Category Archives: GLBT documentary

A WOMB OF THEIR OWN”— “Separating Gender from Genitalia”

“A WOMB OF THEIR OWN”

“Separating Gender from Genitalia”

Amos Lassen

Today’s gender politics include people living beyond the male/female binary. In Cyn Lubow’s documentary film “A Womb of Their Own” we meet a diverse group of masculine pregnant people who have something about gender to share with us. The people Lubow introduces us to six “masculine-identified people” who tell the stories of their pregnancies and other issues they have faced navigated.

Rae Goodman is a high school biology teacher, whose students understand that both men and women can have beards and be pregnant. Kerrick, a museum science educator and Rae’s husband, identifies as a trans man who is attracted to people rather than gender.

Lorenzo Ramirez identifies as a straight man who dates women. He can’t afford top surgery to remove his breasts so he wears a skintight body suit, which for him is very uncomfortable, impractical and ultimately depressing. Imelio Ramirez, Lorenzo’s 14-year-old son, tells his dad how to use a public urinal and survive the experience.

Morgan Weinert uses the pronoun “they” after having used masculine pronouns and testosterone in the past. They are attracted to a variety of people that identify as male and trans. In their mind they are a “fabulous gay man.” Weinert has a trans male partner.

Darcy Allder is a social work student who is negotiating his school/work life while pregnant. He had top surgery nine years ago and is uncomfortable socially while taking testosterone. He has found that passing as a white male brought inherent misogyny. He has stopped taking the hormone and now sees himself as living in a gender middle space.

AK Summers identifies as “faggy butch,” and thought of pregnancy as an awful experience. Summers chronicled her experience through a graphic memoir, “Pregnant Butch”.

In “A Womb of Their Own” we share the intimate details and reflections of those who are outside the gender binary and see the societal challenges they face. The film’s goal is “to help relieve pain for people who feel misunderstood, confused or shamed just because their gender doesn’t fit someone else’s rules.” The film challenges many common assumptions about gender so people who don’t fit the assumptions can be more visible, understood, and accepted.

The people in this documentary come from all walks of life and “display a variety of preferences in terms of how they identify, how they see themselves and how they choose to present themselves along the gender spectrum. But what they all have in common is their desire to give birth to a child and to raise it.”

“OUT OF ORDER”— Queer Pastors Redefining Church

“OUT OF ORDER”

Queer Pastors Redefining Church

Amos Lassen

Amanda Blugrass’ “Out of Order” is a full length documentary that follows the journey of three queer members of the American Presbyterian Church. Most gay and transgender people know what it feels like to be told they are broken and to be rejected. This message many times comes from Christians. This documentary joins a group of queer future ministers at a secret retreat in the South. The critical decisions they make there will forever change the course of their lives. This is the first film to positively portray queer people of faith actively changing the meaning of church through alternative Christian communities, worship practices, and theological interpretation. This is more than a film about being gay or Christian— it is about empowerment. We are invited and challenged to stand up and start making a difference.

Today we are living at a time when America is divided over homosexuality and the bible and this is not just Christian America. Because of a recent change of rules, LGBT Presbyterians can receive ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). As nice as that might be, there is another obstacle and that is finding a pulpit that will hire them since we all aware how long it takes for attitudes to change. These newly ordained ministers question why anyone would want to lead a group that does not accept them. They have the added task of trying to teach tolerance and understanding. (I might mention here that I really hate the word “tolerance” because to be tolerated does not mean one is accepted.)

While this is a film about Presbyterians, it is fairly universal to state that many LGBTQ people feel that religion and God has abandoned them. The three people we meet here want to be leaders and through their encounters with intolerance, they become “the authentic heirs of modern Christianity: faith, hope and love.”

 In “Out of Order”, we see the complex and painful struggles faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer faith leaders as they confront bigotry and work to build loving support within their churches. Just because the rules have changed, that does not mean that we are welcome in all houses of worship and the sad thing is that we are well aware of that. Yet even with the way many feel today there are some brave individuals who are emerging as new kinds of spiritual leaders and who work at winning acceptance.

These leaders of this movement are young LGBTQ people of faith claiming a place in their church pulpits and being recognized in the everyday moments of church life.

