Crowdfunder’s Forum: Yony Leyser On Turning The End of the World Into Cinematic ‘Desire’

Crowdfunder's Forum: Yony Leyser On Turning The End of the World Into Cinematic 'Desire'
Crowdfunder's Forum: Yony Leyser On Turning The End of the World Into Cinematic 'Desire'

Crowdfunder’s Forum is a new regular feature on /bent (and a sibling to our Filmmaker’s Forum features) that allows LGBT media makers to offer first person accounts of the projects they are currently pitching to potential funders through sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. If you have an idea for a Crowdfunder’s Forum, e-mail us at

Will Set You Free” was pitched as a film about Berlin’s underground for the
fundraising campaign because we figured that would be the most palpable
explanation for the general public. However, the film is much deeper than that.
It is a profoundly personal story of the community I have been a part of for
the last four years in Berlin.

was inspired to write the story after living in a shared queer artists’ apartment in Berlin for three years. The impetus came right before the alleged end of
the world ( December 21 2012). A cute 20-year-old guy on BUTT
magazine’s website wrote me saying that he wanted to visit
Berlin and explore the queer scene here. He ended up coming for ten days. His
last day being the 21st… the end of the world.  During his visit I learned his story about
living in Latvia with his mother and being subjected to abuse because of his
sexuality. Then on the 5th day of his visit he came out as a woman.  He was a beautiful and magical being and for
those ten days I saw my crazy life laid out in front of me — all my privilege,
ego-centric behavior, excess, madness, utopic fantasy, radical activity all
there for the first time really there for me to see.

After the ten days the world did not end of course, but
he did have to go back to Latvia with the promise of returning. With my friend Paula
Alamillo (who ended up producing the film), over the course of a year we turned
the story into “Desire Will Set You Free.” In the process of auditioning, I found
many people who had a similar story to our Sasha (not her real name). We
integrated their stories to make our characters real, honest and dynamic. The
other characters and situations in the film are also based off of real
experiences and people.  

cast is assembled not only of people playing themselves, but also known
performers and professional actors. I also play a role in the film because the
film is autobiographical and some of the favorite films and TV shows that inspire me most star the
director as a central role (think Lena Dunham, Xavier Dolan of late). I was an
actor way before I was a filmmaker. I studied acting at the Chicago Academy For
the Arts with my teenage best friend Cecily Strong (now on SNL!) who was my
mentor and acting inspiration for the years. We worked together in one high
school play or cheap TV spot after the other. 

Berlin’s “Queer community”:

of young adults flock to Berlin to escape persecution and find a better life
for themselves; many are part of the LGBT community. The nightlife in Berlin is
very gay and is a mix of them and Westerners with extra money and time to blow
looking for a good time. This film is not trying to glorify or romanticize the
world we live in here in Berlin.  It
intends to show all sides of it including a very dark world, which is a very
real reality for many people. I have had several young friends commit suicide
or overdose in the last few years. All of whom were part of this “queer scene”

go back and forth from being firmly committed to the “queer
community” to being totally and completely disillusioned with the concept
and diametrically opposed to it. Is there a community of people who have the
same beliefs, that are fighting the common fight against oppression or is it
just a bunch of angry queens that want spaces where they can cruise one another
and gossip?  Maybe a little bit of both? “I
mean that has been a part of queer studies for decades,” I heard the other night
sitting on my friend’s balcony talking about about the idea of heterosexuality
being a new creation. “Queer studies has not been around for decades, Judith
Butler….” another friend retorted. The argument about the definition of “queer” is disputed on a regular bases in my social circles.

overall experience of shooting a “queer film” in Berlin was overwhelmingly
positive. I got the support and trust of my community with some very
disheartening exceptions. The production team started as a five-person feminist
collective and ended as a two woman production Company.

three that were left behind stirred up some dust. An American drag queen living
in Berlin made a big fuss because she felt the drag queens in our film were not
paid enough. (Most of the crew was working for free all day and night). She got
so angry that she held a conference on queer art making and it was filmed and
shared via berlin blogs.  In the hour
rant she said that Kickstarter works only for the privileged and that Bruce
LaBruce, John Waters, and all the queer filmmakers we know are all
counter-revolutionary sellouts.  I
couldn’t help but like her rant. It appealed to the 19-year-old anarchist
activist that I used to be and maybe still am.

The drag queens that did show up to
set were amazing and very appreciative as was all my cast.  Our main characters interact with real Berlin
activists, icons, performers mostly playing themselves… including the best of
Berlin’s queens.

the end it was these people and our crew that helped make such an amazing film
which also has really high production value (also thanks to an amazing ARRI
deal because they loved our film).

spreading the word:

was spamming people’s walls to spread the word of the Kickstarter. I wrote on
my 80s film crush Nick Zedd’s Facebook wall
telling him thanks for being an inspiration for “Desire.”  He retorted with an angry rant about how Bruce LaBruce and I only get funding because we are gay and about if he was gay he would have his films funded. I
tried to explain to him the struggles of being a queer filmmaker until he
replied you homos “enjoy your privileged class” and blocked me.

was a bit ironic lumping me in with Bruce LaBruce because I tried to raise
money for a documentary on queercore for the last 2.5 years with no luck
(LaBruce was one of the instigators of the gay/punk movement.) The film was
deemed too “niche” and turned down from funding while for some reason the idea of “Desire Will Set You Free” resonated with people and received some German film
funds (but not much because it is my first narrative…)

maybe Zedd does have a point.  Maybe
queers are privileged? At least in the art world.  Could the persecuted one day become the persecutors? 

Either way, in the end we made an amazing emotional beautiful film that I hope we will be able
to finish.  So
here I am now trying to get this film finished and looking to Kickstarter to do

Please help support it here.


Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.