Riley Tindol was the ideal student athlete in his small Alabama town where football isn’t just a sport but a way of life. His dedication earned him a spot on the Vanderbilt football team but despite reaping the success from his passion, Tindol found himself falling into a depression as he struggled to hide his sexuality for fear of losing everything he worked for.
Tindol’s story is one of many that occur frequently in the world of sports and is one of the stories highlighted in the documentary “Alone in the Game,” which had its world premiere in Washington, D.C. on June 15. It debuts on the AT&T AUDIENCE Network on Thursday, June 28 at 8 p.m.
David McFarland, creator and executive producer of the film, says he was inspired to create the documentary after working toward LGBT acceptance and equality for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. After meeting with advocates from around the world on the issue, McFarland decided to explore the deeply embedded homophobia-in-sports culture.
The film features interviews with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, former ESPN President John Skipper, former NBA center Jason Collins, former NFL lineman Ryan O’Callaghan, MLS Cup champion Robbie Rogers, Olympic freeskier Gus Kenworthy and professional soccer midfielder/winger Megan Rapinoe.
While McFarland was able to secure numerous interviews for the documentary, he says one of the biggest obstacles was getting “certain key power players” to actually show up.
“This just reinforces what we’re still doing today,” McFarland says. “It’s a subject matter some are comfortable talking about and many aren’t at the institutional level. This begs a very serious question for our leaders in sports across all the leaders, federations and governing bodies of sports … ‘Are we living in a time where equality and inclusion truly exist for LGBTQ athletes?’ For me, the answer is no. We’re not.”
In comparison, Hollywood’s inclusivity has increased over the years with more actors feeling safe to come out as the culture of acceptance grows. Despite that trend, McFarland says sports culture is much further behind.
“They are tucked so far in the closet because there are real-life ramifications that can come back and squash their dreams of being an athlete,” McFarland says. “Imagine that collegiate or high school athlete that has the courage to come out to their coach. That coach may not be accepting. If that coach is not accepting, then all of a sudden the perception of that player changes. That can affect their playing time on the field, their position on the team. It can be as extreme as, ‘We don’t want you here.’ That doesn’t necessarily happen in Hollywood.”
Those consequences are covered in the film, which showcases the importance of fitting in for both financial gain and social acceptance.
Rogers recalls overhearing from his teammates that being gay is “disgusting” and decides he can’t come out to his team because it would be “unhealthy.” Kenworthy says he earns the majority of his income through sponsorships, something he was concerned he would lose when he came out.
In one interview, a closeted NCAA Division 1 football player gives an interview with a blurred face and distorted voice as he says he doesn’t believe his teammates would be accepting and is certain his coaches would treat him differently.
Other stories explore the challenges of being a gay college athlete, similar to Tindol’s story. Haley Videckis and Layana White are former Pepperdine University women’s basketball players who tell of the discrimination they faced from the university for their sexual orientation and for being a couple.
Trevor Betts, a transgender student athlete, also gives insight into the transgender experience in athletics as a team member on a male high school wrestling team.
The theme of the film explores the challenges attached to coming out in such a homophobic culture, which leads many athletes to develop depression and suicidal thoughts.
They’re stories McFarland has heard time and again including from one closeted professional athlete who told McFarland he was afraid to come out, but at the same time, was ashamed of his silence.
“Unfortunately his lucky break is tied to him believing that because he’s gay he has to live a closeted life to hold onto his life and dreams and to keep moving forward physically and mentally,” McFarland says. “He then begins to question his own future. And perhaps the love of his life will have to wait. Perhaps indefinitely. That’s a real issue that is still alive and well today. Sports is truly one of the last frontiers that the LGBT community has to break down in terms of the closet.”
LaBruce delivers shocking story of brotherly love in ‘Saint-Narcisse’
Skilled director’s incest tale challenges our boundaries
It’s gratifying to live in a time when queer stories and characters have become more commonplace on film and television than ever before, but for those of us who are old enough to remember a very different world, it’s hard not to feel a twinge of regret over what we may have lost in the transition. After all, in the days when mainstream entertainment culture was still pretending that queer people didn’t exist, queer cinema was an underground experience infused with a certain rebellious spirit – a sense of righteous non-conformity, if you will – that is somehow absent from much of the content made possible by the “rainbow explosion” taking place on our screens today. And while nobody is complaining about the increased acceptance achieved by our LGBTQ+ community, it’s nevertheless a welcome pleasure when a movie comes along to remind us that queer cinema can still be transgressive.
For such a film, one can always count on Bruce LaBruce.
The Canadian iconoclast, who rose in the ‘90s from the world of queercore zines to gain a cult following as a filmmaker, is notorious for assaulting cultural norms. Combining the tropes and formulas of conventional Hollywood cinema with the raw sexuality of hardcore gay porn, some of his films, like “Hustler White” and “L.A. Zombie,” have stirred shock and controversy even among the most hardened queer cinephiles, and while his style may have mellowed somewhat since his earlier career, his latest effort – the dark comedy “Saint-Narcisse,” which hinges on “twincest” between two brothers separated at birth – proves that he still takes delight in shattering even the strictest taboos.
The film, which opens in limited theaters and through VOD platforms on Sept. 17, unfolds a sort of contemporary adult fairy tale centered on a young man named Dominic (Félix-Antoine Duval), who fuels an unrequitable fetish for himself by taking Polaroid selfies. The death of the beloved grandmother who raised him leads to his discovery of a deep family secret: his birth mother (Tania Kontoyanni) didn’t die in childbirth as he was told, but is alive and living in exile with a female companion (Alexandra Petrachuk) at a remote cabin in the woods. When he reunites with her there, he quickly learns of the existence of a twin brother (Duval again), taken away at birth and raised in a nearby monastery, where a priest (Andreas Apergis) has kept him all these years against his will. Determined to reunite his family and drawn by a desire to be with his beautiful, identical brother, Dominic soon embarks on a path that will embroil him with all the others in a blasphemous web of sex, revenge, and redemption.
Like most of LaBruce’s work, this latest piece draws on a wide array of cultural influences. Set in 1972 (in the “afterglow of sexual liberation,” as the publicity material puts it), it revels in the aesthetic of the ‘70s genre pictures that have always inspired the filmmaker, evoking and emulating the lurid psychosexual thrillers of the era while reinventing them through a countercultural queer lens. At the same time, it’s a sly satire of our modern, self-obsessed culture, in which the myth of Narcissus is reframed around a selfie-snapping hero who yearns to be his own lover. Above all, it’s an unabashedly campy affair, a wild and wooly Freudian melodrama that resembles a fable from the Brothers Grimm as interpreted by Jean Genet.
Yet for all that, LaBruce keeps it grounded throughout. He guides his actors to play their roles in earnest – something they achieve with somewhat surprising excellence, with the handsome Duval earning particular kudos for rising to the challenge of his difficult dual role. Moreover, he underpins the screenplay (co-written with Martin Girard) with a healthy dose of social observation, clearly conveyed yet handled with just enough restraint to avoid weighing down the delicious B-movie goofiness. LaBruce has a reputation for performing a deft balancing act in his movies between the ridiculous and the profound, in which the line between them seems to disappear, or at least become irrelevant; in “Saint-Narcisse” he earns it anew with the skill of a true master.
Still, one doesn’t see a LaBruce film for its restraint, and for all its measured contemplation of themes, the purpose of “Saint-Narcisse” is to make us squirm. The relationship at the heart of the story, after all, is a forbidden one. Not only are the two star-crossed lovers boys, they’re also brothers – and because it is a LaBruce film, we find ourselves wanting them to be together almost as much as they do. And also because it is a LaBruce film, we know we’ll get to see it happen.
It’s not just the incest that challenges our boundaries, either. There’s also the complex and conflicted relationship between Daniel and the priest who is his father figure/captor/abuser, and the one between an older woman and the daughter of her own dead lover. The film is full of conflicting and conflicted impulses, shaped by the dualities that permeate our social and personal lives – male and female, age and youth, spirituality and carnality, coercion and consent – and our various loyalties to its characters collide with our preconceptions about what is or is not acceptable until our reflex toward judgment simply short-circuits. By the time his story has reached its suitably over-the-top climax, LaBruce has already set us up so well that we are ready to go willingly with him into whatever wickedly subversive happy ending he has in store.