We still need greater awareness and understanding of bisexuality, and more understanding about the transgender individuals since they are becoming more visible and demanding. In this film, we get to see the reality of gender transition and lived sexual identity as a person of faith.

With all of the secular and cultural victories that the LGBT community has won in this country, there is still disparity toward equality and acceptance within the Christian community. Some Christian denominations have rejected the movement toward equality for LGBTQ people in sacred spaces. Others have accepted structural changes that have created, to varying degrees, space for LGBTQ families in church life and embraced marriage equality. As a response to this, conservative activists are increasingly rallying support for state and local bills designed to restrict the rights of LGBTQ people.

Since I am Jewish, I have seen the tremendous changes made in the reform and conservative, the renewal and reconstructionist branched of Judaism. The Orthodox branch of Jewry is facing the same problems as the other religions. To say that I am amazed at the changes is an understatement. I really never thought I would see any of these changes I my lifetime. I know that telling others to be patient and things will work out is not what we want to hear but I have seen it happen over and over again. Whatever you believe or not, this is an important film and everyone needs to see it.

http://www.outoforderdoc.com/trailer

“F(L)AG FOOTBALL”— Upending Stereotypes

“F(l)ag Football”

Upending Stereotypes

Amos Lassen

When I was growing up there was that misconception of gay men as limp-wristed and effeminate that are not into sports. The truth is that there are all sorts of gay men; some are indeed more in touch with their feminine side but there are others who are macho and who love sports. Come to think of it, I know some limp-wristed straight men that hate sports too.

The National Gay Flag Football League grew out of pick-up games that gay men put together to play football. Many found playing football in any sort of competitive manner to be uncomfortable for them while others wanted to use it as a means of meeting new people with similar interests. Then something unexpected happened in that the teams of predominantly gay players began to bond. This started in New York City and the idea of gay leagues began to catch on in cities around the country. Eventually, the National Gay Flag Football League came into being.

The idea of competitive tournament of gay teams around the country culminating in a championship game was the idea of sportswriter Cyd Ziegler who is himself an ultra-competitive football player. His team, the New York Warriors, became the dominant team winning three Gay Bowl championships in a row. However, in Gay Bowl IX however, they were beat by the Los Angeles Motion (led by Cyd Ziegler who had moved out to Los Angeles.

The Warriors, led by team captain Wade Davis (a former NFL player) were eager to regain the title that they’d lost. The Motion had two of the best quarterbacks in the league with MVP Drew Boulton and Christophe Faubert and they were just as motivated to repeat. The dark horse of Gay Bowl X was the host team, the Phoenix Hellraisers, led by quarterback Joey Jacinto with this very strong arm and Jared Garduno, the heart and soul of the team.

“F(l)ag Football”, the documentary follows the three teams as they prepare for the weekend event. We hear from the players, many of whom found the acceptance here that they couldn’t find in the gay bar and club scene. Some of the players talk openly about their coming out and some of those stories are heartbreaking. Davis tells us that his extremely religious mother, whom he had been especially close to as a child, washed her hands of him. Los Angeles captain Brenton Metzler talks humorously of how his sister, a lesbian wishing to deflect her parents’ attention away from herself, outed him against his wishes.

We are all aware of the clichés about football and how it builds character and forges bonds not unlike those forged by soldiers. We begin to realize that the men we meet here these just gay men; they’re men period. The only difference between them and straight men is that they prefer men as romantic and sexual partners.

The most exciting part of “F(l)ag Football” arrives at the end, when two bitter rivals face each other. But the most insightful scene comes in the middle of this documentary, when the gay New York Warriors take on a straight team from Long Island.

The Long Island players aren’t told that most of the Warriors are gay, and excerpts shown from the game show intense competition. When one Long Islander learns of the opposing players’ sexuality, he reacts with a shrug and with praise for their skills. That’s how it should be— we should judge people on their abilities and without preconceptions. Not everyone is there yet. Director Seth Greenleaf gives us some optimistic moments as we follow the teams as they train for the yearly Gay Bowl flag football tournament. (The game, a variation on touch football, places a premium on speed; players are downed not by tackles, but when an opponent pulls a marker from the ball carrier’s belt.)

