ALONE IN THE GAME exposes the outdated ideas and outright prejudices that make competitive sports one of the gay rights movement’s final frontiers, and shows how a new generation of queer and transgender athletes are scoring victories on and off the field by standing up for their rights and demanding a chance to compete.
Athletes featured include NBA center Jason Collins; soccer stars Megan Rapinoe and Robbie Rogers; Vanderbilt football player Riley Tindol; high-school athlete Trevor Betts; and Layana White and Haley Videckis, who found love on the Pepperdine Christian University women’s basketball team and lost their scholarships.
AFI spoke with creator/executive producer David McFarland about the film, which plays AFI DOCS Friday, June 15. Get tickets here.
AFI: What led you to pursue documentary filmmaking?
DM: The advocate in me was called to action, and the creative in me couldn’t be left behind. For me, documentary storytelling is about bringing a hidden world to audiences to help create change and make a real difference in the lives of others.
AFI: What inspired you to tell this story?
DM: I have the privilege to examine these issues at the highest levels of sport — live these issues, really — up close and in person, and these experiences have given me a true and factual understanding of just how serious these problems are for LGBT athletes and how great an impact the world of sport can make when the right decisions are made by those in positions of power. When there is no current out gay male professional athlete actively playing in the Big 5 major leagues, you know we have a serious problem that affects the future of sport and the well-being of our LGBT athletes.
AFI: How did you find the subjects in your film?
DM: Being immersed in the world of sport and the LGBT community for the past three decades, combined with my professional experience, I have developed a trusted and confidential network that often leads me to closeted athletes, athletes in crisis and/or athletes who have faced head-on a culture of exclusion from sport.
AFI: What was a particular obstacle you faced while making the film?
DM: One of the biggest obstacles in making the film was getting certain key power parties in sport to show up and participate. This begs a very serious question for our leaders in sport: are we living in a time when equality and inclusion truly exists for LGBT athletes?
What do you want audiences to walk away with after screening your film?
DM: I really want the audience to understand that even though America’s cultural, social and political climate is becoming increasingly accepting of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens, competing and participating in sport is still considered to be an unsettling and unsafe environment for many LGBT athletes, coaches and sport administrators on and off the field. I hope that communities all across this country will see this important film and take action to ensure that the opportunities and dreams are the same for all athletes, coaches and those who participate in sport regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The obligation is on us all, regardless where in the sports power matrix you reside, or even in society as a whole.
AFI: Why are documentary films important today?
DM: They allow us to walk in the shoes of others, building a sense of shared humanity through real-life experiences, that give voice to the truth and strives to hold those in power accountable. In a time of uncertainty and “alternative facts,” telling stories in the documentary form matters more now than ever. Documentary films can and do inspire change, and while that change may be incremental, it is nonetheless real. They engage the heart and the mind with evocative, inspiring and emotional storytelling that can make a significant difference in the lives of others.
Authoritarian Regimes Under Observation / Music Documentaries Featuring Almodóvar’s Muse and Electronic Avant-Garde
Director Monika Treut Receives Special TEDDY Award 2017
The French production Belinda by Marie Dumora is slated to open Panorama Dokumente with a contribution to the previously announced thematic focus “Europa Europa” (see post here). The Yenish people have occupied a difficult position in the national fabric of Europe since time immemorial: like the Sinti and Roma, they typically have trouble aligning themselves as they are legally and socially excluded by majority populations. The grandparents of 15-year-old sisters Belinda and Sabrina first met in a German concentration camp – the young women were placed in foster care at an early age and were lucky to land in the La Nichée children’s home. With the start of life comes the start of a long struggle with the world – a world also determined by limits and rules on this most diverse of all continents. A haunting, harrowing documentation of everyday life as it is lived on the margins of society.
Three films demand that we take a fresh historical look at European events whose echoes are still felt so many years later:
First off is No Intenso Agora (In the Intense Now) from Brazil’s João Moreira Salles, who juxtaposes a cornucopia of archive materials documenting the events which unfolded in Paris in 1968 with amateur footage showing the suppression of the Prague Spring and footage of a self -confident Chinese society under Mao, just as his mother experienced it back then – as a private political reflection.
