New Film Explores Stigma & Journey Of HIV+ Priest

Sebastian LaCause (screen capture)

Award-winning actor, writer and director Sebastian LaCause (Hustling, He’s With Me, Life’s A Drag) has a new, provocative film project in the works – Holy Water.

In the intro video for the upcoming short film, LaCause explains the story follows “a gay priest at a crossroads of identity and self-acceptance as he struggles to come to terms with an HIV diagnosis.”

Explaining that film and other entertainment can have a positive social impact, the filmmaker hopes to spark positive momentum toward fighting HIV related stigma and homophobia that many within the community feel in their homes, schools, and society at large.

The struggle for his protagonist in Holy Water is not only with his sexuality but also the “dark consequences of not knowing your value.”

The priest in his film is described as “someone who has spent a lifetime denying large parts of himself in order to feel worthy,” says LaCause. “He is someone who has spent a lifetime not loving himself and not knowing his value.”

(screen capture)

And speaking of ‘value,’ LaCause shares part of the journey of the project that led to an epiphany of his own.

After sharing the concept of the film at a ‘pitch-fest’ in Los Angeles, LaCause was about to move from one studio executive to the next when the executive he’d just spoke to asked, “Why are you the one to tell this story?”

LaCause took a long pause before telling the exec, “Because I’m HIV-positive.”

In the video below, it’s clear that information is something LaCause has felt very private about for some time. Speaking the words out loud, the effect on him is obvious.

“And I suddenly felt free,” he continues. “I’m done with shame; I’m done with fear; I’m done with hiding.”

“I could care less about negative expectations, or backlash, or ruining my career because I now know what’s the point of having a career if you don’t feel worthy of it?”

“I have been running away from myself my whole life. It feels good to be speaking my truth.”

The honest, visceral, authentic moment definitely evokes an interest in how LaCause will bring Holy Water to fruition. Watch the video pitch below.

Note – while the video is from a crowdsourcing campaign, this article is not meant to elicit donations. Feel free to do so, but the interest here was in the storytelling by LaCause and his desire to fight HIV stigma.

If you haven’t discovered LaCause’s terrific web series, Hustling, it’s definitely worth watching.

Thoughtful, sexy, pensive, provocative…and did I mention sexy?

Over the course of three seasons, the series snatched up tons of nominations and awards for Best Writing, Best Drama Series, Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting and Soundtrack at the Indie Series Awards, Webby Awards, LA Webfest and more.

For an idea of where LaCause may head with Holy Water, check out the teaser for the third season of Hustling below.

‘The Blond One’ Explores Visceral Attraction Amid Latin Machismo

With five acclaimed indie features under his belt, Argentine director/writer Marco Berger (Taekwondo, Plan B, Hawaii) delivers his latest exploration of the male psyche, The Blond One.

The film, which premiered at Sydney’s Mardi Gras Film Festival in February and took home the prize for Best LGBTQ Film at the Molodist International Film Festival, is a testament to the power of understated performances and confidently relies on artful silences between the two protagonists.

Set in Buenos Aires, Gabriel (Gastón Re) and Juan (Alfonso Barón) are coworkers who find themselves roommates when Juan invites Gabriel to rent a spare bedroom in his flat.

One furtive glance leads to another, a brush of a hand here or there, and even though Juan’s multiple girlfriends casually come and go, the attraction between the two men is palpable.

Of course, this leads to a physical connection, but both men then have to search themselves for what this means.

Latin machismo battles with visceral sexual attraction as the film circles around latent romantic possibilities.

Juan, apparently bisexual, finds the need to put walls up and delineate roles by offering macho statements like, “Don’t make me explain myself like you were my girlfriend,” to a puppy dog-eyed Gabriel.

Gabriel, the sensitive, single father (the mother of his daughter passed away some time ago) who seems to quietly identify as gay, finds himself looking for an emotional anchor. Whether or not that ends up to be Juan, you’ll have to check out the film to find out.

The subtle, heartfelt performances – brimming with sexual tension – are intimate, honest and emotionally raw.

The Blond One opens today in Los Angeles for a weeklong run at the Laemmle Music Hall with home video release to follow.

In Spanish with English subtitles – running time 111 minutes.

Rating: 5 stars – highly recommended

(all photos courtesy of TLA Releasing)

Acclaimed Short Film ‘Trophy Boy’ Heading To Television

Emrhys Cooper in ‘Trophy Boy’ (photo: Robin Isherwood)

Trophy Boy, the critically-acclaimed short film about the fall of an egotistical gay Instagram ‘influencer’ after being dumped by his sugar daddy, has been picked up for series development.

