Go West: Utopian Vision for One City One Pride LGBTQ Arts Festival

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The city of West Hollywood’s One City, One Pride LGBTQ Arts Festival offers a wide range of programs and a utopian vision for 2017. Running through June 30th, the fest’s theme of “Go West,” references movement toward a utopian promised land, dreams of gay liberation, and the freedom to live openly in West Coast communities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and West Hollywood. Featuring interactive, performance, visual arts, and education events, this year’s programming explores LGBTQ history, culture, and art.

Dubbed a “Day of History,” on Saturday June 3rd, One City One Pride offers multiple events that will take place throughout the city.

At 11 a.m., Radar Productions presents Drag Queen Storytime in the West Hollywood Library Community Meeting Room. The free event includes children’s stories and crafts. Radar brought the same acclaimed program to the San Francisco Public Library. The meeting room is located at 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., 90069.

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Also starting at 11 a.m., the Stuart Timmons LGTBQ History Tour combines an urban hike with an entirely original performance art piece. Written by author and historian Stuart Timmons and directed by Jason Jenn, the tour leads participants to a variety of locations.

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They’ll encounter over a dozen costumed characters, bringing the history of West Hollywood to vibrant life.  The experience includes a brief shuttle ride that drops passengers on Sunset Blvd.  Each tour lasts between 90 and 120 minutes, with departures scheduled every fifteen minutes between 11 and 1 p.m. Live music will be performed while participants wait to board. This is the third year for the charming tour, presented in a final staging to celebrate the legacy of the recently deceased Timmons. Timmons is the author of The Trouble with Harry Hay and GAY L.A., among other works.

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ADA accessible throughout,  colorful parasols will be provided during the tour, offering shade from the sun and enhancing the lively interactive atmosphere. This unique event starts at the West Hollywood City Council Chambers at 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., 90069.

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From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., trans artist Yozmit, the first artist to receive a Trans Initiative Grant from the City of West Hollywood, presents the interactive performance installation “Totem Building.” Yozmit will create transformative visual wearable art pieces to be used as a ritual object or totem. The audience will be invited to create prayers and intentions which she will collect for part of a future performance.

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The artist will stitch a ribbon or bead onto her Pyramid Dress, as a symbol of exchange for those intentions and prayers. This interactive, transformative performance will be held on Santa Monica Boulevard near San Vicente Boulevard.

At 5 p.m., there will be a screening of Reel in the Closet, a feature-length documentary. The film connects viewers with queer people from the past, utilizing rare home movie footage that dates back as far as the 1930s. Filmmaker Stu Maddux also discovered recorded news stories and community productions, and regularly updates the documentary, encouraging audience members to share movies of their own pasts. Maddux notes that he embarked upon the project when he was searching “for a way to really understand the people who came before me, not just read about them.”  The film will be screened at the West Hollywood City Council Chambers, located at 625 N. San Vicente Blvd. 90069

Also at the City Council Chambers, throughout the day the film LA: A Queer History will be shown in a continuous loop; ONE Archives LGBTQ History Exhibits will be displayed in West Hollywood Park.

Later in June, One City, One Pride highlights include:

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“Out There,” a group art exhibition at the Los Angeles Art Association’s Gallery 825 opening June 9th from 6 to 9 p.m. The exhibition will run through June 18th, with the gallery open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Monday. The gallery is located at 825 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, 90069.

Also on the 9th, from 6 to 10 p.m., the Annual Dyke March begins with a protest sign making workshop conducted by Sparkleblob’s Julianna Parr, followed by a march down Santa Monica Blvd. at 8 p.m. Confirmed speakers include Patrisse Cullors of #blacklivesmatter, and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.  the The workshop takes place and march begins at Sal Guariello Veterans’ Memorial, 8447 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, 90069.

From 7 to 9 p.m. on the 9th, Yozmit’s Migration of the Monarchs and WALK will take place. Based on the idea that everything in life transforms, the trans artist will perform WALK as live ambient art along Santa Monica Blvd. between Robertson Blvd. and San Vicente Blvd.

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June 11th from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., LA Pride hosts a human rights march in lieu of a parade. The march starts at Hollywood and Highland in Los Angeles, and concludes near West Hollywood Park. 

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And June 29th, at 7:30 p.m., there will be a world premiere film screening of Jeanne Cordova: Butches, Lies, and Feminism, a new documentary on the life and accomplishments of late activist and author Jeanne Cordova. Film director Gregoria Davila and Cordova’s partner Lynn Harris Ballen participate in a post-screening discussion. The screening takes place at West Hollywood City Council Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., 90069.

For a full calendar of One City One Pride events through June 30th, visit    www.weho.org/pride

One City One Pride is organized by the City of West Hollywood through WeHo Arts, the City’s Arts & Cultural Affairs Commission and Arts Division, with input from the City’s Lesbian & Gay Advisory Board, Transgender Advisory Board, and other community partners. 

 

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  • Genie Davis; Photos: Weho.org

Mammoth Lakes Film Festival Award Winners

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With the screenings complete, Sunday evening brought the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival Award ceremony and after party.  With so many worthy contenders, choosing winners was difficult for jury members, but choose they did.

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Shorts:

Documentary winner: 52 Trolley depicts colorful riders on a trolley bus in the Ukraine, an insightful look at the region and its people, directed by David Auerbach.

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Narrative winner: Flowereyes – director Chris Brady created a touching piece about a man haunted by love who sells white noise machines door to door.

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Animated winner: Laura Harrison’s Little Red Giant, the Monster That I Was is the hilarious story of an unhinged artist who loses it an an academic’s barbecue.

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Feature length winners:

Documentary Audience Award: The lustrous Strad Style,  director Stefan Avalos involving and emotionally satisfying portrait of isolated Ohio violin maker Daniel Houck.

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Documentary Jury Award: a second deserved nod for Strad Style. Director Avalos said “It keeps getting better.”

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The film’s subject, violin maker Daniel Houck added “It’s been nice to share my life with so many people, when I’ve been in seclusion for so many years. It means a lot to share my life with everyone.”

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Other documentary awards:

Bravery Award: Forever B, with director Skye Borgman tackling the difficult subject of a pedophile’s attack on a family.

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Narrative Audience Award: Withdrawn, the smart and funny story of a slacker/grifter drifting after his college graduation.

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On the right, above, is presenter Vincent Spano.

Narrative Foreign Language Jury award: Cold Breath from Iranian director Abbas Raziji, the story of a transsexual single parent forced to keep her secret.

Narrative Jury Award: Space Detective the inventively filmed creation of director Antonio Llapur and writer/producer/lead actor Matt Sjafiroeddin, was according to Sjafiroeddin,  “A decade in the making. What a great weekend. Thank you guys so much. I hope to be back. And I hope you all come back too.”

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Along with the filmmakers awards, well-deserved thanks were given to festival director Shira Dubrovner, who did a masterful job of creating and running the MLFF’s third year, and programmer Paul Sbrizzi, who combed through over 1100 entries this year, four times as many as last year.

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As festival gold sponsors Paul & Kathleen Rudder remarked, the festival makes a real difference to the town of Mammoth Lakes. “It’s the difference between Mammoth Lakes being a bus stop to the ski slopes and a center for the arts,” Paul Rudder said.

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  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke

 

Day 5: Grand Finale at Mammoth Lakes Film Festival

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Lots of laughs today as the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival drew to a close.

The short Horseshoe Theory hilariously proves that politics makes strange bedfellows indeed.  A weapons deal between a white supremacist and a member of the Islamic State becomes, well, a romantic comedy. Director and writer Johnathan Daniel Brown perfectly cast Jackson Rathbone and Amir Malaklou as the pair in a film that was “inspired” in part by The Notebook and You Got Mail.  The 3 day shoot included a scene with a $50 jerry-rigged rain machine. Brown attests that he’s currently working on a feature adaptation of the project. “We want to place it in a bigger world – and we’re pitching it as Brokeback Mountain with more killing. We’re also working on another short – we like to make gross stories about silly vulgar things that terrify people.” And make them laugh.

