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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 8.Jun.22

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir Joshua Guerci
prd Joshua Guerci, Marc Smolowitz
with Michael Phillis, Rory Davis, Joe Andrews, Daddy Will Tantra, Andrew Slade, Ryan Patrick Welsh, Beth Miles, Shaun Mullen, Jules Llavore, Pablo Escobar, Aaron Sarazan, Jerry Navarro
release US 10.Jun.22
21/US 1h10

Now streaming...

Taking a brightly colourful approach, this documentary finds warmth and inspiration as it follows a group of men rehearsing and performing a gay burlesque. Filmmaker Joshua Guerci allows participants to open up about personal experiences, then records them as they act out elements from their lives in stage shows. While the film could use more extended performance clips, the way it cuts through surfaces is hugely endearing.
At a San Francisco theatre, Baloney is a stage show that uses theatre, dance and striptease to explore queer life experiences. Director Michael created the show with his choreographer partner Rory, playfully evoking scenarios from public flirtation to coming out, while mixing a heavy dose of knowing comedy into skilled stage performances. Bonding together like a family, each of the men on stage have full-time jobs on the side but find themselves able to be themselves and express what's important to them while on-stage. And now they're also expanding into creating short films online.
Guerci follows the company over three years as they rehearse and stage various shows, narrated to-camera by interviews with Michael and Rory and a lively range of their cohorts. Their comments dig beneath the surface, sharing deeply personal feelings to reveal how each man's personal experience is inventively woven into the on-stage performances. This is what makes these shows connect so strongly with audiences. And the company is open to ideas from their fans about future productions. It's fascinating to watch them collaborate to put a show together, and their creative answer to the pandemic is fabulous.

Michael speaks about how he struggled to get audiences to attend serious stage shows until they started taking their clothes off. Then performances were consistently sold out. And getting nearly naked gives them the freedom to explore deeper themes and ideas in a more honest, human way. The range of body types and situations depicted allows the audience to vividly see their lives on-stage for a change. And the company's lone female member Beth adds her own powerful feminine and masculine energy.

The film captures the thought that goes into producing Baloney shows. And in doing this work, participants have discovered that sexuality is complex, powerful and important, and that exploring it with humour can make an audience think. Indeed, there's real power in the vulnerability of exposing yourself in public, not just skin, but also the inner self. And perhaps the key point these shows make is that sex is a positive part of life, something to celebrate rather than hide away.

cert pg themes, language, sexuality 5.Jun.22

The Princess  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
The Princess
dir-scr Ed Perkins
prd Jonathan Chinn, Simon Chinn
with Princess Diana, Prince Charles, Martin Bashir, Jonathan Dimbleby, Tony Blair, John Major, Prince William, Prince Harry, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Princess Anne, Camilla Parker-Bowles
release US Jan.22 sff,
UK 30.Jun.22
22/UK Sky 1h46

Sundance London film fest

Now streaming...

Compiled entirely from news and paparazzi footage, this documentary traces the life of Princess Diana from the day photographers started chasing her until her coffin disappeared from their view. It's a remarkable film that reveals a narrative in how she appeared in the public eye, including clips of her interviews and commentators at the time. Filmmaker Ed Perkins assembles this without overt messaging, although the point is unnervingly clear.
Diana was only 19 when rumours started swirling about her relationship with Prince Charles, and the press was on her trail for the rest of her life, often intruding into her private life. So it's no surprise that, after she stole her husband's thunder and their fairy tale marriage fell apart, she turned to the press to tell her side of the story. As did Charles. And while the gruesome details gripped the nation, there was something about Diana that still commanded sympathy from the public.
Editors Jinx Godfrey and Daniel Lapira cleverly assemble extensive footage to create an involving story about Diana's years in the spotlight. This includes often terrifying scenes of the paparazzi menacing her every move, refusing to let her go anywhere without a barrage of shouts and obstructions. Through all of this, she maintains a calm demeanour that seems almost supernatural, even as she shoots jagged glances at these intrusive cameramen. So it's understandable that she used a press conference to ask them to lighten up.

Of course, it's impossible to be purely objective here, as Diana's story reflects so many specific problems in British society, from the ravenous press to the harsh realities of the Royal family. Watching this footage, it's clear that there was affection between Diana and Charles in the early days, which puts their very public estrangement in vivid relief, complete with tit-for-tat biographies and interviews. As this film shows, neither took the high road, although Charles was always in the position of power.

Sounding prescient today, there are several pungent statements from commentators during those years, questioning how Diana was being treated by the establishment. And there are also scenes we've never seen before, including B-roll of cynical journalists playing games while they await news of her fatal car crash. And perhaps the most interesting thing about this film is that it pinpoints the moment when she won the public's sympathy by simply being herself in the camera's glare, showing compassion to people in need and taking a stand for causes others were afraid to touch.

cert 12 themes, violence 10.May.22

A Sexplanation  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
A Sexplanation
dir Alex Liu
prd Steven Flynn
scr Leonardo Neri, Alex Liu
with Alex Liu, Laurie Betito, Todd Weiler, William Yarber, Lisa Medoff, Donal Godfrey, Barry Komisaruk, Nan Wise, Morag Yule, Kristen Gilbert, Jason Winters, Besha Grey
release US 10.Jun.22
21/US 1h16

Now streaming...

Marlene Dietrich noted that sex is an obsession in America but a fact in the rest of the world. This comment sparks gay 36-year-old reporter Alex Liu to create this witty, breezy documentary. He unashamedly dives in, exploring the strong political divisions as well as the religious angle. Instant discomfort about such casual chatter about sex proves how badly this is needed. And what Liu finds is surprising.
Based in San Francisco, Liu takes the audience on a quest that starts in the most obvious place: talking to his parents about something they've never spoken of before. From here he traces a history of shame and enforced modesty, speaking with experts, as well as a group of friends who have knowing perspectives on the topic. He travels to the Kinsey Institute, then speaks to two doctors at Rutgers who are mapping orgasms in the brain, discovering the importance of pleasure. And he also visits key people from PornHub to the Catholic Church.
It's clear that the healthiest option is honesty within families, but that's far too rare. This isn't about "the talk", but rather a conversation that starts at infancy. Statistics show that the USA's avoidance of sex results in the world's highest teen pregnancy rate, attitudes that jeopardise LGBTQ people and the fact that 75 percent of victims don't report sexual assaults. Liu presents even the most graphic elements with disarming charm, complete with silly visual gags (champagne cork pops!) and witty animation. And he's genuinely relieved to discover that he's not as depraved as the media leads him to believe.

Even these experts find it impossible to answer the question, "What is sex?" As it moves briskly through various aspects, the film explores the dangers of the artificial or misleading images of sexuality in the media. Promoting the image of a "perfect" body creates shame that can lead to dysfunctional behaviour. The only healthy way forward is to become comfortable with a wide range of bodies and sexual expressions. Repressing this pushes young people toward pornography, which isn't always helpful, or even suicide.

Aside from reproduction, sex is about identity, connection and expression. And illiteracy about it is far too common. Proper education is needed long before puberty regarding intimacy, pleasure, diversity and consent, which will help flag up false media messages. The truth is that staying silent on the topic only creates shame, and treating sex as naughty only causes guilt. The most important thing is to learn about yourself and accept yourself just as you are.

cert 15 themes, language, nudity 6.Jun.22

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall