Monday, September 27, 2021

Reverend's Preview: Jump, Darlings, to QFilms Long Beach

I expect I’ll always remember Cloris Leachman best as Frau Blucher, the sinister yet hilariously lascivious castlekeeper in Mel Brooks’ classic Young Frankenstein. Others will fondly recall her as Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show or as Granny in the big screen adaptation of The Beverly Hillbillies.

Sadly, Leachman passed away earlier this year at the age of 94 but not before completing her final film role in Jump, Darling. This new LGBTQ family drama will have its Long Beach premiere the evening of October 3rd as part of the 28th Annual QFilms Festival. Presented by The LGBTQ Center Long Beach, proceeds from each year’s festival provide important funds for The Center’s numerous programs that support more than 25,000 seniors, youth and other members of the diverse local community.

QFilms will run Thursday, September 30th through Sunday, October 3rd, 2021. Movies will be shown three different ways this year: indoors at the Art Theatre Long Beach, 2025 E. 4th Street; outdoor screenings at the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA), 628 Alamitos Avenue; and online at Last year, all films were streamed online only due to the pandemic. Passes and tickets are now on sale at

Jump, Darling is written and directed by debut filmmaker Phil Connell. It follows a rookie drag queen (played by newcomer Thomas Duplessie) reeling from a breakup who moves in with his declining grandmother (Leachman) to protect her from the local nursing home. The film is a thoughtful exploration of the right to live as who we are and how we wish, while also grappling with end of life care.

The initial seeds for Jump, Darling were planted along two parallel tracks. One was Connell’s experience with end-of-life care conversations with his grandmother. The other was his experience choosing life as an artist. “Over a period of years, my late grandmother struggled with how to prepare for her ‘decline’, be it physical or mental,” shares Connell. “It was the topic of conversation each time I would visit her. Meanwhile, as I recommitted to filmmaking, I struggled to maintain my resolve, against all the forces and voices, the ones that every artist face.”

The film’s supporting cast includes Linda Kash (Best in Show) and Jayne Eastwood (Chicago), plus cameo appearances by well-known drag queens Tynomi Banks (featured recently on Canada’s Drag Race), Fay Slift and Miss Fiercalicious. The film showcases six on-screen drag performances against a pop soundtrack including Robyn, Allie X, Rough Trade, Years & Years and more.

During her long career, Leachman won both an Academy Award and a BAFTA Film Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Last Picture Show, and she holds the record for the most Primetime Emmy acting nominations in history, a whopping 22. She played her role as Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show to such great success that it led to her own television series spinoff, Phyllis.

“Cloris was an icon and an ally,” said Connell. “To work with her, to know her, and now to share her final leading performance with the world is a true honor.”

QFilms will feature a number of additional feature films and documentaries during its four days. Here’s the rundown:

This is Jessica (premiering Thursday, September 30th at 7:00 pm at the Art Theatre): Fest favorite Andrea Meyerson paints an intimate, emotional portrait of a woman forced to make a heart-wrenching decision to save herself. From her earliest years growing up as a Mormon boy in a conservative environment, Jessica knew she was a girl. Terrified to risk her family, her faith, her life on earth and eternal soul, Jonathan went about creating the perfect life of a young Mormon man, becoming a missionary, marrying young and starting a family. While serving in the Army under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, she became despondent over the chasm between whom she was and who she was merely pretending to be. When Jonathan finally comes out as Jessica, it's a leap off the edge of life as she knows it.

Yes I Am: The Ric Weiland Story (Thursday at 9:30 pm at the Art Theatre) features tech mogul and philanthropist Bill Gates as well as the voice of out actor Zachary Quinto. Ric Weiland was a brilliant programmer, queer pioneer and one of the earliest employees of Microsoft. He dedicated his life and fortune to philanthropy and activism, but personal struggles eventually became too much to bear. This important film is the story of his life and legacy.

Rebel Dykes (Friday, October 1st at 7:15 pm at the Art Theatre) is a rabble-rousing documentary set in 1980s, post-punk London. It tells the previously unheard story of a community of dykes who met doing art, music, politics and sex, and how they went on to change their world.

