashley retain their belief in God. With a small community of supportive friends, they manage to create their own extended family, and their search for love and belonging leads them to a “radical revision of what faith and a church can be”.

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We watch them as they deal with unemployment, immigration status (Cole is Canadian) and his transgender identity within their rural North Carolina town. The film also addresses the couple’s struggle to find a church that will affirm Cole’s identity and the couple’s relationship. Director Hillevi Loven says that the film is really about is how people in their everyday lives live with incredible amounts of bravery just by setting up a household. “It’s a microcosm of how change and gender identity and faith are being redefined and re-envisioned by this millennial generation.”

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This is a story of finding identity and having to do so without a lot of money in a place that’s very religious. It is a situation where there is no money for hormone shots and surgery. Ashley and Cole try to eke out a living in a potentially hostile environment.

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“FOLSOM FOREVER” (Another Look)— The Social, Charitable and Cultural Aspects of the “Notorious Bacchanal”

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“Folsom Forever”

The Social, Charitable and Cultural Aspects of the “Notorious Bacchanal”

Amos Lassen

Some of you may remember that I originally reviewed “Folsom Forever” when it was on the film festival circuit. The film has now been released on DVD so I decided to have another look and to watch the extras that have been included on the disk.

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There is a lot to see in Mike Skiff’s documentary and there is a lot to be learned here. If you thought that the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco is just a big wild party, you will be surprised to know that it is also a major fundraiser and a cultural phenomenon. It all began in 1984 when the area was just a place for low-income tenants and it was also the center of the gay men’s leather scene. It was about to be destroyed by the city and rebuilt just when the AIDS epidemic hit San Francisco. This is what was the catalyst for the fair—it was begun to make people aware of the gentrification of the area and to raise money for the various AIDS charities. The film goes back in time through interviews with organizers, scholars and politicians and with archival footage that includes Harvey Milk and The Village People and then moves forward to the as well as of the 2012 festival as it tells the story of how this little street fair eventually became “the biggest outdoor kink and fetish event in the world, and managed to do a lot of good along the way”.

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Today the Folsom Street Fair brings some 400,000 people from all over the world to San Francisco and it not only helps the economy of the city but also awards big money ($330,000) in grants to local nonprofit organizations.

Then there is the other side of the fair—the nudity and the kink, as important as they may be to some, play a second fiddle to the good that the fair does. This documentary covers thirty-years of history of the Fair. However this is not your usual documentary just as the Folsom Street Fair is not your usual street fair. There is no narrator giving a voice over and there is nothing that ties the various threads together. Perhaps that is why I found it so fascinating as I watched this festival of all that is kink— straight kink, gay kink, bi-kink, metrosexual kink. It seems that every sexual “deviance” (for lack of a better word) is here and we see someone being whipped as well as a lot of public nudity and demonstrations of sex that most are not familiar with as bands play to give us a rocking soundtrack.

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We learn not only about one of the largest street fairs in the country known as Folsom Street Fair but we also get a history lesson about this fair that speaks to human rights and sexual freedom and the many different aspects of the neighborhood where it is held.

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Director Skiff brings together a cast of iconic San Francisco figures, activists and scholarly historians who take us through the history of the fair and the impact it’s had on the city both financially and liberally. Cultural Anthropologist, Gayle Rubin shares the history of the neighborhood of South of Market that was from the 50’s and 60’s a working class neighborhood and that later became the place that hosted many leather bars. San Francisco Activist, Audrey Joseph tells of the importance women have had on the festival in the fight against AIDS. She says that it was women who were the most accepting of AIDS victims that showed up at the fair and helped to create a space without judgments.

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Writer, historian and my friend Jack Fritscher who has being instrumental in documenting the San Francisco leather scene and worked for the former leather magazine, DRUMMER, gives great insight into that aspect of gay history where a “sub group of gay men were not interested in the stereotypical roles of gay men of the time, and instead emulated the hyper-masculine men of the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s”. These were the men who went to the early leather bars in San Francisco. We learn from the current director of the Folsom Street Fair, Demetri Moshoyannis, about the huge undertaking to put together this mammoth festival year after year like this.

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Skiff tells us that “In the 1970s, Folsom Street was the West Coast’s destination for anyone on their leather journey in life “ and his movie goes on explore why the Folsom Street Fair couldn’t have got started anywhere else but San Francisco.” Today when someone talks about Folsom Street Fair we think of the outdoor celebration of sexual diversity are likely what come to mind and that it is where members of the LGBT community are given the space to explore the full spectrum of their sexuality and queerness.

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It’s the one time of the year when those into kink and fetish can literally dress as they want and can do anything they want. They will only be stopped by the Fair security staff that police the streets if they are actually having sex on the street.

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The Fair has become not only a major social event but also an enormous economic force for the city. It is estimated that San Francisco benefits to some $35.4 million in revenue, and the Fair itself raises some hundreds of thousands in profits that it distributes to fund important local non-profit organizations.

