Boy + Sikat + Das Phallometer

These are three short films dealing with queer refugees or migrant workers. Heartbreaking, infuriating, but also thoughtful and nuanced.


Sikat is a Filipina live-in domestic and nanny, eagerly awaiting the arrival of her husband and son to Canada. But when they do arrive her son doesn’t even recognise her…

The intertitle at the end explains that caregivers such as Sikat have to work in the same household for at least 24 months before they can begin the process of sponsoring their families for immigration, which takes at least three more years. In practice they may be separated from their loved ones for even longer than that, since many Filipino/a workers come to Canada by way of the Middle East or Western Europe.

Das Phallometer

Not knowing the show’s theme, I thought would be something weird and kinky. I was partly right: phallometric testing is a real thing! In this darkly humorous short it is used on an Iranian refugee at the Czech Republic border to test his claim that he really is homosexual. He passes the test, and the border guards welcome him with open arms.

Incidentally, this procedure was ruled by the EU to be demeaning and a violation of human rights, and discontinued several years ago.


Boy is the story of a Filipino illegal immigrant worker, living in a big city in (I think) the Netherlands. Semi-invisibly he makes the beds and cleans the counters, safely eavesdropping on his employers’ affairs and goings-on. When they do see him, it’s mostly as a submissive piece of ass, an idealised noble poor person, or a greedy ignorant poor person always on the lookout for the next sugar daddy.

All of this is true, none of this is true. Our unnamed protagonist is far from perfect, but he’s got a sharp mind, had a genuine (non-romantic) bond with one of his employers, the only one who enjoyed talking to him, and all his spare money goes to either his parents back home or to support his boyfriend’s budding dance career. He’s a fully fleshed out individual that no one else (not his boyfriend, not even the audience) can see truly.

Boy is a quietly intense, thoughtful piece that lets us step in the shoes not only of migrant workers but of any person considered “other” by the dominant culture.

Drunktown’s Finest

Drunktown’s Finest is writer/director Sydney Freeland’s look at life on a Navajo reservation reservation in New Mexico. It is harsh and brutally honest, but also loving and hopeful.

In the pre-show intro, Ms Freeland said that the movie was basically a coming of age story for three genders, and that sounds about right. Good girl Nizhoni, adopted by white parents but eager to find her roots; Sick Boy, waiting to ship out for the army but unable to stay out of trouble; two-spirited trans girl Felixia, dreaming of being a model while still respecting her heritage.

As a coming of age tale, the themes are about choices, recognising the consequences of your actions, and figuring out which of your dreams to hold onto. For Felixia and Sick Boy those dreams involved leaving, but in the end, maybe they found something better. Nizhoni already lived abroad but wished to reconnect with her biological family. She got exactly what she wanted and more, facing the unpleasant truth that her adopted parents had been lying to her for years.

But what I got out of the movie isn’t as trite as “stick with your people” or “follow traditions”. What I saw was a nurturing community with a culture of respect for gender variance… but also a lot of violence, homophobia, drug use and alcoholism, and people with neither solid roots nor a future to look forward to. Nothing is glossed over, and no one is pretending there are easy answers. There’s no telling where Sick Boy, Felixia and Nizhoni will go from here—but the movie’s conclusion was a new beginning rather than an end. There’s hope. There’s always hope.

Incidentally, it was an unusual (and welcome) experience for me to see see the world through another culture’s eyes, and white people as “others”: Nizhoni’s well-meaning but condescending parents; the ditzy blonde girl who (for whatever reason) tried out for a Navajo women’s calendar shoot; Felixia’s could-have-been sugar daddy on Facebook. It’s refreshing.

Boys / Jongens

This movie is a feast for the eyes with gorgeous cinematography of the Dutch countryside, and equally beautiful actors, but the story itself wasn’t anything special. With some variations on a theme, this is a tale as old as time (or at least, gay liberation) that we’ve seen a hundred times before. Still, knowing how things would turn out didn’t keep me from thoroughly enjoying it.

