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Reel Affirmations LGBT Film Festival returns Oct. 13-16

Annual event to showcase 40 films from six continents

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Reel Affirmations, gay news, Washington Blade

A scene from ‘Retake,’ which filmmaker Nick Corporon calls ‘a suspenseful love story.’ (Photo courtesy Reel Affirmations)

Reel Affirmations

 

Oct. 10-14

 

GALA Hispanic Theatre/Tivoli Theatre

 

3333 14th St., N.W.

 

Human Rights Campaign

 

1640 Rhode Island Ave., N.W.

 

Full schedule, tickets and more at reelaffirmations.org

 

Reel Affirmations returns Oct. 13-16. Billed as Washington’s only international LGBT film festival, this year’s schedule includes about 40 new queer features, shorts and documentaries from across the country and around the world.

The festival kicks off with a VIP preview of “Retake” by filmmaker Nick Corporon. The director of the award-winning short “Barbie Boy” says his latest film is, “a suspenseful love story about Jonathan (Tuc Watkins), a mysterious and lonely guy, who hires a young male hustler to help him recreate a road trip from his past.”

Corporon says the movie rises from two very different personal interests: people who live in the past and the desert.

“I’m obsessed with characters who are stuck in the past, always looking backward, pining over what was and what could have been,” he says. ”And, being a Mid-Western boy, I love the iconography of the desert. So, I took those ideas and mashed them together into a road trip love story. Thankfully, two-person road trip movies are less expensive and easier to shoot.”

What proved to be a challenge on the set was controlling his lead actor.

“Tuc Watkins just turned 50 years old recently, but on set he ate like a 15-year-old,” the director says. “I just don’t understand how he has the body he does because we’d always catch him sneaking off to eat cheeseburgers in between set ups. I’d catch him with a bag of fries and say, ‘You realize we’re shooting your nude scenes in two days, right?’ He responded with ‘I know my body, we’ll be fine.’ And we were.”

On Friday night, the festival features “LOEV” a film that Festival Director Kimberley Bush has been pursuing for more than a year. Bush describes it as a “glorious film” and sadly notes that lead actor Dhruv Ganesh died of tuberculosis shortly after filming.

Reel Affirmations, gay news, Washington Blade

A scene from ‘LOEV,’ a film Reel Affirmations Director Kimberly Bush calls ‘Glorious.’ (Photo courtesy Reel Affirmations)

Indian filmmaker Sudhanshu Saria says that his movie, “is an honest, fragile film about a road-trip between men where they examine the boundaries between friendship and love. It’s set in India so the politics of the place become important given our government’s recent re-criminalization of homosexuality, making it punishable by life imprisonment.”

Saria says the impulse to make this movie came out of personal circumstances and his frustration with the Indian movie industry.

“Honestly, it came from heartbreak,” he says. “I fell for someone who didn’t like me back and instead of going to a therapist or a strip club, I decided to write about it. And I was only able to write about it honestly because I knew there was no shot in hell of this gay-themed, no-stars film finding any financing or actors in India. I could just be brutally honest.”

To his surprise, he was able to locate both money and actors: “Oh well. Two years later, here we are, but if you ask me why I became a filmmaker, well, that credit would go squarely to writer and director Mira Nair. I was perfectly happy sitting on a couch and watching films until I heard her manifesto on, ‘If we don’t tell our stories, no one will.’ So here I am, telling my stories.”

On Saturday, Reel Affirmations turns to three exciting selections of shorts, each loosely grouped around a common theme. The first, called Spectrum, takes a look at LGBT folk who don’t fit neatly into conventional ideas of gender, aging or identity. It kicks off with “Dawn,” the latest film from filmmaker Jake Graf, a transgender man living in London.

“The film is a simple story, set at dawn on a bench on the outskirts of London,” Graf says. “The lead is a trans woman who has been told all her life that she is ugly, too tall, not pretty or womanly enough, so I thought it would be interesting to pair her with a blind man. Unable to judge her by her appearance, he simply takes her for the woman that she is inside, without the stereotypical ideas and perceptions of beauty.”

The second slate of shorts is called Swipe Right, with films dedicated to new beginnings and sudden transformations. The films include the comedy “Spunkle.” If you don’t know what the title means, director Lisa Donato says you may need to consult the Urban Dictionary.

The third slate is called So Long and Farewell, because as Bush notes, “this selection of short films plays on the theme of how everything — even love — comes to an end.”

The Saturday centerpiece feature is the powerful documentary “Free Cece!,” the story of CeCe McDonald, a black trans woman who was unfairly jailed after fighting back against an attacker. Director Jacqueline Garas, known for her work on the PBS series “In the Life,” had a life-changing moment when she heard trans activist Laverne Cox speak about McDonald’s story at the 2013 GLAAD Awards.

“I was shocked that no one had actually covered her story,” she says. “I said to myself, ‘Why haven’t you done something?’ I felt compelled. I think as white people when we see racial injustice, we need to do all we can to make a difference. This was my way of doing what I could.”

The adults-only Saturday after-hours feature takes audiences on a decidedly different journey. According to German filmmaker Hendrik Schäfer, “I wanted to make a film that asks what intimacy means and whether our exposed genitals or our personal stories are more intimate.” The ensuing film, “Seducing Mr. Bluefrog: NSFW” is “a portrait of an online exhibitionist who goes by the name of Bluefrog and who doesn’t want to reveal anything personal but his nudity. He gets to direct his own porn scene and it turns out to be a much different experience than expected for both the subject and the filmmaker.”

The line-up on Sunday, the closing day of the Festival, starts with “Suicide Kale,” an intense dark mumblecore comedy written by Brittani Nichols and directed by Carly Usdin. Nichols says that she and her friends were looking for a project to work on together and that her screenplay was sparked by a chance conversation with Lindsay Hicks, who became one of the film’s stars.

“Emotional chaos ensues over the course of one lunch when a new couple, Jasmine and Penn, find an anonymous suicide note at the home of Billie and Jordan, the happiest couple they know,” she says.

Friends and colleagues are also at the core of “Strike a Pose,” a new documentary that tells the stories of the seven male dancers who performed with Madonna on the ground-breaking “Blond Ambition Tour” and who appeared with her in the infamous documentary “Truth or Dare.”

Co-directors Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan tracked down the six surviving dancers to tell the world their stories. (Gabriel Trupin died in 1995, but is represented in the movie by his mother.) Zwaan says that the movie is “the dramatic story of these seven fierce male dancers who showed the world how to vogue. At its core, our film focuses on a paradox: onstage, the dancers were paragons of pride and self-expression, but in reality their lives were clouded by compromise and secrecy. “Strike a Pose” is a film about overcoming shame and the courage it takes to be who you are.” It screens Sunday, Oct. 16 at 3 p.m.

Each of these filmmakers is excited to be part of the Reel Affirmation Film Festival. They are thrilled to find new audiences for their work and they are grateful for the camaraderie of their fellow artists. But even more importantly, they rely on Bush and her stalwart band of volunteers to take a risk on independent queer filmmakers and their quirky visionary films.

As Sudhanshu Saria says, “LOEV is unusual, I know that. We worked hard to make it that way. It resists the obvious stereotyping and classifications people seek: there’s no shower scenes, no nubile twinks, no coming-out-to-dad or suicides and it doesn’t fit the clichés of Indian art-house films either: no musical numbers and no poverty porn. Films like this will always require champions who see the intent in there and who understand it for what it is and who showcase it for audiences to discover.”

A scene from 'LOEV.' (Photo courtesy Reel Affirmations)

A scene from ‘LOEV.’ (Photo courtesy Reel Affirmations)

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Tagg turns 10

D.C. magazine thriving post-pandemic with focus on queer women

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‘Tagg is a form of resistance,’ says editor Eboné Bell. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a 10-year-old YouTube video, owner and editor of Tagg magazine, Eboné Bell, — clad in a white cotton T-shirt, gray vest and matching gray fedora — smiled with all her pearly whites as a correspondent for the magazine interviewed her outside now-closed Cobalt, a gay club in downtown D.C. that hosted the magazine’s official launch in the fall of 2012. 