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The international premiere of narrative feature The Great Unwashed was also brilliantly hilarious. Set in London and Wales with an absolutely spot-on cast of British comedy and sketch performers and writers, the story of a millennial (Jon Pointing) on the run from killer hairdressers is zany and inventive. Joining his hippie older brother (and co-writer Nick Horseman) and his wife in the Welsh woods – plus random loony neighbors –  the film mixes comic mobsters with the affect of a murderous A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Director and co-writer Louis Fonseca, a former stand-up comic himself,  culled his stellar cast perfectly. Shot in two weeks “in less than a square mile of the forest” he notes that the “hippie story line came first, and then we came up on what is the opposite of that – hairdressers. We felt like we were at holiday camp, we had such fun and we didn’t sleep much.” The film includes attack geese and the presence of the Welch “Spirit of the Forest.”  Fonseca says his father was the official “goose wrangler – geese are nasty creatures ready to attack visitors. We did our goose shot in one take.” Fonseca and Horseman are currently writing another film set in Wales -about a war between ice cream vendors.

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Withdrawn, the story of a slacker/small time grifter/aimless college graduate stars Aaron Keogh – “I’ve been training for this role for 25 years or so,” he jokes – as Aaron, with writer/director Adrian Murray as his put-upon roommate.  From trying to solve his Rubik’s cube to trying to hack into another’s credit card account, Aaron is a character for our time: lost, adrift, addicted to video games and Internet news.  Played out in many long takes, Murray says his cinematic approach was in part imagined due to “watching the menu background on Lost DVDs, where characters move in and out of frame. I was watching the show while sick, and I wondered if I could do that as a film. ” Most of the dialog was improv, with a cast of friends who knew who was going to bring what to the game. Of the protagonist’s news viewing habits, Murray remarks “I wanted to put his struggle in perspective. In another part of the world he’d be building a bomb. I was also commenting on the cycle of news and the information and knowledge degradation and loss.” The short Pet Monkey preceded the film, a wild and quirky piece about a man who wants to buy his girlfriend a pet monkey while secretly harboring a shed full of stuffed and plastic monkeys. Actor Sky Elobar spoke about the single day shoot in Rochester, N.Y., in which he was promised one of the art director’s purchased monkeys as a souvenir but groused that he “never got one.” Elobar was found by director Eric Maira off his titular role in late night cult favorite Greasy Strangler.

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Last but not least, the festival presented the amusing and touching documentary Dina,  which focuses on a woman with autism and other mental health issues. She survived a vicious  knife attack by an ex-boyfriend to marry kindly but more severely autistic Scott. Winner of the Grand Jury award at this year’s Sundance fest, the story offers an intimate portrait of a relationship as thoroughly relatable as it is special.

MLFF’s delightful fest trailer, featuring stop motion animation, was discussed preceding the film by co-director/creator Emily Hoffman. She’d attended the festival last year and was thrilled to be invited to make the trailer. “We had such an amazing time last year when we went to the hot springs at midnight, we knew we had to make the trailer about the springs outside town. We made stop motion puppets and placed them in goo made from borax, glue, and paint.” Hoffman’s roommate Dan Dietrich created the music which involves manipulated notes made from a recording of his own voice.  “It’s an awesome, ephemeral thing,” Hoffman says. “We wanted to make it nice because you have to listen to the trailer so many times,” she says. Hoffman crafted the trailer with partner Ariel Noltimier Strauss.

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We only wish we could listen to it longer – but these were the last screenings of MLFF 2017.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke

 

Mammoth Lakes Film Festival Day 4: Sierra Spirit Award Recipient John Sayles and More

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With a triumphant screening of John Sayles’ Baby It’s You, an extended q & a with director Sayles, star Vincent Spano, and Sayles’ life and creative partner Maggie Renzi, day 4 of the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival was packed with film pleasure.  Day 4 also brought  the documentary Olancho and the narrative dark comedy Neighborhood Food Drive.

