2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Circus of Books’

May 3, 2019

by Carla Hay

Circus of Books
Rachel Mason with parents Barry and Karen Mason in “Circus of Books” (Photo by Gretchen Warthen)

“Circus of Books”

Directed by Rachel Mason

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 26, 2019.

“Circus of Books” is a truly unique documentary that tells the behind-the-scenes story of Circus of Books, the Los Angeles-based company that got most of its profits through gay male pornography and operated multiple stores and a production company. Circus of Books—which had the same owners from 1982 until the business closed in February 2019—was literally a “mom and pop” operation, since the business was owned by married couple Karen and Barry Mason, who are the parents of three children. Their middle child, Rachel, directed this film to chronicle the history of Circus of Books and the last days before the business shut down.

Rachel takes the Werner Herzog/Michael Moore documentarian approach of being the narrator, on-camera interviewer and one of the stars of the movie. The documentary begins by showing the history of the bookstore before the Masons owned it. The LGBTQ activist Black Cat demonstration in 1967 in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood preceded the Stonewall demonstrations in New York City by two years, but both were important events in gay civil rights that had similarities, because both were sparked by LGBTQ people fighting back against police harassment and raids of gay nightclubs.

The Black Cat nightclub and the New Faces nightclub were part of the Los Angeles gay nightlife scene in the 1960s. New Faces would eventually become the gay bookstore Book Circus. When Book Circus went out of business, the Masons took it over and renamed the space Circus of Books, which carried a wide array of family-friendly inventory, but it was outsold by what was in the adult section of the store. So how did this straight Jewish couple end up in the gay porn business?

Karen, whom many people in the documentary describe as bossy and domineering, started off as a criminal-justice journalist, who worked for publications such as the Wall Street Journal (in the Chicago bureau) and the Cincinnati Enquirer. Barry, who’s described as gentle and laid-back, used to work at the University of California at Los Angeles’ film department in the mid-1960s, when the Doors members Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek were briefly students there, before the Doors became a world-famous rock band. Barry worked in special effects and had credits that included the original “Star Trek” TV series.

Barry applied his skills in special effects to invent dialysis equipment in the early years of his marriage to Karen. The couple then went into the business together to sell the equipment and were doing well financially. But then they made the mistake of selling the rights to the equipment, and they began to have financial hardships. It was during this challenging time in their marriage that Karen saw an ad seeking distributors for porn magazines. She answered the ad, thinking that it was a temporary way to make money until they could become more financially stable.

When the owner of the West Hollywood store Book Circus was facing eviction because he wasn’t paying his rent, Barry jumped at the chance to take over the business, and he and Karen changed the name of the store to Circus of Books. The business became so successful that they opened a second location in the Silver Lake neighborhood in 1985. (The Silver Lake location closed in 2016.) A third Circus of Books location opened in Sherman Oaks in the late 1980s, but lasted for only two years; it was shut down because of too many neighborhood complaints about the store’s adult content and the clientele it attracted. The Masons further expanded the business by starting a gay porn film-production company. Porn star Jeff Stryker, porn director Matt Sterling and Hustler publisher Larry Flynt are among the Masons’ former colleagues who are interviewed in the movie.

Karen describes herself as religious, while Barry says that he’s not. (Because of their differing views on religion, she calls their relationship a “mixed marriage.”) Even though she and Barry made their living from hardcore porn, Karen says she never really liked to see any of the porn that they sold. She also didn’t want to hear details about the cruising and sexual activities that were going on at Circus of Books. (In 1989, the city of West Hollywood ordered that the store shut down between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., in response to complaints about hustlers at Circus of Books.) Karen’s ability to separate her religious beliefs from her business activities is demonstrated in a scene where she goes to a convention for sex toys and looks over products in a sales-minded, detached manner. It’s almost like she’s the owner of a hardware store who’s shopping for tools and pondering the sales value of what she might buy.

Past and present store employees say that even though Karen never really watched the porn that she sold, what she did watch closely was the financial accounting for the business, and she was a strict “taskmaster” boss, while Barry was more likely to give their employees some slack if they made a mistake. In the years before the Internet changed the porn industry, business was booming for Circus of Books.

Things also began to change for Circus of Books in 1993, when the Masons were busted for transporting obscene material across state lines, due to the mail-order part of their business. The FBI got involved, but the parents kept their legal problems hidden from their three kids. Even though Bill Clinton’s election as U.S. president meant that new prosecutors were appointed to the Masons’ case, the case wasn’t dismissed until 1995. The legal turmoil that the Masons went through had repercussions on the business for many years to come.

As the director of the documentary, Rachel is shown on camera interviewing people, including Circus of Books employees; her parents; and her older and younger brothers. Viewers get to see some of their family dynamics, as Rachel (who describes herself as an artistic free spirit) tries to figure out how her parents’ unusual line of work might have affected their family. Rachel doesn’t really interrogate as much as have conversations with the people involved in the business.

On the one hand, the family is disappointed that they have to close Circus of Books—the rise of Internet porn and gay dating apps such as Grindr essentially made Circus of Books an obsolete business. On the other hand, the business was losing so much money in its last few years (plus, Karen and Barry Mason were getting ready to retire anyway) that shuttering the business is almost a relief for the family.

What viewers won’t be seeing in this documentary are explicit scenes of gay porn, nor will they see undercover video of people cruising at Circus of Books, although there are some people interviewed in the film who talk about their cruising experiences. What’s more surprising (and revealing) is how someone as conservative and religious as Karen lasted as long as she did in the gay porn business. It’s clear from watching the film that she saw the business only as a means to make money to provide a comfortable life for her family. She didn’t see the customers as “family,” only as part of the business.

That emotional detachment explains why Karen had a difficult time coming to terms with her homophobia when her youngest child, Josh (Rachel’s younger brother), came out as gay when he was in college. (By contrast, Barry was more accepting of Josh’s sexual orientation.) In the documentary, Josh talks about the anguish of keeping his sexuality a secret.

And in case anyone is ignorant enough to think his parents’ line of work made him gay, Josh reiterates that he would be gay regardless of what his parents did for a living. According to the documentary, when the Mason children were growing up, Karen and Barry apparently went to great lengths not to expose their children to the porn that Karen and Barry sold. The spouses kept the type of business they did a secret for many years from their children and people in their straight community. In the years before the Internet existed, it was easier to keep this type of secret.

Growing up, Josh was considered the “perfect” child who excelled in school, but he was afraid to come out as gay because he knew it would upset his mother. The irony is not lost on Rachel, who confronts her mother about the hypocrisy of making a living from gay customers and yet not be willing to accept that one of her children is part of the gay community too. The documentary points out that it took years for Karen to be at the place where she is now: a proud member of PFLAG, the organization for parents, families and friends of lesbians and gays.

“Circus of Books” is a low-budget film that keeps the production values very basic in telling the story. There’s no fancy editing or arty cinematography. The movie also strikes the right balance between showing touches humor but not at the expense of addressing serious topics, such as the effect that the AIDS crisis had on numerous Circus of Books customers and employees. On the surface, the movie is about a gay porn business and how it affected the gay social scene in Los Angeles. But underneath the surface, this documentary is really about how this “mom and pop” business affected the family who owned it.

Netflix will premiere “Circus of Books” on April 22, 2020.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘XY Chelsea’

May 1, 2019

by Carla Hay

Chelsea Manning in "XY Chelsea"
Chelsea Manning in “XY Chelsea” (Photo by Tim Travers Hawkins)

“XY Chelsea”

Directed by Tim Travers Hawkins

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on May 1, 2019.