Next up is an exciting bit of time travel in Jochen Hick’s Mein wunderbares West-Berlin (My Wonderful West Berlin), an account of queer living situations in West Berlin in an era when emancipation had yet to be invented, primarily covering the 1960s to the the 1980s but also taking time to revisit the roots of the gay rights movement in the immediate post-war period.
And finally, a long look underneath the rug of Spanish reticence in Bones of Contention by Andrea Weiss of the USA: In search of the earthly remains of iconic Spanish poet and fascist murder victim Federico García Lorca, the filmmaker stumbles upon the entirely unexamined history of the suppression of the LGBT community under Franco, while also becoming familiar with the struggles of today’s movement, whose efforts to procure some sort of long overdue justice for the hundreds of thousands who were “disappeared” during the fascist era are met with little support.
In Tahqiq fel djenna (Investigating Paradise), distinguished French director Merzak Allouache seeks answers to a question which also exerts an influence on today’s Europa. In order to try to fathom the origins of the desire for death exhibited by so many young Arab men in Algeria, one must understand that they are motivated by the florid fairy tales that their spiritual leaders have led them to believe, including above all the notion that sex and wine will finally be available in abundance after death. The young Algerian journalist Nedjma researches the paradise that Salafist preachers promise young men together with her colleague Mustapha. A dense analysis of the extreme manifestations of a destructive, conservative Islam that seeks to dominate.
The second of the two previously mentioned thematic focal points “Black Worlds” is reinforced by Yance Ford’s Strong Island. The director processes the murder of his own brother 25 years ago in a documentary film by equal turns personal and political, in a formally open examination of racist terror, grief work and smouldering anger about inequality.
Is this the heart of “America”? And does Rambo live inside it like the man in the moon lives inside his satellite? Erase and Forget by Andrea Luka Zimmerman (Great Britain) doesn’t pose the question, it answers it instead. The all American hero, the most highly decorated soldier of all time with hundreds of human lives on his conscience, roams like a benevolent patriarch through Idaho, where the people are proud of the high level of diversity in the available flavours of right-wing radicalism, just another normal part of life out here.
Two films turn their attention to Latin America and structures that still make their effects felt from left and right-wing authoritarian forms of society.
In Tania Libre, Lynn Hershman Leeson, a guest at Panorama for the third time, accompanies Cuban artist Tania Bruguera during sessions with trauma therapist Dr. Frank Ochberg. After having served a sentence for treason meted out in the wake of a performance that expressed criticism of the regime, she wants to acquire the skills necessary to process the invasive infringement wrought by the paranoid machinery of the people’s dictatorship, including the revocation of her right to practice her art. The founder of the Institute for Artivism Hannah Arendt in Havana intends to campaign in Cuba’s next presidential election in 2018.
The second film hails from Chile: El Pacto De Adriana (Adriana’s Pact) by Lissette Orozco. The director accidently comes across indications that her once favourite aunt Adriana colluded actively with the secret service back in the days of the Pinochet junta. Her research yields a picture that can be found after the fall of every dictatorship ever: those that lived well under the terror regime steadfastly deny their involvement after the winds have shifted. A macrocosm opens up within a family’s intimate history – and no one knew nothing.
The French-Swiss-Palestinian co-production Istiyad Ashbah (Ghost Hunting) by Raed Andoni on the other hand leads us back into the present. In the scope of shooting for a film, a group of ex-prisoners from Israeli detention re-enact a sort of exhaustive catalogue of their experiences, in role plays and often in what borders on trauma therapy. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have experienced things like this in a variety of forms – what impact will these experiences have on the affected societies in the future?
Three extraordinary music documentaries make up a last thematic focus: On the one hand, we have Chavela by Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi, an homage to the Mexican singer Chavela Vargas, whose exceptional talent carried her to the world’s most notable concert halls, and whose independence and prodigious sacrifice in her life as a lesbian testified to an admirable attitude that stayed with her to a ripe old age. The last concert of this lover of Frida Kahlo, which took place under the patronage of Pedro Almodóvar (who has featured her music consistently in his films), was an homage performed in Madrid to the great gay Spanish poet Federico García Lorca (see also the Panorama production Bones of Contention in this connection).
