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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 3.May.24

Baldiga: Unlocked Heart   Baldiga: Entsichertes Herz
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Baldiga: Unlocked Heart
dir Markus Stein
scr Ringo Rosener
prd Olaf Jacobs
with Jurgen Baldiga, Ulf Reimer, Birgit Baldiga, Bernd Bossmann, Timo Lewandovsky, Hermann Jansen, Juliette Brinkmann, Volker Wierz, Keikawus Arasteh, Bernd Gaiser, Kaspar Kamaleon, Sakine Meral
release Ger Feb.24 bff,
UK Mar.24 flare
24/Germany 1h32

london film fest

Now streaming...

Shot and edited with an artful sensibility, this documentary focusses on thoughts and feelings as it recounts the life of German photographer Jurgen Baldiga, remembered depicting the truth in his images, which was uncomfortable to gay men during the Aids epidemic. Even if it's a bit slow and ponderous, the film is a remarkable depiction of a man who was hungry for everything life had to offer.
From a working class background, Jurgen moves to Berlin and turns to prostitution to fund a drug addiction. Tiring of this, he becomes an artist. Diagnosed with HIV in 1984, he refuses to give up, documenting the epidemic with his camera alongside photos of life in Berlin and the city's lively gay scene, from leather bars to drag queens. He also takes photos depicting his insistent libido, which he refuses to resist, as well as the physical evidence of Aids. Just a few years after the wall came down, he died at 34 in 1993.
Accompanying his photos, journal entries allow Baldiga to narrate his own story along with commentary from people who knew him. These interviews are filmed on locations, interspersed with grainy film footage that brings the period to vivid life. This also allows us to see Baldiga in action, mixed with clever new footage that recreates behind-the-scenes moments and other events. His sister describes his childhood, accompanied by terrific snapshots and some remarkably unapologetic anecdotes. Others speak of his relentless "self-confident egoism".

Remarkably soft-spoken, the film has a contemplative tone, even with the inclusion of Baldiga's unflinchingly explicit photographs. With chapter headings that come from his personal journals, the film captures his curiosity to try everything, understanding that he only had one life, and his was going to be short. Like his photos, Baldiga's words are knowing, witty and astute in describing his feelings. So his final years, both with his illness and his warm relationship with Reimer, are powerfully moving and ultimately both sweet and heartbreaking.

cert 18 themes, language, sexuality 24.Mar.24

Lady Like  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Lady Like
dir-scr Luke Willis
prd Cookie Walukas, Luke Willis
with Rex Wheeler, Shiloh Brody-Clarke, Jeanne Pacella, Adriana Roy, Tye Olson, Mara Guevara, Laundra Tyme, Marco Marco, Nia Politan, Rosie Petals, Sasha Pikul, Nina West
release UK Mar.24 flare
24/US 1h27

BFI Flare film fest

Now streaming...

There's a terrific story at the centre of this documentary, tracing the life of drag star Lady Camden from her London childhood to TV stardom and beyond. Filmmaker Luke Wheeler has wonderful access, capturing Camden's alter-ego Rex Wheeler with unusual openness. But the editing is at odds with the narrative's momentum, circling around and repeating emotional points. So it's entertaining, but never as moving as it wants to be.
After being cruelly bullied as a child in North London for his love of dance, Rex attends the Royal Ballet School then moves to California as a dancer and choreographer with Sacramento Ballet and San Francisco's Smuin Ballet. Following an injury, he develops his drag persona as Lady Camden in local clubs before being cast in RuPaul's Drag Race in 2022, finishing in 2nd place. This leads immediately to the international Werq the World arena tour. Eventually, Rex returns to London to triumphantly headline at Heaven, an old haunt from his clubbing days.
Enjoyably, cameras follow Lady Camden as she returns to Sacramento to watch the Drag Race episodes with crowds as they air, then as she plans for the finale with her team in San Francisco. There are also fabulous animated sequences that offer background details about the Drag Race experience, as well as segments that return to Britain to explore aspects of Rex's childhood and the devastating death of his older brother, which led him to seek the lightness of dance as an escape. Interwoven with this are dreamy dramatised scenes featuring Lady Camden's inner child (Brody-Clarke).

All of this is beautifully produced, with wonderfully open-handed fly-on-the-wall sequences in which Rex grapples with a range of emotions relating to his life up to this point and the future that is unfolding. These scenes are so honest and revealing that they can't help but be involving, especially as they capture Rex's unique blend of dance and comedy skills. So it's a bit frustrating that the film as a whole hasn't been structured to take us on this journey, continually cutting back to restate key moments while leaving other important elements off-screen. Fans will still love this material, and it offers a fascinating backstage look at Drag Race for the uninitiated. But there's a much stronger narrative in here screaming to get out.

cert 15 themes, language 23.Mar.24 flare

Much Ado About Dying  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  

Much Ado About Dying
dir Simon Chambers
prd David Rane, Simon Chambers
with David Newlyn Gale, Simon Chambers, Ajayvir Singh Thakur, Indrajeet Dixit, Zibby Gajewski, Beata Florczyk, Elzbieta Marjanska, Bobby Mill, Biddy Chambers, Philippa Birch, Rosy Howarth, Godwin Amidu
release US 15.Mar.24,
UK 3.May.24
22/UK 1h24

Now streaming...

Observing an extraordinary person in all their eccentricity, this meandering documentary takes an intimate, open-handed approach similar to the Maysles' classic Grey Gardens. Filmmaker Simon Chambers follows his hilariously colourful 83-year-old uncle over his final four years. Peppered Shakespearean rants, the film has something resonant to say about the nature of ageing and mortality, as well as the intensity of the bonds we have with people we love.
While in New Delhi making a documentary about the traffic, Simon begins getting phone calls from his ageing Uncle David in London, asking Simon to return because he feels like he's dying. But Simon has spent spent much of his adult life rescuing David from various minor calamities. Back in London, the diva-like David comes defiantly to life in front of Simon's camera. Endlessly colourful, David rarely wears clothes and never leaves his home, which is cluttered, chaotic and frighteningly filthy. And with the house's patchy electrics, it's no surprise that it catches on fire.
As an actor, David lives as if every day is a performance, which makes additional sense since he only came out as gay when he was 62. Worryingly, he insists on seeing his doctors in private, but can never remember what they say to him. He's also indulging his young friend, who constantly needs large sums of cash and is clearly a scam artist. Simon documents other friends who seem to be taking advantage of him as well, staying with David through a series of surprising twists and turns while vividly capturing him on-camera.

Simon's voiceover adds his personal connections with his uncle, finding pointed parallels such as in how Simon came out in his early 20s, but like David never found it easy to be in a relationship. He also recalls his mother looking after her parents for three decades; Simon never asked for this responsibility, to the point where he has to separate David from his friends for his own sake, moving him into a place that can take care of him. And where Simon and David's journey goes has a strongly emotional kick.

cert 15 themes, language 1.May.24

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