Emrhys Cooper (Mamma Mia, Vanity) directed and starred in the short film which has been acquired by production, financing and distribution company Dynamic Television.

Gerald McCullouch, of the Bear City movie trilogy and the award-winning web series, Hustling, is also featured in the film.

Anthony Johnston, Emrhys Cooper, Gerald McCullouch in ‘Trophy Boy’

In the short, Cooper plays ‘James,’ who after living as a social media ‘celebrity’ finds out the hard way what real life is like.

The official synopsis:

Trophy Boy is your classic “riches-to-rags” story. It depicts the downward spiral of James – a spoiled, influencer and narcissist, who, based on his social media accounts, appears to have it all.

But, just before his 30th birthday, his much older boyfriend, on whom he was financially dependent, breaks up with him. James now must face reality with no work experience and no idea where to start.

With his sex-addicted best buddy by his side, James takes a crash course in living and sets out to prove that he doesn’t need anyone to take care of him.

He ultimately ends up alienating himself further from reality and comes face-to-face with the bitter fact that if he doesn’t learn to live as an adult in the real world, he’ll never be more than a washed-up, unwanted accessory.

Emhrys Cooper in ‘Trophy Boy’ (photo: Andrey Kopylov)

Speaking to Towleroad last year, Emhrys explained his inspiration for making the film: “Social media has created a generation of self-obsessed narcissists obsessed with self-obsessed narcissists. My goal for Trophy Boy is to say look up from your phone, breathe, observe, and think about what really matters; honesty, integrity and deep sense of responsibility.”

Critics have raved about the film:

“With impeccable dialogue delivery, amazing body language and performance, he (Cooper) consumes the screen every time he faces the camera…The climax is a pure masterpiece in terms of both, acting and story. The dark, haunting depth attained in performance and narration makes ‘Trophy Boy’ worth a watch!”” – Indie Shorts Mag, September 14, 2018

Cooper and Trophy Boy co-star Donal Brophy will executive produce the new series along with Dynamic Television’s Holly Hines.

Dynamic’s list of series include SYFY’s Trapped, Van Helsing, Wynona Earp and Z Nation, East Los High for Hulu, and Madiba on BET.

You can watch the entire 12 minute short film, Trophy Boy, below.

Short Film: ‘The Real Thing’

What a lovely, thoughtful short film.

The Real Thing, written and directed by Brandon Kelley, captures important moments – big and small – in a quick 7 minute journey.

With very little dialogue Kelley guides his lead actors, Sophie Giannamore and Michael Torpey, up to and through one of the most crucial, life-altering moments a transgender child will have.

From the official description:

When a soldier returns home, things have often changed. For Staff Sergeant Michael Waltze, the ultimate change is in his child. While on his tour of duty, his daughter has transitioned and started living her truth. Today he is coming home to surprise her.
Parental love is unconditional. It transcends a person’s memory of their child. The Real Thing is an infinitely stronger bond.

The short was honored as ‘Outstanding Narrative Short Film’ at Outfest 2017, ‘Programmers Choice Award’ for Narrative Short at the Virginia Film Festival, Best Director and Best Drama Jury Award at the New England Film Festival, Grand Jury Prize and People’s Choice Award at the James River Short Film fest and many others.

Kelley released the film earlier this week in observance of Transgender Awareness Week (Nov 12-19).

Kudos to Kelley, his cast and crew for a capturing such a poignant, ‘real’ chapter in so many lives.

I really encourage you to sit back for just 7 minutes and watch The Real Thing below.

Out Film: ‘Mario’

(scene from ‘Mario’)

After successfully making the rounds of the international film festival circuit, Mario, a gay-themed movie steeped in the world of professional European soccer will finally be available in the U.S. via Video On Demand October 30.

The film follows Swiss-German soccer hopeful Mario (Max Hubacher) who is assigned housing with a new-teammate, dark and swarthy Leon (Aaron Altaras), a striker from Hanover, Germany.

Chemistry (or biology) is what it is, and one night during a video game session, a bout of tickling leads to a kiss.

Passions now ignited, the real story of Mario begins as the two young athletes face many obstacles, both personal and professional, as their dreams of becoming soccer stars loom in the distance.

There are swirling rumors among team mates, tamping down concerns by veteran sports agents, a threat of blackmail, and personal demons to address that have been long-buried in the pursuit of athletic achievement.

