From July 20 to 22, at the historic Cherry Grove Community House, the Cherry Grove Archives Collection (CGAC), in association with the Arts Project of Cherry Grove (APCG), gave an invaluable gift to the community by presenting an outstanding, memorable Film Festival, of pertinent features and shorts, which entertained or educated or did both. Kudos to CGAC committee members Troy Files, the chair; Brian Clark; photographers Lee Sharmat, Susan Kravitz, and Lorraine Michels; Shirley Munnell; Carl Luss; and filmmaker Parker Sargent, as well as additional members Paul Jablonsky and Joe Feerick, who were not present. There were 20 films, some of them CGAC productions, of which I saw 17. There were also illustrious guests, who were interviewed or took part in a panel discussion.
CGAC offered two films of its own about APCG, “APCG 70th Anniversary” and “The Good Times: Volume 1.” We saw photos of individuals, who helped make APCG into what it is today, and a selection of clips from theatrical productions that took place under its auspices. We saw photos of the founders of APCG, in 1948, Helen Ely and Earl Blackwell. There were clips of Bella, Charity, Fluffy, Rose Levine singing “I’m Still Here” and “World Take Me Back,” Panzi doing a jungle number, asking “Where is the tribe for me?,” and as Peter Pan, “Little Boys,” a variation on “Little Girls” from “Annie,” Maggie McCorkle and Lynne Tunderman singing “The Grass Is Always Greener” from “Woman of the Year” and Maggie querying, “Where did the good times go?,” as well as Barbara Hirsch and Linda Dickerman, Teri Warren, “the inspiration for Invasion,” doing “I Am What I Am,” Edie Windsor, Grand Marshal of the 2017 Cherry Grove Pride Parade, with her wife Judith Kasen-Windsor, Jan Felshin and Edrie Ferdun, Sal Piro delivering a comic monologue to introduce the RG (real girls) number “Together,” Alice Strehan and Jean-Anne singing “16 Going on 17,” scenes from “The Last Drag Show”—a dialogue between Lois Fisher and Craig Tessler, opening number “It’s the Grove,” after “It’s Today” from “Mame,” led by Peter Turchiano, the riotous “Titanic” number, and ‘hooker number’ “Hard Knock Life”—“Cellblock Tango” with Panzi, Jacqueline Jonée, Freeta Chews, Angela Mercy, Barbara Hirsch, and Luisa Verde, Ariel Sinclair doing “I Am a Dancer” from “A Chorus Line” and Panzi and Philomena expressing “Loathing” from “Wicked” from “Legends” shows, and “Blue Suede Shoes,” with Bobbie Green, Doreen Rallo, and Joann Tavis, from a Doctor’s Fund Benefit show.
In “Save the Past,” narrated by Troy, we learned the history of the Archives, with clips of founder Harold Seeley, with Lynne Tunderman and Max Killingworth; we heard Lorraine and Troy on the collection and preservation of archival material, the digitizing process and the storage off-Island after the digitization; and saw clips of Teri Warren, campy 1950s drag film “Camille” partly made in the Grove, and Gay Nathan on historic photo albums that she inherited from Kay Guiness and donated to the Archives. CGAC’s motto is “Save the past. Make it last.” In a similar vein was Dani Vanim’s “Reel in the Closet,” about preserving such historic treasures as LGBTQ home movies going back to the 1930s. Clips from New York City’s 1972 Christopher Street Liberation Day March, the Pride March, featured pioneering Street Transvestite Action Revolutionary Marsha P. Johnson and Jeanne Manford, mother of activist Morty Manford and a founder of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. A 1939 clip showed Bob Jorgensen, who had transitioned to become Christine Jorgensen by 1951. Another clip disclosed women singing in a show at Mona’s Candle Light, a San Francisco lesbian bar, in the 1950s. Home movies by Hal O’Neal documented aspects of gay life from 1939 to 1989. Activist Lilli Vincenz filmed a gay demonstration in front of Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, on July 4, 1968 and New York’s first Christopher Street Liberation Day March, in June 1970. We saw Harvey Milk in a clip from the Castro Street Fair in 1976 and then saw the White Night riots in 1979, after his assassin, Dan White, received a light sentence. There were lesbian films from Maine, going back to the 1930s, film of a Pride Parade in Boston in 1972, and other clips from Atlanta, St. Louis, and San Fernando, where someone filmed a men’s skinny-dipping party in 1947.