As to that ending, it’s best to leave the details spoiler-free for effect – but suffice to say it is a logical culmination of all the threads “Saint-Narcisse” has interwoven from the start, and that it will leave most viewers with a feeling of perverse satisfaction despite themselves. In other words, LaBruce has once more succeeded in turning a lot of internal taboos upside down, and whether or not the effect is permanent we are forced to question our own assumptions about self, sex, love and family – along with a good number of other social mores and institutions that have more influence over our humanity that most of us care to recognize.
All of this is precisely the point, of course. And while “Saint-Narcisse” (like all of LaBruce’s films) is unquestionably a piece of queer cinema, the product of a queer sensibility and a lifetime of living outside cultural norms, it is ultimately not a movie about queer experience. It’s a movie about human experience, and its observations about the way our lives are programmed by the things we believe about ourselves and the world around us are meant for everyone.
Of course, by this point it should be obvious that it’s NOT for everyone’s tastes. While it may not be as explicit as some of LaBruce’s previous works, there’s still plenty of full-frontal nudity and intense sex involved; combine that with the twisted sensibility that drives the story and dictates its outcome, and you have a movie that should be approached with caution by anyone who is faint of heart.
For the rest of us, though, it’s a sinfully satisfying cinematic snack.
DC Shorts festival goes hybrid with robust LGBTQ selections
In-person, online options for local film fans
Beautiful animation and rich historical detail make a short film about gay commercial artist J.C. Leyendecker as compelling as many of the more than 900 selections showcased in this year’s DC Shorts International Film Festival, running Sept. 9-19 both in-person at the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center (1529 16th St., N.W.) and online.
Director Ryan White’s short film “Coded” is one of many LGBTQ, “homegrown” and international submissions to the District’s short film festival, which kicks off its 18th year as a hybrid event due to the ongoing pandemic. “Coded” is a biopic about J.C. Leyendecker, a gay commercial artist from the 1920s-30s who coded gay themes in his ad drawings.
Safety protocols for the festival, which was completely virtual last year, include having an online viewing option for those uncomfortable or unable to attend events, and requiring in-person attendees to wear a mask and present their vaccination card to enter the venue.
“When they purchase the ticket online, before they can proceed to purchase, they have to click that they acknowledge the rules,” DC Shorts Venue and Volunteer Manager Raedorah Stewart said.
She added that at the venue “your vaccination card must match your ticket and you must wear a mask.” Extra masks will also be available at the door.
In July concerns about the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus led both the CDC and Mayor Muriel Bowser to recommend even fully vaccinated individuals to wear masks indoors.
Although 57% of the District’s residents are estimated to be fully vaccinated, according to D.C.’s coronavirus website, as a precaution DC shorts will screen 95 short films online and hold five in-person showcase screenings at the Jewish Community Center and two at the Goethe-Institut (1377 R St., N.W.).
Stewart told the Blade the festival also staffed fewer volunteers this year in order to maintain proper social distancing at the venues. But despite the added precautions, enthusiasm remained high.
“The volunteers this year are excited and relieved to return to something that is familiar,” Stewart, who identifies as a queer Black woman, said. “Having that shared, global experience through story has become a key to making our festival unique and stand out. And we are doing it with such stringent protocols…it advances the entire festival atmosphere.”
She said the goal for her and her volunteers was to make this experience as enjoyable as possible for guests.
When asked which of the hundreds of short films was her favorite, Stewart laughed and “pleaded the fifth.”
“That’s like asking a mother who’s her favorite child,” she said, stating each one was special and unique.
Joe Bilancio, DC Shorts programming director, told the Blade normally the festival receives between 1,500 to 2,000 entries for works that must have been completed the previous year to qualify.
While the number of submissions was down this year, he said his team was surprised by how many were submitted despite unprecedented constraints.
“We were shocked that there was that much content,” Bilancio said. “For example, that meant if someone were used to working with an editor in a suite collaboratively, they now had to do it over Zoom.”
And he said the quality of all of the films was impressive considering the pandemic constraints.
“I liked ‘Coded’ by Ryan White,” said Bilancio, an out gay man who also struggled to find a “favorite” among the wide selection. “He did a film about hidden messages in products coded for the LGBTQ community.”
Bilancio identified with the film’s idea of different people having different perceptions of the same experience, a key reason why he enjoys programming the DC Shorts film festival.
Christian Oh, the festival’s board chair, identifies as heterosexual but the film “God’s Daughter Dances” particularly resonated with him as a Korean American.
“Even though it focuses on the LGBTQ community from a light-hearted perspective, there is the military,” Oh said of Director Sungbin Byun’s comedy-drama about a transgender female dancer who gets called up by the South Korean military.
“It makes you wonder what things others are dealing with in their home countries that we don’t know about.”
Oh also works with DC’s Asian American film festival and Stewart helps with the LGBTQ Reel Affirmation series.
“These stories are important,” said Oh, a filmmaker and instructor. “And need to be told from the perspective of people who are dealing with these issues.”
“And they’re fun,” said Stewart, who enjoys being part of an artistic community.
The in-person screenings include “Animation Domination,” “Cinema 10% LGBTQ” and “Homegrown Showcase,” which is a special selection of films made by local D.C. filmmakers.
The local filmmaker showcase will screen at the Goethe-Institute on the festival’s opening night at 6 p.m. and includes “Miss Alma Thomas: A Life in Color” about the first Black woman to have her paintings exhibited in the White House in 2009, “Ourselves, in Stories” about the independent comics community’s efforts at inclusion, and “Out to Vote” about activist Bobby Perkins and the fight to restore voting rights for the formerly incarcerated in Baltimore.
The festival also includes four free filmmaker workshops, which Oh said is critical to networking and increasing representation.
“This short format provides more equity and access to minority storytellers,” he said. “Two filmmakers meet and produce a film for the next festival.”
And that connection he said is important especially now with pandemic limitations, which can also cause economic harm, further limiting the reach of new and unique voices.
“A lot are dying because they don’t have the economy from ticket sales,” Oh said. “Support creatives, especially locally. They are hurting big time. If you can support them virtually or in person, please do. We open our doors to every community — Asian, LGBTQ, Black, Latino, everyone.”
General admission for in-person showcases is $15, while individual online access is $12. An all-access festival pass, which includes all live and all online showcases, is $140. For more information, visit dcshorts.com.
Lesbian survivor of sexual abuse reveals her ‘Untold’ story
A remarkable film debut from Gina Garcia
Even though her film is about to get a premiere at Hollywood’s legendary Chinese Theatre, Gina Garcia is not your typical filmmaker – and her movie is not your typical movie.
“Untold: This is My Story” has been a longtime dream project for the U.S. Navy veteran, who was already a successful entrepreneur before starting her film career. And even though she made it about herself, it’s far from a vanity project. Instead, it’s a bold testament aimed at helping countless others who, like her, carry the trauma of childhood sexual abuse.
As an 8-year-old growing up in Orlando, Fla., Garcia was at the mall with her mother and sister when she was abducted by a man who coerced her into his car before sexually assaulting her at knifepoint. Remarkably, she was able to escape by jumping out of the moving vehicle, half naked, and running away through the parking lot. The incident was never discussed by the family; and young Gina, who had only vague memories of what happened to her, went on to experience years of self-destructive behavior and strained relationships with her parents and siblings. Twenty-five years after the fact, she finally sought help at a Veterans’ Administration hospital, where she was diagnosed with PTSD and began the difficult process of healing.
Fast forward to 2009, when Garcia enrolled at a film school in the Philippines. It was a bold step that started her on the path to tell her story for the many other anonymous survivors she knew were out there needing to know that they were not alone. She wrote a screenplay, and when she attended a screening that gave her an opportunity to meet filmmaker Patty Jenkins, she approached the “Monster” director with the thought that here was someone who could direct it. Instead, Jenkins told her, “No Gina, you have to tell your story.”