Credit director Marcel Gisler for developing the palpable chemistry between Altaras and Hubacher throughout the film.

The film had its premiere at BFI Flare London LGBTQ Film Festival in early April this year, and premiered in North America at Miami’s Outshine Film Festival later in spring.

The Swiss film was so well-received it managed to take home trophies in the ‘Best Actor’ and ‘Best Supporting Actress’ categories at the most recent Swiss Film Awards.

The Guardian called the film “a heartfelt and human drama with the texture of truth and characters to care about.”

The Independent wrote, “Every gay man will instantly connect with either Mario or Leon and their relatable worries of life and love.”

And The Hollywood Reporter hailed “the small, very human moments” of the movie that ensures Mario “feels authentic and is, finally, moving.”

This heart-warming rollercoaster of a film, set on and off the field, offers a dynamic and realistic picture of how gay professional athletes are still struggling to live their authentic lives in the 21st century.

Short Film: ‘Trophy Boy’

Emrhys Cooper in ‘Trophy Boy’

Emrhys Cooper directs and stars in the short film, Trophy Boy, set for release later this month.

The film also features Gerald McCullouch of the Bear City movie trilogy and the award-winning web series, Hustling.

In the film, Cooper plays ‘James,’ who after living as a social media ‘celebrity’ finds out the hard way what real life is like.

The official synopsis:

TROPHY BOY is your classic “riches-to-rags” story. It depicts the downward spiral of James – a spoiled, influencer and narcissist, who, based on his social media accounts, appears to have it all.

But, just before his 30th birthday, his much older boyfriend, on whom he was financially dependent, breaks up with him. James now must face reality with no work experience and no idea where to start.

With his sex-addicted best buddy by his side, James takes a crash course in living and sets out to prove that he doesn’t need anyone to take care of him.

He ultimately ends up alienating himself further from reality and comes face-to-face with the bitter fact that if he doesn’t learn to live as an adult in the real world, he’ll never be more than a washed-up, unwanted accessory.

Critics have raved about the classic riches-to-rags story about a young social media “influencer” and self-proclaimed ‘trophy boy’ who gets dumped by his wealthy, older boyfriend/benefactor.

“With impeccable dialogue delivery, amazing body language and performance, he (Cooper) consumes the screen every time he faces the camera…The climax is a pure masterpiece in terms of both, acting and story. The dark, haunting depth attained in performance and narration makes ‘Trophy Boy’ worth a watch!””  – Indie Shorts Mag, September 14, 2018

Anthony Johnston, Emrhys Cooper, Gerald McCullouch

After making the rounds on the film festival circuit (Cannes Film Festival, Vancouver International Film Festival, California Independent Film Festival), the 13-minute short is scheduled to have screenings and a premiere event in New York City this month.

The short will be available on Vimeo on October 22. Watch the teaser below.

Trailer: Cannes Film Festival Winner ‘Sauvage’

(all images via Strand Releasing)

 Director Camille Vidal-Naquet’s feature film debut, Sauvage, which chronicles the journey of a 22-year-old gay street hustler, garnered praise and accolades when the film premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Strand Releasing has now acquired the North American rights to the provocative film which Vulture called “the most sexually frank film at Cannes.”

The film’s star, Felix Maritaud, was honored with the best actor prize during the Cannes Film Festival’s Critics’ Week. You may recall Maritaud’s previous star turn in Robin Campillo’s (BPM) Beats Per Minute which won the Grand Jury prize at Cannes in 2017.

Vidal-Naquet describes the lead character as a “solitary young man who hits the road and wanders from one encounter to the next, longing for love, driven by an unquenchable capacity for love that keeps him going, regardless of the violent world around him.”

Although the movie received acclaim at the famed film festival, the debut did not go without some controversy.

One scene, in particular, was graphic to the point that some audience members got up and left the screening.

Vulture describes the scene:

At one point, Léo goes home with a city-dwelling couple who treat him like an unthinking animal, making cruel cracks about his appearance and inspecting his teeth as though they were checking the quality of a product. It’s hard to watch this happen to someone as open-hearted as Léo, and that’s even before one of the men orders Léo to get on all fours, then begins to lube up a gigantic, intimidating butt plug which he will wield almost like a weapon.

But the director defended the graphic approach to the material, saying, “It wouldn’t be honest to make a movie about prostitution without talking about these kinds of things.”