Less than a month before the documentary “XY Chelsea” was supposed to have its world premiere at 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, controversial whistleblower Chelsea Manning (who’s the subject of the movie) was arrested on March 8, for refusing to testify before a grand jury about the classified U.S. government documents that she leaked to WikiLeaks in 2010. Before the arrest kept her in jail, Manning had been scheduled to attend the “XY Chelsea” premiere and to do an on-stage Q&A afterward. The filmmakers also had to redo the ending of the movie to include updates about the arrests of Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who was taken into custody on April 11, 2019.

It’s one of many twists and turns to Manning’s saga that this revealing documentary chronicles with an unwavering purpose: to show viewers who she really is and how she has adjusted to life outside of prison. Manning was imprisoned from 2010 to 2017, the year that President Barack Obama commuted her 35-year sentence. At a post-premiere Q&A, Manning’s criminal-defense attorney Nancy Hollander said that Manning’s refusal to testify is a protest against the system.

Back in 2010, when Manning was first arrested for the notorious case, she was Bradley Manning, a 22-year-old U.S. Army soldier and intelligence analyst with access to thousands of classified government documents. After being convicted of violating the Espionage Act and other crimes in 2013, Manning announced that she was going to live her life as a transgender woman named Chelsea Elizabeth Manning. The “XY” in the documentary’s title refers to the chromosomes that determine if a human is male or female; males typically have the XY chromosome, while females usually have the XX chromosome.

Manning has given many interviews and speeches since her release from prison, and she also had a failed 2018 campaign for U.S. Senator to represent her home state of Maryland. But this documentary, which had unprecedented access to Manning, gives viewers a raw and unflinching look at her life behind the scenes.

The movie begins with the news that Manning was pardoned and is set to be released from prison. As a trans woman who was forced to dress like a man in prison, viewers see that Manning has already picked out the type of clothes she wants to wear after her prison release. There’s a phone conversation with Manning instructing her attorney Hollander on the exact pages of fashion magazines where she can find the clothes that Manning wants to wear. Stepping on the plane that will take her to her new home, it’s clear that Manning still can’t quite believe that she is no longer in prison. But Manning isn’t a typical ex-con, and it’s clear she can’t have a “normal” life because of her notoriety. She has to deal with a multitude of issues, including life after prison, life after the military, and life after coming out as a trans woman.

Viewers see that even though she’s no longer in prison, Manning can’t feel completely free because she believes that the government will always be out to get her, now that she’s been declared an enemy of the state. Her paranoia is palpable as she checks for hidden recording devices when she’s in a hotel room. And because Manning has admitted to suicide attempts while she was in prison, there’s an underlying sense that her mental health has varying degrees of fragility.

In the documentary’s interviews, Manning opens up about her unhappy childhood. She says both of her biological parents were heavy drinkers, her father was abusive, and she was hated so much by her stepmother that she was eventually kick out of their home. Manning also said that although her father had a problem with her living as a gay man, it didn’t bother him as much as when she revealed her true identity as a transgender woman.

As for why she joined the military in the first place, Manning said she did it “almost on a whim” because it was her way of trying to escape her trans identity. By joining an establishment that requires strict conformity, Manning said that she was hoping that the military could “cure” her sexual identity, much like “going cold turkey from a drug addiction.”

She is more guarded about what it was like to be a transgender woman in prison. Choosing her words carefully, and often pausing before she speaks, Manning said that she was constantly watched in prison, guards would do things such as walk in on her while she was changing clothes, and people’s reactions to her trans identity were “complicated” and “human.” Manning’s experience in solitary confinement has left emotional scars, since she said that a part of her died when she had to spend so much time in isolation.

While out of prison, the documentary shows Manning becoming very active on social media. In the photo shoot for her first post-prison portrait (which she uses as a social-media profile picture), she jokes that her low-cut blouse might show too much “boobage.” As Manning’s post-prison life evolves into very outspoken activism, particularly against Republicans, she experiences extreme reactions from the public: The people who love her think she’s an American hero, and they treat her almost like a rock star when she’s at political events. There people who hate her think she’s a traitor, and they treat her like a disgusting freak.

Manning’s mantra/political slogan has become “We Got This,” as a way of saying that whatever life throws her way, she can handle it. Her decision to run for U.S. Senate as a first-time political candidate speaks to how high her ambitions are and the groundswell of support that she felt from people. However, there’s a sense of loneliness that permeates Manning’s life—she’s estranged from her family and does not have very many close friends, since she understandably finds it difficult to trust people, and her fame causes a certain isolation. At one point in the documentary, Manning says, “I know I’m not the person that people think I am.”

The documentary also shows what happened behind the scenes during Manning’s Senate campaign and the moment that it all imploded in January 2018. In a misguided attempt at what Manning calls “rapport building,” she went to a right-wing political event called “A Night for Freedom” in New York City, where she was seen hobnobbing with pro-Trump supporters and people who express racist, sexist and homophobic viewpoints. As Manning described it on social media, she “crashed the fascist/white supremacist hate brigade party,” and that she “learned in prison that the best way to confront your enemies is face-to-face in their space.” But she got an immense amount from backlash from left-wing people, many of whom withdrew their support of her. (Manning lost the Senate primary by a landslide.)

In “XY Chelsea,” Manning is seen having a meltdown over the backlash, which she mistakenly thought would blow over in a few days. In a tension-filled scene, Manning shouts to spokesperson Janus Rose and campaign manager/communications director Kelly Wright, “This is driving us into the fucking ground!” Later, Manning fights back tears, as she says that going to the “Night for Freedom” event was “indefensible” and “wrong.” She adds, “I’m not a hero. I’ve just always been someone wanting to do something.”

And in a prophetic scene near the end of the movie, Manning has this to say about why she’s chosen to be a risk-taking activist speaking out against government corruption: “What are they going to do? Throw me in prison? Kill me? They’re going to do that anyway if we let them. I’d rather go down fighting.”

Showtime will premiere “XY Chelsea” on June 7, 2019.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘CRSHD’

April 30, 2019

by Carla Hay

Deeksha Ketkar, Isabelle Barbier and Sadie Scott in “CRSHD” (Photo courtesy of ESC Productions)


Directed by Emily Cohn

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 30, 2019.

Teenage sex comedies aren’t anything new, but we’re seeing more of them from a female viewpoint, on and off screen. “CRSHD,” written and directed by Emily Cohn, is about three young women in their first year of college who want to hook up with a crush and possibly lose their virginities at an on-campus party that takes place before the students go on a summer break. The teens are best friends with each other, and they make a pact to give each other updates about their pursuit of sexual adventures.

If this plot sounds similar to the raunchy 2018 comedy “Blockers,” the two movies do have several things in common on the surface. In both movies, the three main characters are sexually impatient female co-eds with similar goals to lose their virginities. Two of the friends are white, while the other is Indian-American. One of the white friends is sexually attracted to other women, while the other two friends are heterosexual. And both movies were directed by a woman. (Kay Cannon directed “Blockers.”) But that’s where the similarities end.

The barely legal teens in “Blockers” are still living with their parents until they go away to college, so the movie has an extra plot layer of meddling and nosy parents who try to block their daughters’ plans to lose their virginities at a prom after-party. Because the young women of “CRSHD” are living on campus, there’s no parental interference in their party plans. The three best friends in “CRSHD” are awkward Izzy Alden (played by Isabelle Barbier), free-spirited Fiona Newman (played by Sadie Scott) and sensible Anuka Deshpande (played by Deeksha Ketkar). They look for potential hookups on social media and in their surroundings on and off campus.