In CGAC’s “Sex in the Archive,” we learned about the inclusion and preservation of historic and artistic gay and lesbian erotica in the Archives Collection, including male beefcake, such as a nearly-nude male pyramid in 1982 APCG show “Circus Circus,” and women in an Ice Palace wet t-shirt contest.
Following this last film, we heard a panel discussion with photographer and writer Tom Bianchi, who specializes in nude male photography, which he began by taking Polaroid pictures of men on Fire Island in 1972—he has continued chronicling gay life in his books ever since and says, of Fire Island, “It was a place that nurtured talent,” and declares, “There is no such thing as pornography;” Sydney Seifert, whose “Dangerous Women” photo project has continued over a long period of time, with each shoot lasting about five hours, producing work that she calls “erotic and intimate;” and Daniel Nardicio, producer of the popular Friday night Underwear Parties in the Grove, moderated by Parker Sargent. The short films that followed were Uzi Parnes’ “Queer Love Poem” (1991), incorporating filmed images and photographed words, such as, “He made me love him, I didn’t want to do it,” and Sasha Wortzel and Felix Endara’s “Grit & Grind,” a reminder of the Clit Club lesbian parties, at the club Mother, in Manhattan’s Meat Packing District in the 1990s, by women who worked there and women who were patrons. These introduced feature film “Nardicio’s Great Gay American Roadtrip,” the chronicle of a most unusual journey, in a yellow school bus, driven by Daniel, from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to Baltimore to play at and broadcast from the Hippo, a club there. Participants in the adventure were the late Miss Sweetie, Bianca Del Rio, Robbyne Kaamil, Glenn Marla, the wild Dina Delicious, and assorted sexy go-go dancers and pets. Contrasted here is a peaceful pause at a rest stop in New Jersey with another, at a rest stop in Delaware, where police told the group to get out of the state.
A special feature was Vincent Gagliostro’s “After Louie” (2017), starring Alan Cumming as Samuel Cooper, an artist and veteran AIDS activist, embittered and lost, as he seeks inspiration from two very different muses, representing different generations: his friend William Wilson (David Drake), who died of AIDS, and would be the subject of his video, which one mutual friend does not quite approve of, and young Braeden Devries (Zachary Booth), who takes AIDS and HIV much more in stride. Everett Quinton, Sarita Choudhury, Justin Vivian Bond, Wilson Cruz, and Joey Arias take other roles. At one point, Sam paints the names of those who have died of AIDS on his wall and these include Vito Russo, Keith Haring, Rodger McFarlane, Phil Zwickler, Tom Cunningham, Michael Callen, and Iris de la Cruz. After the screening, Alan Cumming was interviewed by Parker.
We were treated to two films made by Parker. In “SNAP—Year of a Queen,” Parker followed Ginger Snap/Emilio de Luca during her 2017 reign as Cherry Grove’s Homecoming Queen and clearly showed the subject’s modesty and affability. Panzi, Ariel Sinclair, and Michael Goddard/Lady Long Legs share histories of the Homecoming Queen in general and of Ginger in particular. We see Ginger as she runs for Miss Fire Island 2017—Victoria Falls—who wore the same dress as Ginger—and Josie are in these scenes. A comic “Swan Lake” number from last year’s “Legends” show is included. During interviews with community members about Ginger, Ruth and Susan Freedner describe her as “vulnerable” and “creatively demented.”
“Grove Girls,” made with Andy Sargent, salutes the women of Cherry Grove. There is discussion of the history of women in the Grove, with remembrances of Kay Guiness, Maggie McCorkle, Lois McIntosh, Helen Ely, and Laura and Kathleen. There is debate about vocabulary: gay vs. lesbian vs. dyke vs. queer. Women remember the start of the AIDS epidemic and their gay male friends with AIDS. Women of the Cherry Grove Fire Department (CGFD) discuss their training for firefighting. The Grove receives recognition as a safe space. Among those interviewed are: Ceejay Rosen, Jan Felshin and Edrie Ferdun, Gay Nathan, Diane Romano, Bobbie Green and Doreen Rallo, Joann Tavis, Sue Panzer and Angela Smith, Lynne Tunderman on being “a butchy femme who’s interested in femme-y butches,” Lee Sharmat, Susan Kravitz and Sue Rubenstein, Joyce Yaeger, Stella Anna, Andi Porzio, Valerie L. Perez, Valerie T. Perez and DJ Stacy, Audrey Hartmann, Anne Andersen and Ricki Gassen, Jacqué Piazza, Meryl Facterman on creating Cherry’s with Lois McIntosh and presenting Electra (Jim Buff) for the first show, Anita Auricchio, Lyn Hutton, Kay Davis and Sondra Stanton, Denise Samid and Monika Kost, Martha Lorenzo, Diane Quero and Lucy Lloyd, Carol Massa, Angela Ruggiero, Annie Scarpa, Donna Piranha/Walter Kowalsky on participating in the Concerned Women of the Grove (CWOG) Breast Cancer benefits, Ruth and Susan Freedner, Laura Ann Giusto, Edie Windsor, Avory Agony, and Kathleen O’Donnell and Sandy Anderson.