Along the way, we explore the conflict between traditional views of masculinity, especially in sports (and in the N.F.L. in particular), and stereotypes of homosexuality. It’s an interesting mix. The film gains momentum, however, as the athletes experience hope, disappointment, pain and joy during the final contest. We see that on the field and off, we are all so much alike.

Throughout the film the players make it clear that there is nothing sexual for them about playing the game; it’s all about the competition and the game itself. These men are as tough as nails regardless of their sexuality but since the point of this film is to try to change perceptions of gay men then to a certain extent their sexuality has to be part of the equation. What we really see are talented, hard working and masculine football players who happen to be gay. Their sexuality is part of who they are but it isn’t the only thing that defines them.

The film asks all the right questions that we hear in the football vs. homosexuality debate, while revealing a lesser-seen part of the gay community. The players are capable of divorcing sex with contact sports. They may even be able to understand better than their straight counterparts that the reason why they play sports is secondary to winning and primarily to find brotherhood with their teammates.

These guys are all jocks. We hear the “F” word many times and they speak in sentences filled with clichéd “macho-isms”. Many of these athletes were raised with the casual homophobia and systemic heterosexism that even they write off. Player Wade Davis says, “We’ve created this nationwide narrative that gay men aren’t as tough,” but when confronted by a straight man, \ “We can go outside right now and I’ll run through you like a Mack truck, and you tell me if gay guys aren’t as tough as straight guys.”

Opposite this, these men have found that looking for the bonds they seek in the traditional gay scene can be problematic, sometimes promoting unhealthy lifestyle choices that are often image-obsessed and ruthlessly judgmental.

As a sociological study, the film is fascinating. We see that there are gay men out there creating alternatives such as the National Gay Football League. We see that “Advocacy and activism come in many ways other than just marches.

“THE WAR WITHIN”— A Personal Short Film

“The War Within”

A Personal Short Film

Amos Lassen

American/Palestinian singer/actor/filmmakerZaher Saleh’s deeply new short film is deeply personal and very moving. “The War Within” tells the story of a gay Muslim man’s struggle to reconcile his sexuality with his faith and his great desire for acceptance from his family. This is his journey to love and accept himself.

“GRACE JONES: BLOODLIGHT AND BAMI”— The Real Grace Jones

“Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami”

The Real Grace Jones

Amos Lassen

Filmed over the course of ten years, director Sophie Fiennes brings us a stylish and unconventional look at Grace Jones, the Jamaican-born model, singer, and New Wave icon.

Jones, the statuesque Jamaican model-turned-singer, actress and icon has made a career performing versions of herself. Yet, we never know who is the real Grace Jones behind the masks and makeup? This film moves between her various personae onstage and off. This is not a traditional music biography with sit-down interviews and archival footage. This treatment is as stylish and unconventional as its subject. In the subtitle, “bloodlight” refers to the studio signal for recording and “bami” is a Jamaican flatbread. They stand for art and life.

We gain entry into Jones’s private spaces: her family in Jamaica, in the studio with long-time collaborators Sly & Robbie, and in Paris with her one-time image-maker and lover, Jean-Paul Goude. She demonstrates that you wouldn’t want to go against her. “Sometimes you have to be a high-flying bitch.” We also see her in sweet and vulnerable moments.

Interspersed throughout the film are performances from a 2016 concert staged for Fiennes’ camera. Strutting the stage like an Amazon in heels, Jones performs songs such as “Slave to the Rhythm,” “Love is the Drug” and “Amazing Grace” with multiple costume changes. Whatever mysteries she conceals, we can’t take our eyes off her.

The film opens with two separate performances of the same song from a 2016 concert. In the first, Jones prowls the stage catlike, purring from behind an Eiko Ishioka-designed death mask. In the second, she croons the same lyrics while effortlessly, endlessly twirling a hula-hoop. We see that Jones is both these people, and more. She reinvents herself as whim and circumstance dictate and Fiennes’s film follows that lead.