“SEX IS…”— Fifteen Men

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“Sex Is…”

Fifteen Men

Amos Lassen

Marc Huestis brings us interviews with 15 men, including himself, around a set of topics starting with “what is sex?” The film was made in 1993 so it is quite dated but interesting nonetheless. men are gay, living in or near San Francisco. They talk about their first sexual experiences, the gay scene in San Francisco in the late 1970s, the pall cast by AIDS, the safe-sex movement, getting into serious relationships, the illness and death of partners, pornography, S/M and pain, race and stereotypes, personal fantasies, and bliss. Huestis has a thesis, that sex is going to be with us, so how best do we embrace it? There are 15 subjects, archival footage, clips from porn films, and looks at men loving men.

When it was released, the film was met with popular and critical acclaim throughout the U.S. and abroad and it placed amongst the top 5 grossing documentaries of 1993, according to Variety. Many claimed to never having seen anything like it before. It is “explicit but not pornographic, blunt but not titillating, this is unapologetic in its discussion of the often poignant reactions and adjustments to the AIDS crisis.”

Director Marc Huestis on the set of his film - Sex Is, February 8, 1992

Through graphic footage and surprisingly candid interviews, the film covers a range of gay male experiences from “monogamous bliss to bath house orgies” but it also takes a risk of getting stuck on director Mark Huestis’ fascination with S&M technology. It also takes a stand in defense of life over death as it offers a vivid chronicle of gay life before and after the virus.

This documentary covers the whole fascinating spectrum of what sex means in gay society. It looks at the issues of race, religion, monogamy/promiscuity, love, friendship, community, gender identity, “coming out, coming of age, coming…(!). We see the dichotomies of different stories as it weaves a whole patchwork of the makings of a community from the personal to the political. What makes the commentary interesting is not only its diversity but that each commentator tells us about some piece of ourselves. By including people of all ages, we learn something of our history (something which the current generation seems to be interested in forgetting).

Occasionally throughout we get clips of grainy gay porn and the men interviewed hold nothing back. The language and sexual talk is frank. Watching it today, I see that it has lost its shock value but it is still a fascinating film.

“DRESSED AS A GIRL”— Drag and East London

dressed as a girl

“Dressed as a Girl”

Drag and East London

Amos Lassen

Filmmaker Colin Rothbart brings us the real people who get dressed up in wigs and mascara. He takes us into the very much hyped and talked about East London’s alternative drag scene. What he has discovered there is a microcosm of the larger society and we learn about overeating, gender dysphoria, egos and excess. The film was made over a five years period and includes not only the rise and fall of East London’s gay club scene but also offers some personal, emotionally honest portraits of six individuals at the heart of it. Basically this is a film the nature of friendship, life and even survival against the odds, themes that we can all relate to and understand.

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London is a city of culture—it has wonderful art and museums, theater that is world famous, nightlife and what have you. London also has the East End London drag scene and this is the focus of the film as it follows key moments in the day-to-day lives of some Londoners and gives us a fascinating documentary.

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Jonny Yoo is the narrator and he takes us to his personal and professional story and those of others. of himself and several others. He keeps everything moving at a steady pace. We meet the families of the cast who add to the stories we hear and we are treated to an inside look at a quest for originality and more. Something we did not expect is seen when for every positive and happy moment, there is usually a down moment to counter these. These include issues with alcohol, drugs, mental and emotional struggles with coming out and transitioning, and more.

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Director Rothbart decided to go into each “character’s” personal lives with candor. Initially, we’re introduced to each cast member and their respective personas. As the film goes on, individual layers are peeled back and the audience is brought further in. As each surface is unearthed, the personal investment gets deeper, and becomes more truthful and candid. We get almost a full understanding of each factor behind each professional and individual decision. At times I felt like a voyeur because some of what we hear and see is so personal.

“I AM JAZZ”— Navigating life as a Transgender Teen

i am jazz

“I AM JAZZ”

Navigating life as a Transgender Teen

Amos Lassen

Jazz is 14-year-old Jazz Jennings, an average teenage girl who just happened to be assigned male at birth. From early childhood, Jazz wanted to be seen as the girl she knew she was. With the support of her parents, doctors and experts, that dream has come true. Now, as Jazz enters adolescence, she learns to navigate how a transgender teen approaches dating, sleepovers, and avoiding male puberty as she prepares for high school.

The film began shooting when Jazz was just eleven-years-old. Her family faced a life-altering decision as the ebullient tween approached puberty. Through extensive archival family footage and first-person interviews, Jazz and her family share their powerful personal story as they grapple with the possibility of hormone blocking therapy and issues related to fertility, discrimination and identity.

“LORD MONTAGU”— Surviving a Scandal

lord monagu

“LORD MONTAGU”

Surviving a Scandal

Amos Lassen

“Lord Montagu” is the true story of Edward John Barrington Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, a member of the English aristocracy and how he survived one of the most notorious sex scandals of the 20th Century. It resulted in a prison term, and after he served time, he regained his position in society and was totally forgiven.  Montagu is one of the most celebrated, yet controversial, aristocrats of the United Kingdom. Edward was born the only son to the house of Beaulieu, brother to four sisters and an early heir after his father died when he was two years old. He had lived his life in the spotlight to some degree and he decided to turn the Beaulieu state home into a museum in the early ’50s in order to avoid economic disaster after World War II. He went from businessman, to a man convicted of sexual assault to a classic car museum aficionado. He was an intriguing and highly gossiped about public figure.

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This directorial debut by Luke Korem focuses on Montagu’s roller coaster and high-profile life of entrepreneurship and clever ideas. In 1950s England, homosexuality was illegal and Montagu, who has always admitted to being bisexual became involved in a gay sex scandal that convicted him to prison for a year. Korem takes us into this story in which he uses newspaper headlines and what was being said at the time to bring us this film. However although Korem mentions the scandal, the film is really more about Montagu the legend and businessman than anything else. The film uses Montagu’s life to tell a story of the man behind his title.

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Lord Montagu inherited his title and his 7000-acre estate with its stately home in Beaulieu when his was just two years old after his 61-year-old father died in an accident.  Although everything was put into a Trust until he came of age, the young Lord was still expected to play his part around the Estate, and he soon realized both the responsibility and burden of preserving his legacy (that had been in his family for over five centuries).

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In the 1950s, Britain was suffering from an economic depression and so just 25 years old (and the youngest member of the House of Lords) Montagu took the unprecedented decision to open his Home and Estate as a public attraction. There still was an entrenched class structure in place so tourists flocked to Beaulieu to see how the landed gentry lived and  to get a glimpse at their private lives.  It was an immediate success and brought in essential revenue to safeguard Montagu’s heritage and it also brought a certain fame to Montagu himself. He was delighted in being a major part of the attraction that the hoards of visitors wanted to see.

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Then just as everything was going so very well for Montagu, he arrested, and suddenly it looked like he may lose everything. The charge was conspiracy to incite certain male persons to commit serious offenses with males.  At that time not only were homosexual acts a criminal offense but gay men suffered a serious backlash and every year over one thousand gay men were sent to jail. The maximum sentence for sodomy was life imprisonment, but so many people never even got their day in Court as they committed suicide to avoid the being exposed.

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Montagu was not actually charged with having male sex but just allowing his friend Peter Wildeblood, a journalist with the Daily Mail, to have a vacation with his Serviceman boyfriend and his best friend in a Beach House in Beaulieu grounds. The media picked this up and went crazy with delight as this was the first time that the Police had ever make such accusations against a Peer of the Realm, and the trial was the biggest of its kind since Oscar Wilde’s. They offered the two servicemen immunity if they agreed to give evidence against Montagu and Wildeblood which they accepted. However, their testimony in Court was so inconsistent and unbelievable it looked that Montagu and Wideblood might actually go free.  However once Wildeblood admitted he was a homosexual then their fate was sealed.  He was sentenced to 18 months and Montagu was given 12 months.

The trial brought public attention to the unfairness of the current law and it propelled the Home Office Committee under John Wolfenden to eventually recommend that the law was changed to de-criminalize homosexuality.

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Montagu maintained his innocence throughout and has done so up to the present day, and he steadfastly refused to publicly discuss this period of his life until 2000 when he published his memoir ‘Wheels Within Wheels’ because as he claimed he finally wanted to ‘put the record straight’.

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It was this case that helped to change gay rights in the United Kingdom. Montagu was able to re-establish himself as a pillar of English society. He married twice and by doing so he has a male heir who will become the 4th Baron. and established not only the influential Beaulieu Jazz Festival, but more importantly this avid collector of classic cars founded what would become the National Motor Museum. 

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Korem uses archival footage and current interviews to give us a look at the man obsessed with his ambitious plans for Beaulieu and who lived an action-packed life surrounded by celebrities and other aristocrats often at the expense of neglecting his family. Today Montagu is 89 years old and he had a stroke before this film was begun so we really only have what he says via his autobiography.

“TCHINDAS”— Transgender in the Cape Verdean Islands

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“TCHINDAS”

Transgender in the Cape Verdean Islands

Amos Lassen

Tchinda is one of most beloved women in Cape Verde, especially after she came out as a transgender person in the local newspaper in 1998. From that point on her name has become the Camp Verdean name for gay people. Since then, her name has become the term used by locals to name queer Cape Verdeans. Despite Tchinda’s great reputation, she remains humble and every afternoon she happily tours the neighborhood to sell her best “coxinhas”, a classic Brazilian treat: delicious fried balls of chicken. Come February everything changes. February is the month before the carnival season and during that time the slow pace of the island changes as people begin to prepare for their holiday. Carnival means hustle and bustle as thousands flock to the streets and the days before the Carnival are hectic. Locals join forces to create something beautiful out of nothing. It becomes a «Little Brazil» as their most acclaimed singer, Cesária Évora (1941-2011), defined in one of her most famous “mornas”. This documentary is as trip to an unknown side of Africa that very few may have ever imagined.

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As Tchinda is hard at work preparing for a Carnival, she hopes that she will capture the town’s imagination. Tchinda is openly transgender and deeply respected. Her choices, direction and vision centralize a collection of people that few beyond the island even know are there. Filmmaker Marc Serena brings us a perceptive documentary; ”Tchindas” reveals a “hidden landscape tucked far away from the world we know, where trans inclusion and teamwork make up the fundamental structure of a truly magical community and culture”.

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In São Vicente, the year starts and ends with the Carnival. It is actually the center of many people’s lives and the film shares the emotion that so many have and it is a beautiful, sensitive, poetic celebration.

“HOCKNEY”— Life and Art

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“HOCKNEY”

Life and Art

Amos Lassen

Randall Wright brings David Hockney’s art and life to us in this playful documentary that daringly resists the dutiful notes hit by most films about famous artists Wright captures the queer artist’s renegade spirit and immerses his audiences in the colors and shades of his process and personality. We see a vast archive of never-before-seen home videos and recent interviews with Hockney that not only capture the delicious aesthetics of his art but also his profound connection to Los Angeles, the city that was instrumental in defining his personal life and career.

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David Hockney, Order of Merit, Companion of Honor conferred on him by Queen Elizabeth) is possibly the greatest living English artist and is considered a ‘national treasure’. He is more than just a painter, he is also a draughtsman, printmaker, stage designer and photographer and he has been a major presence on the art scene since he first caught the public’s eye when taking part of Young Contemporaries Exhibition at the Royal College of Art in 1962 (who subsequently initially refused to let him graduate). When he moved from his hometown of Bradford to the bright sunshine of L.A. just two years later, this was a major turning point and where this quiet Englishman found happiness as well as his place (and his hair color— it was also where he found the first of many bottles of peroxide for his hair.

We have had many documentaries about Hockney but none have been quite as definitive as this one is. Hockney gave director Wright unfettered access to his vast personal treasure trove of archives which included some great footage of home videos and a seemingly less collection of photographs and this is what provides such a full picture of Hockney and his life.

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The charismatic Hockney made great friends of other famous artists on so many levels and those still living give a fascinating insight about him. Particularly touching was an interview with Don Bacardy is fascinating in the way he tells the time that a very young Hockney turned up at his Hollywood home that he shared with his lover Christopher Isherwood. Hockney had been openly gay since his Royal College days even though homosexuality was still illegal in the UK, but this was the first time he had met a partnered couple and it was quite a shock for him.

Looking at his output, we see that Hockney’s sexuality was an important element of both his life and his work as the public first discovered with his acclaimed ‘Bigger Splash’ series of pictures that featured his young naked lover Peter Schlesinger. Hockney is a highly emotional man and we see this in his moving account of the impact of AIDS in the ’80s and how it decimated his circle of friends and acquaintances. 

Wright’s film moves back and forth from Hockney’s childhood in a post-war to his current time and his beloved Santa Monica home where at the age of 77 although painfully deaf, he is still working on new pieces of art. We see a man obsessed with his art and bent on continually exploring new techniques and ideas that are very uniquely his own. His famous ‘polaroid’ pictures of the ’80’s have progressed into a whole new wave of art he now makes on his Ipad.

What the film does not include however is any mention of Hockney’s personal life after his tempestuous relationship with Schlesinger decades ago. All mention of Hockney’s later relationships, including one with John Fitzherbert that lasted over two decades, were completely omitted which seems odd given the importance that Hockney places on his close friendships. The film is a celebration of the life of Hockney and the way he has managed to be in so many different worlds at the same time.

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We see a man who embraces his art and his life as well as his dreams and fantasies of legendary places: London, New York, Los Angeles. Hockney was the epitome of cool in the 1960s and actually, he helped to invent it via his very public personality and his hanging out with celebs even as he was becoming famous himself. He explored what it meant to be gay at a time before being out, as he was, was much accepted beyond the tolerant bohemian community he was part of. At nearly 80, Hockney is still doing intriguing work and taking advantage of new technologies in ways that you might not expect from “someone who is”, as he says, “from the last generation to grow up without television”. Today, Hockney is using iPhones and iPads to make clever, witty art that is expanding our ideas about how we can use all these new ways to present art.

THE LGBT FILMS TO WATCH FOR IN 2015-2016

THE LGBT FILMS TO WATCH FOR IN 2015-2016

 

All About E
To all appearances E (the stunning Mandahla Rose) leads a glamorous life as the sexy star DJ at one of the hottest clubs in Sydney, a job with perks that include her pick of the beautiful women who come to dance to her tunes. But the reality is this daughter of Lebanese immigrant parents is so closeted that she broke up with the love of her life, Trish (Julia Billington); entered into a sham marriage with fey gay best mate Matt (Brett Rogers); and even abandoned her once promising musical career as a clarinetist. When she and Matt find a duffel bag full of cash, the money seems like the ticket to a better life, but the pair are soon on the run—and on a road trip into the outback that may lead E back to the one who got away. Writer-director Louise Wadley has fashioned a sexy Aussie crime caper that hums with suspense, flashes of humor, and second chances.

