Thursday, September 29, 2016

WHEN MARKETING TRUMPS TRUTH

Not too long ago I read Suki Kim‘s article “The Reluctant Memoirist” in The New Republic. In the article, Kim, an investigative journalist who spent six months posing as a teacher at an evangelical university in North Korea — culminating in her 2014 book Without You, There Is No Us: My Time With the Sons of North Korea’s Elite — voiced her frustration at having to promote her nonfiction work as memoir. Her essay struck a chord.


To find out why visit The Rumpus.

Friday, September 9, 2016

GENRE TROUBLE: LAURA ALBERT ON JT LEROY, FAME, GENDER, AND LITERARY EXPLOITATION

As a first-time author back in 2007, I was fascinated by the court case of Laura Albert, a San Francisco musician and phone sex operator who dreamed up a genderqueer alter ego by the name of JT LeRoy. LeRoy — who was thought to be a real person, not anyone’s persona — went on to woo everyone from Dennis Cooper and Mary Gaitskill to Asia Argento and Gus Van Sant with his harrowing writing. After LeRoy received much fame and acclaim, Albert was not only outed as the creator of LeRoy, but ultimately she was sued for fraud by Antidote Films, the production company that had optioned the rights to LeRoy’s Sarah.

Now, nearly a decade on, Albert finds herself in a much more positive spotlight as the subject of Jeff Feuerzeig’s Sundance-premiering documentary Author: The JT LeRoy Story. Though I’ve corresponded with the often-polarizing writer over the years, we never actually sat down to do a formal interview. With the documentary hitting select theaters today, September 9, I figured it was due time to catch up, reflect, and reconsider the saga of JT LeRoy.


To read my interview visit Bitch Media.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Binding Truth: Revisiting Antidote Films vs. Laura Albert (aka JT LeRoy)

Jeff Feuerzeig’s Sundance-premiering documentary Author: The JT LeRoy Story delves into the strange and winding tale of how a San Francisco musician and phone sex operator by the name of Laura Albert created a genderqueer avatar who went on to become a literary sensation and celebrity magnet before Albert was revealed to be her it boy JT LeRoy. The film opens in theaters September 9th.

What the doc doesn’t much explore is the oft-forgotten fact that back in 2007, indie production outfit Antidote Films actually sued Ms. Albert for fraud. The company had optioned the rights to LeRoy’s Sarah four years earlier, but then decided the deal should be rendered null and void because JT LeRoy didn’t actually exist. Never mind that Sarah was never published as memoir or autobiography – and that Antidote never explicitly bought the rights to JT LeRoy’s life.


And to read the rest of my courtroom recollections visit Global Comment.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The rise of female-driven porn: Pioneer Angie Rowntree on Sssh.com

Though Susan Sarandon likely has never heard of Angie Rowntree, for fans of female-focused porn she’s a household name. A longtime adult filmmaker (as is her husband Colin), Rowntree is the mind behind Sssh.com, the very first porn site for women and by women, launched all the way back in 1999. The XBIZ Award-winning website is a one-stop shop of female pleasure, featuring everything from original movies, to books, to a radio station, to virtual reality experiences and even live events. In addition, the Internet porn pioneer is continuously busy building bridges to the mainstream, having been profiled in most major news outlets (from CNBC to the BBC), and even becoming the first adult industry power player to speak at a Sundance Institute event (a “Creative Tensions: Sex” panel in Brooklyn) last year.


To read my interview visit Global Comment.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

WHEN CLOTHES DON’T MAKE THE MAN: WHAT SUITED LEAVES OUT

Jason Benjamin’s HBO documentary Suited, produced by HBO’s Girls co-creators Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, is an eye-opening journey into the niche subject of dressing for success when you’re a gender nonconforming individual. Brooklyn bespoke tailoring company Bindle & Keep is a no-frills, two-person operation consisting of straight, cisgender male founder Daniel who fell into his calling through his non-binary, apprentice-turned-colleague Rae (née Rachel). Mixing cinema vérité with interviews, Benjamin’s film is fairly standard in approach — alternating between surface-deep snapshots into the lives of Bindle & Keep customers and the actual fitting process. It’s the clients themselves that are the true revelation — at least to me.