In addition to the gritty, coarse world of male prostitution, Sauvage also finds vulnerability and balance by touching on Maritaud’s unrequited love for a fellow hustler.

The film is set for a late 2018 release and recently dropped the first trailer. Watch below.

Documentary: ‘Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood’

From the official synopsis:

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood is the deliciously scandalous story of Scotty Bowers, a handsome ex-Marine who landed in Hollywood after World War II and became confidante, aide-de-camp and lover to many of Hollywood’s greatest male—and female—stars.

In the 1940s and ‘50s, Scotty ran a gas station in the shadow of the studio lots where he would connect his friends with actors and actresses who had to hide their true sexual identities for fear of police raids at gay bars, societal shunning and career suicide. An unsung Hollywood legend, Bowers would cater to the sexual appetites of celebrities—straight and gay–for decades.

The list of A-list celebrities Bowers attended to reads like a who’s who of golden age Hollywood. Rock Hudson, Cole Porter, Cary Grant, and Katharine Hepburn were among the stars Bowers reportedly catered to.

The documentary is based on the New York Times best-selling memoir Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars.

After having a successful run on the film festival circuit, the film opens in Los Angeles on July 27 and on August 3 in NYC.

Watch the trailer below.

Movie Review: “Love, Simon”

With opening day finally upon us, hubby Michael and I ventured out last night to catch the new gay-themed romantic comedy, Love, Simon.

Directed by gay power-producer Greg Berlanti – who’s the driving force behind Flash, Riverdale, Brothers & Sisters, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow – the film is based on the novel Simon vs. The Homo-Sapiens Agenda.

I found Berlanti’s groundbreaking film – it IS the first mainstream film to feature a teen gay front and center – to be an exuberant cross between a 1980s John Hughes teen angst film (without the overwrought angst) and a thoughtful exploration of what it’s like to come out in high school today.

The film is filled with humor – in its dialogue, characters, and situations – but never sacrifices actual emotional depth.

The first half of the movie takes its time, but that’s necessary to lay the groundwork for where we’re headed.

As a mainstream high school romantic comedy, there are some cliches here – the “parents are away, we have to throw a house party,” the vice-principal who “relates” to his students, clever voiceover from our hero, all backed by a soundtrack of catchy pop tunes.

Simon (charmingly played by Jurassic World’s Nick Robinson) tells us upfront his “huge-ass secret” – that he’s gay and he doesn’t really know how to come out. And, fearing how life could change, he’s not sure he wants to.

He also resents having to “come out” at all (which leads to a clever sequence imagining kids having to come out as heterosexual to their shocked parents). Why is “straight the default?” he asks.

His life becomes complicated when he falls in love via email with an anonymous classmate who calls himself “Blue.” His identity is the cliffhanger of the film and Berlanti keeps the suspense going in clever fashion.

To make things even more complicated, an obnoxious classmate named Martin (Logan Miller) discovers Simon’s secret and threatens to out him unless Simon helps him date one of his friends.

Eventually, the secret comes out (no, that’s not really a spoiler) and Simon copes with his new world.

As a gay man myself, I definitely felt I was reliving some of my own coming out journey.

Touching moments with his parents – played by Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel – are handled with thought and care.

In a one-on-one scene with Simon, Garner lovingly tells him, “You can exhale now, Simon.” And that moment felt authentic for the whole film – one big exhale for young LGBTs.

It was refreshing to see Robinson’s “Simon” delivered as a clever “every teen.” And you could definitely see hints of 1980s Matthew Broderick witticisms in our hero.

At the screening I attended, I saw practically no checking of cell phones during the film. Folks were paying attention: talking back to the screen, laughing at an over-the-top queer dance sequence, and gasping in sympathy. When Simon’s anonymous crush was finally revealed, the audience broke into euphoric applause.

Love, Simon is a warm-hearted, crowd-pleasing mainstream movie about a gay kid, and how many of those do we get?

The film appears to be doing well at the box office. According to Deadline, the flick is on track to open in 4th place at the box office to the tune of $11.7 million – more than the $10 million cost of the film.

I don’t recommend movies just because they have gay content. I have to like them. And I like Love, Simon.

I encourage you to get out and see the film. If we want to see ourselves in the art around us – TV, movies, music – we have to show up and support.

Go see Love, Simon. You’ll smile, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cheer.

Berlanti and company don’t necessarily reinvent the teen romantic comedy, but they do throw enough rainbow glitter around that you’ll definitely walk out with the feels.

Here’s the trailer: