Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“FRIENDSHIP OF MEN”— Intimate Relationships


Intimate Relationships

Amos Lassen

Rosa von Praunheim’s “Friendship of Men” makes all kinds of assumptions about which works and correspondence from Goethe and his contemporaries.

 The film is a mix of documentation, historical digression and cheerful and silly re-enactments. Based on the study “Warm Brothers – Queer Theory and the Age of Goethe” by US Germanist Robert Tobin, Praunheim allows all kinds of scientific expertise to be heard. The 18th century was a time in which men fell verbally around their neck without explicitly attaching erotic importance to it.

Rosa von Praunheim and his co-author Valentina Schütz look at a range of people that may be a little too broad to deal more closely with individual relationships: by Duke August von Sachsen-Gotha-Altenburg, who liked to show himself in women’s clothes, via Heinrich von Kleist to Alexander von Humboldt, who also went to distant countries to be able to live out his homosexuality without sanction. The lesbian love between Adele Schopenhauer, the philosopher’s sister, and Sibylle Mertens, who maintained a “Rhenish salon,” is mentioned. It remains to be seen whether Heinrich Heine’s public disparagement of the poet August von Platen as a pederast, who “flirted with his buttocks”, actually gave the go-ahead for the criminalization and pathologizing of homosexuality that began in the mid-19th century.

Praunheim’s has a workshop character. Hearty game scenes in Weimar Park on the Ilm in front of amused throngs of schoolchildren and passers-by are loosely cut together with the scientific excursions. All contributors introduce themselves to the audience before speaking as experts or actors. This may seem foolish at times, but it reminds us of times when TV documentaries were not yet musical spectacles.

The German filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim wears a white wig from Goethe’s time in his new documentary. He takes the audience back to the era of Weimar classicism with game scenes and gives imaginative expression to the way that educated men from art and aristocratic circles used to interact. Goethe and Schiller were emotionally very involved and conducted a warm exchange of letters. But can it be concluded that the two poets have a homoerotic tendency, even practice? The director interviewed various scientists and authors. The speculative film turns out to be entertaining and informative. Because he makes the audience aware that in Goethe’s time it was quite common for men to cultivate intimate friendships.

In the 18th century, people from better circles maintained penpals and Goethe wrote diligently, for example to his friend Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi. Some of these correspondences read like love letters, but the researchers interviewed distinguish between expressions of emotion that were socially accepted and physical love. If Goethe and his friends insured themselves with affection, it was probably not meant sexually. The kisses that they sent to each other symbolized a closer feeling. Nevertheless, it is quite appealing to read passages from Goethe’s work and private letters from a homoerotic point of view and let the thoughts wander, as Rosa von Praunheim and his actors do here.

Some of the experts interviewed consider it possible that Goethe had sexual contact with men during his trip to Italy. Exciting is also the excursus to Johann Winckelmann, the founder of classical archeology, who decisively shaped Goethe’s love of classical music. He not only praised the beauty of Greek male statues, but was also known to be gay. However, the amusing film derives its special charm mainly from the fact that it shows how much more passionately heterosexual men insured their friendship than today.


Conclusion: The filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim delves into amusing speculations about the sexual orientation of Goethe, Schiller and some of her contemporaries. He immersed himself in the atmosphere of the Weimar classic with game scenes when men wrote glowing letters of friendship. The scientists he interviewed consider homoerotic tendencies to be possible with Goethe, but also point out that the expression of emotional love that was common at the time was usually not meant sexually. Speculations develop their special charm in coloring an era with other, sometimes surprisingly liberal, social customs.

“WITH ANDRE GIDE”— Life, Works and Choices


Life, Works and Choices

Amos Lassen

André Gide was haunted by questions of a religious and moral nature throughout his life. When he published “Les Nourritures terrestres” (English: “The Fruits of the Earth”) in 1897, he gained success and was accepted to the literary salons of Paris and it was then that he met with Paul Valery. After several trips to North Africa, Gide discovered and denounced “the exploitation of man by man”. Through his daughter, his grandchildren and his friends, Gide evokes his life, his work and his choices. Testimonies from his relatives fill this tribute to Gide.

