My spouse and I just attended the 27th annual LGBTQ+ film festival in our town, and we saw some pretty great films. Overall, we both preferred the documentaries over the fictional narratives, but we did like all the ones we ended up picking out. I’ve had a varied relationship with this festival over the years – when I was younger, I wasn’t sure I belonged, and it was just so thrilling to even be there at all. I volunteered one year, and formed some lasting relationships through doing that. Then I kind of shunned it for a few years, deciding I didn’t have time for it, and the ticket prices were too pricey. In the past 4 years, I changed my tune and realized we are lucky to have this festival in our hometown, and we should make the most of it. We pick out a handful of films each year now, and pre-pay (to get a slight discount). I’d have to say that at this point, the novelty of being there as a super-fan has started to wear off, but I do still look forward to it each year, regardless… here are the films we saw this time around (links are to film websites, trailers, or reviews):
Zen in the Ice Rift – This was a narrative drama from Italy about a transmasculine teenager who is really just at the beginning of their journey into who they really are. They’re on the boy’s hockey team (only because their town is so small and that’s the only option), are getting bullied, and are acting out a lot in response. It was pretty hard to watch, but definitely well done – themes of victimization and violence, definitely a trope at this point.
The Ground Beneath My Feet – This one was from Austria, about a workaholic woman who’s sister has suffered yet another psychotic break and is hospitalized. The woman starts to question her own sanity while trying to juggle all aspects of her super stressful life (a lesbian affair with her superior being only one small tendril of her falling-apart-life). Really well done, edgy, gloomy thriller-drama.
Label Me – From Germany, this one was about a refugee from Syria who begins an ongoing money-for-sex relationship with a man who seems very well off and very isolated at the same time. It gets interesting when the two men navigate that line between intimacy, sex, money, and everything else that falls in between.
Leave it to Levi – This was a documentary about a porn star who works exclusively with Cocky Boys. It was just totally fun, but there was depth too, when the film explored his relationship with his mother and his forays into dressing in drag and going totally against the norm of the Macho Porn Star.
Gay Chorus Deep South – This documentary was full of heart. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir toured 7 southern states in order to raise awareness of anti-LGBTQ+ laws that have been popping up in the wake of the 2016 election. Along the way, we see some amazing personal stories of some of the chorus members, specifically from people who were born in the south and made it to the (relatively) safe haven of SF.
Changing the Game – By far, this one was our favorite. So many strong emotions going on. Between this one and Gay Chorus, I did a lot of crying! This followed the trajectory of 4 transgender teens from 3 different states (which all have different laws about transgender people competing in sports) and how they navigated what they had to do to keep pursuing the sports they love. They all came up against so much hate, but also so much love and support, specifically from coaches and parents / guardians.
My spouse and I had a lot of fun going to a bunch of fims during this year’s local annual LGBTQ+ film festival! I liked all the films we picked out this time around. Here’s a little more about them (some of the links are to trailers while others’ are for the films’ websites:
Pulse – This Australian film was part of the “ImageOut There!” series, it definitely took some interesting twists and turns. What if people could surgically switch bodies, like for example go from a disabled teenaged male body to a “picture perfect” teenaged female body? This is what Olly chooses to do, with his/her reasonings unfolding slowly throughout the movie. A different and unique perspective leaning a little too heavily on the fantasy of what it means to be a woman: not much insight but plenty of pitfalls.
Man Made – This may be my all time favorite movie I’ve seen at the festival over the years. I cried a lot (and that’s saying something because lately tears are super hard to come by!) It’s a documentary that follows the journeys of 4 transgender men as they prepare for the only all-trans bodybuilding competition, in Atlanta, GA. Their stories are heartwarming, heartbreaking, and they hit on a bunch of emotional points in between.
Cola de Mono – This Chilean film was also part of the “ImageOut There!” series. It’s a feature length that focuses on one family on Christmas eve, 1986. The men in the family have been “cursed” by homosexuality, and the next iteration is now playing itself out. It’s super melodramatic, definitely campy, but not in a fun way. They undertones are full of hypersexuality, perversion, ritual, and horror. The film takes its name from a traditional drink similar to egg nog, which translates into “monkey’s tail.”
Studio 54 – I didn’t really know anything about the behind-the-scenes, so I learned a lot! The documentary featured a lot of interview time of the more “silent” partner, Ian Schrager (the more public partner, Steve Rubell, passed away from AIDS / hepatitis in 1989.) My spouse pointed out that it was a smart idea not to rely on a bunch of famous people being interviewed about it – that seemed like the easy choice, but this way the film spoke for itself a lot more.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post – My spouse was super psyched this was part of the festival, because they had heard of it and had just finished reading the novel that the film is based on. It takes place in Montana in 1993; when Cameron is caught in the backseat of a car with her girlfriend, she’s sent to a conversion therapy camp called God’s Promise. It was awesome to see this with a theater full of people because there were so many sound bites that got big laughs (although the writer and director didn’t seem to account for those interruptions, there wasn’t a beat for us to catch up, meaning we ended up missing dialogue because we were laughing so much. At one point, the audience burst out with a round of applause!) This was thoroughly entertaining and also disturbing – a more dramatic partner piece to “But I’m a Cheerleader.”
This year was the 25th anniversary of our local annual LGBTQ+ film festival! We made an effort to invite friends to different films this time around, which was fun – connecting with some people we hadn’t seen much lately was nice. Most of these links are to trailers, and a couple are to the films’ websites.
Beach Rats – I went to this one by myself, and I was surrounded by gay men, for the most part. There’s something about that that I really embrace; it doesn’t happen often enough. The general story-line is that this young man is living a double life – hanging out with his friends drinking, smoking pot, playing handball, going to Coney Island, getting a girlfriend. When he’s by himself though, he turns to online websites to hook up with older men. I like the way it was filmed. Really sparse. And the story-line takes an unusual twist.
Tom of Finland – This is the Finnish entry for best foreign language film for the upcoming Academy Awards – how cool is that?!! This was a really well done bio-pic. I really didn’t know much about him other than what I saw of his drawings. He fought in WWII. He had a complex and interesting relationship with his sister. He had a long-lasting partner. He had fans all over the world, but especially in California, and they made sure he knew he was celebrated, flying him in for parties he inspired, etc. Highly recommend!
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson – You can watch this movie on Neflix if you want. So, this is really only some of the story. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the production of this film and who’s work is being credited, which we only found out about the day before we were going to see it. Here’s one article that gets into all the details: What Would Trans Art Look Like if it Was Only Made By Trans People? To sum it up in one sentence, a trans-woman of color – Reina Gossett – has been working on a film about Marsha P. Johnson, and she had done a ton of legwork and archival studying. Then this dude – David France – swoops in with his finances and his connections and essentially steals the work that had been made thus far. So, our experience was a little bit soured, but I have to admit it was still a good film. And I hope Reina Gossett is still feeling empowered to move ahead and create her own film – the more films that will educate people about transgender people and issues, the better. I just realized I didn’t say anything about what this film is about – so go watch it on Netflix! Haha.
Alaska is a Drag – This one was kinda campy. It features twins who are stuck living in Alaska – a gay guy working at a fish cannery, learning boxing, and fantasizing about making it big as a drag queen, and his sister who has cancer and is getting regular treatments, but her spirits are high, indulging in the world of drag her brother creates. It was so-so. Definitely different, but not all that compelling.
Freak Show – This was SUPER campy. Directed by Trudy Styler (Sting’s wife!) A kid has to move to a southern state and attend a super conservative high school. His mom is Bette Midler, er, I mean, a mom played by Bette Midler. He endures bullying on top of bullying and hate crimes and more and more violence. He then decides to up the ante and run for homecoming queen. Laverne Cox has a small role – that was one of the best parts. Also, costuming was stunning, but otherwise, I wasn’t a huge fan.
Saturday Church – This centers on a 14 year old boy named Ulysses. Similar themes as Freak Show, but the approach is a little more realistic. He starts to question his gender identity amidst bullying at school and conservative viewpoints from relatives. He meets other gender variant people of different stripes, they all convene at a youth service / shelter on Saturday nights. Kate Bornstein plays the person in charge of the space!!! They eat together, attend “balls” together, and talk about hardships. I liked this film a lot!
My spouse and I attended more films than ever before, at the annual LGBTQ+ film festival in our town, recently. Most of these links are to trailers; a couple are to the film’s website directly. I highly recommend the first 6, and then I don’t recommend the 7th at all.
Suicide Kale – This film was shot in 5 days, with no budget. Even without stipulating that, it’s an intriguing and complex look into the dynamics between 2 lesbian couples at a lunch party, and what happens when one of them finds a suicide note tucked away somewhere. Sounds like it’d be intense, but it’s actually fairly lighthearted and humorous. Very well attended, mostly women in the audience.
Paris 05:59: Theo and Hugo – This film takes place in real time, as two men fall for each other in a love/lust at first sight type-of-way. Things start out in a laid back, sexually explicit environment / vibe, but quickly become complicated as the two grapple with an emotional twist, and whether the connection is worth working through it. Super well attended; roughly 98% men, 2% women.
Closet Monster – This might have been my favorite one this year. It’s a coming-of-age story of an 18-year old boy coming to terms with his gay identity, complicated by flashbacks of a hate crime he witnessed as a young child. There were body horror elements to the film, which I was really into. Plus, Isabella Rossellini’s voice is featured as a talking pet hamster! Well attended, very diverse audience, including young adults, which isn’t usually the case.
Strike A Pose – This also was possibly my favorite one this year. It’s a documentary about the 7 dancers who went on tour with Madonna in 1990, and where they’re at now. Not all of them are gay! Some of them had a lot of secrets at the time, and they are now much more open about things. Way more emotional than I would have thought, going into the film. Very well attended, diverse audience but definitely mostly men.
Girls Lost – A film from Finland. Magical realism. 3 tight-knit female friends, about 14 years old, are frequently bullied at school but find solace in each other and a greenhouse they regularly retreat to. Suddenly, a magical flower appears; they drink the nectar and turn into boys, for about 12 hours. One of them realizes he is transgender, and he becomes addicted to the feelings the nectar brings. At the same time, he is self-destructive, in an effort to understand himself. Really well attended, diverse audience.
Real Boy – This is a documentary spanning over a few years, as a singer/songwriter FTM person starts his transition. It focuses on the relationship between him and his mom, between him and a best friend who is also trans, and between him and another trans singer/songwriter who is a little older and acts as a mentor of sorts. Issues that are discussed: hormones, sobriety, top surgery, family dynamics. Also really well attended, diverse audience including young adults, which is not generally the case.
Lovesong – This was a flop. My spouse and I were attracted to it partly because it stars Jena Malone, and also it seemed like a complex story-line. It was fairly complex, but they characters were not at all likeable. Two female friends who go way back, dabble in acting on their attraction to each other, at various points spanning a few years. Kinda boring. Sparsely attended, mostly women.
My spouse and I diligently filled out audience participation ballots for each film, and a survey about the festival in general. My most important feedback: more films with trans characters please. And also, please make it more affordable.
I recently was at an LGBT film festival and specifically planned ahead to catch a film from Finland called Open Up To Me (Kerron Sinulle Kaiken). If you want to see it, this blog post is going to contain details you might not want to read about in advance, just a heads up!
Super highly recommend this film. It follows the life of Maarit, a transwoman, for a few months, starting at the point of her last appointment with her gender therapist – the tone of that first scene, the therapist’s farewell message, is: now spread your wings and fly. Maarit had been forced through a lot of sacrifices in the process of becoming who she is. She is separated from her wife and estranged from her teenaged daughter (we get the sense the daughter is open and figuring this out for herself; it is the mother who is standing in the way.) She has moved away from where she once lived and worked as a school social worker. She now leads a lonely existence and works as a janitor within a huge office building.
There are only two or three scenes where she is depicted at her work (and it’s just her coming and going. Loading a van, pushing a cart full of supplies). The story is not about that work, other than utilizing it as a plot device for somewhere she has landed and is unhappy about. She (understandably) yearns to get back into her chosen profession of helping people as soon as possible. She wants this so badly that she ends up posing as a therapist (through a series of misunderstandings) while on the job.
Which brings me to a reason I loved this film… It falls back on some unpleasant tropes common to trans characters in the media, but it ends up twisting them and rising above those ideas, to portray Maarit as a very human, very real, complex, well… person.
Transperson as deceitful: Although Maarit deceives someone about her profession (and she quickly comes clean), she never once is attempting to deceive anyone about her transgender status. She is proud, self-assured, and upfront with those around her (on an as-needed basis), even in the face of speculation and slander, discrimination, and violence.
Transperson as hypersexual: Maarit is not portrayed as a hypersexual person. It is clear that she is looking for intimacy, emotional connections, and a long-term partner. Instead, some of the characters around her are hypersexualizing her, and that seems more about them and their own issues, rather than who she actually is as a person. The film makes this very clear.
Transperson as dangerous and/or tragic: Maarit is in a very difficult place (there are other aspects of her life that have fallen apart. I won’t give away every detail!) and there are certainly scenes where she is in over her head, where she is compromised, where she seems desperate. It feels realistic – it very much seems that some choices she makes are due to (and only due to) being pushed so far into a corner, and she’s just trying to find her way back to where she can live her life. Those choices are not about who she is, inherently. It’s circumstantial. Some of these scenes, although hard to watch, feel triumphant at the same time. For example, at one point, she is attacked by an ex-lover. She ends up punching him in the face and ending the attack. Awesome.
I’m so glad LGBT film festivals exist – opportunities to get out there and see films I wouldn’t have heard about otherwise. This year, I saw this one, and another trans-specific one (52 Tuesdays – sadly, I didn’t enjoy this one all that much. It felt overly melodramatic, the characters didn’t feel believable.) My partner and I have gone to other films over the years, and it’s interesting that it always seems like there’s films for men and films for women. We’ve been to films before where we’re the only ones in the theater who are not cis-men (that’s an assumption, of course, but over and over again, it has been very much divided, and it is so bizarre to me.) At these two films (which were both well attended), there was a very diverse cross-section. I liked that.
Also, the film festival puts out an annual literary anthology, and this year’s theme was personal pronouns. I submitted, and my piece was accepted! I’m now officially published, in an actual book with an ISBN # and everything!!!
The piece was a re-working of these two blog posts:
While I was “out,” part 2 – partly out of the closet, fully out of the loop
While I was “out,” part 3 – coming back