On the other hand, Panorama brings together two films that treat electronic music culture in Germany: An inventor, innovator, a creator of genres, that’s Edgar Froese. Revolution of Sound. Tangerine Dream by Margarete Kreuzer is devoted to the story of the band and their influential, world famous music – while director Romuald Karmakar turns his attention once again to the settings of his “Club Land Trilogy”: With Denk ich an Deutschland in der Nacht (If I Think of Germany at Night) he shows the development of the music genres in question in the here and now, by enabling us to watch and listen to notable DJs while they work, including Ricardo Villalobos, Sonja Moonear, Ata Macias, Roman Flügel and Move D/David Moufang.
After her success at Panorama with Anderson, Annekatrin Hendel is back with an extremely intimate story of friendship that has larger societal implications. In Fünf Sterne (Five Stars) she spends four existential weeks in a seaside hotel with a close female friend. The two women’s conversations revolve around the often glamorous past in East Berlin, the current struggle with a diagnosis – and how our life plans relate to our actual lives.
Speaking of life plans: they can be found in abundance in Tristan Milewski’s Dream Boat – even if they seem to resemble one another, here under the premise of a temporary manipulation of society on a cruise exclusively for gay men. A society completely devoid of heteros, who normally rule the world, and completely devoid of women too: by purging the majority the minority becomes one. Many of the guests come from countries where simply being the way they are exposes them to serious danger: a concentrated form of existence is the result here, which represents a challenge beyond the purely physical for the participants.
Special TEDDY for Monika Treut
The Special TEDDY Award is presented by the friends’ association TEDDY e.V. to a filmmaker whose accomplishments have made an especially significant contribution to the characterisation of queer filmmaking over the years.
As a director, producer and author, Monika Treut has not only left her mark on feminist and lesbian cinema since the 1980s – she has also had a great impact on the German-speaking independent film scene and inspired practitioners and audiences alike all the way into world of US American indie cinema as a trailblazer for the New Queer Cinema. The boldness of and iconoclastic approach to her subjects and aesthetics are closely linked with the liberating energy of the Spontex movement of the 1970s. Her documentary Gendernauts won the TEDDY Award for Best Documentary Film in 1999 as well as audience prizes the world over. Since the presentation of her feature film debut with Elfi Mikesch Seduction: The Cruel Woman in 1985, the Berlinale has shown more than twelve of her films. On the occasion of the presentation of the award in the scope of the 31st TEDDY Awards on Friday, February 17th, Panorama will be showing her second feature film, the 1989 classic Die Jungfrauenmaschine (Virgin Machine).
Belinda – France
By Marie Dumora
Bones of Contention – USA
By Andrea Weiss
Chavela – USA
By Catherine Gund, Daresha Kyi
With Chavela Vargas, Pedro Almodóvar
Denk ich an Deutschland in der Nacht (If I Think of Germany at Night) – Germany
By Romuald Karmakar
With Ricardo Villalobos, Sonja Moonear, Ata, Roman Flügel, Move D/David Moufang
Dream Boat – Germany
By Tristan Ferland Milewski
Erase and Forget – United Kingdom
By Andrea Luka Zimmerman
Fünf Sterne (Five Stars) – Germany
By Annekatrin Hendel
Istiyad Ashbah (Ghost Hunting) – France / Palestinian Territories / Switzerland / Quatar
By Raed Andoni
Mein wunderbares West-Berlin (My Wonderful West Berlin) – Germany
By Jochen Hick
No Intenso Agora (In the Intense Now) – Brazil
By João Moreira Salles
El Pacto de Adriana (Adriana’s Pact) – Chile
By Lissette Orozco
Revolution of Sound. Tangerine Dream – Germany
By Margarete Kreuzer
With Edgar Froese, Peter Baumann, Christoph Franke, Johannes Schmoelling
Strong Island – USA / Denmark
By Yance Ford
Tahqiq fel djenna (Investigating Paradise) – France / Algeria
By Merzak Allouache
Tania Libre – USA
By Lynn Hershman Leeson
With Tania Bruguera, Frank Ochberg
Spoken by Tilda Swinton
Already announced for Panorama Dokumente:
Casting JonBenet – USA / Australia, by Kitty Green Combat au bout de la nuit (Fighting Through the Night) – Canada by Sylvain L’Espérance I Am Not Your Negro – France / USA / Belgium / Switzerland, by Raoul Peck Política, manual de instrucciones (Politics, instructions manual) – Spain, by Fernando León de Aranoa Ri Chang Dui Hua (Small Talk) – Taiwan, by Hui-chen Huang Untitled – Austria / Germany, by Michael Glawogger, Monika Willi
With “Don’t Call Me Son” Brazilian writer-director Anna Muylaert proves to be a filmmaker of remarkable range, subtlety and intelligence — a Brazilian talent who’s deservedly gaining a place on the world stage.
