Film & Video
3 min

Divine docs

Four must-see documentaries at this year's Inside Out

I Am Divine

For more than two decades, the Inside Out LGBT Film Festival has been showcasing queer films and filmmakers to audiences gay, straight and everything in between. From its humble beginnings at the Euclid Theatre in 1991, it now enjoys an 11-day extravaganza that draws 35,000 viewers.

The documentaries are certainly among the most fascinating entries, giving glimpses into the lives of queer folks all around the world. This year’s offerings are a wonderful blend of the nostalgic, the inspiring and the downright terrifying.

One of the most enduring gay icons is, of course, Divine. Fiercer than RuPaul and more bodacious than Beth Ditto, Glenn Milstead’s drag creation was the highlight of any John Waters film made before the star’s death in 1988. “I’ve worshipped at the altar of John Waters and Divine since I was a teenager,” says Jeffrey Schwarz, whose I Am Divine (Sat, June 1, 7:15pm) will be shown at this year’s festival. “I had read a book that described their film Pink Flamingos scene by scene. I became obsessed.”

Schwarz’s film features interviews with people close to Milstead, as well as archived footage rarely seen since his death. “Glenn was actually quite soft-spoken and shy,” Schwarz says. “The makeup and outfits were his work clothes. But I think he found a way to channel his teenage angst from being bullied into that fierce character.”

Bullying is a sadly common tale for many, but Selena Blake’s documentary Taboo Yardies (Thurs, May 30, 9:45pm) reveals a life of persecution few of us can imagine. The film takes an unflinching look at the lives of queer folks in Jamaica, masterfully weaving street interviews with first-person accounts of prejudice and violence.

In one particularly harrowing segment, a man calmly states that he would happily murder his son if the kid turned out gay. Blake contrasts this with heart-wrenching testimonials from men and women – many digitally altered for their own safety – whose lives have been damaged by Jamaica’s socially acceptable bigotry toward lesbians and batty men (derogatory slang for gay males).

In one powerful scene, a young lesbian cowers in the back of a car, speaking of how she was raped and beaten. “The men say, ‘Your pussy is tight because you don’t have sex with males,'” she sobs. It’s sadly unsurprising that the woman resorts to self-cutting to distract from her internal turmoil.

“It’s the way they have found to cope,” Blake says. “But we have to come to a place where women aren’t harming themselves because of their sexual orientation, where a man feels that all you need is a night with him and it’ll straighten you out.”

Cameroon is another hotspot for gaybashing, but that hasn’t stopped an underground support group for gay citizens. Born This Way (Sun, May 26, 2:45pm), is a new film from Shaun Kadlec and Deb Tullmann. It follows the lives of Cedric, Gertrude and their friends as they strive for acceptance in the African country’s hostile social and political climate.

There are clandestine meetings with tales of horrific abuse sanctioned by the government. But there are also scenes filled with parties and dancing and laughter, a symbol of irrepressible spirit in what is literally a life-or-death struggle for existence.

“The one thing I can’t get out of my mind are those contradictions,” Kadlec says. “How they still feel such genuine joy and camaraderie while also being the most hated group in the country.”

You can’t get much more contradictory than Buck Angel, the self-described “Man with a Pussy.” Born Susan Lee, Angel has transformed his body into a manly powerhouse in the 20 years since his transition. His life as an adult performer, advocate and educator is laid bare in Mr Angel (Sun, May 26, 9:15pm), a new documentary by Dan Hunt.

Angel was a little hesitant at first to showcase his life on film but was won over by Hunt’s feeling that his story could help others. “For me, transitioning was a life-or-death situation,” Angel says. “I figured if it didn’t work, I would just kill myself. Now here I am, happy and successful, so hopefully that message will resonate.”