Quiet, withdrawn Sieger has just been promoted to his high school’s higher level track team where he meets the relaxed, outgoing Marc. The two hit it off right away, though Sieger backs off after their first kiss, claiming he’s not gay. What with the intense training for an upcoming regional relay race the two end up spending a lot of time together, both on and off the track. Sieger is clearly attracted to Marc but confused about what he wants, half-heartedly double-dating a girl with his friend Stef. Marc finds out, is understandably upset, and for a while it seems even the race is in jeopardy. But all’s well that ends well, as the two make up, their school handily wins the race, and they (literally) ride off into the sunset.

Though Boys‘ tropes are, to put it gently, well-worn, I believe in this case it’s the execution that matters. It’s a very sweet and beautifully produced movie, with fine acting and directing (and the aforementioned visuals). I will mention one thing that sets it apart from similar movies, though: no big coming-out drama. In fact, no coming-out at all. During the course of the film Sieg and Marc never told anybody they were dating, or that they liked boys (though it’s possible Marc’s family already knew). Stef did put 2 and 2 together when he wasn’t macking on his girlfriend, but he never said anything until the very end, and even then it was to be quietly supportive.

Which I find fascinating. I could blame it on questionable writing—the movie was short on character development and skipped over a couple of key scenes, including Sieg and Marc’s post-race reconciliation—but one could see it as a sign of the times. Traditionally teen coming-out stories are supposed to be accompanied by huge drama, anger, disownment or tears, with the occasional bashing from local bigots. But here? Apart from Sieg’s “I’m not gay” line (which you could take in any number of ways), there’s nothing to suggest being gay would be a big deal. Are things that relaxed in the Netherlands? Awesome if true.

Boys / Jongens is not a perfect movie, but a greatly enjoyable one if you don’t mind its flaws. Come for the visuals, stay for the running tips.

Aquaporko! and Grrrls in Space

A whole bunch of sexy, funny, inspiring and beautiful women’s shorts here!

Stop Calling Me Honey Bunny

Two lady rabbits (actually, women in rabbit suits) start off their relationship humping like… well, you know… but as time goes by the passion runs dry. Toys don’t cut it, and neither does role playing (and really, “hunter and prey”?). But they eventually realise they’ve gained more than they lost.

Gut-bustingly hilarious, and a sweet message at the end. Tied for favourite short so far!

Waack Revolt

Two women waack their hearts out over the decades, from 1940’s Hollywood to present day LA, paying the haters no mind. A gorgeous, catchy blend of visual genres.

(What’s waacking? I had to look it up so here you go: WaackNation)

Little Vulvah & Her Clitoral Awareness

A cute animated short of a little girl exploring the world, filled with visual metaphors for her girl parts. Not my thing, obviously, but visually quite beautiful.

Sunday / Söndag

Basking in the afterglow of their one night stand, two women start talking but discover they’re looking for very different things. An interesting little slice-of-life drama.


What is a sissy? This short by local filmmaker Jen Crothers explores the concept of sissiness, why it’s even a thing, and how it’s an awesome thing.

Secrets & Toys

An ultra-short film of two women trying on toys for the first time. Nicely acted, an interesting plotless slice-of-life bit.

What’s What

A cute little dance number about blurring gender lines.

Orbits / Orbitas

As the world burns in nuclear war, a lone soldier in an orbital space station befriends a beautiful alien. With stunning CGI animation and a heartwarming story, this is so far tied with Stop Calling Me Honey Bunny for favourite short. The world needs more queer sci-fi!

(Oh hey, it’s available on Vimeo. Enjoy!)


A documentary about Melbourne’s queer fat femme synchronised swimming team. Lovingly produced, awesome and inspiring.

Appropriate Behavior

What a coincidence, I was just thinking the festival could use some bi visibility!

Appropriate Behavior is a comedy of life and love in New York. It’s hilarious, often absurd and blissfully plotless (as life is). It’s what Seinfeld would be if Seinfeld were queer and R-rated. And actually funny.