The majority of the film is comprised of low-res DV footage following Jones on different tours, in the recording studio and on a visit home (apparently circa 2005) to her family in Jamaica. It’s an eclectic approach that works once we realize that the gorgeous concert footage is of secondary concern.

Fiennes is more interested in visually and aurally personifying Jones’s raw, often ragged creative process. The sense is that, off stage, Jones is an icon navigating perpetually muddy waters, with a different face for every occasion. No one persona, however, cancels out any of the others. There’s no real grounding to Fiennes’s method. There are moments (especially in the Jamaica-set sequences, in which Jones near-fully blends in among her family, friends, and community) where it seems as if we’re watching a whole other human being—one who never attained stardom, but only dreamed it. The effect of Fiennes’s unmoored approach to her subject is to take us out of normal time and put us on Grace Jones time while we see a true star living life on her own terms.

“SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD”— Scandals Brought to Life

“Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood”

Scandals Brought to Life

Amos Lassen

Scotty Bowers is a Hollywood legend, whose bestselling memoir chronicled his decades spent as sexual procurer to the stars.

He catered to the sexual appetites of celebrities, straight, gay, and whatever for decades. In the 1950s, he ran a gas station in the shadow of the studio lots where he’d fix up his clientele with quickies, threesomes, orgies and whatever they wanted. Then, in 2012, he finally disclosed his secrets in his bestselling memoir “Full Service”. What we see in both the book and this film is a dramatic counter-narrative on Hollywood’s Golden Age. While the studio PR machines were promoting their stars as hetero, wholesome, and monogamous, Bowers was fulfilling their true desires.

The film opens with the book’s publication. Bowers is now turning 90 still has the vigor of someone decades younger. He is an unparalleled raconteur. We get new and different takes on Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, etc., etc., etc. Unlike other sex workers who are often portrayed as sleazy, damaged, or degraded, Bowers defies these stereotypes. He’s fun and loves to please. We follow him over several months as he meets up with old colleagues who corroborate his outlandish tales.

Filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer has long been a student of Hollywood’s secrets and portrayal of Bowers is wonderful as he basks in nostalgia and copes with the tendencies to uncover buried documents as well as some buried life passages.

“IS IT SAFE TO BE GAY IN THE U.K.?”— Homophobia in Britain

“IS IT SAFE TO BE GAY IN THE U.K.?”

Homophobia in Britain

Amos Lassen

Filmmaker Mark Henderson’s documentary shows us that homophobia is still very much alive in the United Kingdom. We see that homophobic hate crime are daily occurrences and on the rise in Britain through the conversations with victims who share their stories about being attacked. These crimes are both physical and verbal.

Even though it has been fifty years since the partial decriminalization of homosexuality, the graphic reality of homophobic attacks is exposed here and it is shocking. The moving testimonies given here show that it is not always safe to be gay in Britain.

Long-term partners James and Dain who open up about the pressure put on their relationship after they were assaulted in supposedly gay friendly Brighton; a brutal attack that left both of them with multiple injuries and Dain with a broken eye socket and wondering if he would ever be able to see again. Their story is far from unique and we see this as Jenny loving talks about her brother, Ian Baynham, who died of injuries sustained in a frenzied homophobic attack in the centre of London, having been kicked to death on the ground.

We hear Connor’s horrific tale of being habitually bullied at school, with the words “you’re gay – you should be dead” constantly being thrown at him. He thought that things would get better after he moved into his own flat, but he was attacked by another resident with a hammer with such force that it was still embedded in his head when the ambulance crew arrived. He was in a coma for four weeks while surgeons fought to save his life. They had to remove a quarter of his skull to relieve the pressure on his brain. Connor not only survived, but has since found love in the arms of boyfriend Dom. Yet once again he was not alone, as victim after victim recall painful memories of being kicked in the face until unconscious, of being repeatedly stamped on the head and so on just for being who they are. These victims and so many others cry out for justice to be served.

Alex and Becky have been groped, punched and slammed into a street light, on what was meant to have been a quiet night out. Justice was not served, with one defendant having fled to South Africa to avoid sentencing, leaving the couple struggling to move on from both the assault and the court case itself. And even though the man responsible for the vicious attack on Connor was duly sentenced to nineteen years for attempted murder, Connor is left unable to run or use his right hand, having to take medication every single day, with epilepsy and severe migraine now with him for the rest of his life. Jenny meanwhile is starting the restorative justice program in the hope of gaining peace of mind, whilst James and Dain’s relationship has notably changed and sadly not for the better, with their views of being out in public now at odds with each other.

