One of the unlikeliest movie stars ever to grace the silver screen, Divine burst into notoriety as “the Filthiest Woman Alive” in John Waters’ Pink Flamingos. Growing up as Glenn Milstead in 1950s Baltimore, the chubby effeminate teen became acquainted with the young Waters, who was assembling an entourage of outcasts to produce hilariously shocking no-budget movies.
With Waters’ encouragement, Glenn demolished existing conventions of drag, unleashing his ferocious alter-ego Divine in early films like Mondo Trasho and Multiple Maniacs . These films, made with frequent co-star Mink Stole, played to Baltimore’s demimonde in rented churches. Pink Flamingos and the subsequent Female Trouble became huge underground hits. These films remain unsurpassed in their magnificent trashiness.
Divine also was a stage performer – in his early years with San Francisco’s Cockettes, and later in shows like The Neon Woman and Women Behind Bars. As Waters’ films became more elaborate, with bigger budgets, Divine starred in the scratch-and-sniff comedy Polyester and the PG-rated Hairspray, which put him on the cusp of the mainstream success and worldwide stardom he had always dreamed of.
The influence of Divine on both queer culture and pop culture is undeniable, and Jeffrey Schwarz’s documentary is a highly entertaining and touching tribute to both the star and the man. With the same empathy and heart he showed in his film VITO (the closing night film at last year’s QDoc), Schwarz invites us all to get to know the man behind the mascara.
Blending old-school environmental activism with eco-erotic lesbian performance art, Goodbye Gauley Mountain is an earnest love letter to the endangered Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, where filmmaker Beth Stephens grew up.
Over recent decades, mountaintop removal mining (also called MTR), where the tops of mountains are blown off to expose the coal seams beneath, has caused thousands of square miles of ecological devastation to one of the most biodiverse regions of North America. Goodbye Gauley Mountain combines personal memoir, as Stephens returns to the place of her birth, with a sober look at the history of MTR and its grim effects on local communities.
What sets this film apart in the chorus of increasingly urgent cries on behalf of a planet in distress is the unusual style of activism employed by Stephens and her partner, former sex worker and porn star Annie Sprinkle. Describing themselves as ecosexuals, Stephens and Sprinkle have collaborated on a series of rainbow-themed performance art weddings (www. loveartlab.org) aimed at eroticizing their relationship with the Earth and making ecological activism “more sexy, fun and diverse.”
Their goofy sweetness enlivens the film’s serious intentions, culminating in a purple-clad ceremony in which Stephens and Sprinkle wed themselves to the mountains. Especially for Portland, which hosted last year’s EcoSex Symposium (www.ecosex.org) and this year’s Ecosexual Convergence (www.ecosexconvergence.org), the combination is an appealing one.
– Stella Maris
Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story: Dir Beth Stephens, with Annie Sprinkle 201 USA 67 min.
Community Partners: Portland Oregon Women’s Film Festival / Siren Nation
An out-of-the blue phone call from actor James Franco to queer filmmaker Travis Mathews (I Want Your Love) led into this genre-busting collaboration that weaves documentary, porn and narrative into its own provocative form.
The 1980 film Cruising, starring Al Pacino as an undercover cop investigating a murder in the New York City gay leather bar scene, was plagued with controversy, and its director was forced by the Motion Picture Association of America to cut 40 minutes of sexually explicit material. Those 40 minutes have never been screened publicly. Filmmakers Franco and Mathews set out to reimagine what might have transpired in those lost scenes in this intriguing film about the making of a film.
The cameras roll as Franco assembles a mix of gay and straight men, including the likable Val Lauren in the lead role. What emerges is a portrait of the fascinating dynamics that drive the filmmakers’ need to challenge normalcy, the interplay of celebrity and experimentation, and the dilemma faced by actors struggling to reconcile who they are with the idea of performing in a sexually explicit gay S&M film. The result is a provocative exploration of the importance of the radical and transgressive in society and the value of engaging with things that scare us. – Sundance Film Festival, 2013.
Interior. Leather Bar.: Dirs James Franco and Travis Mathews 2013 USA 60 min.
Community Partner: Portland Leather Men
The groundbreaking documentary Born This Way explores the underground gay and lesbian community in an intensely homophobic culture that’s taking its first steps toward greater acceptance. (Under the draconian Article 347A of the Cameroonian Criminal Code, homosexuality is punishable by a fine of 200,000 francs and up to five years in prison.) The film focuses on two people who dream of sharing the truth about who they really are with their families: Cedric wants to come out to his mom, and Gertrude wants to come out to the mother superior who raised her in a Catholic convent.
Cedric and Gertrude work at a nonprofit that officially operates as an HIV/AIDS clinic, but also functions as a safe space where LGBT people can come together without fear of going to jail, being attacked or being rejected by family and friends. While working to help defend two young women on trial for charges of homosexuality, their activism becomes bolder and stronger.
Born This Way is an inspiring glimpse into a young, courageous community that’s struggling to find its voice in a deeply traditional culture. It’s not only an eye-opening work of art but also akey component of a global campaign to raise awareness about an unjust law. —Jimmy Radosta
In French and English with English subtitles
Born This Way: Dirs Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullmann 2013 United States/Cameroon 85 min.
Community Partners: Equity Foundation; Human Rights Campaign Oregon/SW Washington Steering Committee; Cascade Festival of African Films; OGALLA: The LGBT Bar Association of Oregon
In the wake of the civil rights, anti-war and feminist movements, there was a groundbreaking wave of activism that changed the face of modern feminism and was based on a simple yet radical idea: inventing a new way of life entirely centered on women. A vibrant, productive lesbian culture came to life through innovative women who created physical and cultural spaces in which to live, meet, discuss and organize this parallel revolution. Filmmaker Myriam Fougère takes us on a journey to meet the lesbian writers, philosophers and activists who were key players in creating a revolutionary sisterhood.
Skillfully weaving archival footage she filmed at the time with present-day interviews of activists who were intimately involved, Fougère brings to life the personal and political realities of that electric period. From Montréal to Texas, by way of New York, she encounters courageous lesbians who chose to live only among women, many of whom are now in their 70s and 80s. In revealing their struggle with body image, class, racism and inclusivity, their conflicts and confrontations mirror contemporary concerns around community building today. Lesbiana captures women coming together – one way or another – to develop a distinctly radical ideology/theology that undermined the patriarchy while simultaneously extricating themselves from mainstream feminism. As activist Carol Moore describes, “When you are living in it you don’t realize you are making history, until after it’s over.”
In French and English with English subtitles
Lesbiana: Dir Myriam Fougère 2012 Canada 63 min.
Community Partners: Gay and Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest; Old Lesbians Organizing for Change Pdx Chapter
Filmmaker, poet and exuberant mischief-maker James Broughton was above all an avatar of joyful living – exhorting the world with his motto “Follow your own weird!”
Broughton recalls being awakened – at age 3 – by a glittering angel who told him he was a poet, and never to fear being alone or laughed at. Broughton’s “angel” sustained him through a traumatic early childhood on the West Coast, and into his early artistic and sexual experimentation in New York, Europe and San Francisco. He pursued his poetic calling but quickly found recognition as a filmmaker in the golden years of “experimental film.” He was a central figure of the San Francisco bohemian scene of the 1950s and ‘60s, and his hippie – era film The Bed provoked scandal and delight with its playful sexuality. Broughton was also an early influence in the subculture of the Radical Faeries.
From the beginning, Broughton’s work celebrated the erotic and the whimsical, promoting a free-spirited embrace of the senses. According to Armistead Maupin, “He had a way of getting at the serious by focusing on the silly, and that’s seductive; it creeps up on you.”
Broughton had affairs with men and women, including an extended relationship with soon-to-be-legendary film critic Pauline Kael, as well as an affair with pioneering gay activist Harry Hay. At 61 he fell madly in love with a man nearly 40 years younger than himself with whom he lived the rest of his life. Stephen Silha and Eric Slade’s loving portrait of Broughton overflows with the spirit of the man, his work and his message.
Big Joy: Dirs Stephen Silha and Eric Slade 2013 USA 82 min.
Community Partners: Literary Arts: Northwest Film Center: Portland Lesbian & Gay Film Festival
Shot over six years, Mr. Angel chronicles the extraordinary life of transgender advocate, educator and porn pioneer Buck Angel. The documentary tells two stories in parallel — that of Buck’s path to selfhood through addiction, homelessness and rejection and that of Buck as an international voice in the queer world. He views his breast reduction surgery as a turning point in his life, after which he began his rise to stardom in the porn industry, and from this position of notoriety began a career in trans activism.
“It’s not what’s between your legs that defines you.”– Sascha Strand
Throughout his life Buck faced huge personal and professional opposition. Trans prejudice within the gay community made his entrance into American porn difficult. Now well recognized in the industry, he fights to gain legitimacy as an activist. At no point, though, does he falter in his conviction to challenge traditional bounds within gender identity and to help others feel comfortable in their bodies.
Buck’s activism began on the Internet and continues now at events around the world. Speaking at universities, on talk shows and in web-based idea forums, Buck asks us to let our guard down, to care less about what others think we should be and to embrace ourselves on our own terms. We’re reminded that empowerment is sexy, that gratitude is vital and that “It’s not what’s between your legs that defines you.”
– Sascha Strand
Mr. Angel: Dir Dan Hunt 2013 USA 68 min.
Community Partners: Outside In; Pivot
Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker explores the life, times and music of piano legend James Booker, who Dr. John described as “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.” Triply marginalized by his race, sexuality and physical disability, Booker still managed to excel as a musician in New Orleans and Europe in the turbulent ‘60 and ‘70s, fusing secular, sacred, pop and classical traditions in breathtaking new ways. A child prodigy who began backing up stars around the age of 16, Booker went on to play with artists ranging from Little Richard to Jerry Garcia. He was a highly sought-out session musician, yet his struggles with bipolar disorder and substance abuse kept interfering with what should have been a trajectory of cascading successes.
Booker was both a tutor and mentor to a very young Harry Connick Jr., who is extensively interviewed in the film along with other musical luminaries including Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas and Charles Neville.
Lily Keber’s engaging documentary richly utilizes a vast amount of archival footage of Booker and mesmerizing montages of New Orleans street life. Her deep love for the music itself is reflected in lush use of extended performance footage.
Though Bayou Maharajah deals minimally with Booker’s sexuality, there is no doubt that we are in the presence of a larger-than-life personality who justifiably proclaimed himself the “Black Liberace.”
Bayou Maharajah: Dir Lily Keber 2013 USA 90 min.
Community Partners: Music Fest Northwest; PFLAG Black Chapter
Wildness captures the creativity and conflict that arose when a group of young queer artists of color organized a weekly performance party at the Silver Platter, an historic bar in the east end of Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park neighborhood that has been home to the Latino LGBT community since 1963. The party, also called Wildness, became an incubator for queer performers, punks and dance music aficionados who shared the space with the bar’s established clientele of immigrant trans women. This unexpected collision of communities became a platform for cross-generational and cross-cultural queer alliance.
With a touch of magical realism, the bar itself becomes a character in the film, whispering the histories of the LGBT community for whom it has provided sanctuary for generations, away “from the ignorance, the fear and hatred of the outside world.” Paying homage to the place so many called home, Wildness guides viewers through the Silver Platter’s colorful and tumultuous history to its present-day existence, complete with intoxicating party footage and a potent, genre-melding soundtrack.
In his stunning first feature film, director Wu Tsang succeeds in addressing issues of immigration, gentrification, identification, class and community with an exciting and authentic voice, utilizing creative twists on the standard documentary format.
They are all women of a certain age: blue-haired ladies using canes, well-preserved 60-year olds walking small dogs in the park or aging beauties meeting old beaus for a posh lunch. And they all have one thing in common: Dr. Georges Burou, who, beginning in the 1950s, operated a clinic in Casablanca where he performed groundbreaking sex-change surgeries.
In this beautifully photographed documentary, five trans women reflect back on their lives and the various paths that led them to surgery. In a mixture of interviews, home movies and scenes of their daily lives, we hear their stories. April, now every inch the British dowager, remembers her mother’s rejection and her early years in the Navy. Corinne and Bambi reminisce about their days as showgirls at Le Carrousel in Paris, and Colette talks about the difficulties of post-op dating; meanwhile, Jean recounts a life spent traveling back and forth across gender borders.
The film is as much about aging as it is about changing genders. “Once you’ve got white hair, you seem to disappear,” April observes. Now single, Corinne says she misses cuddling, but adds, “there are lots of single women; it’s the same for heterosexuals.” The mood is elegiac, but also triumphant — April tells us that she wakes up every morning with some of the joy she felt waking up for the first time post-surgery. These are self-made women in every sense of the term. — Monica Nolan, Frameline 2012.
In French, Dutch, German and English, with English subtitles
I Am a Woman Now: Dir Michiel van Erp 2011 Netherlands 86 min.
Community Partners: Pride Foundation; Transgender Affinity Groups at Q Center; TransActive Education & Advocacy
“Somewhere along the line,” Ellen DeGeneres tells her television audience through tears, “Brandon got the message that it’s so threatening and so awful and so horrific that Larry would want to be his Valentine that killing Larry seemed to be the right thing to do.”
On December 12th, 2008, eighth-grader Brandon McInerney entered E.O. Green Junior High School in Oxnard, Calif., with a stolen gun. His target was Lawrence “Larry” King, an openly queer classmate who had just started coming to school wearing women’s clothing. As has become all too familiar in our schools, ignorance led to bullying, and bullying led to violence.
Valentine Road, named for the street where King is buried, peels back the layers on what Newsweek described as “the most prominent gay-bias crime since the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard,” revealing two tragic childhoods filled with drugs, abuse and neglect.
Filmmaker Marta Cunningham shows how both Larry and Brandon suffered under a broken child welfare system, public school system and justice system — including troubling interviews with teachers and jurors who believe Larry brought the violence upon himself for “bullying” Brandon.
“They made a murder victim the cause of his own murder,” a detective says in the film. “I’ve never seen that before.” —Jimmy Radosta
Community Partners: GLSEN Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network • Basic Rights Oregon • Oregon Safe Schools and Communities Coalition • Portland Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays • SMYRC Sexual & Gender Minority Youth Resource Center – A Program of Q Center