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SXSW: Swan Song

Patrick Pitsenbarger (Udo Kier), a retired hairdresser once known as The Liberace of Sandusky, is spending his final days in a nursing home. One day, a lawyer representing Pat’s former client, Rita Parker Sloan (Linda Evans), delivers the news to Pat that Rita has passed on. In her will has requested Pat to do her hair for her funeral and has set aside $25,000 for payment. Given the  fact that Pat still harbors bitter feelings towards Rita, he at first refuses. Many years ago, Rita left his salon for another one, run by Pat’s former protege Dee Dee Dale (Jennifer Coolidge). Pat changes his mind and sets out on an adventure, breaking out of the nursing home and walking down memory lane through Sandusky, Ohio, meeting old friends and making new friends along the way. Pat knows this is his swan song; the very last time he’ll be able to live his life on his terms.

Directed by Todd Stephens, Swan Song is a celebration of individuality and gay identity. According to Stephens the film is inspired by a real person he met in Sandusky and serves  a “love letter to the rapidly disappearing gay culture of America.” Udo Kier is an absolute delight. Even when the plot begins to wander, Kier’s portrayal of Pat keeps us grounded, engaged and interested in what will happen next. I thought it was a misstep not to include more information or a few flashback scenes of Pat’s deceased partner David. You’ll easily find yourself emotionally invested in this story and its characters.

Swan Song had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival.

Update: Swan Song releases in theaters August 6th and on demand August 13th.

See You Then (2021)

SXSW: See You Then

“The need to transition was like this awful noise, this endless ringing in my head.”

It’s been over 15 years since Kris (Pooya Mohseni) and Naomi (Lynn Chen) have seen each other. After their break-up, Kris transitioned to become the woman she always knew she was leaving Naomi hurt and confused. Kris now faces the challenges of being a woman in the tech world and seeing her dream of becoming a parent slip away from her. Naomi has abandoned her career as a performance artist and pursued the traditional route of getting married and children. She struggles to understand Kris’ transition. Years later the two reunite, confronting the past and who they are today. The two must heal their deep divide and reconcile with themselves about they truly want in their lives.

Through conversation, See You Then chronicles the story of two women as they unpack years of hurt feelings and confusion to better understand each other and themselves. It’s easy to become emotionally invested in these characters. We live in a time when society is questioning what it means to be a woman and a transgender women. See You Then offers perspective and understanding to add to that conversation while bringing all the relevant emotions to the surface. The film is directed and co-written by a transgender woman, Mari Walker, and stars a transgender woman, Pooya Mohseni. Lynn Chen and Mohseni offer first-class performances.

See You Then revels in its simplicity giving viewers an opportunity to do a deep dive into an important and relevant social dynamic.

See You Then had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival.

Slamdance: Inside the Storm

Nadav (Ben-Oved Berkovich) is reeling from a bad breakup with Neta. Seeking solace, he meets up with a former lover, Amit  (Harel Glazer), whom he hasn’t seen in a while. Their reunion is raw and intense. Any feelings they have for each other must be kept secret. The next day Nadav and Amit pretend like nothing happened and Nadav has to decide what to say to Neta.

Directed by Daniel Bloom, Inside the Storm is a quiet and spare short film about the decisions we make during times of heightened emotion. It’s minimalist film, with only a handful of scenes. The camera lingers on the subject; nothing is rushed. The film as a whole reminded me of a few key scenes from Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight

Inside the Storm screened as part of the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.

Slamdance: In France Michelle is a Man’s Name

Michael (Ari Damasco) travels back home to visit his estranged parents in the rural countryside. His mother (Olga Sanchez) and father (Jerry Carlton) are still coming to terms with Michael being their transgender son who previously went by Michelle. Michael and his father travel into the city where his father tries to initiate Michael into what he considers the standard right of passage into manhood.

In France Michelle is a Man’s Name is a quiet yet powerful short film about identity and the cruelty of our gender binary culture. Directed by Em Weinstein, the film explores themes of acceptance, understanding and the pressure of societal norms. I was particularly struck by Damacso and Carlton’s performances. They play well off each other. The tension between the two is palpable but so is the unspoken love they have for each other, even if it leads to the father’s misguided actions. 

In France Michelle is a Man’s Name was screened as part of the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.

Slamdance: Workhorse Queen

With the worldwide popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race,  drag queens are having a renaissance. For Ed Popil (aka Mrs. Kasha Davis) getting on to the show was the ultimate dream. It would give him the fame and opportunity to take his career to the next level.

After years of trying to conform to the heteronormative ideal imposed on him by his parents and community, Ed Popil left it all behind in order to go on a journey of self-discovery. He landed in Rochester, New York to start afresh. It was there he developed his drag queen persona, Mrs. Kasha Davis, a sassy ’60s housewife who loves a good cocktail. He became part of the local drag community and with the help of his husband became a personality. But can Ed take his Mrs. Kasha Davis persona to the next level?

Directed by Angela Washko, Workhorse Queen is an intimate portrait of a drag queen’s personal and professional transformation. It documents the ups and downs of Ed Popil’s life and career. It’s themes of being true to yourself and achieving your dreams will resonate with audiences. The film has a positive vibe but avoids being a puff piece by demonstrating the struggles along with the triumphs. A must see for fans of RuPauls’ Drag Race.

Workhorse Queen  premiered at the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.

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