Draper Shreeve’s lovely “Queer City,” will screen at Reel Affirmations August 29 at 1:00 pm at Gala Hispanic/Tivoli Theatre 3333 14th Street NW in Washington, DC. The documentary introduces a handful of LGBTQ New Yorkers to provide an affecting mosaic of urban queer life. Shreve is not trying to be comprehensive here, but his film is representational of different ages, races, orientations, and identities. The filmmaker said in an email he selected the people he profiled because he wanted “People who were truly interesting in themselves; that they had stories we had not heard before. But I also wanted to include as diverse a selection as possible across race, gender, age and class. I knew we could tell only so many stories, and could not represent everyone, but I wanted to catch some of the mix of queer American life in 2015.”
Many of the film’s interviewees are seen getting up in the morning, showering, shaving, eating, and starting their day. It’s a nice device for illustrating the quotidian life of queer people: we are just like everyone else. Shreeve’s approach captures not just the rhythm of his subjects’ lives, but the upbeat drumming and clapping on the soundtrack creates an energy as well.
“Queer City” begins with Individuals like Tee, a lesbian, who discusses her attraction to women and her coming out process. Another vignette has Eric, a young man with Haitian origins, seen fishing with his mother, and about his cultural diversity, and how his mother’s tough love probably saved him from jail or death.
When “Queer City” introduces Kris and Sarah, a lesbian couple raising two kids, the film stops hopscotching between people and settles down to spend time with this modern family. Kris and Sarah admit, with a sense of humor, that they have become minivan-driving soccer moms. The kids, Gabriel and Lia, are interviews about their lives, and Gabriel, not surprisingly, desires some kind of father figure, even though he loves both of his mothers. A dinner table scene feature a discussion of Obama and the Mayors of New York, but also talk about family, chores, games, and more. There is a naturalness about their lives, that never seems to push a queer agenda, even if Sarah wears a Dyke March t-shirt.
Tom Duane, a New York State Senator, talks more about the personal and the political, referencing Kent State and Stonewall along with the film “Midnight Cowboy” as key points in his queer life. He is out and proud, but also describes being attacked in the parking lot of a gay bar, and how common it is not just for GLBT folks to be victims of violence, but also the discoveries he made about the people who perpetuate such hate.
Moving to sex, Shreeve focuses on Mr. Pam, a female gay porn director who is seen preparing to shoot a three-way adult film scene. Her candor about her bisexuality, along with her rapport with the actors and her overall enthusiasm is infectious. Shreeve celebrates Mr. Pam and her work, and his clever visual presentation of the sex scene, with overlapping images is dazzling.
“Queer City” also includes profiles of Tee, the aforementioned Latina lesbian, and Geoffrey, an 81-year-old Brit, who moved to America during the war for a year, and stayed for more than three decades. Geoffrey, who helps out at a senior center, puts a voice and a face to the aging LGBT population, which is underrepresented onscreen.
Lastly, Shreeve returns to Eric’s story, and how he transitioned from female to male. As he explains the “struggle of his journey” he shares an impassioned and emotional story of talking with his school social worker, who helped him become more comfortable with the idea of transitioning, taking his first hormone shot, and coming out as trans to his mom.
All of the portraits in “Queer City” are interesting and affecting. Shreeve’s film is worthwhile not just for showing LGBT lives as ordinary folks, but for showing how these people who have embraced and accepted themselves are more empowered as a result. It is necessary to continue to tell stories of the queer community. It would be great if Shreeve could make “Queer City” portraits in every city.