Every March, Los Angeles’ Outfest holds Fusion, an LGBT People of Color Film Festival in Hollywood and this year two up-and-coming gay Latino filmmakers made the impressive lineup of quality films. First is Los Angelino director, Gregorio Davila’s short documentary on a Chicana lesbian growing up in East L.A., in the mid-twentieth century. And Mexican filmmaker, Julian Hernandez’ (Raging Sun, Raging Sky) also offers up a tantalizing tale of sex and art in I Am Happiness on Earth.
Davila’s film, Nancy, From East Side Clover is an excerpt from his feature documentary “L.A. Queer History” which is scheduled to be released later this year. It’s an inspirational portrait of 83 year-old Nancy Valverde, whose life as an open lesbian in the 1950s, meant constant scrutiny and persecution. The short is a look at how L.A.’s anti-drag laws were aimed at men as well as women.
At the age of 17, Nancy started dressing in men’s clothing which got her arrested more than two dozen times for the misdemeanor of “masquerading.” A Los Angeles ordinance,put on the books in 1889, forbade people from trying to pass as the opposite sex. Although it was not initially aimed at gays and lesbians, the vice squad and police often took it upon themselves to use the ordinance to harass and intimidated the LGBT community.
What’s refreshing about Valverde’s testimony is that her defiance is a prickly blend of courage and humor. In one interview, Valverde acutely recalls that in her later years people oftenasked her, “ ‘Do you want to be a man?’ She would always reply, “ ‘No, I’m perfectly happy being a lesbian.’ ” She also recounts a time when gays and lesbians were arrested and thrown into a segregated holding cell in downtown LA known as the “The Fruit Tank.” Valverde’s frank interview about a turbulent era in Los Angeles isa precious piece of LGBT history that needed to be recorded for posterity. I look forward to seeing Davila’s completed film about L.A.’s queer-story in the near future.
The feature film, I Am Happiness on Earth can be described as Pedro Almodovar meets Federico Fellini. Mexico’s premiere gay filmmaker Julian Hernandez takes the neurotic homoeroticism of Almodovar and the overused plot line of Fellini’s 8 ½ to create a sensualavant garde fusion.
Like the protagonist in 8½, filmmaker Emiliano (HugoCatalan) struggles withhis sexually charged reality amidst the equally arousing films that he makes—in Emiliano’s case, pornographic films.Art imitates life for Emiliano as the major characters in the story drift from one detached sexual encounter to another. Life for Emiliano is shaken up, however, when he becomes fixated with a stunning dancer, Octavio (Alan Ramirez), but the director’s inability to commit prevents him from falling in love. The soundtrack by Arturo Villela is hauntingly lyrical and plays beautifully against the coolness of the impassionate sex. Although the film may be a little slow and confusing to follow at times, Hernandez has an eye for candy as well as a skill for telling a visually stunning story. Be sure to keep a look out for films by Davila and Hernandez in upcoming festivals.
For more info on Nancy, from the East Side (L.A. Queer History) visit: www.laaqueerhistory.com