Three LGBTQ+ flicks to catch at Whistler Film Festival, online until Dec 31, 2021 (includes interviews)
The pandemic has been disruptive to most everyone and everything in some form of another, however there have been many good things to come from it as well. One that I’m particularly happy with is the greater online accessibility to film festival feature films, documentaries, and shorts that were previously limited to only in person screenings. This now means that film festivals can choose to make their programs available nationally, or even internationally, reaching a great audience.
Without this opportunity, I would never have been able to see some of the great programming that the Whistler Film Festival offered last year, and are offering again this year. Billed as “Canada’s Coolest Film Fest”, the program includes plenty of Canadian content, world premieres, and thought provoking documentaries.
Below are three films with LGBTQ+ themes that are streaming online until December 31, 2021, and are highly recommended. I also had a chance to chat with each of the directors, which you can also read more about below.
DAWN HER DAD AND THE TRACTOR tells the heartfelt story of John Andrew’s (Robb Wells) son Donald, who is now Dawn (Maya V. Henry ), and returns home to mourn the recent loss of her mother, and at the same time hopefully reconnect with her estranged father. Dawn’s attractive looks cause significant reactions from the jocks she grew up with. Some hit on her, not realizing her secret transition, while one fellow remembers gay encounters from the past, which serves to stir up even more confusion. This is a rare example of a transgender actor being allowed to play a transgender character in a feature film. Director Shelley Thompson has a son (T. Thomason) in real life who transitioned, and wanted to ensure authenticity in the casting. Ultimately, the film is about the need for acceptance, both within the immediate family and within the broader community.
Interview with Director, Shelley Thompson
Shelley will remember her first feature directorial debut for many things, but top of the list must be filming right in the middle of the pandemic. “We didn’t know what was going to happen from one week to the next,” Thompson recalls, “We were the first film out of gate in Eastern Canada during the pandemic.” The film was shot over 18-days within a very tight budget, meaning she’d have to adapt quickly to the many changing situations, something she has experience with. “As a theatre professional, I’m use to changing things up and adjusting on the go,” she offers.
Post production also posed an issue, with having to send files back and forth and not being able to be in the same room. Not only did she cast a transgender actor in the lead role, she also utilized many other LGBTQ+ community members both on screen, and behind the scenes. “I have a strict no asshole policy,” referring the great cast and crew she assembled.
In looking for the lead, Thompson explains, “There was never any doubt the role would be played by a trans person. Maya had the believable look to fit in with her on screen family. She’s also an activist and YouTube personality, which I love.” Thompson relied heavily on her trans sons friends and her friends within the industry to get the word out. The film’s premise is actually based on a previous short film, Pearl, that she shot a few years back. Dawn, Her Dad, and The Tractor will continue on the festival circuit for the next few months, and will have a cross country theatrical release in January or February at various independent cinemas, before streaming on Crave later in the spring (Date TBA). Find updates via the website, Facebook, and Instagram,
Shelley’s own personal website is where you can follow along on her other upcoming projects. Going forward she admitted, “My next project I started a whole different way, so that a lot of preliminary work is done before we get on the set”
She’s currently working on a dramatic limited series tentatively titled, See Jane, and a second feature tentatively titled, Bouquet, which is about “a woman in her 50s going home to take care of ailing and long despised mother.” It’s set in Cape Breton, and is a complicated story about “women’s fertility, what a mother is, and what a family is.”
She’s a huge advocate for Pflag, and she works a lot with Egale. She notes, “Helen Kennedy wrote letters of support, read the script, and suggested trans consultants like Susanna Burton.” Beyond her claim to fame as a regular actor on the hit Canadian series, Trailer Park Boys, she had a small role in the cult classic film, Labyrinth (1986), starring David Bowie. She recalls, “I didn’t get to meet him as we were never on set same day. I didn’t even actually see the movie until about 8 years ago at a screening in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. It was part of a festival of cult films with a room full of people dressed as David Bowie.” She then recollects, “It took me longer to get my hair back to normal than it did to do the job!”
Congrats on a great directorial debut, and keep an eye out for more things to come from this talented individual.
PAT ROCCO DARED is an entertaining and enlightening documentary sheds a light on a pioneering moment in film history and the gay rights movement. It revisits the break-through 1960s gay films of Pat Rocco. who was responsible for the first gay films that were shown openly to the paying public on a big screen back in the late 1960s. The documentary chronicles LGBTQ+ filmmaker and Executive Producer, Charlie David as he explores the life and work of director and activist Pat Rocco, one of Hollywood’s original boundary pushing gay pioneers, encouraging future generations with Rocco’s incredible story of romance, resistance and Pride.
Rocco began selling his erotic, playful, and romantic nude male films in the backs of local magazines, and in 1968 he was offered his own festival at the Los Angeles’ Park Theatre – the first of its kind. It was an instant hit and Rocco continued to pump out more films as fast as he could, pushing new boundaries with each one. In “A Very Special Friend”, Rocco dared to screen the first kiss between two men ever seen on a big theatre screen.
Artistic, erotic, and highly romanticized, his films were controversial not due to how explicit they were but rather their bold political and artistic expression. For the first time ever, selections from his most popular films have been digitally remastered and are showcased in spectacular fashion in “Pat Rocco Dared”. Pat Rocco’s life story is told through his colourful, erotic films, and with candid personal interviews with Charlie David at Pat’s home in Hawaii, as well as with friends such as Phyllis Diller, Reverend Troy Perry, and film historian Whitney Strub.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell, just do it,” Rocco advises Charlie in one of their final exchanges. “Charlie David was the perfect person to charm Rocco out of his polished replies, and uncover the genuine, tender, romantic man shielded by the persona of a legendary activist and classic Hollywood entertainer”, says Bob Christie, and “beyond the sexy, entertaining films that still stand up today, I think audiences will be amazed and inspired by the things that Pat Rocco dared to do”, added Morris Chapdelaine.
Interview with Director, Bob Christie
Vancouver based Bob Christie, has produced previous LGBTQ+ themed documentaries (Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride) before delving into Pat Rocco Dared, an ode to Rocco’s legacy as a pioneer in queer cinema, before his passing in 2018. Rocco’s private collection of films, both his and those he treasured, is the “most accessed collection at the UCLA Archives,” according to Christie. Apparently he produced close to 100 films over the course of his career.
Christie admits this film was 10 years in the making, primarily filmed in 2017, the year before Rocco’s passing. He cites Rocco as being “larger than life. “When we were travelling with Beyond Gay back in 2010 which was screening at the Hawaii Film Festival, my co-director Morris met Rocco, who was also screening a couple of his films.” Morris suggested he had to make a film on Rocco, and now in 2021 the film is finally getting its world premiere.
Charlie David was the perfect fit to lead the on screen interview, being a filmmaker who openly admits to copying many of Rocco’s film techniques for his own productions. Likewise, Rocco’s style is similar to some other greats, like Kenneth Anger, Andy Warhol, and even Frederico Fellini, with long drawn out scenes used for dramatic pauses. Artist and activist, Syrus Marcus Ware, along with Rutger’s University Associate Professor, Whitney Strub, provided comprehensive insight into the relevance of Rocco’s contributions in the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights and representation. Beyond filmmaking, Rocco was a great humanitarian, helping the homeless and LGBTQ+ youth as a community builder in Los Angeles. “He advocated bravely when others were cautious to do those things,” remarks Christie.
Christie is also involved with local community issues. “I’m the Vice President on the board of Reel Causes here in Vancouver. We screen social and civil justice films throughout the year, with talk backs and panel discussions.” He’s also worked on television commercials, and music videos, including one by the band, Seether. In the future, Christie shares, “I’d like to do a film that addresses the AIDS crisis from a survivor’s standpoint, getting unique stories internationally.”
Make sure to watch this film to get a better understanding of gay film history.
MOON MANOR is a surprisingly upbeat movie, given its somewhat downbeat subject matter. Jimmy has proudly lived his life as a gay man, but as his life deteriorates with age, and the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease, he has chosen a specific day to terminate his own life. Throughout his final day, we get to know this gay man’s extraordinary life, his wit and good humour as he chose to live a rich and fulfilling life outside of society’s usual norms. Ending in a fabulous fashion, he orchestrates his own “fun-real” as well, inviting maybe friends and acquaintances from the past and present.
Interview with Directors, Machete Bang Bang and Erin Granat
This is a great debut co-directorial feature film, but not the first time working together. Erin states, “We met in 8th grade, and have been best friends and collaborators ever since, working on short films, pilots, and music videos, including the likes of Cold Play.”
The film covers some off-beat film topics, like assisted death, and debilitating illness. They share the premise behind the film as, “What is the acceptance of death, and the coming of death, which was somewhat inspired by classic films like, Harold and Maude. It’s a hybrid story, with a narrative built around real life events, and not fully fictional.” It’s described as a Tru-ish story.
So who is Jimmy? He’s a real life actor, and also the main character in the movie. Erin shares, “Ricky was my uncle, so by definition Jimmy is my honorary uncle, and has stayed in my family since Ricky passed away 20 years ago from complications due to AIDS. I grew up to know Jimmy as my uncle, and got to know Ricky through his stories.” Jimmy himself has been living with HIV for over three decades. “This is sort of like a legacy project for him.”
There’s plenty of great vintage film footage throughout, interspersed with wonderful acting, from both present time and flashback to Jimmy’s youth. Several characters stand out, including the writer, Andrew (Lou Taylor Pucci), who has been brought in to document Jimmy’s final day, along with others like Debra Wilson (Fritt the Death Doula), Reshma Gaijar (Remy the Caregiver), and Rikki Lake as herself.
Moon Manor is actually based on a 2017 short film called, Going Home. It’s also what Erin’s family home is called. For the feature, the pair recruited many home based friends and family for the film, including their parents, along with several members from the LGBTQ+ community.
One of the most poignant scenes in the movie is when Jimmy retreats upstairs the final time to complete his cycle of life. The song, “The Promise” by English band, When in Rome, plays while the rest of the invited guests continue dancing the evening away. Erin and Machette mentioned that they crowd sourced to raise money to use this song, and actually wrote the band to get their official approval as well.
A book titled, Going Back to Moon Manor, is referenced at the end of the film, so will there be a book? Erin admits “Jimmy has been working on a memoir for years, so perhaps.”
This is a wonderful film that’s both thoughtful and emotional, and shouldn’t be missed. The film will get a select theatrical release in March 2022, followed by wide spread streaming platforms later in the year.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.