When popular student Elise (played by Isabelle Kenet) invites them to an exclusive party, the three friends see it as the perfect opportunity to find the sex partner they want. Elise’s party has a catch: The only people invited are those who have been anonymously named by someone else as his or her “crush.” In the movie, it’s called being “crushed”—or as it’s written in abbreviated social-media lingo “CRSHD.” The person doing the crushing has the option to reveal their feelings to the person they desire at the party—kind of like a sexual “secret Santa.” Fiona has a crush on Elise, and has her sights set on her, but Izzy and Anuka aren’t so sure who they might end up with at the party.

“Blockers” has the kind of broad, slapstick comedy that you would expect from a big-studio film. The comedy of “CRSHD” doesn’t need bombastic stunts, and therefore has more of a “slice of life” indie tone. “CRSHD” is the kind of movie where people who are supposed to be in their late teens actually talk like teenagers, instead of sophisticated people in their 20s or 30s. Because social media is a huge part of the characters’ lives in “CRSHD,” the movie uses an eye-catching framing device of having the characters talk directly to the screen in a conversational tone whenever they’re sending a message on social media, while the actors are backlit with neon coloring. A symbol in the left-hand corner of the screen indicates if they’re communicating by text, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

From the start, it’s clear that Izzy is written as the character that viewers are meant to sympathize with the most. She not as confident as her two friends, and she frequently masks her insecurities by pretending she’s as sexually knowledgeable as they are. Izzy has to work harder to get attention from people whom she might want to date, and there’s some underlying jealousy that she has toward Anuka and Fiona because Izzy often feels socially inferior to them. Izzy also has the most at stake for whatever antics ensue at the party, because she has a final exam the next day, and she’s trying not to let it show to her friends how conflicted she is about partying instead of spending the night studying.

Izzy also finds herself in uncomfortable situations, such as when her friends find out that she has an eccentric mother, whose idea of sending a care package is a box containing nothing but shredded paper and a lollipop. “CRSHD” writer/director Cohn uses shoes as a symbol for how Izzy feels about herself—or at least how Izzy might want others to see her. At one point in the movie, Izzy admires some white ankle boots that Elise has—and then Izzy steals the boots from Elise. There are other points in the movie where there are close-ups of the shoes that Izzy is wearing that are meant to be reflections of how she feels at the moment.

“CRSHD” is Cohn’s first feature film, and it shows that she has a unique voice with a lot of potential. It’s a solid effort for a debut indie flick, and it will be interesting to see what she ends up doing next as a filmmaker. Some jokes in the movie work well (such as sequences involving a fake ID or an overbearing security patrol officer who keeps running into Izzy), while a few other jokes fall a little flat, such as a predictable vomit scene at the party. “CRSHD” will appeal most to people whose tastes in comedy films lean more toward a low-budget, quirky vibe instead of something that’s too slick and trite for its own good.

UPDATE: Lightyear Entertainment will release “CRSHD” in select virtual cinemas on May 8, 2020.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Gay Chorus Deep South’

April 30, 2019

by Carla Hay

Gay Chorus Deep South
San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus members, including Dr. Tim Seelig (far right) in “Gay Chorus Deep South” (Photo by Adam Hobbs) .

“Gay Chorus Deep South”

Directed by David Charles Rodrigues

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 29, 2019.

The South is not the only region of the United States to pass anti-LGBTQ laws in recent years, but it’s the area of the U.S. where these laws have become more commonplace at a faster rate. With that in mind, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (SFGMC) decided to go right to the front lines in the South for the Lavender Pen Tour in October 2017, to reach out to and perform in the conservative communities that have largely supported these laws.

The tour got its name from the lavender pen that San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk (the first openly gay candidate elected to a major office in the U.S.) gave to San Francisco mayor George Moscone, who used the pen to sign into a law a landmark gay rights bill in 1977. (Milk and Moscone were tragically murdered by another city supervisor in 1978.) Milk has often been referred to as the patron saint of the SFGMC. The Oakland Interfaith Choir joined forces with SFGMC on the tour, which did 23 shows in five states: Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina. The tour raised money for LGBTQ causes, and in order to reduce expenses that would decrease the fundraising total, SFGMC members on the tour agreed to pay their own way. Airbnb, which largely funded this documentary, also gave financial assistance.

SFGMC artistic director Dr. Tim Seelig knows these Southern communities all too well. Raised in Alabama in a strict Baptist family, he was a closeted married father who came out as gay at the age of 35. After coming out, his church turned against him, he lost custody of his kids, and he says that his ex-wife and the church went on a vendetta to ruin him financially. Based on the interviews that Seelig gives in this documentary, he still has a lot of emotional scars from this experience. He says, “I hate the church for all the things they did to my family.”

Seelig has been directing LGBTQ choirs ever since coming out as gay, and his current family is SFGMC. He says that the tour is aimed to reduce the fear that homophobic bigots might have of the LGBTQ community, and show that many LGBTQ people care about the same human values as heterosexuals do. Seelig says this type of outreach to anti-LGBTQ communities, although risky, is necessary to advance LGBTQ rights: “We’re not going to get anywhere by just singing to our own people.”

One of the most memorable parts of “Gay Chorus Deep South” is the story of chorus member Jimmy White. He has also had estrangement issues with his conservative Southern family who’ve had difficulty accepting that he’s gay. Jimmy wants his father Jimmy White Sr. to go to the Lavender Pen performance when the tour is in Jimmy’s home state of Mississippi. Jimmy and his father have had a strained relationship where they’ve at times gone for years without speaking to each other.

Jimmy’s stepmother is a little bit more understanding of Jimmy’s sexuality, and she thinks she might be able to convince Jimmy Sr. to go to the concert with her. When Jimmy Jr. reunites with his father and stepmother in their home, it’s an emotional moment for him and the viewers, but the true sign that their relationship might be on the path to healing is if Jimmy Sr. goes to the concert. You’ll have to see the movie to find out if that happens.

One of the things that Seelig did on the tour is visit conservative Christian churches to see if they would host a performance by SFGMC. A few meetings with church leaders are shown in the documentary, and they had mixed results. Some said yes, while others said no. In Alabama, one church looked promising at first, but SFGMC was rejected because, according to Seelig, a homophobic new minister was put in charge of the church by a bishop who wants the state to have more anti-LGBTQ laws. While the tour was in Selma, Alabama, the documentary shows the parallels between the tour and the civil-rights marches that took place in Selma and other parts of Alabama in the 1960s.

Meanwhile, “Gay Chorus Deep South” shows the Lavender Pen Tour getting criticism and praise—and not from people whom you might expect. The leader of a group called Queer South is seen criticizing the tour for having “white paternalistic” intentions. It should be noted that SFGMC is a racially diverse group, but perhaps this criticism is because Seelig and most of the SFGMC leaders are white.

In Tennessee, Seelig is shown doing an in-studio interview at right-wing, conservative, sports-talk radio station WPRT, and he’s pleasantly surprised at how well the interview went. One of the radio hosts says to Seelig that anything with a message of spreading unity through art is “a beautiful thing.” (We’ll never know if all that niceness was authentic or if the hosts were just being polite because they knew they were being filmed for a movie.)

Another standout member of the SFGMC is an African American transgender person named Ashlé, who doesn’t want to be classified as one gender yet but identifies mostly as female. Ashlé talks about how important it was to be fully accepted by SFGMC, because it shows that the group is not for cisgender men only. Overall, the documentary shows SFGMC to be a tight-knit and dedicated group that turns to each other for support, no matter what’s going on in their lives.

