When his golden-haired, blue-eyed brother Jimmy mysteriously died in Vietnam in 1975, gay filmmaker Peter McDowell was just a kid, growing up within his family’s “veil of silence.” As an adult, armed with a video camera, Peter embarks on a quest to uncover the possibly queer brother he never knew. Plotted like a terrific detective story, Jimmy in Saigon follows Peter’s search for the truth about the strikingly enigmatic Jimmy—a rebellious kid drafted into the war, who stunned his family by returning to Saigon after his tour of duty to enjoy “hedonistic pleasures.”
The film will screen at Frameline 46 San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival at the Castro Theatre June 19 at 1:15 p.m. It will be available for streaming online June 24 – 30. For tickets and more information go to www.frameline.org
Gaysonoma’s Gary Carnivele recently interviewed director Peter McDowell.
Gary Carnivele: Congratulations on the success of “Jimmy and Saigon” Peter.
Peter McDowell: Thank you.
GC: Tell us a bit about your education on professional background
PM: I’ve been interested in film my whole life. I made some short films as a kid and an ended up interested in opera. Then I got my degree in arts administration and arts management and I ended up working for a short time for the San Francisco Opera in the early 90s. Then I went into a big career in arts management in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. I made a few short films in San Francisco in the 90s that were in Frameline in ’94 and ’95. Then, I kind of let the filmmaking go for a while and it wasn’t until 2010 that I decided to take it up again with the with this project.
GC: Talk about your brother Jimmy and the impact his life and experiences had on you and your family.
PM: I’m originally from Champagne Urbana Illinois, the college town in the middle of Illinois about 2 1/2 hours south of Chicago. I’m the youngest of six children. Good Catholic family. Most of my siblings and I were born in the 50s and 60s. My brother Jimmy was the oldest in the family born in 1948. He was almost 20 years older than I and he died in 1972 when I was five years old. He was 24 when he died under somewhat mysterious circumstances in Saigon, Vietnam and of course I was just a little kid I remember when he died. I remember the terror and agony in my house when everybody found out. I’m not sure I was aware of who he was at that young age. I have some lovely pictures of the two of us together that prove that we definitely spent time together. I’m so sorry that I don’t really remember those times. I’ve always been very drawn in by history and wanted to know a lot more about Jimmy.
GC: In 2010, you decided to make the film. At the time did you see the structure of the film or did you just think I want to start investigating what happened and I’ll see if there’s a film there?
PM: The latter. I decided to just go for it. The task that I gave myself was to try to interview everybody that ever knew him, almost 40 years after he died. Other people I contacted were floored to hear from me because they hadn’t been in touch with anyone in our family at all since he died. So I set off just trying to talk to all these people as well as members of my family and I really thought at that point that I would be going to Vietnam right away. My goal was to go to Vietnam and try to see if I could walk in his footsteps and retrace his steps and also try to find some people that he knew/. It took me a good six years. I started in 2010 and it took me about six years to get to Vietnam.
GR: What surprised you most about Jimmy’s service in Vietnam, his decision to return soon after the end of the war, and his life after he return to Vietnam?
PM: I’m lucky that my brother left behind about 200 letters and he wrote tons of letters to my mom. My mom is the most fabulous pack rat who saves everything. Thank goodness she had his letters. One of my brother’s friends is a former librarian and stored in archived all of his letters from Jimmy. I have this sort of treasure trove of letters and I tried to piece together his life. A couple of things surprised me and it was very surprising to everybody that he went back as a civilian. He was in the army, did his duty and recieved an honorable discharge. Then within six months he decided to return to Vietnam, which was unheard of – nobody really did that at the time and then I noticed some inconsistencies of things that he was saying to some friends but not to others. Some things that he said my mother were actually not true and so I realized he was probably hiding something if he was making up some things
GC: Were you prepared for what you would find out in Vietnam or were you truly surprised?
PM: I really had no idea. I was looking for people that knew him and I didn’t know whether they would be alive or dead. I didn’t know if they would still be living there or know the answers to my questions. I cannot say publicly because you have to go see the film to find out whether they’re alive or dead or whether I found them or where they were. I didn’t necessarily know that much. I had some hunches and some suspicions. I came upon a major discovery in 2018 that changed everything and allowed me to finish the film.
GC: Talk about some of the people you did meet in Vietnam who you would like to talk about that won’t reveal too much about the film. There are some fascinating twists and turns.
PM: One of the things I found out about my brother is that he loved living there. Maybe I would love it too and it was very kind of heartwarming to me that that when I went for the first time. I went twice but when I went first time in 2016 I truly am almost immediately felt that love for the country and I found it very curious and hopeful and energetic and fun and really engaging. There’s a segment of the film where we see me going down this rabbit hole – little streets – to try to find anything. I met so many people who said come with me in an effort to help me on my quest. There were a lot of false starts. I eventually met a couple of Vietnamese women who are a combination of super strong women, who’ve been through a lot, very empathetic, very earthy and very intelligent. Many of the people I was coming across were people who lived in great poverty and without formal educations so I was really impressed by the level in which we communicated about deeply emotional things, about the level of emotional intelligence. Some of these people have been through unspeakable trauma of losing family members, losing children, losing their property, losing everything. Essentially the same between the late 60s until the early 90s was really just hell in Vietnam and I think people lived through so much and the people that survived and are still around today to talk about it have this real resilience that I admire. It’s remarkable that the Vietnamese are so resilient and so willing to forgive. You know most Americans who lived through the Vietnam war zone are traumatized by what happened so it’s just hard to fathom how these folks felt.
GC: Did you come to an understanding as to why Jimmy felt so safe going back to Vietnam?