To read the rest visit The Rumpus.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Feminist Filmmaking Shines at The Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Running June 10-19th at NYC’s Film Society of Lincoln Center and the IFC Center, this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival is spotlighting films both by female documentarians (over half the lineup is directed or co-directed by women) and focusing on women’s rights issues. The 27th edition will open with Nanfu Fang’s Hooligan Sparrow, which follows Chinese activist Ye Haiyan, nom de guerre “Hooligan Sparrow,” as the subject herself (along with filmmaker Fang, who rightly will receive the festival’s 2016 Nestor Almendros Award for courage in filmmaking) is likewise trailed by the secret police. Speaking out against a corrupt government system – which has allowed a school headmaster to get away with pimping out several of his young students (to government officials, naturally) – Sparrow proves as fearless as her friend Ai Weiwei. Though lacking in the international art world stardom that can often serve as a protective shield.



To read the rest of my wrap-up visit Global Comment.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Exploring gender identity at the Trans Theatre Festival

For nearly a decade and a half, The Brick Theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn has been a hub of cutting edgy innovation. (Just check out my interview with Mariah MacCarthy about last year’s inaugural F*ckfest.) And 2016 is no exception. For this summer’s Trans Theatre Festival, running June 7-26, co-curators Maybe Burke (a director/choreographer/writer/performer/trans advocate) and MJ Kaufman (a longtime playwright and recent Yale School of Drama MFA graduate) have put together an incredibly eclectic lineup, everything from plays to docs, to paintings to web series – all conceived by trans artists.

I spoke with the duo a few weeks before the festival’s (free) cabaret preview and opening party on June 7th.


To read my interview visit Global Comment.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Conversation with Alden Peters (COMING OUT)

Coming Out, one of the most thought-provoking docs I caught at this year’s RiverRun International Film Festival (ironically in Winston-Salem, NC during the HB2 boycott) initially sounded like a navel-gazing gimmick. Filmmaker Alden Peters, a white guy from Seattle who passes as straight, documented his entire coming out process over several years – capturing the reactions of unsuspecting (and suspecting) loved ones on camera as he tells them that he’s gay.

Yet what starts out as personal exploration soon becomes fascinatingly universal as Peters sharply broadens his scope to show how queer millennials still internalize society’s historical oppression even in the age of same-sex marriage. Part 21st-century time capsule (the doc includes clips of young LGBTQs coming out online) and part anthropological study (talking heads like Janet Mock chime in), Coming Out reveals that cultural expectations exert more pressure than any friend or family member ever could.

HtN was fortunate enough to chat with the self-reflective director/subject post fest.



To read my interview visit Hammer to Nail.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Sexploitation Star Kitten Natividad on Russ Meyer, Roger Ebert, Porn and the Hot Docs-premiering League of Exotique Dancers

Rama Rau’s League of Exotique Dancers is an absolutely delightful and lovingly crafted doc structured around a group of legendary striptease artists as they prepare to return to the stage for the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend in Las Vegas — a trip which becomes merely an excuse for the filmmaker to delve deeply into the extraordinary lives of some truly groundbreaking women. Among the timelessly sexy inductees is none other than Kitten Natividad, best known as cult director Russ Meyer’s buxom muse. Prior to the film’s Hot Docs premiere, Filmmaker was fortunate enough to catch up with the Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens star to discuss everything from drinking with Meyer and Roger Ebert, to surviving breast cancer and losing her Mexican accent.


To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Monday, April 25, 2016

LGBTQ in NC: Covering the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival and the RiverRun International Film Festival During the HB2 Boycott

Before North Carolina passed its HB2 legislation, officially known as “An act to provide for single-sex multiple occupancy bathroom and changing facilities in schools and public agencies and to create statewide consistency in regulation of employment and public accommodations” (or, for me, the simpler and more accurate “WTF?”), I’d been looking forward to covering two film festivals back-to-back on my very first visit to the southern state. Yet as the nationwide call for boycott gathered speed, and the opening night of Durham’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival approached, I found myself in a queasy quandary. So I did what any moral film journalist would do. I began scanning both the Full Frame and Winston-Salem’s RiverRun International Film Festival programs for all the LGBTQ flicks I could find.


To read all about my queer-film film trip visit Filmmaker magazine.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Conversation With Hillevi Loven (DEEP RUN)

Deep Run is Hillevi Loven’s beautifully crafted and nuanced portrait of out-and-proud, teen trans-man Cole who searches for love while holding tight to his religious faith in his titular (evangelical, blue collar, rural North Carolina) hometown. Exec-produced by Susan Sarandon, the doc ironically made its North Carolina debut at this year’s excitingly eclectic RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem right as the rest of the nation – from governors to corporations to Bruce Springsteen – began boycotting the state in reaction to the anti-LGBTQ HB2.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with the thoughtful director post-fest to discuss everything from following evangelical millennials, to upending us urban Yankees’ preconceived notions about our gender-nonconforming neighbors down south.