North Carolina welcomed the SFGMC with open arms. It was in North Carolina that the movie had one of its best scenes: when family and friends of SFGMC were introduced to each other in a big reunion. There were plenty of tears and hugs in this very emotional gathering. Another heartfelt moment was at a tour stop in South Carolina, where church ladies gave a SFGMC member a quilt as a sign of friendship and acceptance.

Several audience members are interviewed in the documentary. Most were already supportive of the LGBTQ community, but a few admitted that they supported anti-LGBTQ laws, and seeing the SFGMC perform made them think twice about supporting these laws in the future.

As for the performances, they can best be described as memorable, highly energetic and sometimes intentionally amusing, such as a rendition of “I Got You” by a drag queen dressed as Patsy Cline who kept pulling objects out of her dress as she sang the song. Other song highlights in the documentary are “You Have More Friends Than You Know” and “I Ain’t Afraid.” (SFGMC also performed at the Tribeca Film Festival world premiere of “Gay Chorus Deep South.”)

“Gay Chorus Deep South” is the first feature film from director David Charles Rodrigues, who is very talented at telling a story in a cohesive manner without a lot of flashy gimmicks. The movie isn’t heavy-handed in its message. It just shows that this very unique tour demonstrated how the power of music can help heal bigoted rifts that keep people apart and maybe open up more people’s minds to be more accepting of each other.

UPDATE: MTV Documentary Films will release “Gay Chorus Deep South” in Los Angeles on October 30, 2019, in New York City on November 1, 2019, and in San Francisco on November 22, 2019.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Stray Dolls’

April 27, 2019

by Carla Hay

Stray Dolls
Olivia DeJonge and Geetanjali Thapa in “Stray Dolls” (Photo by Shane Sigler)

“Stray Dolls”

Directed by Sonejuhi Sinha

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 27, 2019.

The crime thriller “Stray Dolls” is described by director/co-writer Sonejuhi Sinha as a “love story,” but all the characters in the film aren’t very lovable. Most of the film takes place at the sleazy Tides Plaza Motel, which is in an unnamed city in the U.S., but it’s the kind of dump where a lot of people are either down on their luck and/or doing something bad. A young woman named Riz (played by Geetanjali Thapa) has recently arrived from India to work as a live-in maid at the motel. We find out that Riz has escaped from her street life in India, and wants a better life for herself in America, where she plans to send some money home to her family.

Riz tries to re-invent herself as a hard worker with a clean lifestyle, but it’s slowly revealed that when Riz was in India, she has done illegal things, such as con games and robbery, in order to survive. Having a past life as a street hustler makes it all the more unbelievable that Riz would give her passport for safekeeping to her new boss Una (played by Cynthia Nixon), a no-nonsense Russian who is the motel’s manager. In the beginning of the film, Una is seen shredding the passport, which will have dire consequences for Riz later on in the movie.

Soon after arriving at the motel, Riz finds out that she has to share living quarters with a fellow maid named Dallas (played by Olivia DeJonge), who’s strung out on meth, obsessed with Dolly Parton, and trying to make enough money to open her own nail salon. Dallas’ dimwitted boyfriend Jimmy (played by Robert Aramayo) is also her drug dealer, and he also happens to be Una’s son.

Riz and Dallas get off on the wrong foot when Riz catches Dallas trying to steal from her, and the two get into a fight that leaves Riz feeling threatened. Riz continues to put on a façade of being a “good girl”—she refuses to drink alcohol or do drugs when hanging out with Dallas. But one night, when they’re at a restaurant, Dallas slips a painkiller drug into Riz’s milkshake while Riz is in the ladies’ restroom. Under the influence of the drug, Riz’s inhibitions are lowered, and she spends the rest of the night partying with Dallas and her druggie friends. When Riz and Dallas go back to their room at the motel, Riz asks Dallas to kiss her, which foreshadows the sexual attraction that is underneath later motivations in the film.

While cleaning a motel room when the room’s guest is away, Riz finds a hidden package of cocaine, impulsively steals it, and then gives the package to Dallas, in an effort to impress Dallas and with the hope that Dallas doesn’t pick a fight with her again. It’s one of many dumb and unnecessary decisions that the supposedly streetwise Riz makes in this film. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that things don’t turn out well for anyone who steals from a drug dealer.

But the movie’s plot really goes off the rails when Riz commits a serious crime twice, and what she does to cover up her misdeeds would make her a candidate for “World’s Dumbest Criminals.” The first time she commits the crime, it’s somewhat of an accident. The second time she commits the crime, it’s completely unwarranted and planned in such a cold-blooded manner that any sympathy that anyone might have for Riz will probably evaporate. The last 15 minutes of the movie have so many absurd things happening (including a ludicrous attempt to frame Riz and Dallas as “Thelma and Louise” type of outlaws) that “Stray Dolls” should have been named “Stray Plot Holes.”

UPDATE: Samuel Goldwyn Films will release “Stray Dolls” on digital and VOD on April 10, 2020.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Clementine’

April 27, 2019

by Carla Hay

Otmara Marrero and Sydney Sweeney in “Clementine” (Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories)


Directed by Laura Jean Gallagher

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 27, 2019.

“Clementine,” the first feature film from writer/director Lara Jean Gallagher, is a slow burn of a drama that is more of a psychological portrait than a psychological thriller. No one in the movie is named Clementine; the movie’s title comes from what clementine oranges mean to the central characters Karen (played by Otmara Marrero) and Lana (played by Sydney Sweeney). You’ll have to see the movie to find out how clementine oranges are mentioned, but we’re first introduced to Karen at the beginning of the film, when she breaks into a remote Oregon lake house owned by her older ex-girlfriend. The Karen character is supposed to be 29, but Marrero looks and acts much younger than a typical 29-year-old.

When there is a movie that takes place primarily in a secluded lake house in the woods, all sorts of sinister things usually ensue. But in the case of “Clementine,” don’t expect there to be any mysterious killer on the loose. Instead, the movie plays guessing games about who is trustworthy when it comes to matters of the heart.

It’s apparent early on that Karen’s breakup with her ex-girlfriend is recent and painful, because she broke into the house with the intent of taking back a dog without her ex-girlfriend’s knowledge. It’s unclear if Karen has rightful custody of the dog, but what is clear is that Karen feels that she deserves to have custody. When she finds out that the dog isn’t at the house, she decides to stay while she contemplates her next move. The only thing that viewers know about the ex-girlfriend, who’s named “D” (and is played in a cameo by Sonya Walger), is that “D” is a busy career woman who’s broken Karen’s heart, and Karen knows enough about her schedule to know when “D” won’t be at the lake house.

One evening, a teenager named Lana shows up at the house and asks Karen to help her look for her lost dog. Karen is a little reluctant to help at first, but she agrees, even though the sun is going down and it will soon get dark outside. They get in Karen’s car to search, and as the night wears on, they still haven’t found the dog. Karen’s skepticism grows, while she’s aware that she’s becoming sexually attracted to the mysterious Lana, who says she’s 19 and living with a boyfriend not too far from the lake house. Just when Karen is about to end the search because she thinks she’s being conned, Lana finds the dog, and Karen lets her guard down because she thinks Lana might be an honest person after all.

It isn’t long before they exchange phone numbers, and Karen invites Lana over for a late-night visit. Lana opens up to Karen and says she’s an aspiring actress, and the boyfriend she lives with is neglectful and someone who might be emotionally abusive. At first, Karen pretends that she lives in the lake house, but Lana quickly figures out the truth when Karen’s ex-girlfriend “D” unexpectedly calls on the house phone. It’s clear that the movie wants us to see that Karen projects a lot of her own experiences onto Lana as a way to bond with her: the idea of being seduced by an older woman, having unfulfilled dreams, and even searching for a beloved dog.