PM: I think safety means different things to different people. I think he knew he was in danger physically because of the war but I think emotionally he felt kind of at home and comforted and protected by being in Vietnam. There’s a line in the film – it’s in one of his letters – where he writes: “I can’t stand the United States.” Jimmy was 24-years-old when he wrote this. Jimmy is going through a lot of angst. A lot of people were feeling at the time of the Vietnam war in the counterculture movement real frustration. I’m really fascinated by the fact that this is the 50- year anniversary my brother’s death. He died on June 6, 1972 exactly 50 years ago so it really gives us a moment to take a pause and look back and see what was happening 50 years ago and if I, a gay man, look back and see like what happened in the world over the last 50 years. Well, a lot of things didn’t happen until after Stonewall. The first pride marches kind of started around country in the 70s but it was the landmark American Psychiatric Association ruling that being LGBT was not a disease also in the 70s, so it was a really fertile time for a change. It was a time that I am I am deeply fascinated by.
GC: You’ve really been raking in the laurels at film festivals all around the world. What are some of the experiences where you were present and able to gauge the reaction of the audiences?
PM: Thank you. It’s been an incredible experience. Our world premiere was at the British Film Institute Flare Film Festival which started off as the London LGBTQ Film Festival. It was an absolutely rapturous experience, partially because I think that it was one of the first things to really come roaring out of the pandemic – not to say that we’re totally post-pandemic but in London in March we felt comfortable going out in public and feel comfortable going into theaters and so we had a screenings at the BFI Southbank space in London. I haven’t been to London in 14 years and I was blown away by the kindness and the warmth of the British audiences. People came up to me afterwards to talk about the film people lit up my Twitter account account and was added as part of their best so London was just an exceptional experience. From there we went to Miami and had a great time in Miami at the Outshine Film Festival estival there to the lovers phone customer which is apparently the oldest festival festival Europe and I was in Torino Italy for the week and we ended up winning the top award
GC: That’s really impressive! You have attended Frameline with two short film, but this is your first full-length film at the world’s biggest LGBT+ film festival. How excited were you to learn that “Jimmy in Saigon” would be screened there this year.
PM: I was over the moon! San Francisco is my home away from home. I currently live in LA but I lived in San Francisco twice. I lived there in the mid 90s. I worked at San Francisco Opera and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. I’m really fond of the city. I also came back briefly in the 2000s and lived in Berkeley which I also love so it’s really important for me to be able to showcase the film in the city where I have so many friends and I have so much love. The Castro Theatre just takes the cake for me. The film has been screened in a lot of 100-seat theaters around the world, which is great and I love them for that nice intimacy but this will be the first time in a huge theater. The Castro has 1400 seats, so it will be great to see how it looks in and sounds in the historic theatre.
GC: What’s the date and time of the of the screening?
PM: It’s on Sunday, June 19 at 1:15 p.m., which is Father’s Day and Juneteenth which is you know not really related to my film but it’s a day of celebration and healing and I hope people can come out to see a film that is also both a celebration and ultimately healing.
GC: Tell us about your family members’ reaction when you informed them of your decision to make the film and then what their reaction was when they first saw the film?
PM: The genre of documentaries that I made it’s called personal documentary it’s considered an unique art form because the filmmaker will put themselves in the phone because they know the audience wants to know the experience of what’s happening. 12 years ago, I went to my mom and I said I want to do this project, I want to use the letters you wrote and received. It’s an oral history of my family. I said I wanted to interview everybody whoever knew my brother and my mom was on board with that. She gave me a lot of names of people. I bought a camera and sound equipment, using my last couple bucks. I started interviewing everybody that I could, including everybody in my family. My mom has been incredibly participatory in the film. I interviewed her many times. She doesn’t want to see the film. She made a security line in the sand. Jimmy was her first child and she is still really broken up about the fact that he died at age 24, so she can’t bring herself to see it. She sort of apologized to me profusely for that. I don’t want it to reflect on her love for me or my film and I totally get it. I totally appreciate it. One of my brothers is hesitant to see it, but he might come around. My other brother, John, is actively involved in the film as the film’s composer. He wrote the soundtrack to the film. We worked on it every day for a year, so he’s seen it many times. My sister and I attended the Sonoma International Film Festival where “Jimmy in Saigon” was screened. My other sister who’s seen an early version of it but hasn’t seen the finished film yet. My family is super supportive and happy about it. There’s a little bit of the film about some of their initial resistance and when I revealed that it wasn’t just a history project but rather a work of art that I would like to share with the public. That took a little bit of adjusting to realize that your family stories would be out there and Jimmy’s story would be really, really out there.
GC: What are you hoping audiences take away from “Jimmy in Saigon?”
PM: I would say that I created this first and foremost as a cinematic therapeutic device for my family. People asked me did I get the closure or the healing that I hoped for and I say I don’t really believe in closure. I mean, no death is something that’s come to some sort of acceptance but it’s really hard to come to closure. I will say that I do think that our family has whether it’s related to the summer not I think our film families come closer together. A lot of audience members are really touched because they had a type of trauma in their family. I recently met some people that were in tears when I just told him about the story of the film and they said my uncle or my nephew sexuality or drug abuse or you know you’re right all these things that are really sad and deep and close to our hearts and most families haven’t I think people are really reacting to that. I even know a couple of men who had lovers in other countries where they had done it had difficulty with him being able to legally continue the relationship and they had tears in their eyes as well so I think it affects a lot of different people and I’m really pleased with
GC: In your documentary you touch on a good number of universal themes that many people can relate to. Most everyone’s lost a family member, many people have family members or close friends who had to fight wars. Obviously, this is a well thought out documentary, but were all these themes you set out in the beginning to explore or did you find yourself going down roads while making the film that you didn’t see that you would be going down?
