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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 15.Jul.22

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
dir Jay Bedwani
scr Donna Personna
prd Dewi Gregory
with Donna Personna, Gloria Villarreal, Inez Miranda-Medina, Shane Zaldivar, Kimberly Rodregues Lavan, Jeannie Miller, Mark Nassar, Collette LeGrande, Vivian David, Kelly J Kelly, Kay Roberts, London Breed
release UK 15.Jul.22
22/UK 1h15

Now streaming...

It seems overdue that 75-year-old artist and trans activist Donna Personna is the subject of a biographical documentary. Director Jay Bedwani maintains a relaxed pace and observational perspective, keeping the feisty, colourful Donna in the frame. It's a remarkably intimate film, exploring both history and the deeper emotions that swirl around and within Donna, her family and friends. And her matter-of-fact approach to life is both refreshing and inspiring.
An icon on the San Francisco scene, Donna was raised with 15 siblings by a preacher father. But they have never known her as Donna. She's had two long relationships, but has lived alone for 30 years and has no time for regrets. Drawing on her experiences, her play about the 1966 Compton Cafeteria riot depicts the first organised resistance to police brutality against the LGBT community. These are the strong women who helped Donna find herself. And today, she works with younger trans actresses and performers who are making an impact on society.
As cameras follow Donna through her daily routine, from walking around town to performing in clubs, she describes her past, accompanied by home movie clips. She remembers feeling protected by her siblings while others bullied her mercilessly, which taught her to hide herself. Being gay, let alone trans, was simply impossible until she left home at 16. Her first public performance as a woman was at age 59. The filmmakers also follow her as she reconnects with her younger sister Gloria, and Donna doesn't mind one bit that Gloria still calls her Gus.

Donna credits the city itself with giving her the freedom to wear makeup and dresses in the streets. She freely admits that, even though her performances all hinge around lip-synching, she has never done it well. "And I don't care!" she laughs, because it's just an impersonation. Her dream is to one day headline a show as a vocalist, actually singing live on stage. The film beautifully captures her open-hearted approach to life, including her desire to record her stories and the way she works to maintain her family bonds.

Even as San Francisco honours her for her achievements, Donna continues to be inspired by the younger trans women in her community. The fly-on-the-wall camerawork nicely captures her camaraderie with these up-and-coming performers. And there are some remarkably emotional scenes along the way, as Donna considers people who simply can't accept her for who she is. Then she appears on-stage in a fabulous beehive hairdo and glittery gown, singing her message to an adoring crowd.

cert 15 themes, language 12.Jul.22

My Old School  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  

My Old School
dir-scr Jono McLeod
prd John Archer, Olivia Lichtenstein
with Alan Cumming
voices Lulu, Clare Grogan, Juliet Cadzow, Michele Gallagher, Camilla Kerslake, Gary Lamont, Natalie Mcconnon, Joe McFadden, Carly McKinnon, Brian O'Sullivan, Dawn Steele, Wam Siluka Jr
release US 22.Jul.22,
UK 19.Aug.22
22/UK Dogwoof 1h44


Now streaming...

Because the subject of this documentary is hiding his face, actor Alan Cumming lip-synchs his voice on-screen, recounting the true story behind a notorious scandal. Filmmaker Jono McLeod inventively uses brightly colourful animation to recreate events from 30 years ago that explore several deeper issues, including peer pressure and bigotry. And the story unfolds as a series of staggering surprises and hilarious details that carry a thought-provoking kick.
In 1993 Glasgow, 16-year-old Brandon Lee creates a stir in his new school because classmates think he looks more like a teacher than a student. And he has the same name as Bruce Lee's recently deceased son. Bullied for being odd, he makes few friends but proves himself as a smart student and manages to land the lead in the school production of South Pacific. He also eventually becomes popular as the only classmate with a driving licence. But this raises some suspicions, as does the fact that he has two passports in two names.
Interviews with a large number of Brandon's classmates are infused with witty observations about their eccentric school and their unusual experiences with Brandon. Meanwhile, Brandon (via Cumming) describes his Canadian childhood as son of an opera star who died in a car accident in which his face was burned. So he moved to Scotland to live with his grandmother. But there are continual twists and turns in his story, which plays out chronologically as a series of insinuations and shocking revelations. And the filmmakers unearth terrific archive photos and videos.