“I want to make sure that people know that this is a community publication,” Bell said in the video. “It’s about the women in this community and we wanted to make sure that they knew that ‘This is your magazine.’”

As one of just two queer womxn’s magazines in the country, Tagg has established itself as one of the nation’s leading and forthright LGBTQ publications that focuses on lesbian and queer culture, news, and events. The magazine is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.

Among the many beats Tagg covers, it has recently produced work on wide-ranging political issues such as the introduction of the LGBTQ+ History Education Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Supreme Court’s assault on reproductive rights through a reversal of its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling; and also attracted the attention of international queer celebrities, including Emmy-nominated actress Dominique Jackson through fundraisers.

“Tagg is a form of resistance,” Bell said in a Zoom interview with the Washington Blade. “I always say the best form of activism is visibility and we’re out there authentically us.”

Although the magazine was created to focus on lifestyle, pressing political issues that affect LGBTQ individuals pushed it to dive deeper into political coverage in efforts to bring visibility to LGBTQ issues that specifically affect queer femme individuals. 

“We know the majority of our readers are queer women,’ said Bell. “[So] we always ask ourselves, ‘How does this affect our community?’ We are intentional and deliberate about it.”

Rebecca Damante, a contributing writer to the magazine echoed Bell’s sentiments. 

“The movement can sometimes err toward gay white men and it’s good that we get to represent other groups,” said Damante. “I feel really lucky that a magazine like Tagg exists because it’s given me the chance to polish my writing skills and talk about queer representation in media and politics.”

Tagg’s coverage has attracted younger readers who visit the magazine’s website in search of community and belonging. Most readers range between the ages of 25 and 30, Bell said. 

“[The magazine] honestly just took on a life of its own,” said Bell. “It’s like they came to us [and] it makes perfect sense.”

Prior to the magazine becoming subscription-based and completely online, it was a free publication that readers could pick up in coffee shops and distribution boxes around D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. 

Battling the pandemic 

Eboné Bell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, newsrooms across the world were forced to function virtually. Additionally, economic strife forced many publications to downsize staffs and — in some cases — cancel entire beats as ad revenue decreased, forcing them to find alternative ways to self-sustain financially. Tagg was no exception. 

“We didn’t fly unscathed,” said Bell. “[The pandemic] took a huge emotional toll on me because I thought we were going to close. I thought we were going to fail.”

However, the magazine was able to stand firm after a fundraiser titled “Save Tagg Magazine” yielded about $30,000 in donations from the community. 

The fundraiser involved a storefront on Tagg’s website where donations of LGBTQ merchandise were sold, including a book donated by soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe. 

There was also a virtual “Queerantine Con” — an event that was the brainchild of Dana Piccoli, editor of News Is Out— where prominent LGBTQ celebrities such as Rosie O’Donnell, Lea DeLaria and Kate Burrell, gave appearances to help raise money that eventually sustained the publication. 

“There was a time where I was ready to be like ‘I have to be OK that [Tagg] might not happen anymore,” said Bell. “But because of love and support, I’m here.” 

While the outpouring of love from community members who donated to the magazine helped keep the magazine alive, it was also a stark reminder that smaller publications, led by women of color, have access to fewer resources than mainstream outlets. 

“It’s statistically known that Black women-owned businesses get significantly less support, venture capital investments, things like that,” said Bell. “I saw similar outlets such as Tagg with white people making $100,000 a month.”

Bell added that Tagg had to work “10 times harder” to survive, and although the magazine didn’t cut back on the people who worked for it, it ended free access to the magazine in the DMV especially as the places that housed the magazine were no longer in business. The publication also moved to a subscription-based model that allowed it to ameliorate printing costs. 

Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Tagg remains steadfast in its service to the LGBTQ community. The magazine hired an assistant editor in 2021 and has maintained a team of graphic designers, photographers, writers and an ad sales team who work to ensure fresh content is delivered to readers on a regular basis. 

For Bell, Tagg mirrors an important life experience — the moment she discovered Ladders, a lesbian magazine published throughout the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. 