PM: Yes, I did. I think mostly the roads that I didn’t see it going down were there the roads of contextualization meaning like I thought I was just going to tell Jimmy’s story from beginning to end or my story and making the phone but we realize we were putting it together that we needed to contextualize the story because I’m 54 and a lot of people in their 20s 30s maybe 40s and some teenagers they don’t really I know what the Vietnam War was like what the political climate was like in the 60s and 70s they may not have known how it was for gay people and even in the 80s which I talk about my coming out so you know a lot of them are sort of contextualization and laying out of history not only you know you are some world history but also my family and my purse Understand it and that was that was not something I anticipated but I think it’s something that works well.
GC: What future film festivals will include “Jimmy in Saigon?”
PM: We just announced three more film festivals in kind of smaller but important cites were going to be in Bentonville Arkansas which is a film festival that’s run by Gina Davis and Sandra Bullock so that’s exciting in the sort of new arts hub in Arkansas. We’re going to be in Des Moines Iowa on June 24 and then will be in Nyack New York, which is just outside of New York City, on August 15. There’s a bunch more screenings in the US and abroad on our website: saigon.com. There’s a place for people to sign up for emails so that they can learn about upcoming screenings and any word on a distribution. We’d love to get it out as a theatrical release so that it could be in some art houses around the country. We’d love to get it on PBS in this country as well as educational TV in other countries and I know eventually it will be available for streaming. That doesn’t usually come at the beginning of a film’s lifecycle. Frameline is offering a limited number of tickets for a limited number of days to see it on their streaming format.
GC: I know you’re in the midst of promoting “Jimmy in Saigon,” but have you started to think about what your next project will be?
PM: I’m not ready to rush back into another film project. I’m kind of like a parent that is just getting settled into parenthood. I do love documentaries and I love music and I’d love to make a music documentary, maybe multiple music documentaries. It was brought to my attention that “Jimmy in Saigon” is 70% music and I thought that was very touching as my brother Jimmy loved music. There’s a band that I love that I would love to make a documentary called The Roches. Love to throw my hat in the ring to make that documentary.
GC: I love the Roaches! Such a great band. I’ll be looking for that, fo sure. Thank you so much for joining us tonight Peter and best of luck with “Jimmy and Saigon” and all your future projects. Please come back when the next film is released.
PM: Thank you, Gary, I really enjoyed talking to you.
In June of 2016, 49 lives were tragically taken during a mass shooting on Latin Night at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. One of the survivors of that night is Jeannette Filiciano, a lesbian single mother struggling to come to terms with a tragedy for which no one will ultimately be held accountable.
Between raising her teenage son, fighting with her mom around whether homosexuality is a sin, rigorous training as she tries to go pro as a competitive bodybuilder and, a little over a year later, dealing with Hurricane Maria’s effects on her family in Puerto Rico, Jeanette’s consistent, encouraging smile and motivational attitude can only hold out for so long.
Director Maris Curran’s realistic portrait of survival—full of unglamorous perseverance and routine setbacks, losses, and triumphs—illustrates that life keeps moving, never allowing for the time to truly process trauma. But in Jeannette, we are shown how building up one’s body can also assist with healing the mind and uplifting the spirit.
“Jeannette” will be screened June 17 at 1:30 PM at the Castro Theatre and will stream online June 4 — June 30. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to www.frameline.org.
Gary Carnivele: I want to congratulate both of you on the success of “Jeanette.” It’s a beautiful film. Thank you for bringing this really important story to audiences everywhere. Jeanette, you’re an amazing woman and thank you so much for opening up your life
Please, tell us a bit about your background.
Jeanette Feliciano: I am community organizer. I am mother. I am the world champion Beachbody right now. I am a professional personal trainer. I motivate people through our personal training
Maris Curran: I am a filmmaker and I live in Los Angeles, where I work in both documentary and fiction films and I’m also a mother.
GC: Why did you make this film about Jeanette’s life?
MC: I met Jeanette while working on an anti-discrimination campaign in the wake of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. “Jeanette” is a film that I didn’t plan to make but became inspired to make. I think that upon meeting we discovered parts of ourselves reflected onto the each other which allowed this really beautiful opening up of places where we’re similar. It gave us a chance to create a really trusting relationship that allow the space to really go into what happens when the cameras go away – a place that I think we actually exist. We were really concentrate on the need to really open up conversations about how this impacted the entire community. I think that Jeanette also knows she’s a modern day superhero. I think that seeing examples of not only her resilience and her determination but her vulnerability. Watching somebody like Jeanette and her mom expressing their unconditional love. Not all mothers are alike. Here we are watching this unbelievable woman push a huge heavy truck tire and then come home and be everything to her teenage son.
GC: What was it like opening up your life and in such an intimate and detailed manner?
JF: It was something that we discussed initially. We live in a society that we look at women of color in a ceratin way. Here we have an American white woman right who wants to know about my life. I’m wondering why cry because we put all these barriers We took the colors out we took that out because we realize that we are human we all bleed the same color that helping set the timer on for me being able to be vulnerable. People don’t necessarily see my vulnerability. They don’t understand what my healing process is because I had to go right back into this world. I’ve come to realize the importance and the beauty in vulnerability and being able to connect again as human beings.
MC: This film is really not just about you but I truly feel that this documentary is made for the purpose of you seeing yourself in the spirit and understanding the importance of healing – the importance of being able to be human and vulnerable with others who are actually around you. There is beauty in that and there’s a lot of healing in that mirror.