Bare
Sarah (Dianna Agron of Glee fame) is trapped in the middle of Nevada, a nowheresville of strip malls and ranch houses, where a night out means drinking at the quarry and a Super Town cashier gig is something to cling to. Sarah’s only refuge is her absent father’s defunct vintage shop—and even that’s up for sale. Shortly after she’s told she’s “not Super Town material,” Sarah discovers a stranger sleeping in her father’s store, and her stale routine gets turned on its head. Worldly drifter Pepper (played by charismatic Paz de la Huerta, Boardwalk Empire) has been around the block more than a few times. She opens Sarah’s eyes to life’s possibilities, while simultaneously hustling the naïve girl for a place to crash. Soon the two are roadtripping to Reno, and for the first time, Sarah revels in the anarchic pleasure of breaking all the rules. When she jokes that in ten years she’ll probably be married with three kids and breast cancer, Pepper points out, “If you don’t make your own choices in life, the world makes them for you.” Sarah chooses Pepper, but the consequences are not what she expects.

Do I Sound Gay?
Is it the sibilant “s,” or is it the drawn-out vowels? Is it the two-dollar vocabulary, or is it a certain theatrical quality acquired after too many viewings of All About Eve or Mean Girls? Whatever it is, we know it when we hear it: “gay voice”—a tone and way of speaking that, if you believe the stereotype, announce homosexuality. Documentarian David Thorpe has gay voice. And after a breakup and an early-forties crisis of confidence, he decides that his voice is preventing him from finding happiness. Where did it come from? And how can he get rid of it? With these questions, he visits numerous speech therapists and delves into his own past. This lighthearted (and often hilarious), taboo-busting film features great commentary from celebrities like George Takei, Dan Savage, Tim Gunn and David Sedaris, as well as illustrative footage of Paul Lynde, Liberace, Truman Capote and others. Linguists and cultural historians provide insight into gay speech patterns, code-switching, and what it means to “sound gay.”

Eisenstein in Guanajuato
In his dazzling and giddy glitter-bomb of a film, the always inventive British-born director Peter Greenaway (The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover; The Draughtsman’s Contract) imagines what might have happened to the great Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein during a pivotal period of artistic and sexual awakening while sojourning in Mexico in 1931 to shoot a film he nearly couldn’t finish. Using gleeful “watch me do this!” feats of camera movement, set design, and montage that rival the Soviet master himself, Greenaway stages a kind of “ten days that shook Sergei Eisenstein”: the frenetic, frizzy-haired Russian director (Finnish actor Elmer Bäck in a bravura comic performance) finds himself captivated by his studly Mexican guide Palomino Cañedo (suave Luis Alberti), who initiates the brooding Russian into unknown pleasures of the body and soul, opening him (in every way) to profound discoveries.

Fresno
Upbeat “Employee of the Month” at the shabby Fresno Suites Martha (Orange Is the New Black’s Natasha Lyonne) has no complaints with the gig or with life: she has a prime parking spot, a steady paycheck, and a straightish girlfriend who sometimes answers her calls. Martha’s co-dependent, sex addict sister Shannon (Arrested Development’s Judy Greer) should be grateful for any gainful employment following her recent firing from a teaching position and subsequent failed stint in rehab, but instead she can only muster (hilarious) sardonic one-liners while working as little as humanly possible. As Martha gets pursued by her dreamy trainer (Parks and Recreation alum Aubrey Plaza, playing a lesbian after all of our prayers), Shannon’s hump-anyone’s-leg addiction gets them both into trouble when a mullet-sporting scumbag of a hotel guest is accidentally killed. With the help of a poetic and smitten coworker, the sisters hatch a plethora of schemes to get rid of the body, resulting in blackmail, a hip-hopping bar mitzvah, and oodles of fat purple dildos.

Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party
This tender and charming new feature from Stephen Cone (The Wise Kids, Frameline36) unfolds over a 24-hour period in the life of Henry Gamble, on the occasion of his 17th birthday. Henry is the likable son of a newly ordained pastor at a large evangelical church, and the lives of his family and friends are deeply embedded within a squeaky clean devotional world of faith. At Henry’s party, the Gambles’ well-appointed home welcomes a friendly gaggle of hormonal teenagers from both church and Henry’s non-denominational high school, as well as earnest young adult church counselors and congregational elders—all striving to define on their own terms an acceptable balance between reverence and frolicking. The restrained passions of this gathering unravel over the afternoon, as lithe, entangling young limbs stir the waters of the backyard pool and an advantageous box of wine loosens the spirits of the flock. The caprice of sexual explorations, metaphysical frustrations, and decidedly earthly fervors bubble up through fissures of the soul, as whispered secrets grow louder and undercurrents of pristinely constructed lives come to the surface.

How To Win at Checkers (Every Time)
Each year in Thailand, all 21-year-old males must appear for the draft lottery at their local Buddhist temple — where drawing red means military service and drawing black means being excused. As his own draft day approaches, Oat looks back on the time he did all in his power to keep his beloved older brother Ek close to home and out of the service. Hoping that love and luck will be enough, the 11-year-old Oat unwittingly sets in motion events that lay bare the limited options facing Thailand’s working poor. Since losing both parents, the brothers have lived with their aunt and young cousin. Between Ek’s bartending and Auntie’s house cleaning, the family scrapes by in a village practically owned by black-marketeers. Still, they have each other and want to keep it that way. Like many other things in their lives, the lottery results are meant to be accepted as the luck of the draw. But as Ek, his wealthy boyfriend Jai, and their trans friend Kitty face the draft in their own ways, their differences grow increasingly apparent and threaten simpler bonds of love and friendship.

I Am Michael
In a controversial and very public transformation, co-founder of Young Gay America magazine and gay rights advocate Michael Glatze shocked his followers when he renounced his homosexuality and embraced a heterosexual life. Justin Kelly’s compelling directorial debut presents Glatze’s journey in an admirably measured and non-judgmental fashion. In the beginning, Michael (James Franco) is a joyful, committed queer activist, living with his boyfriend Bennett (Zachary Quinto) in the Castro where they both write for XY magazine. A job offer for Bennett soon takes them to Halifax, Canada, where the two settle into a seemingly fulfilling life with their new lover Tyler (Charlie Carver), and Michael launches YGA, becoming a leading voice on issues of young gay experience. When a health scare leads Michael to reflect on a past he has never fully confronted, he searches for deeper meaning in and beyond life. Flirting with meditation and Buddhism, Michael ultimately seeks his answers in the Bible and, eventually, heterosexuality on the road to his truth.

In The Grayscale
This sensitive, well-acted romantic drama puts a delicate and mature twist on the classic coming-out story. Filmed in Santiago, Chile, it follows an emotionally ill-at-ease, married architect’s journey of sexual discovery, which switches into high gear after he meets an intriguing gay man. When we first encounter successful 35-year-old Bruno (the soulful Francisco Celhay), he has just made the difficult decision to separate from his loving wife in order to sort through his feelings. His concerned family calls it a selfish choice, and the couple’s young son is understandably confused and hurt by his doting dad’s decision to leave, but their familial bond appears strong. After Bruno is approached to design a new architectural landmark, he is introduced to Fer (hunky livewire Matías Torres), a local tour guide with unique access to the soul of Santiago’s gorgeous cityscape, both ancient and modern. This professional hookup quickly turns to flirtation and much more, complicated by the undeniable chemistry—intellectual and physical—between the handsome leads.

Jason and Shirley
What Interior. Leather Bar. (Frameline37) did for Cruising (or, perhaps more accurately, what Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange’s version of Grey Gardens did for the original documentary by the Maysles brothers), Jason and Shirley does for Oscar-winner Shirley Clarke’s seminal, controversial Portrait of Jason. Director Stephen Winter (Chocolate Babies, Frameline21) presents a fictitious account of the making of Portrait of Jason, a groundbreaking example of confessional biography, famously shot in one grueling 12-hour session in Clarke’s apartment in Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel. For his reimagined scenario, Winter, brilliantly borrowing the look and feel of 1960s cinéma vérité, depicts the behind-the-scenes power struggle between the white Jewish director and her eccentric gay African American star, Jason Holliday, a pill-popping, boozy hustler with dreams of becoming a cabaret superstar (just one of the many similarities Jason has to Little Edie). Upon Portrait of Jason’s release in 1967, critics were divided between condemning it as exploitation and hailing it as a masterpiece; famed director Ingmar Bergman called it “the most extraordinary film I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Larry Kramer in Love and Anger
A gripping, warts-and-all tribute to one of the most important gay activists of our time, Larry Kramer in Love and Anger is not just a hero’s tale. Filmmaker Jean Carlomusto (Sex in an Epidemic, Frameline34), also crafts a compelling account of the onset and terrible escalation of the AIDS crisis in the United States, an epidemic that came to define Kramer’s life and work. As the cofounder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and then ACT UP, and the writer of the play The Normal Heart, Kramer was a tireless, powerful force at a horrific time. He gave voice to a community’s rage and compelled government action on HIV/AIDS.

Liz in September
Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, a sexy, groundbreaking lesbian play from the early 1980s, gets a fresh update from Venezuelan director Fina Torres. Bluefish Cove is now a Caribbean beach, where a tight-knit group of lesbian friends, lovers, and cordial exes meet every year to relax and let their guard down, without having to hide who they are. For Liz, the group’s heartbreaker, the summer has a special significance, and she is determined to live it to the fullest—diving, drinking, and dancing to her heart’s content. Too bad she’s the only single one of the group. Then, a stranger crashes the cohort’s cozy world. Eva is a troubled married woman, who joins the intimate gathering courtesy of a car breakdown. When one of the gang bets the competitive Liz a bottle of champagne that she can’t get Eva into bed in three days, the game is on.

Naz & Maalik
Set in sun-dappled Brooklyn, Naz & Maalik is, on the surface, a charming story of a couple of Black Muslim teenagers just hanging out, but it skillfully weaves weighty themes into its nonchalant narrative of two young men trying to maintain carefully constructed blinds around their sexuality. On a peaceful Friday afternoon, gregarious Maalik and unassuming Naz hustle street corners in their neighborhood selling lotto tickets and perfume — and reveling in the afterglow of a night spent together. What they don’t know is at the same time they’re being followed by Agent Sarah Mickell of the FBI, who is keeping an eye on the teens based on a tip from an informant. Naz and Maalik may be hiding something, but it’s not what the agent suspects.

