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D.C. Shorts offers succinct cinema

LGBT content well represented in returning film festival

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D.C. Shorts, gay news, Washington Blade
D.C. Shorts, gay news, Washington Blade

‘Barrio Boy’ was originally planned as a teaser to raise funds for a feature-length production, but took off as a short on the festival circuit. (Photo courtesy of Dennis Shinners)

It’s time for one of the highlights of the D.C. arts calendar — the return of D.C. Shorts.

Under the direction of out filmmaker Jon Gann, the festival brings dozens of fascinating short films from around the world to Washington Sept. 10-20 at Landmark E Street Cinema and other local venues. Full schedule and ticket information can be found at dcshorts.com.

As always, the logistics of the festival are staggering. Gann and his dedicated volunteers screened more than 1,300 short films from 54 countries that were submitted through an open competition. From this pool, 125 were selected. These films (each between two-29 minutes in length) were organized into 14 separate showcases, each approximately 90 minutes long. There are also several themed programs, including LGBT shorts, documentaries, movies by local filmmakers, a family program and free lunchtime screenings at the Landmark E Street Cinema.

The festival website has a complete schedule with details of all the flexible ticket options, a searchable database with synopses and trailers for the individual movies and detailed listings for all showcases. D.C. Shorts also has a special option where viewers can watch the movies online. With more than 24 hours of films to watch, that’s a convenient feature.

In addition to the showcases and themed programs, there’s a wide variety of related events. There’s a screenplay competition where local actors will perform a staged reading of six original screenplays (and the winner gets some serious production support from D.C. Shorts). There are workshops for beginning and advanced filmmakers. There are opportunities for audience members to meet the filmmakers and chances for audience members to vote on their favorites which will be shown in two special “Best Of” showcases during the festival’s closing weekend. And there are also the parties for which D.C. Shorts has become infamous.

Films with an LGBT focus can be found in each of the showcases, but this year they will also be highlighted in a special LGBT program at the E Street Cinemas on Thursday Sept. 17. The eight films selected for the program highlight the incredible richness of contemporary queer cinema.

For example, “Election Night” by American director Tessa Blake, is a political drama that combines suspense and humor with a deft touch. Filmmaker Blake says her film, which stars Peri Gilpin (“Frasier”) and comedian Jake Johannsen, “follows a politician’s family in Maine as they wait for the final 350 votes to come in on election night. Trapped in a hotel kitchen and waiting for the ferry to arrive with the last ballots, nerves rattle the family into a comic whirlwind of wild theories, long-held secrets and a revelation that nobody saw coming.”

According to writer and director Dennis Shinners, the wildly inventive “Barrio Boy” is the story of “a Latino barber who secretly falls in love with a handsome Irish stranger over the course of a haircut during a hot and sweaty summer afternoon in a macho Brooklyn hood.” The short was made as a pitch reel to help secure financing for the feature version, but has become a hit at film festivals across the country.

“Stella Walsh” is a riveting documentary by Ohio filmmaker Rob Lucas that combines sports, gender, scandal and murder. Walsh first made headlines when she won a gold medal at the 1932 Olympics and made further headlines when an autopsy after her 1980 murder raised questions about her gender identity. Director Lucas says, “The 15-minute documentary explores the life of Stella, her death and her gender controversy through interviews with friends, trainees, members of the media, and a geneticist, as well as photos and archival footage from years of in-depth research.” More information on Stella’s story can be found at stellawalsh.com.

“The Bench Project: Lost and Found,” written by gay novelist John W. Bateman and directed by Oriana Oppice, is part of a larger film series produced by Steven Bidwell. “The Bench Project” is a series of five short independent films guided by a few simple parameters: a three to five page script, two actors and a bench. “Lost and Found” tells a fascinating story about gay life from a fresh and unusual perspective.

“The story focuses on two elderly widows — neighbors and old friends,” Bidwell says. “When one of them discovers a locked box in the closet full of her husband’s things, the two discover clues to a past that their husbands shared with each other and kept from their wives.”

The LGBT showcase also includes “The Last Girl,” a Danish film that takes an unusual look at coming out, and “A Last Farewell,” a Swedish film about a man grieving the loss of his husband and looking back on their legacy, as well as “Strings,” a British drama about a young boy who suspects his father is a spy but discovers a different family secret instead, and “The First Session,” a funny film about two women who turn a chance meeting at a therapist’s office into a passionate first date.

Other festival highlights include “Gender Bender,” a comedy by D.C. filmmaker Austin Bragg about a heterosexual couple who magically swap genders, and “The Stutterer,” an Irish comedy about a young man who speaks eloquently in his head, but whose interactions with the world are hampered by his stutter, one of several movies that focus on people with disabilities.

D.C. Shorts, gay news, Washington Blade

‘Gender Bender’ explores what happens when a straight couple switches genders. (Photo courtesy of Austin Bragg)

“Breakin(g),” which won the 2014 Screenplay Competition, is about an elderly woman who uses cunning and some unexpected skills to foil a robbery. “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” is an animated Russian film about two men training for the space program and “Screened,” is a comic look at America’s addiction to cell phones. “The Bridge Partner,” based on a short story by Peter S. Beagle (who also has a cameo), is a delicious story about the murderous tensions between card players Sharon Lawrence (“NYPD Blue”) and Beth Grant (“Sordid Lives”).

Besides being an incredible way for D.C. filmgoers to sample a smorgasbord of international short movies, D.C. Shorts is also an important forum for independent filmmakers to connect with each other and hone their craft. This is especially true for the LGBT filmmakers whose work is included in the festival.

“D.C. Shorts is committed to bringing lots of different voices of filmmakers to audiences who are underserved by mainstream culture, which allows an opportunity for LGBTQI films to reach an audience they might not find anywhere else,” Tessa Blake says.

Dennis Shinners echoes her observation.

“For a filmmaker to experience the immediacy of reactions from a live audience is a rare and incredible opportunity,” Shinners says. “For a fest like D.C. Shorts to exclusively celebrate short films is a really encouraging boost to filmmakers of any background or discipline to continue to share stories important to them.”

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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

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‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.

And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.

FICTION

Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.

This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.

Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:

• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,  thedccenter.org/donate

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org

HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org

Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org

• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org

Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org

• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate

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