GC: Marris, you tackle so many issues in this film – both intense and joyous – as Jeanette just mentioned. What struck you most on an emotional level about Jeanette and her experience?
MC: I think the biggest surprise that I found in making the film is that family ended up being at the forefront. I knew that Jeanette was a mother and I knew that she had been struggling with her relationship with her own mother but I didn’t realize that that would form the emotional core of the film. What life brings right in the rhythms of them is of one of the essential questions that I asked going into the film. After such trauma, how does one ever feel safe again. How does Jeanette make Anthony understand what happened to her? It was just a beautiful surprise to discover the answer to her life was through her dedication to her family, through letting go and letting herself be mothered by her mother. I think that that was really very touching to have such a lovely support group. Many of those folks are in the film.
GC: What was the reaction of your family and friends when you told them about your decision to put your life out there on film?
JF: I don’t think that it really clicked but most everyone wanted to offer their support. The community obviously rallied behind what I was doing as a trainer and somebody who continues to live life and help others. Everything just turned out beautifully. You see the support system that I do have here in Orlando and it’s something that I’ve always had even prior to Pulse. Even during my bodybuilding training, the importance of healing that I’ve unfortunately been through a lot. You are able to see that I am still connected to and still very close to all of those individuals. We are even tighter than before and they have expanded in their helping and healing others. I just think that it is phenomenal that we’ve come this far and the growth of so many people who actually a part of the filming and the sense of how our minds have changed as well with making sure that we actually care and connect with people again especially in this world that is just run by nothing but social media people have disconnected besides being on their phone people forgot to communicate but you know with with me and my friends and my family we know how to put that aside and actually enjoy the company for around us and we really talk about how is it that we can all heal individually and together
GC: Maris, you capture such intimate moments of Jeanette’s life and her interaction with her friends and family. Talk about it how much footage you shot, how long the shoot was and how difficult editing it down was?
MC: When Jeanette introduced me to the people in her life, I was accepted and welcomed and could feel this love that they have for Jeanette my extension which and you know it didn’t you know and when I would Allowed for that on the phone took five years to me right before and the editing process and it took a while because we’re not telling the story and it’s not really about and I think that it was really important to me that I felt the truth to her like that emotional in a way where the audience could have enter into Stop and keep working and then you get more money and I had it really interesting experience of where I work with is incredible and I can’t even believe that never met in person where we cut it in like the last leg amazing art of getting the film is a beautiful soul and I would get up at five in the morning it was beautiful and I think you’re really in a very strange way the circumstances of the world hired to help us finish the film because you know how they been Pre-pandemic times I would’ve said well you know he’s a zero and I’m in Los Angeles and we can’t afford to find them here and I can’t just go there and yes you know
GC: Jeanette, in the documentary you travel to Puerto Rico to help your family after the devastating hurricane. Can you give me an update about your family in Puerto Rico?
JF: I was just there to help in any way I could. I bought and hooked up a generator and had to find food. There are a lot of things that happened in Puerto Rico even before the hurricane. I wanted to be there for my sister, but also to help the community of Puerto Rico. I was knocking on doors to check on people – to make sure they had they’re basic needs met. I went back to my island to do my part I spoke to my sister last night we were on the phone for two hours and they’re doing great. I love the bond that my mom and my sister have created within the past year. My sister is able to talk to my mom and ask for advice and ask for counsel. Finally get it I think it’s just so important you know my mom is doing great she’s always come here and she’s always hanging out with my partner. Now everything, thank God, is absolutely amazing. When it comes to my family and my family bonding, I just wanted to continue to support everyone and for everyone to express the love I know is there. That’s why I am the way that I am with Anthony. He is my world and I make sure that he knows how much I love him because I did’t always have that. I have it now but it’s so important for our children to have that. For us to break the cycle. Everything that we do in life should be led by love first and foremost because that is something that every human being
GC: Maris, what was it like when “Jeanette” was accepted into Frameline
MC: Wonderful! can’t wait to share the phone with dad he will text them and I hope that the film opens up some of those doors so that people are able to talk about things that sometimes they would rather not talk about but that can be really nice now that you’re not we will you be here in San Francisco unfortunately I will not be there I think we’re going to probably be doing a Q&A through Zoom after the “Jeanette” is shown at Frameline.
GC: What are you both up to now?
MC: I’m working on a new film here in Los Angeles that’s about a justice program and how it works. I have a little baby who I just brought into the world. I’m traveling around with “Jeanette,” and couldn’t ask for anything more than that.
JF: My son Anthony is getting ready to go to college. My partner has moved in with her son so I have an eight-year -old right so I need to make sure that I’m reading that he’s showing love to each and every person the same way that I believe Anthony is. I’m currently the world champion in my catgegory so I will be competing this coming November, which keeps me very busy. I just want people to have a sense of being seen and being able to see themselves.
GC: Thank you both for making this beautiful film. Best of luck with reaching as wide an audience as possible. Please come back whenever you’ve got something else in the works. Happy Pride!
Maybe Someday will have its first in-person screening at the Frameline Film Festival June 24th at the Castro Theatre. An LGBTQ feature film highlighting different aspects of love and heartbreak, Maybe Someday is a nostalgic and moving journey written and directed by Michelle Ehlen. The film is Ehlen’s fifth feature and first dramedy, her prior films most notably being the first lesbian comedy trilogy – Butch Jamie, Heterosexual Jill, and S&M Sally. Maybe Someday stars Ehlen along with Shaela Cook from Heterosexual Jill and S&M Sally, and Charlie Steers.
