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Human Rights Watch Film Fest Opens June 10

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Coy Mathis and her brother Max. | HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FEST
Coy Mathis and her brother Max. | HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FEST

BY GARY M. KRAMER | The 27th annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival screens at the IFC Center and the Film Society of Lincoln Center June 10-19. Among this year’s program of 18 features and documentaries, four films consider LGBT issues.

“Growing Up Coy” (Jun. 16 at 7 p.m., IFC Center; Jun. 17 at 6:30 p.m., Film Society of Lincoln Center), produced and directed by Eric Juhola, focuses on the landmark case of a Colorado six-year-old, Coy Mathis, who was born male but identifies as a girl. His parents, Jeremy and Kathryn, legally challenge Coy’s elementary school for denying her the right to use the girls’ bathroom. As Michael Silverman, then executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, takes on the case, a media storm ensues.

“Growing Up Coy” takes a thoughtful, mostly observational approach to showing how Jeremy, Kathryn, Coy, and her siblings deal with the stresses of educating their community while fighting against both discrimination and resistance to questions of gender and sexual identity being addressed among pre-teens. The film’s subjects all speak from their hearts, which is what makes this documentary so affecting.

“Suited” (Jun. 18 at 9:45 p.m. at IFC Center) is a fascinating documentary about Bindle & Keep, a Brooklyn-based bespoke clothier that specializes in fashions appealing to the LGBT community. The film, directed by Jason Benjamin, profiles a half-dozen transgender and gender-nonconforming clients. The owners, Daniel, a cisgender straight man, and Rae, who identifies as transmasculine, are dedicated to making their customers look great and feel great, and they take a hands-on approach in providing them with emotional comfort as well as fine formal wear.

Docs explore gender identity in youth and adults, as well as living in a closeted society

Derek, a transgender man who is preparing to get married, wants a suit that accents his body’s masculine attributes. Another customer, Everett, says he has never been able to find clothes in a department store. The most moving story, however, is Aidan’s. The anxiety of this 12-year-old transgender boy — preparing for his Bar Mitzvah — is palpable, and Rae and Daniel reassure Aidan that they will “cut according to how he feels.”

“Suited” manages to convey critical details about its subjects’ journeys toward self-acceptance, and their dignity and grace lend power to this documentary. Watching Everett needing a minute to compose himself after trying on his suit, or Derek marrying his fiancé Joanna, or Aidan, in his first suit, checking himself out in the mirror are deeply emotional moments in a film full of inspiring scenes and stories.

The film’s one flaw is in introducing Dr. Jillian Weiss, a prominent transgender lawyer, and Grace, who is androgynous and identifies as gender-nonconforming, but not following up on their stories, which are no less interesting or important than the others’.

For viewers who miss “Suited” at the Human Rights Watch Film Fest or want to see it again, the film airs on HBO on June 20.

Cherry, a lesbian living in China. | HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FEST
Cherry, a lesbian living in China. | HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FEST

“Inside the Chinese Closet” (Jun. 17, 9:30 p.m., IFC Center; Jun. 18, 9 p.m., Film Society of Lincoln Center) is a documentary about being queer in China that, while clumsily made, is not without interest.

Andy is a bear whose father knows he is gay, but is pressuring him to get married and have children. He attends an underground marriage market and hopes to find a lesbian who will be a close friend and help him satisfy his father. The film’s other subject is Cherry, a lesbian who is being pressured to adopt a child. Her parents explain that they had Cherry so she would take care of them as they age and want her to be able to depend on the same kind of support.

“Inside the Chinese Closet” illuminates how men like Andy and women like Cherry navigate their lives with their parents and others. We see Cherry’s date (shot in silhouette) with a woman she hopes she can kiss, and Andy discussing pregnancy and caretaking details with a potential wife.

Director Sophia Luvara has compassion for her subjects, but this slight film seems to only scratch the surface of the burdens lesbians and gay men face in China.

While not strictly queer, “Ovarian Psycos” (Jun. 11, 7 p.m., IFC Center; Jun. 13, 7 p.m., IFC Center) is certainly LGBT-friendly. This documentary introduces viewers to the members of a feminist-oriented women of color collective who have come together in response to personal histories of domestic and sexual abuse as well as discrimination. This warm film about rebellious spirits profiles several members of this bicycle brigade in East Los Angeles who have become empowered by their commitment to their community through this radical organization. The film, directed by Kate Trumbull-LaValle and Johanna Sokolowski, shows the backlash and difficulties the members of Ovarian Psycos face, but also the strong family-like bond they have forged. The film is at its best when illustrating the strength these women find as they begin to feel control in their lives, their families, and in society as a whole.

THE HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH FILM FEST | Jun. 10-19 | IFC Center, 323 Sixth Ave. at W. Third St. | Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater, 165 W. 65th St. | ff.hrw.org

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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