As Karen and Lana spend more time together at the house, Lana gives Karen subtle hints that she’s attracted to her, and Karen tries to decide if she’s going to initiate a romantic relationship with Lana. One day, the sexual tension between the two gets even more complicated when a young man aptly named Beau (played by Will Brittain), who does yard work and other maintenance for the house, shows up to do some work, and he openly flirts with Lana. Much to Karen’s dismay, Lana flirts back with Beau. Sensing Karen’s jealousy, Lana flirts with Beau even more whenever Karen is around.

All of this might turn into a suspenseful love triangle, but the movie takes somewhat of a ridiculous turn in the last 20 minutes when Karen commits an act of revenge that’s straight out of a Lifetime movie. The motivations for her to commit such a risky act don’t ring true, considering viewers know at that point in the movie if Karen and Lana have a future as a couple.

Marrero gives a solid performance as someone having inner morality conflicts over getting romantically involved with a teenager (even if the teen says she’s over the legal age of consent), but Sweeney has to carry the heavier acting load as someone who may or may not be a manipulative Lolita type. Unfortunately, the teen seductress role has been done so many times before in better-written movies that Sweeney often falls short of the challenge to create a fascinating and memorable character. The Lana character is certainly capable of inspiring lust, but Sweeney’s portrayal of Lana lacks the necessary charm that would make it believable that Lana would inspire true love. By the time secrets are revealed in the movie, the ending of “Clementine” is so anti-climactic that people won’t care much about what happens to the characters after the movie ends.

UPDATE: Oscilloscope Laboratories will release “Clementine” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on May 8, 2020. The movie’s digital and VOD release date is July 14, 2020.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘A Day in the Life of America’

April 27, 2019

by Carla Hay

A Day in the Life of America
DeAndre Upshaw and Stuart Hausmann in “A Day in the Life of America” (Photo by Evett Rolsten)

“A Day in the Life of America”

Directed by Jared Leto

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival  in New York City on April 27, 2019.

Oscar-winning actor Jared Leto, who is also the lead singer/songwriter of the rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars, has been steadily building a portfolio of interesting work as a director—beginning with Thirty Seconds to Mars videos, and progressing to the award-winning 2012 documentary feature “Artifact” (which chronicled the band’s fight to get out of its contract with EMI Music) and the non-fiction digital series “Beyond the Horizon” and “Great Wide Open.” The documentary “A Day in the Life of America” is his most ambitious directorial project so far. Inspired by National Geographic’s “A Day in the Life” book series, the documentary is a fascinating mosaic of people in the United States, all filmed on a single day: July 4, 2017. Leto solicited video footage from the public, but the majority of what made it into the final cut of the movie is footage that was professionally filmed by the 92 camera crews that Leto dispatched across the United States to capture everyday people on Independence Day. The documentary is also a companion piece to Thirty Seconds to Mars’ 2018 album “America.”

Because we’re living in an era where millions of people have put their video diaries on the Internet, one of the documentary’s biggest accomplishments is that it takes all of that type of noise and shapes it into an eclectic and riveting symphony of varied human perspectives. Not all of it is easy to digest. There are so many contrasting viewpoints expressed in the documentary, that people watching this film are bound to see things that will make them angry, sad, offended, entertained, hopeful and inspired. The movie’s top-notch editing, seamless cinematography and compelling Thirty Seconds to Mars music score all contribute to making “A Day in the Life of America” an engrossing cinematic journey. The movie does not interview political pundits or news commentators to give their distracting opinions. The people in the movie are not identified by name when we see them talk. It’s a wise decision, because what everyday people have to say in this movie is more important than the possibility that anyone could become a star by being in this film.

“A Day in the Life of America,” whose main scenes are shown in chronological order, begins with a pregnant woman going into labor during a home birth. During the course of the documentary, viewers hear from a wide variety of people from just about every region of the United States. In Arkansas, two drunk redneck men fire assault rifles in the air, and complain that white Americans are a dying breed. In California, a porn actress is shown working on the set of one of her movies and talks about how much she loves her job. In New York, a Hasidic trans woman shares her experiences of what it feels like to be discriminated against in and outside her religion. In West Virginia, a young, white single mother who’s addicted to meth smokes the drug on camera, and expresses shame and guilt for not being a good parent. In Texas, a gay black man at a skating rink expresses his thoughts on LGBTQ rights and the ongoing fight to be accepted in the same way as heterosexuals.

On the Fourth of July in Washington, D.C., people who are gathered at the Capitol Building range from Donald Trump supporters to anti-Trump protesters. Trump and wife Melania are shown greeting the crowd outside the White House. Speaking of Trump, his administration’s Muslim ban—and people’s contrasting views about it—are given notable screen time in this movie.

For many viewers, the most emotionally triggering aspect of “A Day in the Life of America” is the movie’s raw look at racism. In North Carolina, male and female members of the Ku Klux Klan are shown planning for a race war and spewing hatred against people who aren’t white and Christian. In Louisiana, African American adults talk about how there are two Americas: one that gives more privileges to whites and one where people who aren’t white still have to struggle to be accepted as equals. Meanwhile, the black kids in the Louisiana footage express more optimism about the future, saying that America represents freedom to them.

One of the movie’s effective devices is how contrasting viewpoints are edited right next to each other. After the KKK members from North Carolina are shown ranting that immigrants are ruining America, the next footage shows Native Americans in South Dakota celebrating their heritage. In another scene, there’s a ceremony where people are becoming U.S. citizens. The next scene is of white nationalist American Freedom Party members gathered for a meeting and talking about how they want their own country so they can have stricter laws against immigration. There’s a scene with people dressed as Revolutionary War-era Americans during a patriotic ceremony in Virginia. That footage is followed by a scene of a Muslim teenage girl in a boxing ring talking about how she won a hard-fought legal battle for her right to wear a hijab while boxing.

The documentary also takes a searing look at crime in America, particularly in how crime disproportionately affects black people. In Chicago, black residents in a working-class neighborhood express fear and sadness on the Fourth of July when they can’t tell if they’re hearing fireworks or gunshots. During filming, police arrive because a boy got shot. (The shooting is not in the movie.) In Detroit, young black residents on the streets are jaded and pessimistic about their future. In Oklahoma, a black man in prison (the details of his criminal record aren’t mentioned) talks about not getting justice and feeling like he’s invisible.

Health care is another big issue that’s covered in the movie. Tennis player Sebastien Jacques (who recovered from a life-threatening brain tumor) is shown in Kansas during his Walk Across America campaign to promote hope in dealing with health problems. That footage is in contrast to the next scene that shows a bed-ridden man dying from cancer.

Of course, it’s impossible for one movie to capture all the subcultures and issues that exist in the United States. For example, the wealthiest “one-percent” of people in America are noticeably absent from the film’s featured interviews. It would have been great to include the perspective of a self-made billionaire—not necessarily someone who’s famous, but someone who represents what is often described as the ultimate American Dream. Even though the super-wealthy aren’t really given a spotlight as a contrast to all the poor and middle-class people who highlighted are in the movie, “A Day in the Life of America” does a fairly comprehensive job of capturing a great deal of the contemporary diversity that exists in the United States. Simply put: “A Day in the Life of America” just might be the most honest documentary about the United States that could be released this year, because it’s the collective voices of people in America speaking their truths.