We might think that we are living in enlightened times but we see here that it is not always safe to be openly gay and that homophobia hasn’t gone away. This documentary also questions the motives behind homophobia and it shows what is often overlooked; the repercussions of such unprovoked attacks on the victims, their families and friends; many mourning the loss of loved one and the void that is left behind. A film like this makes us angry as it should and we need to be outraged at the sickening reality that is still with us and that can get worse.

“MANOLO: THE BOY WHO MADE SHOES FOR LIZARDS”— Meet Manolo Blahnik

“Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes For Lizards”

Meet Manolo Blahnik

Amos Lassen

Manolo Blahnik is a self-confessed ‘cobbler’ and the man regarded by most influential fashion figures as ‘the best shoe-maker of the 20th and 21st centuries. I understand that Manolo only agreed to making this film if it was more about those who testify to his genius and not about himself. Director Michael Roberts does just that but he also manages to have Manolo, who is now 74, appear on the screen and we see him as quite an eccentric character who is obsessed with becoming the new Cecil Beaton who was famed for his designs for dressing film stars.

Manolo was born in the Canary Islands. His father was a wealthy Czech pharmacist and his mother was a Spanish plantation owner. They educated their son to be a diplomat, but he went to London and got his first job in fashion managing a boutique. Just two years later, in 1970, during a chance meeting with Diana Vreeland in NY (who looked through his portfolio of sketches) took him to his focus of designing footwear.

In 1972 he designed shoes for Ossie Clark’s runway show, which Blahnik admits could have been the end of his career. He had   harmed several of the models as he had naively omitted to put steel in the heels making the shoes pretty but dangerous. However they were a big success and soon he was designing shoes for a whole coterie of leading British designers of the day.

America beckoned him and his creations were carried by Bloomingdales and it did not take long before his clientele was a who’s who list of fashion celebrities. Of course, he received a tremendous push by “Sex and the City”. Today women are happily paying $1000 or more for a pair of his shoes and Blahnik lives the life of a semi-reclusive English aristocrat.  He is a man who loves fame but who also avoids any personal intimate relationships beyond his collection of close friends. These include Blahnik’s very good friends John Galliano and David Bailey, Naomi Campbell, Paloma Picasso,  André Leon Talley and Rihanna, and they all pay tribute to him here.

“HOUSE OF Z”— Zac Posen’s House of Style

 

“House of Z”

Zac Posen’s House of Style

Amos Lassen

Zac Posen, was barely a teenager when he started making dresses for friends and then drafted his entire family to help him launch a haute-couture business, the a House of Z. Immediate success caused growing demand and the stress plus Posen’s “enfant-terrible” persona was the cause of serious tension within the Posen household which led to a very public breakup.

Film director Sandy Chronopoulos had access to every member of the Posen family to and their video records from which she has constructed a compelling film that takes around the Posen’s Fall 2015 collection. This collection was considered to be Posen’s “make-it-or-break-it moment”. We also see the fascinating back story to Posen’s career. Posen is a gay, dyslexic outsider with a talent for fashion. His family supported his dream of becoming a designer and he launched in their Soho loft. His friendships with famous women, including Claire Danes and Natalie Portman, helped catapult him to fame. At just 21 years of age, his work was being talked about and The “New York Times” announced that he was a new star that must be watched. It did not take long before Posen’s dresses were being worn on red carpets everywhere. Hip-hop mogul Sean Combs joined his team and provided music for Posen’s fashion shows. As his fame and ego grew, so did the distance between him and his family. This affected his artistry and he was soon known as “the former boy wonder.” When Posen’s meteoric rise ended, he struggled with depression yet plotted a comeback and his friends were on his side. Posen is an exquisite craftsman and showman and filmgoers will love this look at him and this story of familial love, determination and redemption.

