Preceding the 8 p.m. screening of the official opening night film, Sissyboy, there will be a special presentation of a short film titled One Closed Door After Another. UAB student Jade Delisle made the brief, powerful documentary as part of the 2009 Ethnographic Filmmaking course; it details the current lack of availability of domestic partner benefits at UAB and the ongoing efforts by a group of UAB employees to have the school’s policies changed. Tickets to the opening night event, which includes a filmmakers’ reception, cost $20 in advance and $25 at the door.
A Saturday Pass costs $20 in advance and includes admission to all films; tickets to individual films cost $12 at the door. Students and SHOUT members are entitled to a $5 discount on opening night tickets, Saturday passes and individual film tickets. A complete schedule can be found on
Read more reviews and view trailers for SHOUT films online at www.bhamweekly.com
SISSYBOY • Friday • 8 p.m.
(WorkPlay Theatre) When Mark “Zebra” Thomas moved to Portland, Ore., a few years ago, he didn’t know anybody. Within two months, he had put together Sissyboy, an altogether unique drag show that serves as “group therapy” for its members. The new documentary by director Katie Turinski follows the troupe during its last days.
As its members are fond of saying, Sissyboy is not a typical drag show. There aren’t any worries about glamour or passing as women. The boys tend to look more like Dee Snider. The members of Sissyboy perform songs and skits that tackle any number of serious issues in outrageous, often hilarious ways. There is a song featuring Matthew Shepard as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, and one about abortion featuring someone stomping on a bloody baby doll. “You take yourself out of context so much [in drag] that you can say anything,” one of the Sissyboys says.
Sissyboy also serves as a surrogate family for its members, helping them through troubling times. One member of the troupe notes how the Sissyboys have given him three different interventions, “for drug abuse, petty theft and lying.” Some of the guys use the shows as ways of working through personal traumas. One Sissyboy, known as Splendora, performs a monologue called “The Sky Is Falling” after his brother kills himself.
But the Sissyboys don’t have any illusions that their show is always good (“You can be really effective and brilliant, and sometimes it’s just awful and mean”). They think people often come back more for the sheer spectacle that the show could exist, and to show their support.
The film follows the troupe as it goes on a West Coast tour, taking their show up and down the coast and accosting random people at gas stations. After the tour, though, Zebra decides to quit, and the rest of the troupe follows. The film concludes with the staging of Sissyboy’s highly ambitious final show. The show may be ending, but we get the feeling that the bonds made between its members will last quite a while longer.
THE NEWCOMER • Saturday • 11 a.m.
(WorkPlay Theatre) When Richard Heyman, who owned a chain of hair salons, moved to Key West, Fla., in 1973, he didn’t have any dreams of politics, let alone of being the country’s first openly gay mayor, but that’s what happened. Director John Mikytuck’s new documentary The Newcomer gives a fascinating portrait of a complex man who did a lot of good but failed in some vital ways.
After moving to Key West, Heyman opened up an art gallery to represent gay artists. At the time, Key West was a crumbling former navy town. The town had a naturally permissive attitude, and was very open to its gay residents. And under the stewardship of Heyman and other gay business owners, the town became a mecca for gay tourism.
Heyman ran for the city commission in 1979 and won. And in 1983, he was elected mayor, becoming the first openly gay mayor in the United States.
But after being elected, Heyman didn’t want to be knows as the “gay mayor,” thinking it would hinder his ability to get things done. As mayor, Heyman got a revised town charter passed, helped the town’s sewers and trash system, and continued to grow tourism. Though his life partner, John Kiraly, was one of the many men in Key West who were suffering from the mysterious disease known as AIDS, Heyman remained silent about the disease in an effort to protect the tourist trade he had helped grow for Key West.
Heyman did a lot of good for Key West, but he made some sacrifices that he probably shouldn’t have. If he’d helped to shine a light on the AIDS epidemic, fewer people might have died. And Heyman himself died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1994. The Newcomer does a wonderful job showing us the many facets of Heyman’s personality.