Olancho tells the story of talented Honduran musicians who perform and record songs for members of a local drug cartel, and songwriter Manuel’s escape to the U.S. Involving footage of life in the Honduran region of Olancho, terrific portraits of Manuel, his band, and his family all make for a fascinating look at a relatively isolated portion of Honduras, as well as its music. First time filmmakers Chris Valdes and Ted Griswold taught school in the region in 2010. According to Griswold, “We taught for over two years, and some of the children we were teaching were kids of the narcos. We knew enough people that when we came back to film, people knew our intentions were good. At first we didn’t realize how important the connections we made were to keeping us safe, such as Manuel’s father  – but these relationships helped us a lot and got us out of situations that would have otherwise been dangerous.” Valdes adds “In Olancho, death is a part of everyday life. I taught 6th graders, and not a day went by without someone saying who they’d found dead on the street. You don’t think about it until you come home, and your mom at Thanksgiving says ‘that’s hairy.'”  Following the travails of Los Plebes de Olancho lead singer Manuel, as well as the wild exploits of accordian player Orlin,  viewers get an insightful look at Olancho’s world.  An elegaic short about life in Havana, Paloma, preceded the film.

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The witty short Crown Prince directed by Samy Burch and Alex Mechanik opened for the narrative Neighborhood Food Drive. Crown Prince played with the concept of a prince from Luxembourg set loose in New York City. Burch notes that the cast was “all comedians” and she wrote “character bios but then let the actors do improv based on that.” Shot in a glossy black and white, the piece was a fun crowd-pleaser. The directors are currently working on a feature project. Neighborhood Food Drive, directed by Jerzy Rose and co-written by Rose, Mike Lopez, and Halle Butler, is an exceedingly dry dark comedy about a struggling Chicago restaurant, its deluded owners, a naive intern,  her waiter boyfriend, and their professor/couples counselor hosting a fundraiser.  What comes together is less a charitable event than a disaster. Peppered with in-jokes, a fun/scary synth horror score,  and “hall of mirrors strangeness,” as writer Butler attests,  the film lives up to Rose’s hope that it would be “like nothing anyone would ever have seen before.”

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The screening of John Sayles’ classic Baby It’s You was as enjoyable as it was still cutting-edge after all these years. The film was made in 1983, but its strong performances and tight, smart, emotionally real script by Sayles are still fresh. The high school to college love affair is deftly portrayed, and the direction is emblematic of Sayles as a true “actors director.”  After the screening, co-star Vincent Spano presented the Sierra Spirit Award to Sayles. “John Sayles exemplifies the spirit and dedication of remaining independent. He has a dedication to getting films done his way,” Spano says. In graciously accepting the award, Sayles added “You don’t do these things alone. I write, direct, and edit most of my movies, but you are working with so many talented people – my favorite part of the job.”  Producing partner Maggie Renzi has worked on 14 of Sayles’ 18 features.  “We were very lucky,” Renzi says. “There used to be an art house audience and our movies fit into that niche, and then VHS happened, and you could fund anything. It was a very lively independent marketplace; you could get money for $3-million movies. Now you cant get money for $1 million movies.  It’s much harder for filmmakers today.” Sayles notes that on the positive side, access to filmmaking equipment and skilled filmmaking personnel is much easier today.  As to Baby It’s You,  which was the only film Sayles has ever done screen-tests for “”When Vincent came in, I said that’s the guy. He was just right for the part. A week before we started shooting, Paramount wasn’t sure about their actors and wanted people of their own. But I held my ground.” He also held his ground in regard to story, rejecting a studio re-edit and ending up with the film he’d wanted to make, albeit one that received limited release at the time. Spano  points out “He has a lot of faith in his actors. The character, the story, it’s there on the page, and it was pretty certain who the characters were. He gives you everything you need.” Likewise, Sayles was impressed with the work of cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, who recently passed away.  “He was the best operator I ever worked with…I never had to look in the camera after the third day, he got what I wanted.”

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With an after-party at the local nightspot Rafters – and live music by Jelly Bread,  day four of the fest that rocks the Sierras drew to a close, promising more fine films tomorrow.

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  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke