Today some state governments are crusading to stifle queer identity with such legislation as the “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida, which bans classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity and Texas Senate Bill 29, which requires transgender student-athletes to compete on sports teams appropriate to their sex assigned at birth. Undaunted by such outbreaks of homophobia Wicked Queer: Boston’s LGBTQ+ Film Festival (April 7-17) has for 38 years continued its mission to program films that bring clarity and urgency to the cause. That is especially true of the documentaries. Here are three you shouldn’t miss.
More than 25 years before “Don’t Say Gay” educators and others lauded activist documentarian Debra Chasnoff’s “It’s Elementary — Talking About Gay Issues in School” (1996) for its pioneering and illuminating take on the issue. Maybe Florida Governor Ron DeSantis should take a look at it.
And everyone should see Chasnoff and Kate Stilley Steiner’s “Prognosis — Notes on Living” (2020), a wrenching, intimate, and eloquent study of mortality and how we confront it. In 2015 Chasnoff was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer and she decided to record her experience and its impact on her relationships with her wife, Nancy Otto, her two sons, and her friends. She wanted to apply to the subject the objectivity of a documentarian. That detachment was not always possible, but she faces the reality with humor and reflection, despair and determination. Reminiscent of Ed Pincus and Lucia Small’s “One Cut, One Life” (2014), the film shows how in the face of death art can bring consolation and a kind of triumph.
“Prognosis – Notes on Living” screens April 16 at 3:00 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre and can be streamed April 17-30 on xerb.tv/channel/wickedqueerfilmfestival/virtual-events. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Steiner, Andrew Dreyfus, CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts, and Bob Linscott, assistant director of the LGBTQIA+ Aging Project at Fenway Health.
In Rita Baghdadi’s “Sirens” art serves as a way to forge an identity, defy the strictures of society, and transcend the conflicts in personal relationships.
In Beirut, Lilas and Shery are the lesbian cofounders and guitarists of Slave to Sirens, the Middle East’s first and only all-female metal band. It’s not an easy calling. Not so much because they are gay women trying to make it in a male-dominated genre, but, as a friend points out, at most only 1 percent of Lebanese people have interest in that type of music. Be that as it may, misogynist messages harass them online and some venues turn them away.
Yet they persist. An obscure record company called Earache wants them to perform at England’s Glastonbury Festival. The band is overjoyed, but they end up playing at an odd hour on one of the tinier side stages in front of maybe a dozen people. Still, the audience is dancing, and the band rocks.
But Lilas and Shery’s romance goes sour, Lilas picks on Shery, and Shery quits the band. Meanwhile, throngs of young people demonstrate in the streets against the government. Will the band get together again and the personal and political conflicts coalesce into true siren songs?
“Sirens” screens April 11 at 7 p.m. and April 16 at noon at the Brattle Theatre.
The subjects of Chase Joynt’s “Framing Agnes” (2022) didn’t have the resources of art to overcome the prejudices of the day. Nearly 75 years later, the filmmaker tries to make up for that injustice,
Drawing on recently discovered files from a 1958 UCLA study of sexual disorders Joynt puts together black-and-white reenactments of a psychiatrist’s interviews with trans men and women. This project took place in the wake of Christine Jorgensen’s sensationalized 1952 gender-reassignment surgery. Sadly the UCLA interviewer (played by Joynt) demonstrates some of the same salaciousness and ignorance of the media covering that event.
But like Joynt’s previous film, “No Ordinary Man” (2020; co-directed by Aisling Chin-Yee) about transgender jazz musician Billy Tipton, “Framing” goes beyond the reenactment of a historic injustice. Blurring genres as well as genders he interviews the transgender actors themselves. How did their characters’ experience compare with their own? Are gender roles merely performative? Are they imposed by society and by the media, including films like this one? A deeply reflective, thought-provoking examination of how social forces shape identity and how — or if — they can be resisted.
“Framing Agnes” screens April 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Bright Family Screening Room in the Paramount Center and can be streamed April 17-30 at xerb.tv/channel/wickedqueerfilmfestival/virtual-events.
Go to www.wickedqueer.org.
Peter Keough can be reached at email@example.com.