But there’s more to this movie than laughs. Even when your life seems to be going nowhere and the only thing you can focus on is how best to stalk your ex-girlfriend, you gotta keep moving forward. Even when asking a pretty lady out in front of your ex leads to you taking part in a super-awkward threesome with some snobby couple you just met at the bar (okay, the girl was nice) well, at least you tried.

And if you’re overwhelmed by teaching that film class to five year olds, have faith that it gets better. Besides, your rival teacher’s pretentiously artistic final film is clearly trying too hard; your movie about farts and zombies is a lot more fun, and actually involved the kids.

Because really, isn’t life about being honest, letting go of your doubts, and trusting others? Don’t worry too much about what people think, just do what feels good. But don’t be that hipster douche showing off his squid tattoo, he’s just creepy.

Wow, this movie turned out to be surprisingly deep. Who would have thought?

The Way He Looks

The Way He Looks / Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho is sexy, sweet and, if you’ll pardon the pun, kind of an eye-opener. It’s basically an expansion of the award-winning 2010 short I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone / Eu Não Quero Voltar Sozinho—shown at the 2012 VQFF and available in full on YouTube—with the same actors, same core characters and a similar but more complex story.

The original plot was fairly straightforward: blind high school student Leo and his BFF Gia are both infatuated with handsome newcomer Gabriel, who becomes friends with both but ends up spending more time with Leo (to Gia’s chagrin). The two boys eventually discover their feelings for each other and the film ends with their kiss. The Way He Looks adds several characters—Leo’s overprotective parents, some school bullies, another girl with the hots for Gabriel—and a few extra layers to the story including, most importantly I think, a huge focus on Leo and his world as a blind teenager. This film is more than an adorable love story, it’s an excellent coming-of-age story as well.

I also appreciate how the film avoided some tired old coming-out clichés: for instance, Leo’s bullying classmates only went as far as asshole homophobic taunts and ableist pranks, never actual bashing. Not only has that been done to death, I don’t think it would have been appropriate in this kind of movie. The bullies did add a little bit of coming-out drama as Gabriel and Leo gradually became more than friends, but they—along with the overprotective parents—mostly helped to justify Leo’s need to spread his wings and test his independence: whether that’s in little ways like unlocking his front door himself or going for a long walk without telling anyone where he is, or in big ways like signing up for a foreign exchange program.

Leo and Gabriel have great chemistry and I loved them in everyone of their scenes together, but especially when one is teaching the other something. In particular Gabriel’s astronomy lesson, when he goes over what a lunar eclipse is all about but then has to explain terms like “illuminated” and “invisible”. He succeeds nicely, using rocks to show the relative positions of the Sun, Earth and Moon; as a bonus, it makes for a hilarious callback when Leo later mangles the eclipse metaphor with Gia.

I also want to compliment Ghilherme Lobo, the actor playing Leo. He doesn’t seem to be actually blind (or at least my Googling never mentioned it), but as far as I can tell he absolutely nailed it: never focusing on things with his eyes, even other people’s faces, which must have been a hard reflex to fight; using his hands or other senses to connect with the world; a very closed-off and defensive body language in unfamiliar or tense situations. Kudos for a fantastic performance.

One last point: the short’s title was I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone but Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho translates as “today I want to go back alone”. Interesting. I’m not sure, but it may be a reference to Leo’s growing independence.

The Way He Looks is a super-sweet love story that also made me think about the experience of people with disabilities. A win all around.

Alien Sex

I’ve honestly got mixed feelings abound Alien Sex, the Queer Arts Festival show I saw on Thursday. I’d tweeted previously that I didn’t really know what to expect—but it turns out that wasn’t true: I came in expecting weird queer/genderqueer sexy sci-fi, and I was naturally all over that. Also, I think I was expecting an overall narrative or at least overarching themes. Because I usually do, and I always look for it anyway even when it’s not there, because that’s how my brain works.

What I actually saw was a number of loosely connected vignettes, some dealing with the topics of alien life/love (but not so much with alien sex) and most dealing with human love and sexuality, with a strong focus on consent or dominance/submission play. Half the material was original, half consisted of readings from Linda Smukler / Samuel Ace, and bits of David Mamet’s play All Men Are Whores.

And I’ll be honest, I definitely enjoyed the original stuff more—the silly and playful sci-fi, in particularly the intriguing conversation with an alien who has no concept of “you” or “I”, only “we”, and what death means to people like that; the high-energy dancing and drumming, the spin-the-bottle game / consent workshop. I’m not comfortable with D/S in the first place, and in some of the bits it wasn’t clear that we were dealing with people playing out or negotiating a scene. Challenging stuff for sure, but isn’t that what the Queer Arts Festival is all about?

The problem is that Alien Sex doesn’t feel like one show, it feels like at least three: the Mamet, the poetry, and the sci-fi. I understand that it’s a work in progress, and it’s supposed to be non-narrative, but I didn’t see anything tying all these scenes together into a whole. And though I definitely respect the creators’ goal to incorporate a diversity of voices, it feels like these voices right now aren’t theirs, in the sense that they’re incorporated into the show’s overall vision.

Mind you: as frustrating as the show’s disconnectedness is, I did adore this look at the creative process, and I’m very grateful to the QAF for showcasing it. One of my favourite aspects of the East Side Culture Crawl is to see artists’ studios as places of active creation: the rags, the gloves, the half-finished pieces, the artist hirself interacting with customers and with their peers. Art doesn’t spring forth fully formed from the aether. Art evolves.

And I can’t wait to see what Alien Sex will evolve into.

Sunny Drake’s “X”

I saw this hilarious fourth-wall-breaking one-man show on Saturday, as part of the Queer Arts Festival. It’s a weird little piece, cleverly self-referential, making great use of props and multimedia, with several stories evolving in parallel, occasionally meeting and influencing each other. In other words, right up my alley!

But in addition to all this, it’s very painful and personal, with the theme of addiction (specifically alcoholism) running through the main stories. And the thing is, those stories were extremely relatable, being all about the need to escape into a magical world where bullies don’t exist and you can be any beautiful pop princess you want; about it’s not just about you, and the harm you cause yourself does affect others; about how trying to quit and living in the real world will mean dealing with all the emotional issues that drove you to escape in the first place. So, check it out if you can. Whatever your vice is, this show will definitely speak to you. It made me reflect, made me feel, made my brain spin. That’s a Saturday night well spent.

PS: actually, maybe it made my brain spin a little too much because there were some parts I just couldn’t follow. The puppets in the magical world, for one were doing things that seemed unrelated to the humans’ doings. And the thing with the heart and the ribcage, what was that about? At first I relaxed and expected it all to come together eventually but it never did as far as I could tell. Part of me wants to watch it a second time to see if it might make more sense… but I think if I did it would lose its magic, so I’ll just let it go.

What I learned from playing Journey

Journey is a wonderful little PS3 game from thatgamecompany (the same people responsible for flOw and Flower). It’s got breathtaking visuals, immersive gameplay, and a unique story. Basically a platformer puzzle game, what really makes it come alive is the interaction with the world’s… inhabitants, and one’s interpretation of what the journey actually means. What’s at the end? Enlightenment? Apotheosis? Heaven? Hell? Personally, I think the end doesn’t matter. It’s the journey that matters, and it’s taught me some very important life lessons.

1) Go with the flow. This is common to all exploration games, that there’s always something to see, and if you think you’re stuck there’s always a way out. But here it was taken up to eleven. Heading for the nearest landmark (or the Mountain itself) was always the right answer—or, in a couple of scenes, following the cloth creatures. Bottom line: always head towards whatever looks interesting.

2) Be thankful. I have no idea how sapient the cloth creatures are supposed to be, but I like to think they helped me along purely out of affection and generosity. When I sang and the little ones swarmed in, giving me a boost, I always made sure to thank them. Because you never journey alone.

3) Have fun. A life-changing spiritual journey is no excuse to not cut loose and relax. Stop and smell the flowers. Or slide down massive sandy slopes with your newfound kite creature friends, jumping and floating and running through stony arches.

4) Don’t give up. Again, adventure / puzzle game. But not all such games have the character struggling up a gigantic mountain, freezing to death in a blizzard. I was so immersed in the game that it never occurred to me to go back down, and when he finally collapsed, I just sat there in shock until the Ancients came. Bottom line: push yourself to your limit, even if there are no benevolent astral beings waiting for you there.

VQFF Review: Frauensee

I’m honestly not sure what to make of Frauensee. It was an interesting movie, well-acted, with some nicely-explored characters and gorgeous shots of the German countryside. But there was no real plot, no resolution to the personal drama or even to the one minor side plotline. It left me feeling vaguely frustrated.

I’m honestly not sure what to make of Frauensee. It was an interesting movie, well-acted, with some nicely-explored characters and gorgeous shots of the German countryside. But there was no real plot, no resolution to the personal drama or even to the one minor side plotline. It left me feeling vaguely frustrated.

Maybe I’m approaching it from the wrong perspective. My only previous exposure to German lesbian cinema is To Faro, the 2011 VQFF’s opening gala film, and it was similar in a lot of ways: big focus on atmosphere, minimal plot that left lots of room for emotional drama but without any real character growth, and a very open-ended conclusion that wasn’t so much a dénouement as just an ending, and which left a bittersweet aftertaste. So maybe this is typical of the genre?

Rosa is a warden looking over a lake in the country, setting traps and watching for poachers. Her lover Kirsten is a high-powered architect from the big city who owns and fully renovated a house by the lake, which she comes down to on the weekend to relax. Though half the time, she’s still running her business over the phone anyway. I think in her eyes Rosa is just a part of her weekend getaways: she enjoys them but has no interest in making it full-time. Kirsten does care about Rosa but doesn’t know anything about her world, and doesn’t particularly care to.

Case in point: the one side plot involves some mysterious poacher stealing fish from Rosa’s traps. If she catches him, Rosa would have every right to ban him from the lake, but Kirsten advises her to talk with him, get his side of the story, maybe find some middle ground that could keep both of them happy. Not only does this come of as really condescending, it just reflects how out of touch Kirsten is: I’m sure in the big city it’s all about compromise and you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours, but in the country, it’s not okay to steal from people and damage their property.

On the weekend’s first day, Rosa catches two young college students, Evi and Olivia, stealing from her trap (because they forgot to bring enough food) and setting camp on an island that’s a nature preserve (against Rosa’s explicit instructions). Instead of throwing the book at them, Rosa joins them and then invites them back to Kirsten’s house for dinner, then allows them to stay for a few days. Evi starts to hit on Rosa almost continually whenever she thinks they’re alone, and while Rosa is kind of annoyed, she isn’t exactly saying no either. Olivia isn’t thrilled either, though she’s learned to put up with Evi’s shameless flirting.

All of their tensions and frustrations come to a boil a couple days later during a booze- and pot-fueled party at the house, where everybody spills their guts to everybody else. Nothing actually changes, though, and I don’t know if anybody has learned anything. It was all revelations that the audience and most of the characters knew anyway, the only difference is that it’s all in the open.

The last scene shows Rosa leaving for work at dawn as usual, the three other women still sleeping. But where is Rosa really headed? Is she running away from all these new revelations? Is she finally leaving Kirsten and heading off into the sunrise of a brand new life? Or doggedly going back to work just to go through this same crap over and over?

So yes, like I said, an interesting film. It didn’t really speak to me, but I did quite enjoy it, not least because of the gorgeous shots of the lake—the huge sky, the rippling water, the surrounding woods, the wind in the reeds—and the glimpse of quiet German rural life. I’m not sure if it was the best choice for a closing gala film—the last two were definitely more upbeat—but hey: a little moodiness and introspection never hurt anybody.