UPDATE: PBS’s “Independent Lens” series will premiere “A Day in the Life of America” on January 11, 2021.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts’

April 26, 2019

by Carla Hay

Trixie Mattel in “Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts” (Photo by Nick Zeig-Owens)

“Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts”

Directed by Nick Zeig-Owens

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 25, 2019.

Brian Michael Firkus, also known as drag queen Trixie Mattel, is best known for winning Season 3 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars,” the spin-off show to VH1’s Emmy-winning drag-queen competition series “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” This documentary examines Trixie’s rise to fame, her budding career as a singer/comedian and her personal behind-the-scenes struggles. For all of her flamboyant and sassy prancing and preening that she does on stage, the documentary reveals that off-stage, Trixie is quite grounded and humble. Even when chaos is are happening around her, she remains fairly level-headed.

It should be noted that “Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts” is produced by World of Wonder, the same production company for the “Drag Race” series. That might explain why parts of the documentary look more like a publicist-approved electronic press kit than a revealing biography. Trixie/Brian’s love life is not seen or discussed at all in the film. It’s unclear if Trixie/Brian (who is openly gay) wanted that subject matter to be off-limits in the movie, or if director Nick Zeig-Owens made that decision all on his own.

Most of the movie was filmed in the period of time after Trixie’s first stint on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” where she came in sixth place on Season 7. Trixie then parlayed that fame into a stint co-hosting two talk shows with fellow “Drag Race” alum Katya Zamolodchikova: “UNHhhh” on World of Wonder’s YouTube channel and then later “The Trixie & Katya Show” on Viceland. As fans already know, “The Trixie & Katya Show” was canceled after Katya took a leave of absence to deal with personal issues.

The documentary brings some insight into what really went on behind the scenes. While in a dressing room getting ready for a show, Katya (whose real name is Brian Cook) openly discusses her anxiety issues and doing meth to cope with her problems. She talks about having a “psychotic break” and even loudly declares, “I should be in rehab.” Not long after that outburst, on another day, Katya has a meltdown and refuses to do the show. Shortly afterward, Katya is in rehab, and the show scrambles to do reshoots and find a replacement guest host.

Meanwhile, Trixie/Brian admits to feeling mixed emotions about Katya’s abrupt leave of absence—anger that Katya has jeopardized Trixie’s career; guilt that the resentment he feels toward Katya is a selfish emotion; and relief that Katya is getting the help that she needs. Trixie tries to be a supportive pal, but to her surprise, Katya ends their friendship. In one scene, Trixie reads aloud a vicious email from Katya in which she calls Trixie “arrogant” and “boring” on the show, and ends the email by saying, “Do what I did, bitch. Fail.” (Fans of Trixie and Katya already know if their friendship was mended, but for those who don’t know, the answer to that question is covered in the documentary.)

After the cancellation of the talk shows with Katya, Trixie forges ahead to launch a singing career in country music, with aspirations to be a drag-queen alternative to Dolly Parton. (Trixie tours on a regular basis, and has released two albums so far: 2017’s “Two Birds” and 2018’s “One Stone.” She also did a performance at the world premiere of “Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts” at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.) As for Trixie’s singing talent, she’s no Dolly Parton, but she’s not terrible either. She’s fully aware that she has to do her drag act as a country singer because audiences come to see Trixie, not Brian, on stage. (Although the documentary does show Brian doing soundchecks and rehearsals while not in drag.)

The estrangement from Katya has tested Trixie’s confidence, and she wonders aloud how much fans will accept her as a comedian without being part of a duo with Katya. There are many scenes in the documentary of Trixie on tour, meeting fans, getting dolled up, showing viewers her wardrobe, and going to “Drag Race” viewing parties. The movie also features appearances by drag queens such as RuPaul, Morgan McMichaels, Bob the Drag Queen, BenDeLaCreme and Kennedy Davenport.

Trixie mentions that there were two different endings filmed for her “Drag Race All Stars” finale, presumably to avoid spoilers from leaking out to the public. In one ending, Trixie was named the winner. In the other ending, finalists Trixie and Shangela were named the winners in a tie. She found out the real outcome at the same time as everyone else who watched the finale at the viewing party

A lot of people might think that a documentary about a drag queen would have a lot of histrionics from the star of the movie. But Trixie does not fall into the stereotype of being a hysterical drama queen. In fact, even when Trixie wins “Drag Race All-Stars,” she’s happy, but she she’s not jumping up and down, and she’s not crying uncontrollably. Even when she goes through some tough times emotionally, particularly during her period of estrangement from close friend Katya, Trixie doesn’t really cry on screen.

Brian/Trixie uses humor to deflect a lot of emotional pain, and it’s clear that he/she prefers to compartmentalize and hide away the pain rather than to let it all hang out—at least not in front of these documentary cameras. Brian briefly opens up about his unhappy childhood that included an abusive, alcoholic stepfather who Brian says often beat him. According to Brian, the last time his stepfather (who is now deceased) abused him was when he pointed a gun at Brian’s head and said he was going to kill him. Fortunately, Brian has a healthy and loving relationship with his mother, who is shown in the documentary when he goes to his hometown of Milwaukee while on tour.

Even though Brian says in the documentary that he grew up thinking it was normal to feel like wanting to die, he doesn’t consider himself to be a depressed person now. He admits that many people, including Trixie’s fans, assume that Brian/Trixie has issues with anxiety and/or depression. There are a few scenes in the movie when he gets emotionally touched when fans write to him or tell him in person how much Trixie has helped them with their confidence and/or mental-health issues.

Underneath the big hair and big personality, Trixie says she’s a songwriter at heart. When she confesses her life goals, she says it in a way that is very Trixie Mattel: “I would love to write songs for other people…just sit in the woods…and jerk off.” She also explains why mainstream audiences have embraced drag queens more than ever before: “They’re there to see this delusional confidence.”

UPDATE: World of Wonder will release “Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts” on several VOD platforms (including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Microsoft Movies) on December 3, 2019.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘For They Know Not What They Do’

April 25, 2019

by Carla Hay

For They Know Not What They Do
Ryan and Rob Robertson in “For They Know Not What They Do” (Photo courtesy of the Robertson Family)

“For They Know Not What They Do”

Directed by Daniel Karslake

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 25, 2019.

In his 2007 documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So,” director Daniel Karslake examined how right-wing conservatives use the Bible to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Karslake’s documentary “For They Know Now What They Do” takes a more personal approach by spotlighting conservative Christian parents and how they handled finding out that one of their children is LGBTQ. It’s an emotionally charged film that will bring tears to most viewers’ eyes, no matter what you think about LGBTQ issues.

The four sets of parents are Linda and Rob Robertson from suburban Seattle; Dave and Sally McBride from Wilmington, Delaware; Victor Baez Sr. and Annette Febo from Orlando, Florida; and Coleen and Harold Porcher from Montclair, New Jersey.

The Robertsons have the most heartbreaking story to tell about their son Ryan, who came out as gay when he was a teenager. The revelation caused the parents to send Ryan to a “gay conversion” center, and they cut off contact with one of Ryan’s beloved uncles just because the uncle is gay. These actions had long-lasting negative effects on the family, and how the Robertsons are coping with it is sobering and unforgettable.

The McBrides, who have three children, also had to come to grips with finding out that not all of their children are heterosexual. Their eldest son is gay, and their youngest child came out as a transgender woman while she was a senior at American University, where she was president of a fraternity. That youngest child is Sarah McBride, who has since become a political activist, and she experienced a major tragedy not long after she started her new life as a trans woman.