The New Girlfriend
In his usual, biting fashion, 2006 Frameline Award recipient François Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women, Time to Leave) peels back the polished veneer of the modern bourgeoisie to reveal a vivid and subversive exploration of triangulated love with his latest, The New Girlfriend. Opening with a touching montage of the blossoming friendship between two girls who met at age seven, Claire (Anaïs Demoustier, Elles) and Laura (Isild Le Besco, À tout de suite), the film jumps to Laura’s funeral, as Claire announces the commitment she made to look after her best friend’s widower David (Romain Duris, L’auberge espagnol) and their newborn baby. This promise becomes much more than Claire bargained for when she walks in on David dressed as a woman. With subtle performances from both Demoustier and Duris and an airy, aware sense of humor, The New Girlfriend follows David’s transition into Virginia with the help of Claire — as new, untapped feelings begin to arise in her as well.

Out To Win
Framed by the story of one of 2014’s most discussed athletes, football’s Michael Sam (from his coming out as a college player, to his selection in the NFL draft, to generalized “locker-room panic,” to the kiss heard ’round the world), Out to Win features in-depth interviews with an all-star lineup of trailblazing lesbian and gay professional athletes: tennis legends Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova; Jason Collins, the first openly gay active NBA player; former NBA player John Amaechi; former pro baseball player Billy Bean; WNBA superstar Brittney Griner; activist and former NFL player Wade Davis; and retired NFL player David Kopay, who was the first former NFL player to come out as gay. With incredible access and insightful commentary from leading sports journalists, agents, coaches, activists, and fans, Malcolm Ingram’s film contextualizes the struggles and triumphs of these brave game-changing athletes.

Peter De Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn
Born in France and raised in prewar England, a sexually curious boy named Peter de Rome found a way to marry his two great loves: cinema and men. He captured the sexual adventures of friends and strangers alike on his Super 8 camera (remarkable in an age before cell phones and webcams); he then started showing his offbeat, playful, sex-positive underground films at house parties and private screenings in the early 1960s. These films’ groundbreaking erotic images soon made him a significant figure in underground cinema and a pioneering voice in the emergence of gay porn. Courtly and puckish at nearly 90 years old when the documentary catches up with him, de Rome shares decadent, funny tales about admirers such as David Hockney, William S. Burroughs, and Andy Warhol — and reveals how his feature-length adult film Adam & Yves managed to capture the final screen cameo of Greta Garbo. Grandfather of Gay Porn is chock-full of both soft-core and explicit clips from his artful short films (which span three decades), many of which have recently been archived by the British Film Institute for preservation.

Portrait of a Serial Monogamist
Fortysomething Toronto TV producer Elsie is the kind of nice Jewish girl your mother warned you about: the serial monogamist who seems to have slept with everyone in town. She has her breakup speech memorized, she’s got a cute girl in the wings (or at the coffee shop) ready for a rebound, and something about her lets you know she’s only going to break your heart. When Elsie coolly cuts it off with sweet performance artist Robyn, her friends challenge her to stay single for five months—no bars, no clubs, and (for god’s sake) no volunteer work. Seems easy, right? Enter hottie DJ Lolli, whose sexy intellect and love for adventure are impossible to ignore. This clever and sophisticated Canadian dyke romcom with a bitchin’ pop-punk soundtrack is at turns thoughtful and fresh—spinning a new groove into the old tune that we can’t always get (back) what we want.

Tab Hunter Confidential
America was a very different place in the not-so-distant, golly-gee past of the 1950s, as vibrantly recalled in this thoroughly entertaining new documentary on formerly closeted Hollywood heartthrob and golden-boy idol Tab Hunter. His blue-eyed, blond-haired California surfer stunning looks got him cast in frequently shirtless roles that propelled his career into superstar status. He became the prototype for young idols to come; so did the studios’ desire to hide his and others’ gayness. Following the rapturously received Vito (Frameline36) and I Am Divine (Frameline37), 2015 Frameline Award recipient Jeffrey Schwarz returns with his fascinating portrait of Divine’s two-time leading man (Lust in the Dust and Polyester).

Those People
Obsession, scandal, and shifting loyalties put pressure on a lifelong friendship and a new relationship in Joey Kuhn’s erotic, arresting directorial debut. Budding artist Charlie (Jonathan Gordon, God’s Pocket) is so hung up on handsome, vain BFF Sebastian (Jason Ralph, A Most Violent Year) that when asked to paint a self-portrait, he can only deliver yet another painting of his friend. In the wake of a scandal that envelops Sebastian after his Bernie Madoff-like father goes to jail, Charlie moves into Sebastian’s luxurious Manhattan apartment, the perfect setup for getting closer to the object of his affection. But Sebastian is like a mirage, always just out of reach; so when Charlie meets Tim (Haaz Sleiman, The Visitor, Nurse Jackie) — a Lebanese concert pianist, older settled in contrast to Sebastian’s chaos—Charlie is intrigued as well as attracted. Sebastian’s ensuing jealousy presents Charlie with a life-altering question: Should he maintain the status quo in the hopes that his feelings will someday be reciprocated, or should he pursue something real with his hot new man?

