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John Waters is bringing back the drive-in — with masks — at Md. Film Festival

Will cicadas spoil the show or add to the fun?



John Waters is a fan of drive-in movies.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Writer and filmmaker John Waters says he grew up going to drive-in movies.

“We went every single night. With the same movie playing.“

He had a certain routine.

“I used to…drive in alone with two cases of beer covered in a blanket and with four people in the trunk.”

Now Waters is working to introduce a new generation to drive-in movie theaters, which are making a comeback because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When the pandemic happened, it did bring drive-ins back,” he said in a recent interview. “Most young people have never been to a drive-in. I think it’s a good answer [to the pandemic], and it’s a good atmosphere for certain types of movies.”

Waters is getting ready to host a double feature drive-in movie night on May 21, as part of the Maryland Film Festival that runs from May 19 to May 27. The theme is “Russian Shock Night at the Drive-In,” because he selected two Russian films to present: Why Don’t You Just Die! and The Road Movie.

This will be the third time during the pandemic that Waters has hosted a drive-in night for a film festival, after double features last year for the Provincetown International Film Festival, at the Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre on Cape Cod, and the New York Film Festival, at The Bronx Zoo.

This time the venue is Druid Hill Park, home of the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. The film festival is creating a pop-up drive-in theater on the sloping lawn of the Mansion House, the zoo’s headquarters, in conjunction with Baltimore’s Department of Recreation and Parks. It will have a 52-foot-wide inflatable screen and space for 93 vehicles. The price of admission is $25 per car, and tickets sold out in a day.

The film festival is the first organization to get a permit for an in-person outdoor gathering on public property in more than a year from the city of Baltimore, where Mayor Brandon Scott has been cautious about allowing public events. The mayor wouldn’t allow the annual July 4th fireworks show at the city’s Inner Harbor or the annual Artscape festival in July.

“I’m proud to the first one,” said Waters, who came up with the idea for a drive-in during the festival. “I’m thankful that they’re letting us do it.”

Based on his experience at the other festivals, Waters said, he’s confident it will be successful. “I love the idea of the drive-in. I think it will be good, and it is safe. Everybody’s in their car. Even if you haven’t been vaccinated. Well, I hope you don’t come if you haven’t been vaccinated. But still, everybody’s in their car. It’s at a social distance.”

Waters, who lives in Baltimore, traditionally introduces a movie of his choice on Friday night of the annual film festival, and it’s a highlight of the event. Last year it didn’t happen because the festival was cancelled due to the pandemic.

This year the festival is back as mostly a virtual event, because the theater where it’s held is still subject to COVID-related seating restrictions. Organizers asked Waters to bring back his signature movie night. He didn’t want it to be online.

“I said, I hate virtual. I’m so sick of virtual,” he recalled. “They knew I had done a drive-in at the New York Film Festival, where we showed Salo and the Gasper Noe movie, Climax…It works well in the drive In.”

Film festival organizers, led by executive director Sandra Gibson, collaborated with city officials to identify the site and figure out the details. “You don’t have to be vaccinated, but you will have to wear masks…if you’re outside your car,” Gibson said.

The parks department didn’t place a limit on the size of vehicles or the number of people in a vehicle, although larger ones will be located towards the back of the lot, she said.

“If you have a hatchback, we’ll let you open your hatchback and sit in the hatchback,” she said. “We’ll let you sit in the back of a flatbed truck as long as you have a mask on. If you have an SUV that holds eight people, we’re fine with that as long as everybody can see. But they have said you have to stay in your car.”

Waters describes Why Don’t You Just Die! as “a grindhouse, seat-ripping blood-drenched family revenge comedy that begs to be seen in a drive-in with a crazy audience cheering from their cars,” and The Road Movie as “a dash cam documentary from hell that puts you live in the car accidents and near misses all for your rage viewing pleasure.”

He said the two movies are in line with the ones he usually picks for screenings in the film festival’s Parkway Theatre, “but these two I think are even better for a drive-in setting.”

The Road Movie, featuring footage compiled from Russian dashboard cameras, has a car-oriented theme that fits with the drive-in set-up and will be the second film of the night. “You’ll drive home safely after this one, I guarantee you,” Waters said.

He chose a Russian theme, he said, “just because I loved these movies and I knew that Russia was especially kind of unmentionable these days. I’m not a fan of Russia either, but maybe everybody could come dressed as Nikita Khrushchev and his wife, or Putin.”

Given the climate in Russia, “it’s just kind of amazing that these two movies ever got made there,” he said. “They’re pretty radical movies. Especially Why Don’t You Just Die!”

Waters said the location brings back fond memories, in part because the zoo is there and he lived nearby: “I’ve always liked Druid Hill…I used to live across the street at Temple Gardens Apartments for many years.”

He jokes that he’s a little suspicious that the city permitted his event but not the Fourth of July fireworks, citing COVID-19 as the reason.

“Maybe they hope we all get it,” he said. “That’s a new one. We had the censor board. Maybe this is a different way to censor.”

He said he hopes the 17-year cicadas, insects that are just coming out of the ground in Maryland after a 17-year hiatus, make an appearance when his movies are showing.

“I wouldn’t even be mad,” he said, if they “were smashing into the windshields while we were watching. But then we should have shown The Swarm.”

Given the park setting, “you can bet there might be some,” he went on, imagining the possibilities of an insect invasion on his movie night. “It would only add to the disaster theme and the insaneness of the event, to be attacked by nature at Druid Hill Park and watching crazy Russian movies.”

According to the website, there are about 325 drive-in movie theaters currently operating around the United States, down from a peak of more than 4,000 in the 1950s.

Besides the ones in operation, “there are many more that are permanently closed but still remain standing and could potentially be reopened at some point in the future,” says the website, which lists the drive-ins in every state and those that have closed in the past 20 years. “In fact, there have been several drive-in theaters that have been reopened the past couple of years after sitting dark for 20 or even 30 years.”

The first “true” drive-in, the website states, was the “Automobile Movie Theatre” in Camden, New Jersey. It was opened on June 6, 1933 by Richard Hollingshead, a movie buff who initially experimented with showing movies in the driveway of his home.

Hollingshead got a U. S. patent for his drive-in, which the drive-in website describes as essentially a movie screen tied to some trees, a radio placed behind the screen for sound, a film projector on the hood of a car, and a strategy for spacing out cars. His slogan was “The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.”

But Hollingshead’s patent was later declared invalid, and that allowed others to follow his formula without paying him royalties. “Maybe one of the reasons Drive-In Movies are so much more popular in the United States than in other countries is because the drive-in movie is truly an American invention,” the website states.

Today, both vintage drive-ins and pop-up drive-ins are being put to a variety of uses, from sites for fundraisers to filming locations to settings for socially-distanced music performances. When traditional movie theaters were shuttered because of the pandemic, drive-ins became an alternative because the audience remains outdoors.

In some cases, the land is used for swap meets and flea markets when movies aren’t being shown. Joe Biden held drive-in rallies when he was running for President, and voters applauded by honking horns and flashing headlights.

Waters, who just turned 75 and has filmed all of his movies in and around Baltimore, is a drive-in aficionado.

“I’ve spent my whole life in the drive-in,” he said. “I’ve written about them. I grew up in the Timonium Drive-In…The Bengies Drive-In, we filmed Cecil B. Demented in for a week. I spent a week on the roof of that concessions stand.”

In Polyester, “I had an art drive-in,” he said. “The joke was that they showed art movies, and in the concessions stand they had caviar and champagne. That was filmed at the Edmondson Drive-in” in Baltimore.

For him and others in his generation Waters said, the drive-in was “the first apartment’ where “kids could actually get away from their parents.”

It also taught him about saving money by sneaking people in — something he doesn’t want to see on his night.

“I’ll be catching you if you try to sneak in in the trunk, let me warn you,” he said. “I know all the tricks sneaking in the drive-in.”

For this week’s event, the plan is that Waters will be there and will be visible on screen, introducing the movies. Though he’s been vaccinated, there won’t be a Meet-and-Greet session with fans, for safety reasons. “He knows that we’ve got restrictions and he may have his own,” Gibson said. “He’s really conscious that it’s still a pandemic.”

The city has come up with a list of rules and regulations for those with tickets. Besides the requirement that people wear masks when outside the vehicle, no food or drink may be consumed outside of vehicles. Car windows must be up when eating. Tailgating isn’t allowed. Everyone must pre-register and sign a parks department waiver before arriving.

Waters said he read all the rules and couldn’t find any restrictions against having sex in a vehicle during a movie.

“I guess that means you can have sex,” he said. “When I was young, that’s what everybody did.”

The same goes for drinking in a vehicle, he said. “That’s something you always did at the drive-in too.”

The list of rules and regulations is part of the traditional drive-in experience, because every drive-in has rules. In a way, Waters said, it also goes along with the theme for the night:

“It will feel like the Russian government is watching.”

Although the drive-in night is sold out, other tickets are still available to the Maryland Film Festival, including Pride Night and eight LGBTQ-oriented films viewable online. Information about the lineup is at


Music & Concerts

New dance single pays tribute to Town Danceboutique

Local musicians pen ‘Town’ in honor of shuttered club



Bryce Bowyn (Photo by Clarissa Villondo)

The closing of the LGBTQ nightclub Town Danceboutique in the summer of 2017 was heartbreaking to local musician Bryce Bowyn. He and his Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter friend Lexie Martin decided to honor its legacy in their new single, “Town.”

For Bowyn, who moved to the District about a decade ago to attend school at American University, the memories he has from Town Danceboutique are endless. And when it closed, it was a massive loss to Bowyn and many others. 

“It was such a cool space,” Bowyn said. “It was just disappointing to see a place that brought so many people together become part of the landscape again.” The building Town Danceboutique used to be housed in is now home to upscale apartments and a CVS. 

Town Danceboutique was a formative place for Bowyn and Martin, and it was Bowyn’s first experience in an open and accepting LGBTQ environment. His favorite memories at the club were always on Halloween, he said. Patrons, including Bowyn, would go all out with their costumes to look their very best. 

Bowyn and Martin met while they were both in the musical theater program at American University. Despite their years-long friendship, “Town” is the first song they have written together. They sat down over FaceTime and got to work. It was Martin’s idea to pay homage to Town Danceboutique, and the song follows the story of pre-gaming, going out, and hitting the dance floor. 

But the single also serves as a hype song for going out in any city, at any place. 

“It was important to me for the song to remain relatable and accessible,” Bowyn said. “So the whole foundation of the chorus, ‘Let’s go to town,’ can either mean Town Danceboutique, or painting the town red and having the night of your life.”

Bowyn started writing and producing his own music in 2018. He released an EP titled “A Rosy Retrospect” in 2022, and most recently released a single “A Bridge Burned Down” in June. His music is inspired by late 2000s pop and ‘80s synthpop, influenced by stars like Madonna and Charli XCX. Lexie Martin released her self-titled EP in 2019 and most recently came out with her single “SUPERPOWER” in 2021. 

Bowyn has been a lifelong pop music enthusiast. He distinctly remembers watching Britney Spears perform “Oops!…I Did It Again” at the MTV Video Music Awards when he was a kid and thinking “That was what I wanted and what I was set to do in life.”

“My heart was always with pop music,” Bowyn said. 

“Town” is available now for streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, and Soundcloud.

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Bernal shines as real-life gay wrestler in ‘Cassandro’

A polished, engaging film about a real-life figure that carries message of hope



Gael García Bernal in ‘Cassandro.’ (Photo courtesy of Prime Video)

For most Americans, any knowledge of the Mexican wrestling style known as lucha libre is probably limited to what they gleaned from the 2006 Jack Black comedy “Nacho Libre,” which (it should go without saying) is not a movie that anyone should consider “factual.”

Now another movie about the subject has arrived, and this time it’s not an anything-for-a-laugh fantasy but a biopic about a real luchador who rose to international fame in the 1980s and remains one of the most celebrated and popular figures in Mexican professional wrestling to this day.

The luchador in question is Saúl Armendáriz – better known to his fans as “Cassandro” – and the eponymously titled movie about his ascendency begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video Sept. 22 after a limited theatrical release on Sept. 15.

Directed by Roger Ross Williams (who may not be a household name but has the distinction of being the first Black director to win an Oscar, thanks to the 2009 win of his “Music by Prudence” for Best Documentary Short), “Cassandro” stars Gael García Bernal – a longtime ally who became a queer fan-favorite thanks to his work in films like “Y tu mamá también” and “Bad Education” – as the openly gay Armendáriz and tells the story of his rise to fame in direct defiance of the culturally reinforced homophobia that permeated the professional environment of his field. Set in the 1980s, it follows the future superstar from the early days of his career, tracing his steps as he forges a path to success as an exótico – a wrestler who assumes a flamboyant persona based in queer (and largely homophobic) stereotypes – while simultaneously rising above the stigma of his sexuality and his impoverished upbringing to become a pioneering force in LGBTQ+ acceptance within the deeply traditional Latino culture to which he belonged.

Like most biopics, it also focuses on the personal: much of the film’s first half is dominated by the relationship between Armendáriz and his mother, Yocasta (Perla De La Rosa), a professional “good-time girl” whose acceptance of his queer identity is absolute yet tempered by her fear for his well-being. There is also a long-running thread about his desire for approval from his father – a married man with a “legitimate” family in which he is decidedly not included – and the pattern in his personal life of repeating that same dynamic in romantic relationships with lovers like closeted big-name luchador “El Comandante” (Raúl Castillo) and an apparently fluid but firmly “on the DL” associate named Felipe (Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, aka Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny for those unfamiliar with his “real” name) who clearly meets more than just his need for a reliable supplier of cocaine – it is the ‘80s, after all – while maintaining a strict-if-not-quite-convincing “no homo” stance.

Ultimately, though, as presented by first-time narrative feature director Williams (who co-wrote the screenplay with David Teague after previously covering Armendáriz’ story in the 2016 documentary short “The Man Without a Mask”), “Cassandro” is driven by a narrative about overcoming and reclaiming the pejorative cultural tropes around queer sexuality and turning them on their ear as a means toward fully inhabiting queer identity. Blessed with a relatively supportive mother – a plainly-implied career sex worker who is depicted as much as a kindred spirit as she is a maternal figure – and comfortable enough in his own skin to flaunt his “deviance” in the public eye, the film’s version of Armendáriz moves through a clearly defined arc toward self-acceptance on his own terms.

Much of this is mirrored, of course, in the tale of his accelerated rise to stardom, in which he wins the hearts of lucha libre fans enough to subvert the accepted formula that the exótico is always the loser, and reinforced by the ways in which he responds to the various long-term relationships in his life – some nurturing, some toxic – as his career trajectory helps him to recognize his own worth. In this way, “Cassandro” becomes a true-life tale of queer affirmation, the saga of a person who overcomes hardline traditional expectations and deep-rooted social prejudice to use his own queer identity as an avenue to personal empowerment.

That, of course, is exactly what it sets out to be: it’s an unabashedly pro-queer narrative that brings the highest level of professional artistry into the mix, using it to convey that subtle blend of aloof observation and emotional engagement that can sometimes win viewers’ hearts and minds.

In recognition of that artistry, the foremost acknowledgement must go to Bernal, who turns in a career-highlight performance as both Armendáriz and his over-the-top titular alter-ego, which requires an impressive display of physicality in addition to keen emotional intelligence. The actor is more than capable on both fronts, and while it would frankly be nice to see one of our queer heroes portrayed in a mainstream film by an actual queer actor, it’s hard to complain when the actor is someone like Bernal, who finds within his own lived experience the authenticity to make it all ring true. Kudos are also deserved for both De La Rosa, who establishes an emotional core to the story that endures even after she leaves it, and openly-queer actor Roberta Colindrez as the trainer (and friend) that helps “Cassandro” conquer the world of professional lucha libre wrestling by literally flipping the script.

Still, though there is clearly a heartfelt desire to inspire behind the movie’s portrayal of its hero’s unlikely rise to glory, “Cassandro” doesn’t quite deliver the kind of unequivocal “feel-good” validation for which it aims. There’s something rote about the story as it’s told to us; Armendáriz’ success seems a foregone conclusion, and his personal struggles – though impeccably acted and depicted with sincerity – feel somehow manufactured for the sake of a desired emotional response. There’s a sense of “Hollywood” about the film’s approach, a deliberate framing of the material which makes this real-life success story seem much too easy, its subject’s struggles too much like tropes to deliver the kind of authentic satisfaction the movie clearly aims for. Built on familiar formula, it all feels a little too predictable to ring true – especially for a saga centered in such a messy, wild-and-wooly environment as professional lucha libre. Yes, it inspires, but much of that is accomplished by playing to sentiment, by what seems a deliberate effort toward building and reaffirming a legend rather than revealing the real human experience behind it, and many details of Armendariz’ real story are left out  – a suicide attempt, a struggle with substance abuse, even the origin of his iconic stage name as a tribute to a brothel-keeper of whom he was fond – that might have made for a less-sanitized and much more interesting story.

Such quibbles, however, are probably a moot point for most viewers; while “Cassandro” might feel a little too hollow to satisfy completely, it’s a polished, entertaining, and engaging film about a real-life figure that should – and does – carry a message of hope and transcendence for queer audiences.

Why would we ever complain about that?

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Celebrating sports history: DC Gay Flag Football’s 25th season

Head of District’s premier league says it’s ‘groovin’ to its silver anniversary



The DC Gay Flag Football’s 25th season is underway. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

What started when gay football fans got together in the 1990s to play their favorite sport is now a D.C. institution with 270 players in 20 teams spread over three fields, playing in both fall and spring. 

“Get off the bench,” shouts the slogan on the league’s website. “Get in the game!” 

The D.C. Gay Flag Football League turns 25 years old this month and is considered not only the premier league of its kind in the District, but is recognized across the country for its players, organization, and spirit.

“The way we run our league and the way we compete make us stand out relative to the rest,” DCGFFL Commissioner Logan Dawson told the Washington Blade. 

For those who don’t know flag football from any other kind, the difference is easy to spot: There’s no contact allowed. As the rules say, “That includes tackling, diving, blocking, and screening. Instead, players wear flags that hang along their sides by a belt. To ‘tackle’ the person in possession of the ball, the opposing team needs to pull one or both of their flags off.” There are a lot more rules, but that’s the one that really sets it apart from tackle football. 

The sport itself dates back to World War II and its origins have been traced to Fort Meade, Md. 

What’s the secret to the league’s longevity? “I think we attract and hold on to great athletes who are highly competitive, not only on the field, but also, in our professional and personal lives,” he said. Dawson, 32, plays flag football as well as manages the league. He’s currently single, but says his first love is the weather. 

“I knew in second grade that I wanted to be a meteorologist,” said Dawson, who moved to the District to be a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. 

A prolific swimmer since high school, he came out as he started grad school at Purdue University in Indiana in 2012. In an op-ed appearing in Outsports in 2014, Dawson wrote about competing in his first Gay Games in Cleveland along with a group of other gay swimmers from Colorado, and left that experience determined to join a gay sports league. 

He found it in the fall of 2018 in the DCGFFL, the same year the league’s Generals team won Gay Games XVIII. The league supports up to five travel teams, which take part in annual tournaments nationwide. It also hosts a summer tournament each year in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

“There’s a good amount of participation by people who played in the league from the very early days,” Dawson said. “I think we’re just in the sweet spot, where we have a lot of the original participants, a lot of new players, and we’re just kind of grooving right now.”

The first group gathered at Francis Field near Dupont Circle in 1994. Three years later, another group formed to play just steps from the Washington Monument Mall. They came together in 1998 to form what is now the DCGFFL. 

“For the majority of those seasons, we mainly had one division that played that was co-ed,” said Dawson. “This is our second season that we’ve had a Womens+ Division made up of [cisgender] women, trans and nonbinary individuals.” The Womens+ teams are called the Senators. 

Jayme Fuglesten is director of the Womens+ Division and has played in the league in most seasons since 2011.

“The DCGFFL has been a major part of my adult life,” she says. “I came out while playing in the league in no small part because of the love and support of this community.”

Why does she think the league has been such a success to have lasted 25 years?

“I think the league has been so successful because of its focus on inclusion and community,” she says. “I remember being so surprised in my early years when JJ and so many others would just come right up to me, hug me, and welcome me. And that really hasn’t changed in the 20+ seasons I’ve been around. It also continues to grow and respond to the needs and desires of our players. One example of that is the new Womens+ division, which gives an additional space for people who identify as womens+ to play and cultivate stronger relationships.”

DC Gay Flag Football plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a dance party and silent auction at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Next month, the DCGFF will send both Generals and Senators to Gay Bowl XXIII in Seattle. “That’s going to be the first time we’re going to have two Womens+ teams at the Gay Bowl,” Dawson told the Blade. “It’s reflective of the new generation of the league.” 

Earlier generations had trouble attracting new players. As the Blade reported in 2019, what had been a steady number of 20 to 22 teams dropped dramatically to 14, its lowest roster since 2011. The league’s leadership turned it around with new recruiting events, new sponsors, changes in their social event locations, changes to their player draft and a change of venue for league play beyond Carter Barron fields in Rock Creek Park in Northwest Washington. 

Brentwood Hamilton Park in Northeast Washington is now home to the recreation division and Randall Field south of the Capitol is the league’s third venue. 

Just like every facet of society, from coast to coast, what happened next hit the league hard. “COVID happened in spring of 2020,” recalled Dawson. “Everything shut down, and we did not play for what amounted to three full seasons for a year and a half.”

But once the world emerged from quarantine and lockdowns, flag football players started flocking to the DCGFFL. “We’ve had probably over 150 new players join our league in the last two years,” he said.

One thing is certain, said Dawson: Despite the name, not everyone who plays in the gay flag football league is LGBTQ+. 

“It’s a really great community. There’s a straight couple that’s married and will be soon having a child in the next month or so,” Dawson said. “They met playing in the league, just like we’ve had gay couples who meet in the league and eventually get married and have children.”

Prominent among the league’s many sponsors is the NFL hometown team, the Washington Commanders. “They are highly supportive of us, not just financially, but also publicly supporting what we are, and our mission,” Dawson said. 

This current NFL season is the first since 2021 without an out gay player on the gridiron. That’s when Carl Nassib became the first active pro football player to come out as gay. 

(Washington Blade file photo by Adam Hall)

While Dawson said, “I’m sure there are more out there” who have not yet come out, Nassib’s retirement makes this anniversary of the DCGFFL even more significant. 

“It’s unfortunate people still feel they cannot be out while they’re playing and doing what they love, but that’s the reason why something like the D.C. Gay Flag Football League is so important,” he said. “To show that there are gay and trans athletes who exist and love playing sports.”

The league plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a dance party and silent auction at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23 starting at 8 p.m. Check the website for ticket information.

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