There were two very different films, from 2016, considering transgender individuals. Javad Darael’s “I Don’t Like Her” tells the sad story, in Arabic, of growing up transgender in the Middle East. Eli’s parents don’t understand their transitioning daughter. At school, there’s rejection by a close girlfriend. There is danger from neighborhood toughs. Julie Sokolow’s “Woman on Fire” is a much happier film, concerning Brooke Guinan, nee George William Guinan VI, the Fire Department of New York’s (FDNY) first trans firefighter, now LGBT Outreach Coordinator for the Department. Brooke is a third generation New York firefighter, following in her father and grandfather’s footsteps. A fan of comic books, superheroes, and action figures, she got a sense of firefighters, with the trappings of lights, sirens, and uniforms, “being superheroes.” Riding on the fire truck with her father, in Brooklyn, and watching him fight a fire influenced her to choose firefighting as a career. 9/11 changed her view of her father, now feeling that his work put him in danger—he survived, but did not come home for a week, remaining to work at Ground Zero, and his relationship to his family changed
The film finds Brooke in a variety of coming out situations. As a boy who liked being in theatrical productions, but not sports, George came out to his mother as gay at age 11, and later came out to her as trans. She came out to her boyfriend, now her husband, James (Jim) Baker, a military veteran, as transitioning, and then came out to his parents.
Brooke came out to the fire department as gay, before transitioning, and experienced homophobia within the department. There’s an interview with Sarinya Srisakul on being a woman firefighter and on male firefighters’ resistance to women being in the firehouse. Brooke worked to gain the acceptance of other women firefighters and then trained women to be firefighters, saying “Femininity does not revolve around being weak. Femininity revolves around being strong all the time.”
She discusses her hormone treatment and sex reassignment surgery, and we see her in a t-shirt with the words “So trans, so what?” We see FDNY figures, 10,000+ men, 44 women, one trans, from the time of the film—since then, two more transgender firefighters have been added.
Brooke has spoken at the Pride Rally in New York City, introduced by Tituss Burgess, and has been Grand Marshal of the Brooklyn Pride Parade.
CGFD funded Brooke’s visit here. She posed for photos with those members who were present and was interviewed by Parker. Does Guinan’s family name sound familiar? Texas Guinan was a notorious speakeasy owner during Prohibition, in the 1920s, and was nicknamed Queen of the Nightclubs. So Brooke is not the only member of the Guinan family ever to make news!
Additional short films were Allison Khoury’s “11 Life Lessons from an Awesome Old Dyke” (2015), about Dorothy Fairbairn, a cross between “a gay grandma and a partner in crime,” who, before she passed on, survived being committed, being jailed, and breathing through oxygen tubes in her nose; Sasha Worzel’s “We Have Always Been on Fire,” featuring singer Morgan Bassichis—we see the dunes, the sun, the ocean, the deer, and a quick glimpse of the Island Queen, which was on the Cherry Grove dock; and CGAC’s “Winter Groveland,” offering views of our summer paradise under ice and snow—one brave soul swims in the icy ocean, as one of her dogs watches from the shore, and “Historic Houses,” with Jack Dowling sharing memories of what the Grove looked like in the 1960s; when it started to become gayer, with gay owners and renters outnumbering hetero ones; and how it developed as a community, with a history.
The short films I did not have the opportunity to see were Reina Gossett and Sasha Wortzel’s “Happy Birthday Marsha,” about Marsha P. Johnson, and CGAC’s “Bella’s Dish,” about our own Bella, and “Founding Families,” about the original families that came to Fire Island from Long Island.
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