No Ordinary Man (Friday at 9:30 pm at the Art Theatre): A fascinating, award-winning portrait of Billy Tipton, the renowned jazz musician who was revealed after his death to have been transgender.

Summertime (Friday at 9:15 pm Men & Friends’ Night @ MOLAA): Over the course of a hot summer day in Los Angeles, the lives of 25 young Angelenos intersect. A skating guitarist, a tagger, two wannabe rappers, an exasperated fast-food worker, a limo driver... they all weave in and out of each other's stories. Through poetry they express life, love, heartache, family, home and fear… but one of them just wants to find someplace that still serves good cheeseburgers.

My First Summer (Saturday, October 2nd at 11:00 am at the Art Theatre): 16-year-old Claudia has grown up in isolation from the outside world. Stranded on a remote property after her mother's death, she is shocked when Grace, a spirited local teen, appears in the garden like a mirage or a breath of fresh air. The pair finds in each other the support, love and intimacy they need, and teach each other the restorative power of human connection.

Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters (Saturday at 6:30 pm at the Art Theatre): A feature documentary that traces the remarkable history and legacy of one of the most important works of art to come out of the age of AIDS: choreographer Bill T. Jones’s tour de force ballet D-Man in the Waters. As a group of young dancers reconstructs the 1989 dance today, they learn about this oft-forgotten history and deepen their understanding of the power of art in a time of plague.

Fanny: The Right to Rock (Saturday at 9:15 pm at Women & Friends’ Night @ MOLAA): Sometime in the 1960s in sunny Sacramento, two Filipina American sisters got together with other teenage girls to play music. Little did they know their garage band would evolve into the legendary rock group Fanny, the first all-women band to release an LP with a major record label. Despite releasing five critically acclaimed albums, touring with famed bands from Slade to Chicago, and amassing a dedicated fan base of music legends including David Bowie, Fanny's groundbreaking impact in music was written out of history... until now. Fighting early barriers of race, gender and sexuality in the music industry, and now ageism, the incredible women of Fanny are ready to claim their hallowed place in the halls of rock 'n' roll fame.

Marry Me, However (Sunday, October 3rd at 1:15 pm at the Art Theatre) tells the stories of Jewish LGBT men and women who decided to marry against their own sexual orientation, in order to comply with Torah laws and be accepted into their families and religious communities. Some shared their secret with their partners, some kept it hidden, and some lied even to themselves. After their eventual divorces, they confront the conflicts they repressed: their faith and religious laws; children, family and community; exposure to society and search for a partner. The characters experience a journey of self-acceptance and social activism, as they try to affect change in their religious environments.

Forgotten Roads (Sunday at 5:30 pm at the Art Theatre): Bereft on an isolated turkey farm after her husband’s death, 70-year-old Claudina — meek, repressed and adrift — moves into town to live with her daughter and grandson. Despite a strained relationship with her daughter, Claudina experiences an unexpected spark of life when she befriends the dynamic and independent married woman next door, Elsa, who seems to travel paths and make choices Claudina never had the chance to make. But in the gossipy Chilean town of Lautaro, their budding relationship doesn’t stay a secret for long. Just as Claudina sees love’s horizons expanding, she may be forced to choose between the traditional role she understands and the open road ahead of her.

QFilms 2021 will also present a large number of specially-curated LGBTQ short film programs including CORTOS: Latinx Queer Shorts (Thursday outdoor screening at MOLAA); TRANSpirational Shorts (Friday at 5:00 pm at the Art Theatre); Rated PG-13: Youth Shorts (Saturday at 1:30 pm at the Art Theatre); Queermation: Animated Shorts (Saturday at 4:00 pm at the Art Theatre); and (Almost) Midnight: Experimental Shorts (Saturday at 9:30 pm at the Art Theatre). These are in addition to the fest’s traditional programs Men In Briefs (Sunday at 11:00 am at the Art Theatre) and Women In Shorts (Sunday at 3:30 pm at the Art Theatre) plus two new exclusively-online programs, Eat My (Comedy) Shorts and Locally Sourced: California Shorts.