Coleen and Harold Porcher thought that the biggest obstacle their only child had to face was being biracial. (Coleen is black, and Harold is white.) But as the Porcher parents discovered when the child reached puberty, the girl they thought they were raising came out to them as a boy, and told them that he wanted to live his life as a male.

Baez and Febo, who are from Puerto Rico, found out that their son Victor Jr. is gay after he had been kicked out of his grandmother’s home, where he had been living at the time. Up until Victor Jr.’s grandmother had discovered his secret, he had been living a closeted life and was afraid of being disowned by his family if he came out as gay. Not long after coming out of the closet, Victor Jr.’s life took a tragic turn in 2016, when he became a survivor of the Pulse nightclub massacre that killed some people who were close to him.

Through interviews with the straight and LGBTQ members of all of these families, “For They Know Not What They Do” has emotionally powerful and sometimes shocking testimonials from those who know firsthand how coming out can be painful for many families but doesn’t have to be destructive. Clergy people such as Reverend Dr. Jacqui Lewis, an ally of the LGBTQ community, are also interviewed for the movie, which gives an optimistic view of how homophobic family members can best learn to accept a family member who is LGBTQ.

Although the movie does an excellent job of weaving these families’ stories together in a cohesive manner, the documentary might get criticism for leaving out stories of other people in LGBTQ community, such as people whose parents never accepted their sexual identity. Cisgender females who are lesbian or bisexual are also not included in the movie’s stories told from the children’s perspectives. Those omissions don’t take away from the movie’s intended message that even the most hardcore bigots can change when love triumphs over fear and hate.

UPDATE: First Run Features will release “For They Know Not What They Do” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on June 12, 2020. The movie’s release on digital, VOD and DVD is on June 15, 2020.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival: Tribeca Celebrates Pride inaugural event launches to spotlight LGBTQ culture

April 9, 2019

Tribeca Film Festival - white logo

Neil Patrick Harris (Photo by Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)

The following is a press release is from the Tribeca Film Festival:

The Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, will continue its tradition of celebrating activism in the arts with the inaugural Tribeca Celebrates Pride, a day-long event on Saturday, May 4th at the Tribeca Festival Hub at Spring Studios. The day will honor the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, including one-on-one interviews with LGBTQ+ luminaries including Neil Patrick Harris, John Cameron Mitchell, Larry Kramer and guest speaker Asia Kate Dillon. The program will reflect on the impact of this seminal moment for the LGBTQ+ community and include conversations with Raul Castillo, Patti Harrison, Angelica Ross, and more. Tickets are on sale now for the event, which runs from 10am to 6pm.

Tribeca encourages and supports inclusive storytelling and its LGBTQ+ focused programming is an integral part of the Festival, mirroring the diverse population of New York City itself. The program will feature notable LGBTQ+ guest speakers in a series of conversations, including the activists that make up the fabric of New York’s queer community, the thought leaders changing the landscape of film and television and the public figures leading the cultural conversation. Additionally, the event will shine a light on the LGBTQ+ experience through a carefully curated program of seven short films, all of which are playing in competition at the Festival. Notable talent featured in these shorts include Angelica Ross (Pose), Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool) and Zackary Drucker (Transparent).

The day will conclude with the world premiere of the HBO Documentary Film Wig, a film spotlighting the art of drag, centered on the New York staple Wigstock, that showcases the personalities and performances that inform the ways we understand queerness, art and identity today. Following the premiere, audiences will be treated to a live drag show hosted by the founder of Wigstock, Lady Bunny. Tickets are on sale now for the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, taking place April 24 – May 5.

“This year, Tribeca will showcase artists who have used storytelling to bring people together around a common goal: inclusivity. We’ve come so far in the fifty years since the Stonewall riots, but there is so much more to be done,” said Paula Weinstein, EVP of Tribeca Enterprises. “In honor of that pivotal moment in our culture, we hope this day of LGBTQ+ storytelling-driven programming will not just honor the work of those who came before us, but also those who are helping to ignite the passion of the next generation.”

Leading the programming for Tribeca Celebrates Pride is Lucy Mukerjee, a Senior Programmer at the Tribeca Film Festival, and formerly the Director of Programming at Outfest and Newfest LGBTQ Film Festivals. Mukerjee said, “I’m thrilled to have this opportunity during my first year at the Tribeca Film Festival to bring the queer community and our allies together. This exciting landmark event at the Festival showcases how fostering LGBTQ+ culture plays a role in moving society forward and creating a better tomorrow.”

Tribeca Celebrates Pride partners include The Stonewall Inn, NYC Pride, and The Human Rights Campaign. Co-hosts include ACT UP, Callen Lorde, Immigration Equality, NALIP, NewFest, Queer|Art, The Trevor Project, Trans Can Work, True Colors United and Vocal NY. Rivianna Hyatt will speak on behalf of True Colors United and Laura A. Jacobs on behalf of Callen Lorde.

Tickets are on sale now for Tribeca Celebrates Pride a day long event from 10am to 6pm ($30), followed by the World Premiere of Wig ($30).

Event time: 10:00AM – 6:00PM
Location: Tribeca Festival Hub at Spring Studios


Neil Patrick Harris
The Emmy and Tony award-winning actor, writer, producer, singer and all-round entertainer, known most recently for his role in Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, will take a look back at some of his most significant milestones including being the first openly gay man to host the Academy Awards, being named one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People, and being a father of two.

John Cameron Mitchell in conversation with Patti Harrison
The director of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001), Shortbus (2006), Rabbit Hole (2010), How To Talk To Girls At Parties (2017) and the upcoming musical podcast series Anthem: Homunculus, reflects on being open about his queer identity throughout his career and how that has fed his creative work. In conversation with his Shrill co-star, comedian Patti Harrison.

Larry Kramer in conversation with his friend and biographer Bill Goldstein
The founder of ACT UP, playwright of A Normal Heart, and subject of the documentary Larry Kramer in Love and Anger talks us through his experiences from the Stonewall riots to today, and how he’s witnessed the LGBTQ+ movement evolve from protest to pride.

Asia Kate Dillon
Best known for their roles on Billions and Orange Is The New Black, and soon to be seen in John Wick 3: Parabellum, Asia Kate Dillon is a non-binary actor and activist who advocates for expanding the definition of gender identity beyond just man and woman.

Kathy Tu and Tobin Low
Kathy Tu and Tobin Low are the co-hosts of “Nancy,” the critically acclaimed storytelling podcast from WNYC Studios exploring how we define ourselves, the journey it takes to get there, and the queer experience today. Praised as “warm and inspiring” by The Guardian, Tu and Low were recently named to the OUT 100 and to Logo TV’s Logo30 for being among the most “extraordinary people who show pride in unique and provocative ways.”