To read my interview visit Hammer to Nail.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Directors Leo Chiang and Johnny Symons Talk Screening LGBT Doc Out Run in Boycott State North Carolina

Ironically launching at the stellar Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina right as the anti-LGBTQ HB2 legislation hit the fan, S. Leo Chiang and Johnny Symons’s Out Run follows the Ladlad Party in the Philippines — the only LGBT political party in the world — in the run-up to what could be a history-making election. An artistic political doc, Out Run is both riveting and familiar, as the leaders (including Bemz Benedito, a trans woman who serves as the face of the party) deftly employ campaign strategies that include everything from transforming beauty parlors into headquarters to forming alliances on the local level — even if it means supporting other candidates in quid pro quo moves. The story becomes even more surreal as the Ladlad party goes up against a rival gay organization put together by none other than anti-LGBT preacher and politician Benny Abante, who anointed his group of supporters with the acronym AIDS. In other words, politics as usual. And not.

Filmmaker spoke with the co-directors shortly after their Full Frame premiere.


To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

THE RUMPUS MINI-INTERVIEW PROJECT #52: LAUREN WISSOT IN CONVERSATION WITH STOYA

Edited by queer porn performer and LGBTQ activist Jiz Lee, Coming Out Like a Porn Star is a wide-ranging compilation of answers to questions only sex industry pros seem to get. (And if you guessed, “Does your mother know?” to be at the top of the queries you are correct.)

Since the announcement of the book early last year, the sex worker-penned anthology has been named to Reason’s list of “Best Sex-Work Books of 2015,” and has even made it onto the syllabi at college campuses. And now contributor Stoya—a global porn star and prolific writer whose trademarked name probably signals that she needs no introduction—agreed to chat with me soon after COLaPS’s CineKink NYC launch.



To read my interview visit The Rumpus.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Finnish First: My interview with Transgender Wrestler Jessica Love

In January I had the pleasure of attending the truly unique DocPoint Helsinki as this year’s Critic’s Choice critic. (And I mean truly unique. How many documentary film festivals feature a sauna and ice swimming party on an island?) One of my top three Finnish picks was Oskari Pastila’s “Spandex Sapiens,” a wonderfully inventive portrait of Michael “Starbuck” Majalahti, an aging Canadian-Finnish wrestler (and preacher’s son) who runs Fight Club Finland, that nation’s answer to the WWE. Starbuck’s adversary in the ring is none other than the young and vibrant Jessica Love, the first transgender wrestler in the Nordic countries – and, just as exciting for me, the first pro wrestler I’ve ever had the opportunity to interview. I spoke with the very busy Love in between bouts.



To read the interview visit Global Comment.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

No Sex Please, We’re British: Pandora Blake Battles UK Censorship

Feminist porn producer/performer Pandora Blake is one of the more high profile victims of the Orwellian Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014, an amendment to the UK’s 2003 Communications Act – which basically bans the country’s porn producers from showing a long and seemingly arbitrary list of run-of-the-mill BDSM practices. Though Blake’s award-winning website Dreams of Spanking was shut down last August – after she’d done a whirlwind of media interviews decrying the legislation and even organized a fundraiser for Backlash, the sexual freedom-defending nonprofit – she’s refused to take the attack on her livelihood lying down, so to speak. I was fortunate enough to catch up with the kink-positive activist, who’s currently appealing the Dreams of Spanking ruling, a few days before Valentine’s Day.


To read my interview visit Global Comment.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Director Sydney Freeland on Trans-centric Web Series “Her Story”

A web series about a couple of Los Angelenas discovering love when they least expect it sounds less “groundbreaking” than stereotypical indie pitch. Yet “Her Story,” which debuts its first six episodes on its website (for free!) on January 19th is anything but your average hipster cliché. The series, co-written by Jen (“I Am Cait”) Richards and directed by Sydney Freeland (whose rez-set feature film “Drunktown’s Finest” made a splash at Sundance a couple years back) also features trans women in the lead roles. Meaning the talented ladies both in front of and behind the lens are all part of the transgender community. Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with series director Freeland – who I last interviewed prior to the “Drunktown’s Finest” 2014 premiere – to learn more about “Her Story,” and her own story about the process of portraying a once marginalized, increasingly visible population in a realistic light.


To read my interview visit Global Comment.