There will truly be something for everyone everywhere in Long Beach at this year’s QFilms!

Preview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Reverend's Preview: 21st Annual FilmOut San Diego Prepares To Take Flight

The LGBTQ Film Festival known as FilmOut San Diego celebrate its 21st anniversary this year from September 9th–12th. 47 movies will be screened during the mostly in-person, four-day festival at The San Diego Natural History Museum (THE NAT) and The Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) both located in San Diego’s historic Balboa Park. Award-winning films from Sundance, SXSW and Berlin Film Festivals will be featured, along with independent features and a variety of short films.

According to its organizers, FilmOut San Diego "annually affirms the ongoing integrity and boundless imagination of our community and the artists who tell our stories. The Board of Directors believes its work is an integral part of an ongoing effort to build a vibrant, affirming and sustainable LGBTQ community in San Diego County." Local filmmakers will be represented during the fest by two noteworthy short films: Las Reinas de los Cuentos and the very funny We All Die Alone.

The Opening Night film on September 9th will be Peeter Rebane’s Firebird. This visually-impressive gay romance, based on a true story, opens in Soviet-occupied Estonia in 1977. Troubled soldier Sergey (played by the hunky Tom Prior, who also co-wrote the screenplay) falls in love with an esteemed fighter pilot, the equally attractive Roman. Unfortunately, their relationship becomes complicated by the affections of their commanding officer's daughter as well as by a suspicious KGB agent, at a time when homosexuality was considered a criminal offense. Their love story spans five years, and the film culminates in a performance of Stravinski's title symphony. The screening will start at 7:00 PM at THE NAT and will be followed by an Opening Night Party until 11:30 PM.

A final performance by the late, great Cloris Leachman highlights Jump, Darling, the fest's Closing Night film on September 12th. Written and directed by debut filmmaker Phil Connell, it follows a rookie drag queen (played by newcomer Thomas Duplessie) reeling from a breakup who moves in with his declining grandmother (Leachman) to protect her from the local nursing home. The film is a thoughtful exploration of the right to live as who we are and how we wish. It will screen at 7:00 PM and be followed by a Closing Night Dessert Reception at MOPA.

Other fest highlights include veteran filmmaker Q. Allan Brocka’s Boy Culture: The Series (Men's Centerpiece), Kelly Walker’s My Fiona (Women's Centerpiece) and Rafael Gomes’ Music for Bleeding Hearts (International Spotlight). One of my personal faves to be screened is Potato Dreams of America, a 99% autobiographical saga according to writer-director Wes Hurley. Precocious 12-year-old Vasili, affectionately nicknamed Potato, lives with his grandmother (a terrific, largely serious turn by Lea Delaria) and prison-doctor mother in the USSR circa 1985. His near-religious devotion to American movies is hilariously personified by a movie-loving Jesus Christ. Potato and his mother are eventually brought to the US by an American man with whom his mother has been having a correspondence. Once in 1990's NYC, Potato begins to define his homosexuality with the help of repeat viewings of Gregg Araki's indie gay classic The Living End. It's a funny, lovable flick and even features the occasional musical number!

In addition to the in-person festival, four additional films will be available exclusively online during the festival. These will give patrons who aren't quite ready to mingle in person the opportunity to participate in FilmOut from home. One of the movies is Beyto, a Turkish twist on the familiar coming out story. The title character is a competitive swimmer in Switzerland, played by the very appealing Burak Ates. Originally from Turkey, Beyto falls in love with another male teammate. However, he remains closeted from his conservative parents. After a friend of his mother spots Beyto at a Pride parade, his parents trick him into returning to Turkey and force him to marry a longtime female friend. It often plays like a 1950's melodrama but is sadly contemporary. Fortunately, love wins out in the end for all concerned. Beyto is directed and co-written by Gitta Gsell, a Swiss woman filmmaker. Her sensitive, respectful approach is a plus.