Like the documentary interviews, Cumming is shot in a classroom and performs Brandon's audio track with earthy, naturalistic touches. There's a similarly amusing tone to accounts from students and teachers who look back on these events with wry humour. But Brandon's words remain matter-of-fact, knowingly observing repercussions and admitting deeper feelings as he recounts the truth. His descriptions of his actions are fascinating, as are reactions of his classmates that reveal riveting insight into the nature of identity.

The film sometimes meanders a bit off-topic, for example spending rather a lot of time talking about musical tastes. But it's beautifully edited together from interviews, animated recreations and news footage to trace a story that continually bends into new directions. Because the interviews delve under the surface to explore Brandon's motivations and methods, there are many points of connection for the audience. And along with the exploration of mass deception, this is a moving look at someone trying something outrageous to get his life back on track.

cert 12 themes, language 10.Jul.22

Uýra: The Rising Forest   A Retomada da Floresta
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
Uyra: The Rising Forest
dir Juliana Curi
scr Juliana Curi, Martina Sonksen
prd Joao Henrique Kurtz, Juliana Curi, Livia Cheibub, Martina Sonksen
with Uyra Sodoma, Emerson Pontes, Zahy Guajajara, Tupiniqueens, Senhor Paulo Roberto de Olveira Matos, Dona Baba, Tuxaua Valdemir, Dona Vania, Izabela Cristiny de Souza Felix, Jarissa Vitoria da Silva, Marcia Alvez, Antonio Filho Pontes de Araujo
release US Jun.22 fff
22/Brazil 1h12


Now streaming...

Opening with dramatic footage of the scorched, desolated Amazon rainforest, this poetic and strikingly visual documentary takes an earthy, honest look the space where identity and nature meet. It's a remarkably gentle film, and each segment carries a powerful jolt of understanding and emotion. As it takes the viewer on a journey into this ancient ecosystem, it can't help but change the way we see the world and ourselves.
Every morning, indigenous activist Emerson reminds themself that what's happening to the forest is unnatural. And this war against nature needs to be addressed in creative ways. So they transform into Uyra, both male and female, plant and animal, living alongside other survivors in this complex environment. Uyra reveals how the Amazon shapes people and vice versa, especially after huge population growth in Manaus in the 1990s escalated levels of pollution and destruction. With untraditional drag that uses body painting and nature-based flourishes, Emerson and friends are also raising awareness of the Amazon's vital queer population.
Soft-spoken but powerfully compelling, Uyra's performance art involves dressing in stunning outfits and bending their body to viscerally address what is happening to the landscape. Using words, physicality, art and workshops, Uyra is impossible to ignore, reminding us that our individual stories intertwine together to tell a much bigger story. Along with evocative music and spoken texts, the filmmakers include telling firsthand interviews and eerily beautiful photographs of the devastated rainforest. So as Emerson helps local young people raise their voices, the Amazon is also speaking for itself.

Over the centuries, colonisation has wiped out entire indigenous groups, erasing their language and history. Emerson understands that this is a complex situation, a result of progress. And they note that nature itself moves forward through what seems like chaos while actually creating balance over the centuries. Meanwhile, modern corporations want to separate people from nature to develop customers who are dependant on them instead. The film never soft-pedals these strong ideas, but they are presented with understated emotion rather than preachiness.

As one chapter title notes relating to LGBTQ identity, "pioneer species recognise each other". These deeper observations add unusual weight to this documentary, much of which could run on a loop in an art gallery. Its spectacular imagery and warmly stated ideas force us to think about our perceptions and actions. Emerson's work is a heart-cry for respect, for people, cultures and the land itself. Each of us is the cure for this poisoned earth, and new generations are carrying the promise to correct the violence of the past.

cert pg some themes 24.Jun.22

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