“To that young person coming up, I want you to see all the things that happened before them, all the people that came before them, all the stories that were being told” she said.

Eboné Bell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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Daisy Edgar-Jones knows why ‘the Crawdads sing’

Actress on process, perfecting a southern accent, and her queer following

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Daisy Edgar-Jones as Kya Clark. (Photo courtesy Sony/Columbia)

Daisy Edgar-Jones is an actor whose career is blossoming like her namesake. In recent years, she seems to be everywhere. LGBTQ viewers may recognize Edgar-Jones from her role as Delia Rawson in the recently canceled queer HBO series “Gentleman Jack.” She also played memorable parts in a pair of popular Hulu series, “Normal People” and “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Earlier this year, Edgar-Jones was seen as Noa in the black comedy/horror flick “Fresh” alongside Sebastian Stan. 

With her new movie, “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Sony/Columbia), she officially becomes a lead actress. Based on Delia Owens’ popular book club title of the same name, the movie spans a considerable period of time, part murder mystery, part courtroom drama. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Blade.

BLADE: Daisy, had you read Delia Owens’s novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” before signing on to play Kya?

DAISY EDGAR-JONES: I read it during my audition process, as I was auditioning for the part. So, the two went hand in hand.

BLADE: What was it about the character of Kya that appealed to you as an actress?

EDGAR-JONES: There was so much about her that appealed to me. I think the fact that she is a very complicated woman. She’s a mixture of things. She’s gentle and she’s curious. She’s strong and she’s resilient. She felt like a real person. I love real character studies and it felt like a character I haven’t had a chance to delve into. It felt different from anyone I’ve played before. Her resilience was one that I really admired. So, I really wanted to spend some time with her.

BLADE: While Kya is in jail, accused of killing the character Chase, she is visited by a cat in her cell. Are you a cat person or do you prefer dogs?

EDGAR-JONES: I like both! I think I like the fact that dogs unconditionally love you. While a cat’s love can feel a bit conditional. I do think both are very cute. Probably, if I had to choose, it would be dogs.

BLADE: I’m a dog person, so I’m glad you said that.

EDGAR-JONES: [Laughs]

BLADE: Kya lives on the marsh and spends a lot of time on and in the water. Are you a swimmer or do you prefer to be on dry land?

EDGAR-JONES: I like swimming, I do. I grew up swimming a lot. If I’m ever on holidays, I like it to be by the sea or by a nice pool.

BLADE: Kya is also a gifted artist, and it is the thing that brings her great joy. Do you draw or paint?

EDGAR-JONES: I always doodle. I’m an avid doodler. I do love to draw and paint. I loved it at school. I wouldn’t say I was anywhere near as skilled as Kya. But I do love drawing if I get the chance to do it.

BLADE: Kya was born and raised in North Carolina. What can you tell me about your process when it comes to doing a southern accent or an American accent in general?

EDGAR-JONES: It’s obviously quite different from mine. I’ve been lucky that I’ve spent a lot of time working on various accents for different parts for a few years now, so I feel like I’m developed an ear for, I guess, the difference in tone and vowel sounds [laughs]. When it came to this, it was really important to get it right, of course. Kya has a very lyrical, gentle voice, which I think that North Carolina kind of sound really helped me to access. I worked with a brilliant accent coach who helped me out and I just listened and listened.

BLADE: While I was watching “Where the Crawdads Sing” I thought about how Kya could easily be a character from the LGBTQ community because she is considered an outsider, is shunned and ridiculed, and experiences physical and emotional harm. Do you also see the parallels?

EDGAR-JONES: I certainly do. I think that aspect of being an outsider is there, and this film does a really good job of showing how important it is to be kind to everyone. I think this film celebrates the goodness you can give to each other if you choose to be kind. Yes, I definitely see the parallels.

BLADE: Do you have an awareness of an LGBTQ following for your acting career?

EDGAR-JONES: I tend to stay off social media and am honestly not really aware of who follows me, but I do really hope the projects I’ve worked on resonate with everyone.

BLADE: Are there any upcoming acting projects that you’d like to mention?