ASK NOT • Saturday • 12:45 p.m.
(Al.com Soundstage) Anyone who denies that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is a failure needs to watch director Johnny Symons’ new documentary Ask Not, which showcases the many ways in which the policy damages both soldiers’ lives and the military’s effectiveness.
When Bill Clinton was campaigning for president in 1992, he promised to ban discrimination against gays in the military. When he tried to do this after being elected, Clinton encountered stiff opposition and buckled, instead compromising with “don’t ask, don’t tell.” To date, more than 12,000 military personnel have been discharged under the policy, not to mention the untold number of people who never enlist in the first place because of the policy.
Ask Not shows the many ways in which “don’t ask, don’t tell” affects people, and how many protest it. Alex Nicholson is a former soldier who started the Call to Duty tour, in which servicemen discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell” tell personal stories of their hardships.
Nicholson speaks Arabic and four other languages. He is one of more than 300 qualified linguists discharged by the military under “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and he says that the military has a backlog of untranslated foreign intelligence that helped lead to 9/11.
The film also follows the members of the Right to Serve campaign, who go to recruitment centers and try to enlist. When they admit that they’re gay, they are turned down.
Particularly affecting is the story of “Perry,” a gay soldier whose face is blurred in the film to protect his identity. Perry tells of a life of loneliness. He has to e-mail his boyfriend in code, and creates a fictitious ex-wife to throw suspicion off himself. Perry wants to serve his country, even though he knows he will have to lie to everyone he meets.
It is amazing that so many gay people want so badly to serve their country, when the country doesn’t seem to want their help. The military commonly misses its recruitment goals these days, and has been forced to lower its standards accordingly. The military has accepted more than 4,200 convicted felons, yet still refuses gays.
There have been more than 1 million gay veterans of the armed forces, and it’s a testament to them, and the current gay service members, that they are so willing to serve a country that discriminates against them. Hopefully, this film will play some small part in getting the policy repealed. As Perry says in the film, “I risk my life every day. Why should I have an extra burden?”
OMG/HaHaHa • Saturday • 7:15 p.m.
(WorkPlay Theatre) This maddening, superficial mess from director Morgan Jon Fox tries to offer a window into the current, social networking-obsessed generation of teenagers, but it does these kids a disservice, making them seem as opaque and uninteresting as possible.
The movie has a very loose, improvisational style, with characters making video blogs and graphics popping up on the screen to explain things to us. These gimmicks anchor the film in the Myspace generation, but don’t really serve the narrative in any way.
A character in the film says, “People talk too much; they don’t really say anything.” The film suffers the same problem: It’s mostly a series of disjointed, unconnected monologues or scenes in which characters talk about “deep issues” in the sort of unoriginal revelations you might find on the typical teenager’s Myspace page. Yes, we get it, adults don’t understand you.
Alternating with these speeches are copious scenes in which characters stare off into space and, presumably, think deep thoughts that we never become privy to.
There are only the rudiments of a plot — Autumn gets an abortion, Carl grows up a bit, Owen’s mother has cancer — and those descriptions give you almost as much substance and insight into the characters as the movie did. Having a thin plot isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we never come to care about any of the characters enough to want to spend any time with them at all.
Training Rules • Sat • 7:30 p.m.
(Al.com Soundstage) Pennsylvania State University has had one of the most successful women’s basketball programs in the country for the last few decades, thanks in large part to Coach Rene Portland. After coming to Penn State in 1980, Portland had 21 NCAA tournament appearances and five Big Ten championships in 27 years. She also had three ironclad training rules: no drinking, no drugs and no lesbians.
After star player Jennifer Harris was kicked off the team in 2005, she sued, saying she was let go because Portland thought she was gay. Training Rules follows Harris’ time under Portland’s thumb (though she couldn’t talk about it directly after she settled the suit in 2007), and has interviews with several of Portland’s former team members, all of whom say that Portland targeted them because they were gay. Some quit rather than hide who they were, but many chose to keep their heads down and live a double life.