He was a Nobel-prize-winning author, social justice crusader, anti-colonialist, adventure traveler, musician, and one-time Communist:  a larger-than-life character who dominated French letters from the turn of the 20th century until his death in 1951.

Directed by Marc Allégret, with whom Gide traveled extensively in French Equatorial Africa, the recently restored “With Andre Gide” was made in 1950, the year leading up to the writer’s death. The film begins by tracing Gide’s childhood and youth including the trauma of his father’s early death, the effects of his moralistic mother on his psyche, and the simultaneous development of his harsh, puritanical outlook with his growing infatuation with his cousin (and later wife), Madeleine Rondeaux.

Gide’s puritanism eventually fell away, especially during his African voyages. Allégret shows Gide’s humanistic side: his appreciation for the Africans he meets, and his determination to fight against their exploitation by colonial powers.


We become aware of the intimacy of Gide’s unguarded conversations (many in his home) with friends including some of the literary greats of the day. He discusses the nature of juries, the interpretation of piano solos and the early days of the magazine “La nouvelle revue française.” The film captures some delightful moments of Gide with his grandchildren.

This is a highly personal portrait and gives us a seldom seen side of Gide as a man driven by constant curiosity, and devotion to detail.

“THE TIMES OF BILL CUNNINGHAM”— Remembering Bill Cunningham


Remembering Bill Cunningham

Amos Lassen

 Bill Cunningham was a one-of-a-kind fashion maven, compulsive photographer and an eccentric. He used to speed around New York City on a bicycle in his blue jacket (that became his trademark) and shoot pictures of street fashion for the New York Times Sunday Style page. He loved his job yet was extremely modest. Cunningham died in 2016. Mark Bozek’s documentary “The Times of Bill Cunningham” reminds us of who the man was. The film is  fun and filled with gossip. It is also sensitive and touching in parts.  

The documentary, I understand,  is based on an extensive interview from 1994. Sarah Jessica Parker narrates taking us back to Cunningham’s recalls his conservative Boston childhood, his escape to New York when he was 19, and the day he got his first camera. He lived in the studios above Carnegie Hall and was able to mix with the likes of Marlon Brando, Norman Mailer, Judy Garland, Brooke Astor, Babe Paley, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. His photograph’s capture New York City’s famous and everyday residents. 

Cunningham’s trademark self-deprecating gratitude is felt all through the film as she shares how much he loves both his city and his work. In a sense the film is Cunningham’s elegy and we see and have to accept that the days are gone when the New York Times Style section commanded attention. The city seems to be dealing with nagged by the sense that it has lost some of what made it special.  It was very different when Cunningham was on the streets and now we can see from where it has come.

Bozek combines archival interviews between him and Cunningham from 1994 along with many photographs of celebrities and regular New Yorkers. Cunningham’s humility and vulnerability shine through the film as he candidly shares about where his shyness comes from. His mother was shy; his father was outgoing. In a moment of poignancy, he gets very emotional and chokes back tears when talking about his friends who died of AIDS.

Cunningham would occasionally stop by a fashion show or a glitzy affair to take a few pictures of the latest haute couture styles. However, he was more in his element on the streets of New York, snapping photographs of passersby with one of his old-school Nikon cameras.  We hear about his early days as a milliner to his work with Chez Ninon on Jackie Kennedy’s wardrobe to his time spent cataloguing the preparations for each of Diana Vreeland’s legendary exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art. We see Cunningham’s legendary frugality, his shocking disinterest in his own wardrobe, and his cave-like apartment above Carnegie Hall.

“Cunningham’s smiley self-effacement belies his serious contemplation of fashion and its place in the world.” He saw himself not as an artist nor as a journalist but as a historian, a documenter of politics and social upheaval as reflected in the things people wear.

Cunningham covered New York’s pride marches, while largely avoiding any discussion about this. He was rumored to be gay but he said that whether or not he was, he never thought about it. His life seems to be devoid of romantic encounters.

“UNTIL PORN DO US PART” (“Até Que o Porno Nos Separe “)— Mother and Son

“UNTIL PORN DO US PART” (“Até Que o Porno Nos Separe “)

Mother and Son

Amos Lassen

Eulália (Eulalia Almeida) is a conservative 65-year-old mother who finds out that her son, Sydney (Sydney Frenandez) who emigrated to Germany became Fostter (sic) Riviera, the internationally awarded first Portuguese gay porn actor. From shock and disgust to desperately trying to understand him, Eulália goes on an emotional journey that puts her values, expectations and perceptions to the test. The computer and Facebook are her main sources of information and communication. Her quest to get closer to her son makes her click on unexpected websites, meet unlikely people and challenge herself to see her son perform a live sex show at the annual Portuguese erotic fair.

Portuguese filmmaker Jorge Pelicano brings us a touching and often poignant observational film about a mother who is having a hard time coping with the fact that her son is a gay porn star. This is a documentary that uses a very intimate set-up to tell a story about a traditional family, communication in the age of the internet, and ultimately, acceptance and forgiveness.

When we first meet 64-year-old Eulalia in her apartment, she is sitting at the computer, going through messages on Facebook and looking at the profile of her son Sydney, or “Fostter Riviera, the First Gay Porn Star from Portugal”. We learn that she has accepted the fact that her son is gay, and even that he is involved in porn – but also that she cannot forgive him for not telling her. She cannot tolerate his increasingly raunchy (videos and photos yet she can’t not look at his Facebook profile every day. This is the only connection she has with Sydney who has stopped replying to her messages and no longer answers her calls. There are many tears and a great deal of sadness and prayers to her saint, Santa Rita.

Eulalia (Eulalia Almeida) is conservative and religious, but she is not uneducated or stupid. She is not a lonely woman; she has  a husband who we barely see, she gets visited by her family, and she is especially happy to see her daughter (to whom Sydney often goes to when he needs someone to talk to.) Eulalia works as a pollster. There is an extremely sensitive scene when she goes to a gay club and, after making initial contact, ends up polling one of the young, hip patrons.

Halfway through the film, we go to Germany, where we find Sydney preparing to shoot a porn scene. From this moment on, the movie opens up to his perspective (but not in as much in detail as his mother). There are more exterior scenes and a dynamic development as Sydney returns home to take part in a wild live show at the Eros Porto fair. Eulalia intends to see him perform.

The narrative structure takes us from initially feeling very sad for Eulalia, to understanding and eventually liking both her and her son. We also look at the complex and ambiguous combination of themes from traditional family to modern communication and technology, and how they influence once clearly defined social roles. We, of course, wonder how a woman like Eulalia would have reacted to her son’s blasphemous, immoral behavior some 15 years earlier, when gay rights did not include such universal social support and when porn was not all over the internet and Facebook had not yet existed. There is also the question of whether Sydney would have felt as confident moving to Germany and becoming Fostter Riviera.

The film is a structurally disciplined, emotionally engaging and thematically insightful film that cries out to be seen.

MAJOR!”— An Activist


An Activist

Amos Lassen

Miss Major Griffin-Gracy has form, history and experience. She is an activist of the old-school type, the type that actually achieved things. In other words, she is a true pioneer of everything LGBT! She has stories to tell and important things something to say. She says what is on her mind and does so with diplomacy, grace and “high-voltage electricity!” She has made a difference in many lives [and still does]. Annalise Ophelian’s film captures her in all her defiance and glory. It is a tribute to a truly formidable and enviable legacy of achievements.

The documentary explores the life and campaigns of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a veteran of the Stonewall Rebellion. She has been fighting for the rights of transgender women of color for over 40 years. Known to most people simply as Miss Major or Major she is a larger-than-life old school activist who leads by example, helping hundreds of trans-women of color, most of whom were strangers.

Assigned as a boy at birth in Chicago  in 1940 , Major came out when she as a teenager  Back then she and her peers did not know that they were questioning their gender. She says that much of the contemporary terminology surrounding gender identities did not exist back then. Interviews with Major cover most of her life and we see her as a perpetual optimist despite how the tragic nature of the stories she tells.  

Like so many transwomen of color who could not find  legitimate work, Major once histed johns on the street and shoplifted. She has served time in jail. Because of the terrible and illegal ways that trans women are treated in jail, she was inspired to set up and lead the TRANSGENDER GENDER-VARIANT & INTERSEX JUSTICE PROJECT (TGI JUSTICE PROJECT OR TGIJP).

Major says this is  part of her life’s work as transgender women are disproportionately incarcerated under Court Judgements. The inmates and warders feel entitled to impose their own punishments which include rape and physical beatings. 

She has also been a very vocal and effective activist for people with AIDS, homelessness, feminists but it is clear that her first love is helping trans women of color, several of whom call her Mother.  As a mentor and role model she has  worked to change an unfair system while suffering from serious life-threatening health issues 

We see Major dressed to the nines as well as wigless and in male attire which is oblivious to the physical image she is creating.  She still has time for a personal life, and seeing her with her ex romantic partners, balances her profile.  Major fathered a son some 40 years ago, and became his primary parent.

The film reminds us of the continuing plight of trans women of color whose lives are vulnerable still today.

“EVERYBODY’S EVERYTHING”— Remembering Lil Peep


Remembering Lil Peep

Amos Lassen

Bisexual performer Lil Peep was able to bring punk, emo and trap together and he was set to bring a new musical genre to the mainstream when he died as the result of a drug overdose at just 21 years old. Born Gustav Ahr, he touched countless lives through his words, his sound and his very being as we see in “Everybody’s Everything”, an intimate, humanistic portrait that tries “to understand an artist who attempted to be all things to all people.”

“Lil Peep stormed the independent music industry with his own brand of “Mumble Rap,” a genre that is defined by its unlimited amount of genre mashups and has its melodic flows and indecipherable lyrics mixed in with a thematic consciousness about anxiety, depression and being a millennial.”

Directors Sebastian Jones and Ramez Silyan’s Lil Peep documentary, “Everybody’s Everything,” is a hypnotic look at Ahr’s short life. We realize that he was a  depressed kid, (despite all the praise that he received). On November 17th, 2017, Lil Peep was found dead due to a drug overdose in the back of his tour bus outside the Tucson, Arizona location where he’d been scheduled to perform. The film barely touches on what was, by all accounts, an addiction to drugs; his body tested positive for everything, from cannabis and cocaine, to Tramadol, benzos and oxycodone. Rather, the documentary concentrates on Ahr’s rough childhood with his abusive father completely abandoning the family, as well as Peep’s struggles with anxiety and depression and how his naivete led him to let those around him take advantage of his rising fame.

Leftist historian John Womack, a Rhodes Scholar whose dissertation on Zapata and the Mexican Revolution gained him a professorship at Harvard, was his grandfather, and father figure, who wrote hundreds of letters to his grandson throughout childhood and adulthood. The letters are read by Womack himself in the doc and they are a kind of manifesto on how to live your life in commendable and socialist-driven ways. Peep tried to do so to do but this also contributed to his impending downfall as he turned out to be too kind and too good-hearted to the “friends” that surrounded him on a daily basis.

The film is something of a requiem of sorts that use a millennial-driven setting of social media and fame to bring its message. It’s also a historic account of talent who dared to bared his heart and soul through his honest lyrics and he was part of a counter-culture movement that showed the problem that is occurring with today’s disassociated youth. We feel Peep crying for help in every frame.

This is a relevant meta-commentary on the enormous toxicity of “instafame” via social media platforms such as YouTube and Twitter. Even more than that it’s a look at what it’s like to be very young, righteously talented, and completely unaware of where dangers lie.

Lil Peep took the idea of “bedroom pop” to new heights. In the latter part of his short but influential career, he became known for his stage shows, which he would perform from a set meant to evoke his teenage bedroom. The gangly, tattoo-covered, pink-haired 20-year-old would stand before a forlorn twin-size bed and a wall of anime posters while his  screaming fans sang every word of his songs back at him.

The directors chose to conduct the majority of their interviews with their sources in their bedrooms, often in bed. The bedrooms are not glamorous, the walls are dirty, often with crude graffiti, the bed sheets are unwashed and unmade and the subjects often seem swamped in them. Crumbs and ash and other residues cover Ikea bedside tables and glass coffee tables. Layla Shapiro, a.k.a. Toopoor, Peep’s ex-girlfriend, gives her interview in a gossamer puffed-sleeve gown, half-submerged under a comforter. There is a hand-painted Louis Vuitton logo on the wall above her.

For Lil Peep, the bedroom became a place of artistic and emotional freedom. But it’s also the place where we grieve. Executive produced by Ahr’s mother Liza Womack and Terrence Malick, the documentary is more emotional than definitive. It stops short of bestowing sainthood on the artist, but still aiming for something cosmic.  



A Personal Journey

Amos Lassen

Simon is a gay Catholic man from the West of who has never truly felt accepted by his own church. This was a problem that Matthew, his Jewish boyfriend from North London, had never had to face. Simon considered converting to Judaism and he started with a trip to the local Rabbi where they talked about issues like circumcision, among other things. Simon wanted to get to Judaism’s homeland: Israel and so he jumped on a plane to Tel Aviv, ‘the gayest city on Earth’, where he met gay people from all walks of life, including gay soldiers in the IDF. Then he went to Jerusalem, where the story here was very different. Extreme views towards homosexuality are everywhere and Simon felt this at an uncomfortably close proximity. Then, he had to make a decision that would change his life forever.

Simon’s religion didn’t seem relevant to his lifestyle until he met his Jewish boyfriend Matthew, whose synagogue allows same-sex marriage. Simon therefore goes on a personal journey as a gay man to discover if he could convert to Judaism, and whether it was worth sacrificing his Catholic upbringing. He started by talking to a variety of people, including other gay Jewish men and a Rabbi, before going to Israel. (I find this extremely interesting in that so many gay people leave religion rather than embrace it).

As Simon delves deeper, he faces big doubts especially in Jerusalem where he is faced with more conservative and hostile views. Finally Simon visits one of the holiest sites in Christianity, where Jesus Christ was believed to have been resurrected and there he met a trainee Catholic Priest, to question his own faith. He realized that if he became Jewish, he would have to. give up the Catholic core belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God and he wonders if he could do so.

While the title “My Big Gay Jewish Conversion” (produced by BBC One) sounds playful, we see the serious question of whether there is a place in modern mainstream religion for gay people.

Simon’s local rabbi in London was happy to marry Simon and Matthew and didn’t appeared too concerned about the explicit interdiction in Jewish sacred text against gay sex (which he more or less brushed off as the spiritual equivalent of a parking infraction). The main sticking point was that Simon would have to be circumcised.

In Jerusalem, Simon was confronted by hardliners who told him to his face that his orientation was an “abomination”. One scholar described homosexuality as a lifestyle choice and recommended that Simon have his doctor prescribe pills to fix the problem. He became so upset that he decided not to convert.

The documentary fails to adequately explore the Catholic faith in which Simon had been steeped growing up in Ireland. Had he always been religious? Was his moral code tested when he realized he was gay? I wanted the film to explore these issues. A little more background would have put his theological problems into context. Simon says he still looks back on his younger years “with fondness”, but became disillusioned when he realized being gay meant he could never marry in the eyes of God. This changed when he met Jewish boyfriend Matthew and found that Judaism offered an answer Catholicism could not, but that would mean becoming Jewish and renouncing his former beliefs including that Jesus is the son of God.

Simon’s aim in making the film is to help other gay people struggling to reconcile religion and sexuality. “They are afraid to be who they are because of their religious background and afraid they may be shunned from their communities if they act on their sexual impulses.”

We see that there is much to gain from converting to Judaism, including being allowed to marry in the eyes of God. But there are sections of the community that would never accept his lifestyle and he would have to turn his back on the core religious beliefs he has known all his life. We see that these sacrifices were simply too great for Atkins to take the next step.




Courageous Journeys

Amos Lassen

Michael Brewer’s “In Full Bloom: Transcending Gender“ follows the journeys of thirteen transgender and two gay actors as they transform their lives through the use of monologue, dialogue and performance art while preparing for the world premiere of an original stage play.

We go behind-the-scenes, to rehearsals and see performance footage interwoven with candid personal interviews with the cast, who talk about how they deal with family, inner conflicts, discrimination, coming out, surgery, hormones and the complexities of sexual identity and orientation. As they share their own journeys, the actors transcend transgender and challenge us to go past stereotypes and see what we all have in common as human beings.

The stage play that they work on and perform, “Lovely Bouquet of Flowers: An Exploration of Non-Traditional Gender Voices,” by Jazzmun Nichcala and director, David Hays Gaddas” is the focus here.

Stereotypes are deep-seated and difficult to overcome (I define stereotypes as widely accepted lies), and this film will help to dispel some of the mystery surrounding transgender issues while shedding light on the beauty of diversity. The documentary humanizes the trans community against a backdrop of media that often sensationalize or poke fun.

Telling these stories normalizes the transgender community by “show[ing] what similarities they have with mid-America.” “Everyone wants to be loved, and I hope that comes through in the documentary.”

Fifteen characters embody the diversity and the sameness of the transgender community. We see how complex and diverse these people are and how much depth there is to them.

Although “In Full Bloom” takes on multiple issues — homelessness, religion, familial support, body enhancement, it is light-hearted as it plays out as an honest portrayal of trans experiences. The people in the film are funny, but what they say is so important.

We are all the same; we have the same emotions and issues that transcend gender, race and everything else. “Wherever you are in life, we can all identify on some level.”

This documentary gives viewers a glimpse into the lives of a marginalized segment of our society that is not well known or understood. Polls show that only less than two percent of Americans personally know someone of transgender experience. Most people get their information about people of transgender experience from the mainstream media, which, in the past, has sensationalized and minimized trans stories and trans lives. The time has come to change that and that is what this film does.



“I WAS NOT BORN A MISTAKE”— Meet Yiscah Smith


Meet Yiscah Smith

Amos Lassen

·Yiscah Smith was living as an ultra-Orthodox married man with six children and deep ties in the community before coming out as a gay man and leaving Israel. Once she was back in the United States, Yiscah come out as trans, underwent gender transition and took her current name. It took twenty years for Yiscah to return to Israel, where she became a religious educator and spiritual mentor. The film shows her incredible journey to self-acceptance, compassion, and, finally, to her home in Israel. It alternates between past and present, where she helps clients on their own paths of awareness and self-discovery.

This is probably one of the most intriguing transition stories we have ever seen.  Born in a devout Observant Jewish family in Brooklyn as Yakov Smith, he was picked on and bullied for being effeminate.  As he grew into a teenager and young man, he became increasing desperate to fit in with society.

By the time the he was 24 in 1971, he was  totally immersed in the Chabad Hasidic movement in Brooklyn, and was then married an Orthodox woman. They had three sons and three daughters, and in 1985 they decided  to immigrate to Israel.

Where Smith taught at a synagogue in Jerusalem, he was considered a rising star and was made chairman in the Chabad house where he was in charge of Shabbat and entertained guests from around the globe. Everything seemed great on the outside but all the while, Smith did not questioning their own identity.  But after a Shabbat dinner, a guest drew Smith to aside and told him that he could see through his act.

This is what brought Smith to take s good look at life and he decided to come out as gay with the result that  his wife started divorce proceedings.  This also led to Smith being fired and shunned by his community. This eventually caused him to return to New York alone.

In New York, Smith  led a secular life and ending up in California, working at Starbucks and living with a boyfriend.  The relationship ended when the boyfriend said that Smith was too much like a woman. This was an important moment.

Becoming Yiscah Smith did not men just undergoing gender reassignment surgery but also finding her faith again and  coming back to Orthodox Judaism. After having a brief relationship with a man from Texas man and coming to terms with her estranged mother, Smith returned to re-settle in Israel and has been successful as an educator, spiritual advisor  and speaker in the “post-denominational Jewish experience.  She is confident and happy and even while knowing and reluctantly accepting that only 2 of her 6 children will speak with her and then, occasionally.  We see Smith as a woman who usually overthinks things and some of her decisions are still surprising.

She does not  accept that she is a trans woman and demands that she has always been a straight woman who is attracted to men.  She firmly believes this and when questioned about she is quick to dismisses her involvement with any transgender community. With Smith, the real transition is finding her way back to Judaism and her religion is the one and only identity that accepts her with unquestioning faith.

“I Was Not Born A Mistake” is the directorial debut of Israeli filmmakers Eyal Ben Moshe and Rachel Rusinek. I would have liked a few more interviews/comments from people who had shared parts of Smith’s life.  Nonetheless, this is an important film that makes valuable contributions to the dialogue about the transgender community.

“A WORM IN THE HEART”— The LGBT+ Community in Russia


The LGBT+ Community in Russia

Amos Lassen

 “A Worm in the Heart” is a “collection of never before seen stories of tragedy, strength and resilience from the LGBT+ community across Russia. The film follows the trajectory of the Trans-Siberian railway, as Director Paul Rice and Producer Liam Jackson Montgomery stop off in cities thousands of kilometers apart to meet with activists and non-activists to find out what it means to be queer in Russia.”

We follow a gay couple from Ireland and Wales as they travel on the Trans-Siberian railway through Russia, stopping off in multiple cities to meet with members of the LGBTQ+ community living under oppressive laws and harsh societal attitudes. The documentary details the extraordinary lives and brave stories of the diverse LGBTQ+ communities across Russia. It was  shot in six cities along the Trans-Siberian railway and uses intimate interviews about current Russian life, featuring deeply personal and moving accounts from activists and non-activists alike. As we follow Rice and his partner, Liam Jackson Montgomery, we meet many heroic LGBTQ+ people who risk their lives to live authentically under oppressive laws and prejudices (including Nobel Peace prize nominees and international activists to drag queen performers thriving in remote Siberia).

Rice directed the film as well as appears in it. He also wrote, produced and was the cinematographer. He says he made “A Worm in the Heart” in an effort provide personal accounts of the current state of the LGBTQ+ communities in Russia, to call attention to the parallels from these repressed societies with western nations and  send out a cautionary message against the rise of homophobia and transphobia, and to offer a universal message of hope that people should not remain hostage to politicians or governments.

While western nations were debating marriage equality and workplace protections for LGBTQ+ people, laws like the ‘gay propaganda law’ were being enacted in Russia making any public display of queerness an arrestable offense. “The subject and contents of this documentary are incredibly timely and important due largely to the current state of human rights in global affairs. LGBTQ+ rights are being almost entirely ignored or quashed in Russia. State owned media sources in Russia often dismiss or play down the plight of LGBTQ+ people in Russia, and the fact that politicians and those in leadership positions even refuse to acknowledge the brutal atrocities happening in the state of Chechnya against gay men is a glaring example.”

Rice says, “The people I met with along this journey have profoundly impacted mine and my partner Liam’s life, and I hope that this documentary will spread their stories and messages further afield. The LGBT+ community is not confined to national borders, and I believe it is entirely our global responsibility to use our voices to support the LBGT+ people of Russia and beyond.”