The movie is based on a true story. It plays tonight at 5:00pm and tomorrow at 7:30pm at the Riviera Theatre. Below is a rave review from the Hollywood Reporter.
Anna Muylaert (‘The Second Mother’) returns with her latest drama.
By Jordan Mintzer – The Hollywood Reporter
You can’t choose your family, though your family can sometimes choose you. That’s the troubling lesson learned by the characters in Don’t Call Me Son (Mae Son Ha Uma), a poignant and energetic Brazilian drama that turns a potentially bleak subject into a warmhearted study of genetics, gender and the true meaning of home.
Written and directed by Anna Muylaert, who won last year’s Berlinale Panorama Audience Award for her class-conscious tale The Second Mother, this fast-paced, endearingly performed story of a cross-dressing teenage boy who finds out he was stolen at birth, and is then forced to move in with his wealthy biological parents, could find itself adopted by art house distributors interested in both LGBT fare and bittersweet entertainment that doesn’t shy away from the darker side of growing up.
Pierre (Naomi Nero) is a guyliner-wearing high school student who, the first time we see him, has sex with a girl in a bathroom at a party, his pants hitting the floor to reveal a black lace G-string and garter belt. When he’s not getting busy or playing in a band, Pierre hangs at home with his working-class single mom, Arcay (Dani Nefussi), and younger sister, Jacqueline (Lais Dais), going through the usual minor adolescent crises.
But that all changes when Arcay and her son are suddenly asked to do DNA tests, and the truth comes out: Pierre was robbed from the cradle by his mother, who is whisked away to jail without warning, leaving her faux family in the hands of social workers. Soon enough, Pierre — whose birth name is Felipe — is introduced to his biological parents: the affluent, very traditional Gloria (again played by Nefussi) and her straight-edge husband Matheus (Matheus Nachtergaele), who want nothing more than to get their little boy back in their arms.
Muylaert sets up the film’s dramatic core in a series of quick and highly efficient scenes — the running time without credits is under 80 minutes – where Pierre sees his life unraveling before his eyes, yet seems generally more concerned with his own sexual identity. Keeping the action almost exclusively glued to his viewpoint, the script reveals how something as major as one’s true lineage might not matter at first to a teenager exploring the transience of gender as a means to find out who he is.
But the question of Pierre’s true nature comes flying to the forefront when he’s forced to move into the swank household of Gloria, Matheus and their very boyish younger son, Joca (Daniel Botelho). The couple offers their newly found child everything he wants, and the sequence where Gloria shows off her home to Pierre/Felipe — they can’t figure out what to call him — is heartbreaking in an undemonstrative way, revealing how all the money in the world can’t compensate for the loss of a son who may be coming back to the nest way too late, and for whom such creature comforts are meaningless.
Indeed, tempers begin to flare when Pierre, who tries his best to be polite at first, starts to reject a family whose bourgeois ways are not exactly his cup of tea. In one of the film’s best scenes — shot in a single long take — we look on as Gloria and Matheus take their son to an upscale clothing store in the hopes of getting him a set of new Polo shirts, only to wind up with a garish, zebra-striped dress instead. It’s an act of rebellion that underlines the nurture vs. nature issues raised by the script, leaving Pierre and his “real” parents to contemplate what it means to be connected by blood ties, if not necessarily by anything else.
Working with a terrific cast — first-timer Nero is a real discovery — Muylaert makes all the traumatic twists in the story feel both natural and almost casual at times, as if we’re watching everyday people whose lives have suddenly been transformed into a telenovela plot. Using the relatively unknown Nefussi to play the role of both moms was also an excellent idea on the director’s part, adding another layer of confusion to the subject of parentage that lies at the heart of film — whose original title translates to: “There’s Only One Mother.” If it could be so simple.