The story follows the character of Jay (Ehlen), a non-binary photographer in her 40s, battling a mixture of denial and depression as she attempts to move across the country in the midst of separating from her wife (Jeneen Robinson). Along the way, she takes a detour to stay with her high school best friend (Cook) who Jay used to be secretly in love with before she came out as a lesbian, and befriends a charismatic but complicated gay man (Steers) who has long given up on love. Struggling to move forward with the next chapter of her life, memories of the past resurface as Jay grapples with the inevitable cycles of love, loss, and letting go.
Ehlen’s past films have collectively screened at over 100 festivals around the world and have won 20 awards including Best Feature from the Chicago LGBTQ Film Festival, Best Director from the Connecticut LGBTQ Film Festival, and Best Actress from Outfest Los Angeles for her first starring role in Butch Jamie. The films have gone on to wide releases on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon.
In addition to Frameline 46 hosting an in-person festival, this year there will be a virtual Streaming Encore, where Maybe Someday will be available to watch nationally June 24-30.
Gaysonoma’s Gary Carnivele interviewed Maybe Someday’s director Michelle Ehlen recently.
Gary Carnivele: Tell us a bit about your educational and professional background.
Michelle Ehlen: I studied acting and video production when I was younger and while at Smith College, then moved to Los Angeles after graduation to work as an editor. After a couple of years, I decided to go to the LA Film School to study writing and directing. Eventually I got a job at a production and distribution company where I learned how to produce along with everything that happens after you make a film – marketing, contracts, and distribution. So I have experience in all parts of the process, and I love to wear a lot of different hats when I make a film.
GC: What directors would you cite as heroes or as inspirational?
ME: Christopher Guest was a big inspiration to me when I was getting started. After I saw “Best in Show” 20 years ago, I was inspired to try comedy for the first time, leading to my first short film “Ballet Diesel”, which screened at Frameline in 2003. My first four features were all comedies as well, and I think it all traced back to watching “Best in Show” and feeling like I could approach comedy in a similar way, with a deadpan and grounded style of humor and quirky characters.
GC: Maybe Someday is your fifth feature film. Do you see your latest as an extension of your previous work or as a stand alone?
ME: I definitely see “Maybe Someday” as a standalone. It’s a lot more serious than the other films, which leads to a more nuanced and layered approach in the writing, directing, and cinematography. People love to say that comedy is harder than drama, but in my case, doing something dramatic was definitely more challenging. With a comedy, if you can keep people laughing then you feel like you’ve done your job, but for a film like this, you have to engage the audience emotionally in a deeper way. You want the character to elicit empathy but not be too pathetic, the plotto be realistic but not boring, the drama to be compelling but not over-the-top, and the themes clearly communicated but not trite. It’s also a lot easier to shoot a microbudget film as a comedy, as it’s generally quicker to shoot; we had twice as many shoot days as my last comedy feature,”S&M Sally”, and it still felt like we were rushed with having 17 days.
GC: Your ambitious lesbian comedy triology – Butch Jamie, Heterosexual Jill, and S&M Sally – was a success and a first. How tough was it for you to come up with a new idea for your next feature?
WE: The idea came to me over time, first as an idea of focusing on a friendship story between a gay man and a lesbian, and then branching out more to delve into heartbreak and unrequited love in both the past and present. The most challenging part was writing the script after I had the idea formulated, as I wanted to tell the story about a protagonist who was stuck in her life. It’s a very universal experience, of a relationship ending and trying to not only heal from the heartbreak but to decide where to go from here. However, it’s not something that’s often depicted in movies because it’s difficult to write a story about a character who’s stuck. So finding a way to keep the story moving forward while Jay was stuck in her own life was challenging. That’s where Tommy’s character comes in (Jay’s new gay best friend) – he ends up being the active voice for a lot of it.
GC: Just how personal is this film for you?
ME: The film is personal in that the main relationships that are depicted are based on real relationships I’ve had, but the plot itself is mostly fictional. When my partner and I separated many years ago, I also moved from the east coast to the west coast in an attempt to start a new life, but the ways that I was stuck following my separation and the ways that Jay is stuck looked very different. I was actually on the festival circuit that year with my first feature “Butch Jamie,” and so many wonderful things happened during what was otherwise one of the most difficult times of my life.Even though our underlying emotional experiences are similar, Jay’s journey is more clear, concise, and relatable on screen.
GC: Maybe Someday is a delightful and poignant dramady. Talk about your writing process
I’m glad you enjoyed it. It took a while to write, about three years off and on to really find the story. The film is supposed to take place somewhere in the middle of the country, partly in the fall. My family lives in southern Missouri, so when I was first starting to write the script, I’d go explore the area, road trip down to Arkansas by myself during the fall and call it my “autumn inspiration trip,” as a way to find inspiration for the story and to get a sense of the landscape and vibe. I also think exploring that area gave me a sense of passion and excitement for the film that I was able to maintain throughout the process.
Aside from that, I tried to tap in to a more emotional space when I wrote, so I played certain music that was nostalgic for me, or would write by candlelight. After I had a solid draft, I’d send it to colleagues for feedback, and toward the end of the process we did a couple of readings where we would discuss the script afterward as well.
GC: Your dialogue is always spot on. Tell us about the characters created and how you give them voice.
ME: That’s great to hear. I really enjoy writing dialogue and feel like it comes to me easier than many other parts of the writing process. In earlier drafts of the script, there was a lot of dialogue that I had to pare down because it was too “on the nose,” or patronizing, or tangential. When I start writing, oftentimes I’ll start with a theme – in this case, moving forward after heartbreak, and then come up with the characters and plot to help support that theme, and the dialogue flows from there. I sort of act out the characters in my head and feel their energy and way of speaking. For Jess’ role in the story, helping Jay move forward after heartbreak, she was supposed to be wise and kind, but not too patronizing. Tommy also helped Jay move forward but unknowingly, so he was brash and enthusiastic enough to coax Jay into his ideas and plans, helping her out of her shell and out of her head. Jay’s character was stuck and withdrawn, so her dialogue was shorter and to the point, but flowed more after her character opened up more. I think creating distinct personalities for each character not only creates a compelling story, but also lays the foundation for creating unique voices for each of their dialogue as well.
GC: During the writing process did surprises arise that you never saw coming?
ME: I didn’t foresee adding flashbacks to the script, which turned out to be some of the most important and rewarding scenes. The first draft of the script took place entirely in present day, and most of that draft focused on the unfolding friendship of Jay and Tommy and how Jay attempts to move forward after her separation with Lily. However, my producer commented that Jay’s relationship with Lily and her past with Jess were as equally important to the emotional life of the story, and suggested we flesh things out with flashbacks. And I’m so glad we did – it opened up the story tremendously, and it added a lot of emotional subtext to the present day scenes as well. When you take screenwriting classes, they constantly tell you not to use flashbacks which is a shame because many great movies do. It’s just that a lot of beginning writers use them as a crutch. So I avoided them for many years but in this case felt that they were done intentionally and for all the right reasons.
GC: Maybe Someday is full of wonderful performances – yours included, of course. Tell me about your cast and how as a director you elicit great performances.
ME: Thank you – I felt really lucky to find such a wonderful cast for this project. I worked with Shaela Cook, who played Jess, in a couple of my other films, and the other actors we all found through an open audition process, including my co-star Charlie Steers who played Tommy. Tommy was one of the more challenging roles to cast since he’s such a complex character, and we magically found someone who felt as though the part was written for him. In terms of getting great performances, I think the casting process is a big part of it, and prioritizing the acting first and foremost in an audition helps set us off on the right foot. Beyond that, I meet with the actors to discuss the scenes so they understand the character, backstory, and subtext, but I don’t like to over-rehearse the scenes themselves, so there’s still a freshness and spontaneity to it. On set, I’m generally open to spontaneity and even improvisation of some moments as well. For the two actors who played younger versions of Jay and Jess in the film, Eliza Blair and Cameron Norman, they had the added benefit of being able to watch some of the footage we had already shot with their older counterparts. People have told me they see so much of my mannerisms and facial expressions as Jay in Eliza’s performance – it was really remarkable how Eliza was able to incorporate all of that but still make the part their own. All in all, I think the cast as a whole found parts of themselves in the characters they were playing, and that always makes a big difference.
GC: How do you go about simultaneously acting in and directing a film?
ME: I think a lot of my acting prep happens simultaneously to the writing process, so I feel like I’m embodying the character as I’m creating the story, writing the dialogue, and deciding on the choices they’d make. So by the time we start shooting, the main thing for me as an actor, other than connecting with my scene partner, is maintaining focus and switching focus back and forth quickly from director mind to actor mind so they can complement each other but not undermine each other. We would sometimes watch playback on set, but that was more for me to see how the shot played out as opposed to assessing the performance, which is more of an intuitive process.
GC: What do you hope audiences take away from Maybe Someday?
ME: I hope they see how sometimes we prolong our own grief. That we need to be active participants in our healing process, and that moving on can be difficult and scary but refusing to do so delays the inevitable. The one thing I wish I would have learned many years ago – to let go sooner, and more gracefully.
GC: You’re practically a regular at Frameline. What does it feel like having your films shown as part of Frameline46?
ME: I love screening at Frameline. It was the first festival I attended with my first short film back in 2003, which screened in their Fun Shorts collection at the Castro, and the audience was so receptive that it encouraged me to keep going. When I screened there in 2008 with “Butch Jamie”, I had already spent a year touring around various festivals with it, but the Frameline screening of the film is still to date the best screening I’ve ever had in terms of how engaged the audience was. After that experience, I made a point to put Frameline toward the beginning of my festival run instead of toward the end. I find the audience there to be very enthusiastic and passionate about queer film, and it’s always a joy to attend.
GC: Will you be at the Frameline screening and how valuable it is to get quick feedback from an audience?
ME: Yes, I plan to be there with my producer David Au and co-producer Hayden Harris. It’ll be our first in-person screening, and the test screenings we did for feedback during the editing process were remote because of Covid, so I’m looking forward to seeing it with an audience. The feedback you get from a live audience is always really valuable – I love doing the Q&As and hearing their questions and comments, and the best parts are when they laugh or respond to something during the screening in a way you didn’t foresee. It allows you for a moment to experience vicariously what it’s like watching the movie for the first time. The funny thing about creating a film from the ground up is you never get to watch the final movie for the first time – it’s always in process and when it’s finished, there are no longer any surprises. It’s very elusive that way; you know the movie inside out except for that one crucial part – how it feels to discover it not over years, but over minutes.
GC: What are you working on now?
ME: Right now I’m in pre-production on a documentary with my partner Hayden Harris called “Queering the Binary,” which is a large-scale research project and docuseries about non-binary identities and experiences. Hayden and I are both non-binary and would love to see more content about the community, so we’re excited to start shooting in a couple of months.
GC: What advice would you offer budding filmmakers?
ME: Learn as much as you can, create something meaningful to you and not what you think people will want to see, make things happen for yourself instead of waiting for approval or permission, not burning yourself out should be one of your highest priorities, and question all advice you are given.
