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The 10 Best LGBT Documentaries of 2015 (USA)

 

Best of Enemies

This documentary covers the legendary televised 1968 political debates between liberal Gore Vidaland conservative William F. Buckley Jr., in which the two intellectuals didn’t always keep their rhetoric lofty — at one point Vidal called Buckley a “pro-crypto-Nazi” and Buckley responded by calling Vidal “queer” and threatening to punch him. Directed by Morgan Neville (an Oscar-winner forTwenty Feet From Stardom) and Robert Gordon, Best of Enemies is not only a master class in debate, it’s also one of the most entertaining films of the year.

Tig

In 2012, Tig Notaro made comic history when she joked about her cancer onstage at a club in Los Angeles. The heartfelt routine launched her into fame and the national spotlight. And Tig, a new Netflix movie, chronicles the aftermath, a story of a lesbian comedian and cancer survivor who is searching for meaning, love, and perhaps parenthood through surrogacy.

Tab Hunter Confidential

Hollywood’s all-American boy Tab Hunter is setting the record straight (by coming out as gay) in his new documentary, Tab Hunter Confidential. Based on his 2005 autobiography of the same title, the film by Jeffrey Schwarz (Vito, I Am Divine) explores how Hunter dealt with decades in the closet while making dozens of films and delves into as personal details like his love affair with Anthony Perkins. Sadly, Hunter’s struggle remains relevant in Tinseltown, as A-list stars are still grappling with the love that dare not speak its name. Perhaps they will find some courage from watching this insightful documentary.

Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story 

For nearly 30 years, Chuck Holmes’s Falcon Studios was the world’s largest producer of gay pornography, altering the way a generation of gay men saw themselves and their sexuality. Thestory of its founder is told in this insightful new documentary, Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story,directed by Mike Stabile. Through archival footage and interviews with porn stars, as well as Holmes’s long-term partner, Steven Scarborough, the documentary shows how one man achieved wealth and fame by reinventing how mainstream culture perceived gay men, while navigating the dangerous early days of the adult film industry.

RELATED | An Oral History of Early Gay Porn

Do I Sound Gay?

Is there such a thing as “gay voice”? That’s what David Thorpe’s documentary explores, with input from celebs including Margaret Cho, Tim Gunn, Don Lemon, Dan Savage, David Sedaris, and George Takei. A hit at film festivals and with critics, Do I Sound Gay? features conversations with linguists, family members, and strangers on the street to weigh in about one of the most personal and perhaps revealing parts of ourselves: our voice.

Larry Kramer in Love and Anger 

It’s been a landmark year for Larry Kramer. The HIV activist turned 80, released the book The American People: Volume 1, and was nominated for a slew of awards for the recent HBO adaptation of his 1985 play The Normal Heart. And now he’s the subject of a new documentary, Larry Kramer in Love and Anger, which documents his fight as a firebrand activist to make AIDS a national issue and change public health policy. Don’t miss the making of one of the LGBT community’s great activists.

The Glamour & The Squalor

Directed by Marq Evans, The Glamour & The Squalor tells the story of the legendary rock radio DJ Marco Collins. As a gatekeeper and great lover of music, Collins helped make the careers of bands like Weezer, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam by broadcasting their songs to the public. But in his private life, the Seattle-based figure was battling demons and struggling to keep his sexuality out of the public eye. Archival footage, animated re-creations, and interviews with artists like Carrie Brownstein, Macklemore, and Collins himself help tell one of the year’s most glam tales.

The Royal Road

One of the year’s most poetic documentaries comes from filmmaker Jenni Olson, who in addition to her cinematic contributions, is known as one of the founders of PlanetOut.com. Olson calls her new film, The Royal Road, “a cinematic essay in defense of remembering” as well as “a primer on the Spanish colonization of California and the Mexican American War alongside intimate reflections on nostalgia, butch identity, the pursuit of unavailable women and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo — all against a contemplative backdrop of 16mm urban California landscapes, and featuring a voice-over cameo by Tony Kushner.” What’s not to love?

Mala Mala

Mala Mala is a timely new documentary that shows portraits of the transgender community in Puerto Rico. A hairstylist, a prostitute, an activist, and a RuPaul’s Drag Race star (April Carrion) are several of the subjects interviewed by directors Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini, who capture the discrimination and hardship that can come from one’s journey to selfhood.