EDGAR-JONES: None that I can talk of quite yet. But there are a few things that are coming up next year, so I’m really excited.

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CAMP Rehoboth’s president talks pandemic, planning, and the future

Wesley Combs marks six months in new role

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Wesley Combs took over as president of CAMP Rehoboth six months ago and is now focused on searching for a new permanent executive director. (Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

June marks half a year since Wesley Combs stepped into his role as president of CAMP Rehoboth. In a conversation with the Blade, Combs recounted his first six months in the position — a time he said was characterized by transition and learning.

Since 1991, CAMP Rehoboth has worked to develop programming “inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities” in the Rehoboth Beach, Del. area, according to the nonprofit’s website. As president, Combs oversees the organization’s board of directors and executive director, helping determine areas of focus and ensure programming meets community needs.

For Combs, his more than three decades of involvement with CAMP Rehoboth have shaped the course of his life. In the summer of 1989 — just before the organization’s creation — he met his now-husband, who was then living in a beach house with Steve Elkins and Murray Archibald, CAMP Rehoboth’s founders.

Since then, he has served as a financial supporter of the organization, noting that it has been crucial to fostering understanding that works against an “undercurrent of anti-LGBTQ sentiment” in Rehoboth Beach’s history that has, at times, propagated violence against LGBTQ community members.

In 2019, after Elkins passed away, Combs was called upon by CAMP Rehoboth’s Board of Directors to serve on a search committee for the organization’s next executive director. Later that year, he was invited to become a board member and, this past November, was elected president.

Combs noted that CAMP Rehoboth is also still recovering from the pandemic, and is working to restart programming paused in the switch to remote operations. In his first six months, he has sought to ensure that people feel “comfortable” visiting and engaging with CAMP Rehoboth again, and wants to ensure all community members can access its programming, including those from rural parts of Delaware and those without a means of getting downtown.

Still, Combs’s first six months were not without unexpected turns: On May 31, David Mariner stepped down from his role as CAMP Rehoboth executive director, necessitating a search for his replacement. Combs noted that he would help facilitate the search for an interim director to serve for the remainder of the year and ensure that there is “a stable transition of power.” CAMP Rehoboth last week announced it has named Lisa Evans to the interim director role.

Chris Beagle, whose term as president of CAMP Rehoboth preceded Combs’s own, noted that the experience of participating in a search committee with the organization will “better enable him to lead the process this time.”

Before completing his term, Beagle helped prepare Combs for the new role, noting that the “combination of his professional background, his executive leadership (and) his passion for the organization” make Combs a strong president. Regarding the results of the election, “I was extremely confident, and I remain extremely confident,” Beagle said.

Bob Witeck, a pioneer in LGBTQ marketing and communications, has known Combs for nearly four decades. The two founded a public relations firm together in 1993 and went on to work together for 20 years, with clients ranging from major businesses like Ford Motor Company to celebrities including Chaz Bono and Christopher Reeve. According to Witeck, Combs’s work in the firm is a testament to his commitment to LGBTQ advocacy.

“Our firm was the first founded primarily to work on issues specific to LGBTQ identities, because we wanted to counsel corporations about their marketing and media strategies and working in the LGBTQ market,” he explained. By helping develop communications strategies inclusive of those with LGBTQ identities, Combs established a background of LGBTQ advocacy that truly “made a mark,” Witeck said.

Witeck emphasized that, in his new position, Combs brings both business experience and a renewed focus on historically underrepresented in LGBTQ advocacy — including people with disabilities, trans people and people of color.

Looking to the rest of the year, CAMP Rehoboth hopes to host a larger-scale event during Labor Day weekend. In addition, the organization will revisit its strategic plan — first developed in 2019 but delayed due to the pandemic — and ensure it still meets the needs of the local community, Combs said. He added that he intends to reexamine the plan and other programming to ensure inclusivity for trans community members.

“CAMP Rehoboth continues to be a vital resource in the community,” he said. “The focus for the next two years is to make sure we’re doing and delivering services that meet the needs of everyone in our community.”

Wesley Combs, gay news, Washington Blade
Wesley Combs (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)
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