Portland made no effort to hide her disdain for lesbianism, saying in a 1986 Chicago Sun-Times interview that “I will not have it in my program.” Despite this public admittance, Penn State took no action. The film’s interviewees characterize this as part of the same permissiveness and double standards that mark most successful college athletic programs around the country, though they say things would be rather different if Portland targeted any minority group besides gays for discrimination.
In 1991, there were protests at Penn State, and sexual orientation was added to the school’s non-discrimination policy. Portland and the rest of the coaches had to attend a workshop, but again, no real changes were made until Harris’ lawsuit.
The film is quite interesting, but it feels oddly unfocused at times. There are no interviews with Portland, so there is no real discussion of the origins of her bigotry, outside of some armchair psychiatry from some of the film’s interview subjects. Nor are there any interviews with the Penn State officials who allowed Portland to run roughshod over her team members for so long. And, of course, Harris is prohibited by the terms of her settlement from talking to the filmmakers, so the only input from her is from old TV interviews.
As a result, Training Rules broadens its focus at times, usually to the film’s detriment. There are sections on the Title IX laws, which guaranteed equal opportunities for female athletes, and what some of the interviewees feel is the recent ultra-feminization of women’s sports (“Everybody’s got a pony tail these days”). These sections are interesting, but they have little to do with the rest of the film, and tend to be the movie’s weakest spots.
Still, Training Rules is a fascinating look at the factors that enabled institutionalized discrimination in an time when we would like to think that these sorts of things can no longer happen.
Trinidad • Saturday • 9:30 p.m.
(WorkPlay Theatre) Trinidad, Colo., is your typical rural town of 9,000. It also happens to be the “Sex Change Capital of the World,” with thousands of gender-reassignment surgeries being performed there over the last 40 years. Jay Hodes and P.J. Raval’s documentary looks at how the town regards its claim to fame, and follows some transgender people during their post-surgical transitions.
Trinidad was a thriving coal mining town when Dr. Stanley Biber moved there in 1954 to work for a clinic for mine workers. After the boom town unboomed, Dr. Biber stayed. In the late ’60s, he was asked to do a sex-change operation, and though he had never done one before, he agreed. They soon became his niche, and people came from across the country to have Dr. Biber do their surgery.
Dr. Marci Bower, herself a transgender, came to Trinidad from Seattle a few years ago to take over Dr. Biber’s practice when he retired, and has perhaps become even more successful. She is commonly booked up to a year in advance.
The filmmakers interview lots of townspeople to find out how the transgender community is viewed by the town. Most people have a very accepting attitude, even claiming not to be able to tell transgenders from everybody else, but quite a few townspeople don’t like Trinidad’s claim to fame, mostly objecting on religious grounds. However, even those uncomfortable with the transgenders have to appreciate that the money from the surgeries keeps the town’s hospital open.
Marci made a new life for herself in Trinidad, with a girlfriend and a good job, but the movie shows us that the transition is not as easy for everyone. Dr. Laura Ellis, a pre-op transgender, moved to Trinidad to open a recovery home for Marci’s patients after their surgeries. However, the home never works out as well as Laura hopes, and her own post-op transition proves to be more difficult than some.
The film has a number of fascinating insights about transgenders. “You know your place in society,” Laura says, “and somehow your body does not conform.” Transgenders live a lie, and this lie can often take its toll on themselves and their loved ones. And when they finally can’t live the lie anymore, they often have to break away from their families completely to make the change. “We make other people’s lives hell,” Sabrina says, “particularly as we transition.”
Life isn’t easy for most transgenders, even after surgery, but Trinidad has become a very spiritual place for a lot of people. As Laura’s daughter says, “A lot of the girls feel like they’re born here, born into the bodies they think they should have.”