I also recommend the truly surprising Festival Spotlight film: Boulevard! A Hollywood Story. It is the latest work by out, Emmy-winning documentarian Jeffrey Schwarz. His previous queer-centric documentaries include The Fabulous Allan Carr, Tab Hunter Confidential, Vito and I Am Divine (the latter of which is currently streaming on Netflix). Additionally, Schwarz was the recipient of the 2015 Frameline Award, which honors those who have made a major contribution to LGBT representation in film, television and the media arts.

For Gloria Swanson, the iconic star of Sunset Boulevard, both the movie and the character of Norma Desmond provided a renewed spotlight. Seeing in Norma a portal back to the fame she once commanded during her early years as an actress in silent pictures, Swanson strategically began to envision a Broadway musical adaptation of the film in which she would star. Enter Dickson Hughes and Richard Stapley, two young songwriters and closeted romantic partners. They found themselves caught in Swanson’s web when she hired them to write the more succinctly titled Boulevard, a musical version of her now-classic film. Life imitated art when Gloria fell for Richard, and the men found themselves living a real-life version of the movie!

Jeffrey Schwarz is well known to this writer from his previous appearances at the Long Beach QFilm Festival. I was thrilled that he let me be one of the first to view the final edit of his latest work, as well as to be the first journalist he spoke with about it. Here is a summary of our recent conversation:

CC: It was good to see you in the film! Is this the first time you actually appear in one of your documentaries?
JS: Yes, it is the first time and hopefully the last (laugh). I didn't intend to be in it at first, but I wanted to show the process of making the movie and ultimately realized having the camera follow me was the best way to do it.

CC: What inspired you to tell this story?
JS: I've always loved Sunset Boulevard and I've learned that, for gay people, our taste in movies comes out before we do. I also love learning about the behind-the-scenes drama of classic movies, and devoured film historian Sam Staggs' book Close-Up on Sunset Boulevard. It was here I first learned about Gloria Swanson's failed attempt to launch a musical version of Sunset Boulevard and the resulting creative threesome with her composers. It was a fascinating story. Part of what motivates me to make movies is to discover these hidden stories, especially from a time when LGBT people couldn't tell our stories openly. I initially was most interested in Swanson but became more interested in Richard Stapley and Dick Hughes. They were a gay couple but never acknowledged their relationship publicly.

CC: Why do you think Sunset Boulevard still holds such appeal, especially for gay men?
JS: That's such a great question. Gay people are drawn to these bigger-than-life characters and especially people like Norma Desmond, who is defiant and (even though she loses her mind) confident in who she is. There have been volumes written about this topic so this is my best summation. It's also just such a brilliant and cynical image of Hollywood, and not much has changed. The film is also a powerful testament to actresses over the age of 50 playing lead roles, which was pretty much unheard of then and is still difficult today.

CC: You interviewed the late (and gay) movie historian Robert Osborne for this film. How was that experience?
JS: I interviewed him for my last movie about Allan Carr. (Osborne died in 2017.) I was inspired to ask him then if he would say a few things about Sunset Boulevard. He was always so generous with his time and such a lovely man. I miss him a lot.

CC: I'll be curious to see if your documentary creates enough interest in the Boulevard musical that someone will yet produce it. What do you think?
JS: Who knows? It's hard because the Andrew Lloyd Webber version is so dominant. (A movie version of it starring Glenn Close is in the works.) I hope the story goes on. I hope to make a feature film about it someday. But who knows? Maybe some Broadway producer will get interested in it.

CC: I sure hope so! What's next for you?
JS: I have a few things waiting in the wings. One is a doc about the making of Showgirls. I'm busy editing that right now. I try to be working on a few projects simultaneously because you never know which are going to fly.

I hereby proclaim Boulevard! A Hollywood Story a must see! For complete festival info including tickets, sponsorships and volunteer information, visit the FilmOut website. You can also follow the fest on Facebook at FilmOut San Diego or on Instagram and Twitter at @FilmOutSD.

Previews by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.