That meeting led to an ongoing mentorship, and three years later Garcia was filming her screenplay with a cast that featured former Calvin Klein model Jennifer Rubin and esteemed womens’ rights attorney Gloria Allred.
The resulting movie is rough to watch, and that’s not because it has a DIY feel – although it does, which somehow gives it an even more searing authenticity. It is shot through with first-hand awareness of the way trauma affects not just the victim, but all those around them, and manifests itself in every aspect of their lives. It’s painful, horrifying, heartbreaking, and sometimes uncomfortable to watch, with a realistic depiction of mental health treatment that is a far cry from the kind of overwrought psychodrama treatment Hollywood usually gives to subject matter like this.
Why then, did it take nearly a decade for it to premiere?
Talking with the Blade, the first-time director explained what happened.
GINA GARCIA: I’m not a Hollywood person, I wasn’t going to be a director. My goal in making it was to peel off the Band-Aid, to show the rawness of trauma. I wanted to show the real – but when you’re raising money, everybody wants you to do something that isn’t real. Initially, when I wrote the script and I was sending it out, I had feedback like, “Can you make it a boy? Can you make it a white family? Can they not be gay? Do you really have to be a lesbian?” But then I would be telling somebody else’s story, and I wanted to tell my story.
BLADE: Obviously you didn’t go with all those suggestions.
GARCIA: No, but still I had all these people telling me to put in a little of this, a little of that. I ended up with this love story in there, and all this other stuff. And I did a couple of screenings, and I got everybody else’s opinions on my movie – and I hated it and I didn’t want to release it. So I put it on the shelf.
BLADE: What made you change your mind all these years later?
GARCIA: Well, I know now that I had more healing to do. I was still broken, going through issues with trauma and triggers. But at Thanksgiving of this past year my brother watched the film, and he said ‘You have to get this out. It’s gonna help a lot of people.’ I struggled with that, because I felt like I made myself look like a victim, but he said, ‘You need to recut it, then. You’re not a victim, you’ve gotten to the other side, you’re a different person now. You have fresh eyes.’ So in the beginning of 2021 I recut the entire movie. I took out all the Hollywood fluff, and I went back to the very basics of my original script.
BLADE: Not many directors get the chance to set a project aside and come back to it later.
GARCIA: Taking that time to be able to step away from it for a couple of years and work on myself as a human, and then get to come back and recut it – I love my movie now!
BLADE: What’s the next step after your Hollywood premiere?
GARCIA: Hopefully a distributor will buy it and not want to recut it their way. But either way, my intention is to do a city-to-city tour of the film, kind of like the “No Hate” campaign. I have a non-profit that I’m starting with my tribe back home, it’s called the ‘Untold Project,’ and with the tour we’re going to start doing videos of people telling their own untold stories, and hopefully helping other sexual abuse survivors to have their voices be heard.
Because for me it’s more than a movie. There are one in three women and one in six men who are survivors of sexual abuse. If you do the math that’s over a billion people on the planet. We can talk about heart disease and all these other diseases that people die from, but people are also dying from this kind of abuse – through suicide, alcohol, and drug addiction. If you think about people who dealt with abuse in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, even into the ‘80s – I mean, there’s a reason why all the Catholic Church stuff happened, why the Boy Scouts stuff happened, the Sandusky trials, the gymnasts. It’s because nobody was talking about what was happening. Nobody wants to put a magnifying glass on the dirty little secret when it’s the uncle, the cousin, the coach, the babysitter.
If we can create the resources, maybe we can have the ability to have real conversations so that people can heal from this kind of trauma.
BLADE: And you want to show people that healing is possible.
GARCIA: Put it this way: I used to want to hide the fact that I was broken. Now here I am wanting to project it on a 45-foot screen.
If you live in LA, “Untold: This is My Story” screens at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on Monday, Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. If not, Gina Garcia will soon bring it to a town near you.
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