A Sinner in Mecca

A gay Muslim filmmaker comes to term with his sexuality and his religion in A Sinner in Mecca. In this documentary, Parvez Sharma embarks on a hajj (a pilgrimage to Mecca) in Saudi Arabia, where it is not only a crime to be gay, it’s punishable by death. It is also forbidden to film in Mecca, making Sharma’s film an unprecedented view into a place and culture off-limits to most of the world

Greg Louganis in 'Thicker Than Water'

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The 14-minute film “Thicker Than Water” debuted this week on ESPN.com, and it takes a look at former Olympic diver Greg Louganis’ tough decision to compete in the 1988 Games after finding out that he was HIV positive, and the support system his coach provided during that difficult time.

In this moving documentary directed by Jennifer Arnold, Louganis and his coach, Ron O’Brien, open up about those excruciating days, and the leaps of faith that they both took to make history.

The film will air Friday, Dec. 6, on SportsCenter in the 6 p.m. ET hour as part of Friday Night Movie Night. Watch the short film below:

Lost Documentary Found

James-Day introducing The RejectedA documentary entitled ‘The Rejected’ which was released in 1961 is believed to be the first documentary on homosexuality in the USA.

It was long thought that the documentary, which had been funded by a New York TV station, WNET; and after much research a copy of the historical documentary was found in the LIbrary of Congress.  Unfortunately the copy was not in a good condition, and after many discussions, the Library of Congress along with WNET agreed that a group archivists would clean up, digitize and upload the video for the use of the community.

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Please read the following blog item from KQED

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The Real Matthew Shepherd

Over the years we have reported on various productions of the The Laramie Project and its sequel, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later when they have been produced in Northern Ireland by local artists , and when they have been shown in movie houses or we have been lucky enough to see them on DVD,  A new movie has just been released which has a new focus on Matthew, and brings out a fuller picture of his life and who he was.  We are reproducing the article as it appears in the ADVOCATE and we will write a review of the story and movie when we have an opportunity to see it, as it is currently on release in the USA.

 

Getting to Know the Real Matthew Shepard

Shepard’s father and the director of a new documentary talk about why it’s important that we remember him.

BY TRUDY RING

MARCH 02 2015 8:00 AM ET

Matthew Shepard with Michele Josue

Matthew Shepard with Michele Josue

1998 doesn’t seem that long ago, but in many ways the world was different. For one thing, there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no YouTube — but one young man’s story caught the attention of the nation in a way that today would be called “going viral.”

The young man was Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay college student who was viciously beaten by two men he’d met in a bar and left hanging on a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyo., then died a few days later at a hospital in Fort Collins, Colo. His death increased the awareness of antigay hate crimes and became a rallying point for supporters of LGBT-inclusive hate-crimes laws and other gay rights measures.

The new documentary film Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine, produced and directed by Matthew’s onetime schoolmate Michele Josue, seeks to let audiences know there were so many things important about Matthew beyond the way he died — and also to make sure that his life and death are not forgotten.

Matthew Shepard with his parents“The young people in the gay community today are having freedoms that he never had,” says his father, Dennis Shepard, on a recent visit to Los Angeles for the film’s opening. “They don’t understand that, especially the very young people, because they don’t know who Matt was. People from 12 on are the activists today.”

Matthew, his father says, would be amazed to see the advances in LGBT rights that have taken place since his death. Among those are the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2009, which commits federal resources to investigate and prosecute crimes motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, gender, and other factors. Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, worked tirelessly to get the law passed, her husband notes.

Then there are advances in marriage equality, state-level antidiscrimination laws, the proliferation of gay-straight alliances in schools, and more. Also, Dennis Shepard says, “He would just be thrilled to see how open and relaxed the young people are. They just don’t understand what the issue is” with being gay.

But other factors — the persistence of homophobia among some segments of the population, the need to pass federal nondiscrimination protections, and the backlash against LGBT progress, with “license to discriminate” laws and calls to defy pro-equality court rulings — make it crucial to remember Matthew’s story, say his father and the filmmaker.

“It’s important for people to kind of reengage with the outrage we all had then,” says Josue. “Matt’s story is not unique … there are a lot of Matt Shepards out there who still need support and validation.”