Set in Santiago’s vibrant Ñuñoa district, Phantom Project is a breezy, whimsical confection about an aspiring thirtysomething actor named Pablo (a magnetic Juan Cano). Tired of taking gigs role-playing ailments at the local medical school, Pablo longs for his big artistic break. When his roommate moves out without warning, a curious, mischievous presence appears to take up residence in Pablo’s flat, complicating his attempts to fill the empty bedroom.
Through bittersweet hang-outs with his semi-famous YouTuber ex, afternoon cocktails with the girls, and herbal cleansing sessions with the local botanical healer, Phantom Project paints a lively tapestry of young LGBTQ+ culture in Chile. Witnessing relationships—new and old, human or otherwise—deepen just as others drift away, Pablo inches closer toward a harmonious balance that his life seems to have lacked in the past. With warm humor and an inventive spirit, writer-director Roberto Doveris (Las plantas) captures a critical juncture in life of a sensitive millennial, that moment of dizzying rebirth after the dust from one’s Saturn return has settled.
The film screens at the Castro Theatre JUNE 17, 2022 3:30 PM — 5:11 PM
Streams online JUNE 24, 2022 12:01 AM — JUNE 30, 2022 11:59 PM
With a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor, writer-director-star Fábio Leal navigates the sometimes steamy, other times awkward tribulations of sexual connection amid a global pandemic. For his narrative feature debut, Leal returns to the neurotic comedy and uninhibited sex that made his shorts Renovation(Frameline43) and The Daytime Doorman so memorable and unique.
When his boyfriend announces he’s no longer bisexual and dumps him via Zoom at the height of lockdown, lonesome bear Francisco (Leal) is left with a lot to grapple with—including being nicknamed “the COVID police” by his friends after routinely canceling them on social media for not following health guidelines. But Francisco’s desperate forays into meditation, Jane Fonda’s workout tapes, indoor plants, and trashy movies from his youth don’t change the fact that he’s horny and desperately wants to have sex… but only if he finds someone as militant with all the safety protocol for COVID-19 as he is. But even then, can Francisco lower his guard (if not his mask) long enough to make a connection?
This film screens JUNE 16, 2022 9:30 PM — 10:49 PM at the Castro Theatre
Streams Online JUNE 24, 2022 12:01 AM — JUNE 30, 2022 11:59 PM
Cristi’s out of town visitor Hadi is a German-Turkish flight attendant so handsome that he can’t wait to get him to his apartment. The elevator will do.
But when his sister drops by, she chides her brother for not taking Hadi out, showing him the Romanian sights. She echoes Hadi’s own hopes that they’d “take a drive” to “the mountains.” Nothing doing.
Cristi hasn’t even taken time off work. On the job, in this Eastern Orthodox, conservative and homophobic country, no one can know about his private life. Cristi (Conrad Mericoffer) is a cop and any public displays of his sexuality could be a career killer, at the very least.
“Poppy Field” is a Romanian drama about the state of gay life in that still-backward country, decades after the end of its totalitarian dictatorship. Eugen Jebeleanu’s brief, intimate film sees Cristi challenged at home — by Hadi (Radouan Leflahi), who frets over his closeted status, and by sister Catalina (Cendana Trifan), who berates him for not treating his lover with more respect, even if she’s sure this is just serial-dater Cristi’s “gay phase.” On the job, Cristi keeps as much to himself as his fellow Jandarmeria (police) allow. He talks of women he’s dated in the past tense, and stays silent when he’s jokingly asked if he “beats them,” perhaps a logical Romanian reason for relationships that never seem to last.
But things come to a head when he and his team are sent to break up a disturbance at the state cinema. A group of noisy, icon-wielding Orthodox protesters have disrupted a screening of a lesbian romance. In the film’s long middle act, Cristi must stand passively by as furious fanatics hurl slurs at the audience, get in the paying patrons’ and cops’ faces in a situation that isn’t helped by police presence.
Because when the cops start asking for IDs, it’s the folks who bought tickets to the movie that they seem to want to interrogate. And a guy in that audience may be discrete, but when nobody else is watching, he turns insistent.
“You’re really gonna pretend you don’t know me (in Romanian, with English subtitles)?”
Jebeleanu keeps his ambitions modest in his debut feature film. This is one man’s often-ignoble reaction to having to deny himself to half the people he knows — his colleagues. Cristi lashes out and “overcompensates,” and that only makes matters worse.
The script (by Ioana Moraru) is more concerned with introducing Cristi’s dilemma and putting him through this harrowing test than in resolving his situation — publicly or psychologically.
Mericoffer keeps this interior journey on simmer for most of the film, only exploding in his “protests too much” reaction to being confronted with some version of his true self. It’s a compact, tightly-wound performance, which suits the film beautifully.
By Western standards, “Poppy Field” may feel as dated as one protestor’s hurled insult — “Sexo-MARXIST!” But in showing Romania’s version of what the West went through decades ago in terms of simple tolerance, there’s an implied “Let’s not go back there” message to increasingly reactionary Europe and America’s reddest states that feels fraught, if not downright wearying. Maybe “It gets better,” but not without making hard, brave choices.
“Frameline—the world’s longest–running and largest showcase of queer cinema—announced Frameline46: The San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival, taking place June 16–26, 2022.
“With this year’s theme, ‘The Coast is Queer,’ Frameline46 will expand its footprint with screenings taking place in-person at a record number of theaters and venues throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, including the Castro Theatre, Roxie Theater, SFMOMA, and AMC Kabuki in San Francisco; the New Parkway Theater and Landmark’s Piedmont Theatre in Oakland; and more.
“Tickets for Frameline46 will go on sale to the general public beginning Wednesday, May 25, 2022. For more information, visit www.frameline.org.
“Highlights of Frameline46 include:
- Over 90 films spanning narratives, documentaries, and shorts, and representing more than 30 countries, including Brazil, Norway, Georgia, Australia, Chile, and more!
- A national Streaming Encore available to cinephiles anywhere in the United States from June 24–30, 2022.
- Frameline Talks, a curated series of live panels and thought-provoking Q&As with filmmakers, celebrity guests, and community personalities.
- A glittering Opening Night Gala featuring a silence auction and Centerpiece Party!
- Frameline Awards, including First Feature Award and Audience Awards. This year, Frameline is adding awards for Best Narrative Short and Best Documentary Short, as well as presenting the inaugural Out of the Silence Award which will be given to a film that highlights brave acts of visibility.
- A vibrant new website to improve the Frameline46 experience.
Bollywood filmmaker wanted to tell gay soldier’s story – but India’s government say that’s ‘illegal’
A gay Bollywood’s director has blasted the Indian government’s decision to ban his film about a gay army officer.
Onir, born Anirban Dhar, is best known for Mr Brother…Nikhil, one of the first mainstream Hindi films to explore HIV and same-sex relationships.
Inspired by the real-life story of gay retired army officer Major J Suresh, who quit the forces over his sexuality, the filmmaker has proposed the film We Are.
But India’s Ministry of Defence has allegedly blocked his efforts over its “illegal” depiction of queer soldiers, given that LGBT+ personnel cannot serve openly in India’s armed forces, NDTV reported.
For Onir, the government has exploited a requirement introduced two years ago that demands filmmakers to be granted clearance from the defence ministry to produce films concerning the armed forces.
Indian filmmaker just wanted to tell story of a ‘gay soldier who falls in love’
He told The Independent that the government did not award his script a No Objection Certificate, having applied in December.
“Which itself is problematic,” Onir told the British newspaper, “because India has a film-certification board that should be doing this work.”
Onir received a terse email from the government agency after sending the script for approval, he claimed.
“I wanted to do something which celebrated it while also highlighting the way forward in terms of securing civil rights and changing societal perceptions [of the queer community],” the 52-year-old said.
We Are, the forthcoming sequel to Onir’s 2010 movie, I Am, is to be an anthology film of our queer romances that commemorates the Supreme Court’s milestone 2018 verdict that, at long last, decriminalised homosexuality.
Among the four stories was Suresh, who first wrote on his weblog, Personal Blog of an Out & Proud Indian Major, in 2020, about the struggles he faced when “reconciling the military/ex-military part and the gay part” of his life.
He had long felt that the two “can’t/don’t fit together”.
“But I have slowly realized that this was an absolutely unwarranted struggle that I had subjected myself to – probably driven by lower social acceptance levels in India,” he added.
Suresh’s story, Onir said, was “interesting” and inspired the “fictional” retelling.
“I wrote about a gay army man who falls in love,” Onir explained, “realises he can’t express his love openly while serving in the army, quits and finally reaches out to his lover.
“I don’t even get into any discourse of whether it’s right or wrong.”
PinkNews reached out to the Ministry of Defence for comment.
Actor Ariana DeBose has made history as the first Afro Latina and first openly queer woman of color to win an Academy Award for acting.
“Imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus. When you look into her eyes, you see an openly queer woman of color, an Afro Latina, who found her strength in life through art. And that’s what I believe we’re here to celebrate,” DeBose said in her acceptance speech.
“So to anybody who’s ever questioned your identity ever, ever, ever or you find yourself living in the gray spaces, I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us,” she added.
Set in the 1950s, “West Side Story” centers on the rivalry between two teenage street gangs — the Jets, a white gang, and the Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang — as their communities faced displacement during New York City’s urban renewal period. Their rivalry intensifies when Tony, a Jet, falls in love with Maria, the young sister of Sharks leader Bernardo.
Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend and Maria’s friend, is Puerto Rican like the rest of the Sharks. She stands out for her assertiveness and captivating dance skills.
DeBose, a triple-threat performer of Puerto Rican descent, shows off her versatile skills in “America” — leading an epic ensemble around the streets of New York’s San Juan Hill in the iconic musical number.
Her performance then takes a poignant turn in the intensely emotional number “A Boy Like That” alongside Rachel Zegler, who plays Maria, the lead female character, in the film.
“Ultimately what you see on the screen is such a beautiful exploration of a deep female relationship,” DeBose previously told NBC News. “It is ugly. It is loud. It is highly emotional. Quite frankly, it’s volatile, and then just downright heartbreaking because there is so much love there.”
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With her Oscar win, DeBose and legendary actor Rita Moreno, who originated the role in the 1961 film version of the acclaimed Broadway musical, are now part of a small group of pairs of actors who’ve won an Academy Award for playing the same character.
When Moreno won her acting Oscar for her portrayal of Anita 60 years ago, she made history as the first Latina to win the honor.
DeBose and Moreno, who also returned for Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake as an executive producer and as the character Valentina, are the first women and performers of color to join the rare club.
“She means a lot to me,” DeBose said of Moreno in a previous NBC News joint interview. “She means a lot to the Puerto Rican community. She means a lot to the Latino community and to the entertainment industry at large.”
In reinterpreting Moreno’s Anita for a new generation, DeBose continued breaking new ground this awards season.
In winning the Screen Actors Guild’s best supporting actress award last month, she became the first Latina to win a film award from the guild and the first queer woman of color to be recognized in an acting category.
Her critically acclaimed performance also earned DeBose her first Golden Globe as well as a BAFTA Award.