Activism Through The Ages
An inter-generational panel of thought-leaders and changemakers discuss the different forms their activism takes, and share some of the biggest highlights and challenges they’ve encountered on the front line in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality.
Moderator: Twiggy Pucci Garcon
Panelists: Jason Walker, Fabrice Houdart, Staceyann Chin, Stacy Lentz

Being A Multi Hyphenate
This panel will bring together queer creatives who have interpreted their artistic visions across various mediums, from art and fashion, to theater and film. As multi hyphenate cultural producers, the influence of these individuals runs deep within the community. In this conversation, we will hear from authors, filmmakers, performers and Broadway producers who have found themselves experimenting with many artforms in order to express themselves and tell their story.
Moderator: Tre’vell Anderson
Panelists: Alok Vaid Menon, Jordan Roth, Leilah Weinraub, Jacob Tobia

From Persecution to Asylum: LGBTQ Refugees Tell Their Stories
In more than 70 countries around the world, it is still considered a crime to be LGBTQ+. For nearly 25 years, Immigration Equality has provided free legal services to LGBTQ+ and HIV-positive immigrants fleeing persecution and has won asylum for more than 1,000 people. Hear first-hand testimonies from queer and trans asylum recipients about their experiences rebuilding their lives in the United States in partnership with Immigration Equality.
Moderator: Aaron C. Morris
Panelists: Denise Chambers, David Paul Kay, Ilo Rincón

LGBTQ Media Visibility
Media portrayals of our community have changed significantly in the past decade, not only becoming more frequent but also increasingly complex, representing intersectional identities across race, religion and genders. Inevitably, this LGBTQ representation has impacted societal attitudes. This conversation will look at how being out in the public eye has affected our panelists’ identities, their day to day lives and careers and also shaped the cultural conversation of this country. We will talk about the milestones our panelists have been part of, both scripted and unscripted – from onscreen coming out declarations to triumphant same-sex embraces, and how the professionals around them have supported or discouraged their living openly and honestly.
Moderator: Brad Calcaterra
Panelists: Joanna Lohman, Raul Castillo, Roberta Colindrez, Wade A. Davis

Who Gets To Tell Whose Story?
Telling the story of a community that you don’t represent is a dicey prospect; filmmakers risk alienating the very audience the film is aimed at. Ego-free collaboration is crucial. This productive panel will include discussions of cross-community collaborations where trans, non-binary and intersex artists have joined forces with cisgender creatives to forge successful storytelling partnerships. The conversation will look at allyship and how filmmakers can use their privilege for good, putting historically marginalized characters front and center to tell unsung stories with respect and authenticity. Three teams will be showcased.
Moderator: Tiq Milan
Panelists: Angelica Ross & Steven Canals, Ser Anzoategui & Tanya Saracho, River Gallo & Sadé Clacken Joseph

Out in Office
A cross section of individuals from congress and state legislation discuss their personal path to leadership, the state of equality today, and the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusion in the lawmaking process.
Moderator: Allison VanKuiken
Panelists: House Representative Malcolm Kenyatta (PA), House Representative David Cicilline (RI), Sarah McBride

Representing Hollywood
Several representatives discuss how they have supported and strategized the career trajectories of their high profile LGBTQ+ Clients.
Moderator: Bill Keith
Panelists: Simon Halls, Kevin Huvane, Joe Machota

Shorts Program Pride: Front and Center
Standing tall with these short films that celebrate Pride, this carefully curated program contains both narrative and documentary shorts, and poignantly explores LGBTQ+ life with humor, panache, kindness and compassion. Featuring Angelica Ross (Pose), Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool) and Zackary Drucker (Transparent), prepare for a cross-cultural odyssey that ends, fittingly, with the safe queer haven of Christopher Street Pier. Curated by Tribeca Film Festival Shorts Programmers Sharon Badal and Ben Thompson. Featured shorts are: I Think She Likes You, Momster, Ponyboi, Black Hat, Carlito Leaves Forever, Framing Agnes and Stanley Stellar: Here For This Reason.

Event time: 8:00PM
Location: Tribeca Festival Hub

World Premiere of Wig
Wig, directed by Chris Moukarbel. Produced by Jack Turner, Bruce Cohen, David Burtka, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Weinberg, Jay Peterson, Michael Mayer, Todd Lubin. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary.

Wigstock was an annual drag festival, which glamorously signaled the end of summer for the gay community in NYC for almost twenty years. Late one night in 1984, Lady Bunny and a few friends drunkenly wandered from the Pyramid Club in the East Village to Tompkins Square Park and staged an impromptu drag show in the bandshell. This would soon become an annual drag bacchanal, that lasted up until 2001. And now, Lady Bunny has brought it back. This past summer, the festival returned, bringing together legendary queens with some of the new children of drag, into one of the largest drag performances ever staged.

Wig explores the origins and the influence of the historic festival through rich archival footage, as well as provides a look into the contemporary drag movement that the festival served as a foundation for. It’s a celebration of New York drag culture, and those personalities and performances that contribute to the ways we understand queerness, art, and identity today. With Lady Bunny, Charlene Incarnate, Flotilla DeBarge, Kevin Aviance, Neil Patrick Harris, Willam, Linda Simpson, Naomi Smalls, Tabboo! HBO Documentary Films

After the Premiere Screening: A special drag performance hosted by legendary drag queen Lady Bunny including Charlene Incarnate, Bobby Samplsize, Flotilla DeBarge, Willam, and more.

# # #

Passes and Tickets for the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival

Tickets are on sale now for Tribeca Celebrates Pride and Wig at tribecafilm.com/tribecapride

Tickets for all events at the Tribeca Film Festival are on sale at tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets, or by telephone at (646) 502-5296 or toll-free at (866) 941-FEST (3378).

Also available for purchase now is The Hudson Pass, an all-access pass to screenings and talks taking place at BMCC TPAC, Regal Battery Park Stadium, Village East Cinema, and SVA theaters as well as full access to all events at the Festival Hub at Spring Studios, which includes VR and Immersive projects, Movies Plus screenings and access to Festival lounges.

Single tickets cost $24.00 for evening and weekend screenings, $12.00 for weekday matinee screenings, $30.00 for Tribeca TV and Movies Plus $40.00 for Tribeca Talks events and $40.00 for Tribeca Immersive.
All are available for purchase on the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival App on:

● iTunes:https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tribeca-festival/id1208189515?mt=8
● Google Play:https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tff2017.android

# # #

About the Tribeca Film Festival:
The Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, brings visionaries and diverse audiences together to celebrate storytelling in all its forms, including film, TV, VR, gaming, music, and online work. With strong roots in independent film, Tribeca is a platform for creative expression and immersive entertainment. The Festival champions emerging and established voices; discovers award-winning filmmakers and creators; curates innovative experiences; and introduces new technology and ideas through premieres, exhibitions, talks, and live performances.

The Festival was founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff in 2001 to spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan following the attacks on the World Trade Center. Now in its 18th year, the Festival has evolved into a destination for creativity that reimagines the cinematic experience and explores how art can unite communities. The 18th annual edition will take place April 24 – May 5, 2019.www.tribecafilm.com/festival

Hashtag: #Tribeca2019
Twitter: @Tribeca
Instagram: @tribeca
Facebook: facebook.com/Tribeca

About 2019 Tribeca Film Festival Partners:
As Presenting Sponsor of the Tribeca Film Festival, AT&T is committed to supporting the Festival and the art of filmmaking through access and innovation, while expanding opportunities to diverse creators around the globe. AT&T helps millions connect to their passions – no matter where they are. This year, AT&T and Tribeca will once again collaborate to give the world access to stories from underrepresented filmmakers that deserve to be seen. “AT&T Presents Untold Stories” is an inclusive film program in collaboration with Tribeca – a multi-year, multi-tier alliance between AT&T and Tribeca along with the year-round nonprofit Tribeca Film Institute.

The Tribeca Film Festival is pleased to announce its 2019 Partners: 23andMe, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Bai Beverages, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), BVLGARI, CHANEL, CNN Films, Diageo, ESPN, HBO, IMDb, Kia, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card from Chase, Merck, Montefiore, National CineMedia (NCM), Nespresso, New York Magazine, NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, Prime Video Direct, P&G, PwC, Salesforce, Spring Studios New York, Squarespace, Status Sparkling Wine, and Stella Artois.