Matthew Shepard with Michele JosueSome observers have wondered why Matthew’s death resonated with the public so much more than any other homophobic hate crime. To Josue, “The egregiousness of the crime … created such a haunting image that still stays with people and affects people all these years later.”

That’s part of it, says his father, plus Matthew’s everyman quality — he was a young man of many interests, who loved hunting and fishing as well as theater and politics, who was intelligent and multilingual, who made friends easily. “Somebody everywhere could relate to a part of him,” Dennis Shepard says.

There are those who wonder, though, if his death commanded attention partly because he was a white, attractive, middle-class college student, not, say, a black transgender sex worker. To this, Josue responds, “Matt never asked to be the face of the gay rights movement, but for whatever reason, he is. And if it sheds some light on what’s happening to others, in the trans community as well, so be it.”

And before he became the face of a movement, he was a son, a brother, a friend, and that’s what Josue wants to show the world through her film. “He changed me in many ways,” says the filmmaker, who attended school in Switzerland with Matthew when his family was living in Saudi Arabia because of Dennis’s job (there was no high school for Matthew to attend there). “He taught me what it is to be a true friend. He was so extroverted and just truly loved people. He never met a stranger. I looked up to him and how he treated other people. In his death I couldn’t reconcile how something so horrible could happen to such a tenderhearted and kind person. It taught me to be a better ally and just stand up for all the Matt Shepards out there.”

The film recounts Matthew’s experiences at the school, his earlier years in Casper, Wyo., and some of the darker times of his life, as when, after being sexually assaulted while traveling in Morocco, he went into a period of depression and isolation, his gregariousness diminished.

Both of Shepard’s parents appear in the movie, as do many other people who knew him. Talking about Matthew was sometimes painful for them, Josue says, “but I think everyone, all his close friends, his teachers, his family were all very willing to share the Matt that we remembered and that we cherished.”

She adds, “I often compare it to reopening some very old wounds that never healed properly. So there’s a lot of tears, of course, but you know, there are also some really joyful moments when we were able to reminisce and remember little things about Matt that we had forgotten over time.”

Matthew’s brother, Logan, who is now 34, declined to participate in the film. “He’s very introverted like Judy and he’s more of an advocate behind the scenes,” Dennis Shepard says, adding that Logan is deeply involved with antibullying efforts and all the work of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, set up by the family to advocate for LGBT equality through a variety of programs.

The film, Dennis notes, is very honest. He says it’s one of four accounts of Matthew’s life and death that are totally honest, the others being Judy’s book, The Meaning of Matthew, and the playsThe Laramie Project and its sequel, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. He and Josue dismiss as “totally bogus” the accounts that claim Matthew’s murder was not motivated by his killers’ homophobia but was instead the result of a drug deal gone bad. “We just ignore it because those who want to believe something that strange and odd will believe it,” he says.

Part of the movie’s honesty, he says, is making clear that Matthew “had failures and successes like everybody else.” He continues, “I think it’s important for young people to know that you’ll have good times and bad times.” The knowledge that some young people despair over the bad times to the point of suicide, he says, “just scares me to death.”

He and his wife, with their son and other allies, are working hard to keep other young LGBT people from despairing. One of the foundation’s projects is Matthew’s Place, an online community for LGBT youth, many of whom find little support in their families or schools.

Dennis and Judy’s work also includes visiting schools — this spring they’ll be talking to junior high students in San Francisco who are reading The Laramie Project — and, under the aegis of the U.S. State Department, traveling overseas to speak about Matthew and LGBT rights. They’ve been to 18 countries to date.

In a way, that effort is carrying out one of Matthew’s ambitions. “His goal was to go out and improve the world,” Dennis says. “He really loved this country and he thought those ideals should be taken everywhere.”

And continuing to tell his story, as through Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine, is important to any effort to improve the world for LGBT people, his father says. That the film will be edited into an educational version for schools is just critical,” he says. Young people, he explains, “need to understand that they’re standing on the shoulders of what Matt did, what happened to Matt, who is standing on the shoulders of what happened to Harvey Milk, who was standing on the shoulders of Stonewall.”

“History repeats itself,” he adds, “unless you educate and teach. And I think that’s what this film does.”

 

Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine is playing in theaters around the country. Click here to find a screening near you, and watch the trailer below.