Posen documents himself throughout his young fashion career and we quickly understand that his rise in the New York fashion world was aided by privilege and connections. Posen first made waves in fashion during his time at the Brooklyn arts high school Saint Ann’s School, where he met New York fashion insiders like Paz de la Huerta and Claire Danes, and it was then that he began his entry into the competitive fashion world. Posen shares what it was like to grow up in a family that is wealthy and supportive of his talent. (He is the son of artist Stephen Posen based in an artistic Lower Manhattan neighborhood). Posen also enjoyed the early support from Vogue editor, Anna Wintour.

Posen’s talent for design and self-promotion were apparent even from an early age. After photographing his designs on friends like de la Huerta and Danes, he went to London to attend the prestigious Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design. Even in these early stages of his career, it’s clear that Posen loves the spotlight, and we see how his brash personality and photogenic presence came together at the right time and greatly helped his meteoric rise in the fashion industry. After his first runway show in 2001 at the age of 21, we see Posen having already conquered the fashion world.

From there, the film follows a conventional rise-fall-redemption documentary structure, with Posen at a crossroads as the world deals with the fallout of the 2008 U.S. recession.. Posen is open about the creative, business, and personal mistakes he made during this stage of his life, and is compelling as always as an interview subject. But the missteps that he made during these collections are expected for anyone who find success at an early age and he did not suffer a profound existential crisis as some thought. We see that he refined his taste in tailoring and he put emphasis on the value of his hand-crafted approach to fashion in an industrialized climate. Through these sequences Posen shares the details and process behind every stitch of his work. The film is at its best when Posen speaks through his work. From what we see in this film, it is very clear that Posen knows exactly how to work an audience.

“MAN FOR A DAY”— A Workshop

“Man for a Day”

A Workshop

Amos Lassen

Diane Torr is a legendary gender activist and performance artist. For the past thirty years, she has focused on an exploration of the theoretical, artistic as well as the practical aspect of gender identity. Katarina Peters casted and observed a Berlin workshop taught by Diane Torr, in which a group of open-minded women came together to discover the secrets of masculinity and to find answers to the questions of what makes a man a man and a woman a woman? When and where is gender identity formatted? How much is nature and how much nurture? Each of Torr’s workshops represents an open-ended laboratory experiment in social behavior in which the question is posed. The viewer receives an intimate view into the lives of the participants before, during and after their transformation to newly found men with five women testing their masculinity for one day.

Susann, Theresa, Eva-Marie, Valley and Rosa Maria register for the workshop for a day performance artist Diane Torr. The focus is on the question of where and when sexual identity is manifested, and whether it can be used in other gestures to break through these role patterns. The women dressed up first. Susan becomes Andi, Theresa to Walter, Eva-Marie to Christian, Valley became Tal and Rosa Maria Marco became Ramos. All five women in the documentary seem to have a problem with their female identity and two of them have had bad experiences with men. The others feel themselves pressed into a female stereotype, which they do not want to deliver.

Se see that gender studies are not about transsexuality. They are about the role models that prevail in our society of man and woman. Diane Torr has been following these questions for many years and is trying to get closer to gender roles in her own special way. In workshops she teaches what a man is, how he moves, and what gestures he takes. The filmmaker Katarina Peters who has been friends with Torr for many years, has accompanied her at one of these workshops in Berlin with the camera.

Torr understands identity (and therefore gender identity) as an artificial construct and that “male” behaviors are only available to women theoretically. In her workshops Torr moves from theory to practice. The motivations of the five women are very different: Susanna has been a beauty queen and when asked at one of the pageants into which role she would like to enter for a day, she answered male. Tal is the opposite of Susanna and was often already perceived by her environment as “masculine” and we learn that she is a real sissy. Eva-Maria, who comes from Munich, is a policy advisor and moves in a world dominated by men. Theresa is the mother of three sons and her husband left her making her a mother and a father to her children. Rosa Maria, who was already twice in a women’s shelter because of violent partners and is well versed in the macho culture.

The first thing that the women do is exchange their clothing for its male counterparts and then go out on the street dressed as men. By the time the experiment is over, not all participants are so convinced that it is really easier for them to be able to be a man for a day or a week, but they now know how it feels, more or less.