Seashore
Friends since childhood, Brazilian teenagers Martin (Mateus Almada) and Tomaz (Mauricio Barcellos) have since grown apart. When Martin’s grandfather dies, Tomaz journeys with him on a special mission to the windswept coastal town where the estranged family of his grandfather still lives. There, in an abandoned seaside house, secrets are shared, old family wounds are re-opened, and the boys are challenged to sort out for themselves the meanings of friendship, independence, and love in a suddenly adult world. A fine supporting cast and excellent performances by attractive young stars provide the innocence and hesitancy of youth that permeate Seashore, as the onetime boyhood friends delicately explore the nature of their friendship as maturing young men.

Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story
It’s an only-in-San-Francisco story: closeted Indiana boy heads for the gay mecca, comes out in the fabulous 1970s, builds an adult-entertainment empire that redefines pretty-boy masculinity, befriends David Geffen and Bill Clinton, helps found the Human Rights Campaign, donates millions to community causes, succumbs to AIDS, and is honored as the namesake of the SF LGBT Center — all while indulging his obsession with hairless bubble butts in visionary porn epics. This bio, by turns salacious, poignant, and inspiring, belongs to infamous provocateur and philanthropist Chuck Holmes, the subject of the (a)rousing documentary Seed Money. As the founder of Falcon Studios, which made stars of a bevy of bronzed, blond Adonises, Holmes created hardcore extravaganzas like The Other Side of Aspen for the VHS-and-cocaine era. Holmes parlayed his success into fundraising and activism. Though LGBT groups were happy to have his hard-earned moolah, they sometimes shunned their benefactor because of his background in the jizz biz. Today, Holmes is rightfully recognized as a hero both for liberating a generation’s libido and for supporting its members through their darkest days.

Stories from Some of Our Lives
Homophobia is not just strong in Kenya but institutionalized, which exponentially raises the stakes of The NEST Collective’s daring and sublime anthology of short films. The Nairobi-based multidisciplinary arts collective–a confederation of ten artists who have claimed the transformational mission to challenge and dissolve myths and norms of Kenyan identity — went around the country compiling the experiences of LGBTQI people as a first step toward breaking the silence enforced on queer people. Artfully adapting those 200 interviews into a mosaic of five dramatic vignettes, the filmmakers forge powerfully intimate depictions of identity under siege that poignantly call out ignorance and intolerance.

The Summer of Sangaile
Seventeen-year-old Sangaile is mesmerized by the aerial poetry of watching stunt planes in flight. A brooding, directionless girl trapped in a cage of adolescent fear and self-doubt, she meets Auste at an aeronautics show during her summer vacation. The vivacious Auste watches Sangaile watch the acrobatic airplanes and pursues the other girl, inviting her into her own group of friends. Director Alanté Kavaïté beautifully captures the shifting dynamics of group flirtation and friendship, as Auste and Sangaile single each other out, and the gang falls away. Despite different backgrounds, the two click. Sangaile is privileged, spending an idle summer in Mid-Century Modern splendor at her family’s country house. Auste lives in a concrete apartment block and works in the power plant’s restaurant. While Sangaile’s bedroom is bare, Auste’s room explodes with retro, DIY kitsch. Where Sangaile is afraid to pursue her fascination with flying, Auste explores her creativity fearlessly, making clothes, jelly, and art photos. Under Auste’s spell, Sangaile begins to peel off her protective layers — starting with her shirt, when Auste measures her for a dress.

The Surface
An aimless young man happens upon a yard sale, where he’s drawn to a vintage 8mm camera. His impromptu purchase awakens unexpected impulses, both artistic and personal, which adjust his life’s course and set him on unfamiliar paths toward illuminating destinations. Evan—played with great delicacy by lithe newcomer Harry Hains—is a waiflike, orphaned 22-year-old who grew up in the foster care system and is still feeling unmoored as he enters adulthood in Los Angeles. He is uninspired by his college classes, growing frustrated with his increasingly critical boyfriend, and eager to find something meaningful and fulfilling to connect to in his life. The 8mm camera quickly becomes the creative outlet he’d sought, and he dives headlong into his new hobby. Evan returns to the home of the elderly man who sold him the camera, in search of additional filmmaking equipment, and he ends up leaving with a stash of the family’s old home movies. The quietly poignant films feed Evan’s creativity, providing a (projected) family he never had and sparking not only an intimacy with the family’s past but also a surprising connection to its present.

The Yes Men Are Revolting
Yes! The Yes Men are back! In their follow-up to The Yes Men (2003) and The Yes Men Fix the World (2009), legendary prankster protesters Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum (also known as Igor Vamos and Jacques Servin) team up once again with director Laura Nix (The Politics of Fur, Frameline26), to chronicle their latest activist antics. But after working together for more than 15 years to aggressively (and humorously) expose corporate greed and political malfeasance, the devilish dynamic duo is now grappling with a bit of a midlife crisis. Mike has a wife and two kids, Andy is settling in to what he hopes will be a long-term relationship with his new boyfriend, and their new priorities and responsibilities are starting to have a noticeable effect on their creative partnership. That does not, however, stop them from continuing to make trouble—and news. But along the way, they find themselves starting to question the true value and impact of their activism: Is their work really helping to change the world? Watching this film is one way to make sure it does.