Mala Mala, the critically acclaimed documentary from directors Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles, explores the intimate moments, performances, friendships and activism of trans identifying people, drag queens and others who defy typical gender identities in Puerto Rico.
The film features Ivana, an activist; Soraya, an older sex-change pioneer; Sandy, a prostitute looking to make a change; and Samantha and Paxx, both of whom struggle with the quality of medical resources available to assist in their transition.
Hailed as “sensitive and thoughtful” by the New York Times and winner of the audience award for documentary film at the Tribeca Film Festival, Mala Mala is a deeply involving piece of work which boldly affirms that the quest to find oneself can be both difficult and beautiful.
Watch the trailer for Mala Mala below. The film is currently available to stream on Dekkoo.
With the release of I’m Fine’s third and final season, everyone at Dekkoo is feeling a little bittersweet. I’m Fine was Dekkoo’s first foray into the world of original series, and we couldn’t be prouder! But all good things must come to an end, and what a way to go out! We sat down with the creator of the series, Brandon Kirby, to see if he’s really doing fine after the release of the series’ last installment.
Will you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in Livonia, Michigan, and went to undergrad at Michigan State University. Shortly after graduation, I moved to L.A. in 2012 for an internship at The Hollywood Reporter. Classic L.A. move, I caught the screenwriting bug, and my career went from there. My first project was a web series I co-created with my writing partner at the time and still good friend, Jessie Katz; it was called The Exorcists, and somewhere in the bowels of YouTube, it can be found and watched. I also unfortunately star in it. The lessons learned from that project allowed me to go on and create I’m Fine.
What was your main source of inspiration for the series?
The main source of inspiration was a breakup, so a lot of the first season is based on a bad hookup I had post-breakup. Nate’s neuroses and bad decision making unfortunately mirrors my own. But once Perry Powell began to imbue Nate with his own nuances, the character evolved past any real-life touch points I had tethered the story to. Thankfully, all my actors were able to bring even more to their characters than I had anticipated, so I’m Fine as a series was quickly able to evolve beyond being semi-autobiographical despite many characters, situations, and even dialogue being pulled directly from my real life. These close ties to reality quickly dissipate by season two as the show’s storylines morphed and evolved into something greater.
Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for the title and how you decided on it?
In college, I would say “I’m fine” in a really weird, high-pitched, obviously not-fine tone, and it became a running joke with my friends. As I was writing the first episode, the title sort of came naturally from that.
What was it like bringing other writers onto the show for the last season?
They brought a lot of new perspectives and experiences to the show. For example, in the third episode of season three, we wanted to continue exploring Jeff’s issues of identity, so Clay Pruitt tackled that episode working on a story concept from Lee Doud who plays Jeff. And for the sixth episode—written by Michael Varrati—it’s the story of two older gay men courting younger men at a bar. Varrati wanted to bring that specific perspective to the episode to put a discussion of the gay generational divide into our final season.
What was the casting process like for such a strong ensemble show?
It all started through friends and friends of friends. Perry Powell (Nate) came recommended through our Director of Photography—Andrew Ceperley—and then Lee Doud (Jeff) came through our producer—Albert Payano. From there, Brittney King (Nicole) and Richard Stokes (Andy) were also recommended through Perry, and Ulysses Morazan (Brian) came recommended through another season-one producer—Abram Cerda. As we got into season two, we brought on our amazing casting director, Leslie Wasserman, who stayed with us through the process of casting seasons two and three. She’s been an absolute godsend, and we couldn’t have successfully done our last two seasons without her!
How does it feel to have seen these characters grow from season one to season three?
It’s been a really wild experience seeing how much they’ve grown. I think each character goes on a relatable journey of self discovery, and the direction these characters take is largely owed to the actors bringing them to life. Thanks to them, the characters have gone places I never expected.
Throughout the series, there was an emphasis not only on romantic relationships but on platonic ones and ones where the lines blurred a little as well. Why did you decide to showcase this broad spectrum of relationships?
Since the show’s starting-off point was a breakup, my goal was to not entirely focus on romantic relationships. As the series began, I was much more interested in exploring gay male relationships—namely friendships—that sometimes enter the gray area of more than friends. I think that’s something so specific to gay men where if you’re friends, there’s always the possibility that one person might see the other as something more. And that’s where Nate and Jeff find their friendship headed in season two, and then they have to walk it back, deal with the falling out of one of them having feelings, and then land back in the realm of friendship.
What would 15-year-old Brandon Kirby say about seeing something like I’m Fine on screen?
He would be shocked because 15-year-old me didn’t even have moving to L.A. on his radar. To see that his future self wrote and directed a show, he would be stunned. He probably would’ve gained a lot from it.
What do you think queer viewers will gain from this series?
I want them to see themselves and know that queer stories don’t all have to be tragic. Queer characters can exist in storytelling and media by just being themselves, living their lives, and fucking things up just like any other characters they might see in media.
What’s the main message you’d like your readers to walk away with after seeing I’m Fine?
We’re always growing, and we’re always on a journey. As queer people, we’re always trying to find our tribe, and the journey of self-identity is forever ongoing. We’re constantly redefining ourselves, changing our paths and friendships, and that’s okay. It’s all part of growing up, and sometimes, that means growing apart. I think that’s especially true for transplants moving to new cities and even more true for queer people. It’s all about finding your people, and sometimes, you have to go through a few rounds of figuring out what you want before you can land on what truly makes you happy.
How does it feel to have completed the third and final season of the show?
It feels bittersweet. I knew season three was the time to end the series, but it’ll definitely be weird not returning to these characters. The cast and crew feels the same way, but we’ll always have the friendships and the I’m Fine family we made along the way. Personally, it feels like I’m closing the chapter on that “Nate chapter” of my life, and so it’s a timely and fitting end.
Can you tell us something that was challenging about filming the series?
Budget is always something you’re fighting against when it comes to small projects such as this. Cutting corners, calling in favors, and finding every opportunity to save money is the name of the game.
Can you share one of your favorite moments or memories on set?
On set during the filming of season three, we were shooting a nighttime pool scene, and our director—Andrew Ceperley—was setting up for the shot but wasn’t satisfied with the angle he was getting. The two characters were sitting with their feet dangling in the pool, so straight-on shots were limited since there was a body of water in front of them. But that didn’t stop Andrew from fully getting in the water to film the entire scene. He didn’t even take the time to take his jeans off, let alone his socks or shoes. It was a moment of pure dedication, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
How does it feel to have I’m Fine featured on Dekkoo?
I’m so thankful it’s on a platform like Dekkoo, dedicated to telling exclusively queer stories. I hope being on here allows the show to reach more people!
Do you have any new projects you’re currently working on?
I have a short film also starring Lee Doud (Jeff) called Is This a Date? that’s currently in post-prod and will premiere on Dekkoo either later this year or early next. I also have a queer horror short, The More the Scarier, that will land on Dekkoo this Halloween. The production company I have with Michael Varrati called June Gloom Productions also has a short, The Office is Mine, that will be hitting the festival circuit this fall. We also have many more queer horror-genre stories in the works!
Kevin James Thornton—the creator of How to Get From Here To There—is a man of many talents. From writing to directing to even scoring the film, Thornton used his diverse skill set to produce this emotionally visceral amalgam of a movie that seems to fall into the categories of drama, experimental, and sci-fi all at once. As our protagonist—known as Commander—deals with the loss of his mother, he also struggles with his past decisions that have left him alone and defeated. But what if our destinies aren’t set in stone? An encounter with a make-believe time machine from his childhood will allow Commander to explore just that.
Tell us a little bit about who Kevin James Thornton is:
My life has taken a lot of weird tangents. I moved to Nashville about two decades ago with my band to pursue a record deal. We succeeded and toured for many years. I spent a little while doing comedy in Los Angeles and even wrote for the Huffington Post. Eventually, I started taking portraits and making short films and music videos. Today, I consider myself a full-time filmmaker. It really brings all of my life experiences together into one medium.
What was your main source of inspiration for the events that take place in this film?
I’ve always been fascinated with the idea that we create our own destinies. I wanted to make a movie about that. I also wanted to make a film that represented gay people in a way that didn’t just focus on the struggle of being gay. There’s a lot of my life in it, of course. I was in a bad relationship with an alcoholic. My mother is alive and well, though.
A major theme in this film is time and how you can’t go back to the past but you can change the future. What does this mean to you specifically as a person?
It just resonates with me. Every single day, we all have limitless choices we can make stepping into tomorrow. For me, this theme carries a hopeful message.
The film’s protagonist is a gay man, yet you didn’t seem to waste much time on themes of gay shame or the coming-out experience. Was that a deliberate choice?
Representation is important and necessary. I love all the films about the queer struggle from Brokeback Mountain to Boy Erased to Philadelphia. But I also want myself and other filmmakers to begin to add to the dialogue. There’s so much to explore, and I’m excited that it’s starting to happen and that I get to be a part of it.
This film takes its audience on a roller coaster of emotions to different worlds well beyond that of reality through the lens of a toy that the protagonist made as a boy. Why do you think breaking away from reality into the realm of metaphor was important to telling this story?
I love using childhood imagination to show adult emotion. It makes the film more moving. Toy Story 3 is a great example of that. It reaches into an innocent part of us and resonates in a different way.
Another unique aspect of the film is its use of actors that don’t fall into the stereotypical “Hollywood twink” category. What do you think queer viewers will gain from seeing these realistic men on screen as opposed to the glamorized, Hollywood versions we’ve all come to expect?
Wait. I’m not a twink? Kidding. That’s SO BORING. In my experience, a lot of gay men like big hairy man bodies and rugged faces. But eye candy is probably pretty clearly not the focus of this film. That said, you have to admit Daniel Mark Collins is pretty stunning.
As a musician, did you have a big part in sonically shaping the film?
I did. I wrote, performed, and recorded it all with the help of my band, Indiana Queen.
What would the Kevin James Thornton from fifteen years ago think after seeing this film?
Considering that I was on tour full-time with my band fifteen years ago, my first question would be, “Wait, does the record-deal thing not work out?” But then I’d get really excited about seeing all of my creativity come together in a film.
If you were given the option to either travel back in time or into the future, which would you pick?
With the way things are in the world right now, I’m a little scared of the future, so I’m going to pick the past. I’d go back to 1950s Manhattan, get a funky apartment in Greenwich Village, and hunt down James Dean to make him love me.
How does it feel to have How To Get From Here To There on Dekkoo? What do you think the platform will do for your film, and what do you think the film will do for Dekkoo’s viewers?
I am so thrilled to have my film on Dekkoo. Having my first feature on a legitimate platform is such a huge accomplishment for me. I hope the viewers love it. I really tried to make something outside of the box.
What are your future plans?
I’m in pre-production for a series I wrote called Stranger Hearts. It’s about several diverse LGBTQ people whose lives all cross and connect in profound ways. We’re shooting it in July, and it’s going to be really good!
Started in the 1980s as a fabricated movement intended to ‘punk’ the punk scene, ‘Queercore’ quickly became a real-life cultural community of LGBTQ music and movie-making revolutionaries.
From the start of the pseudo-movement to the widespread rise of pop artists who used queer identity to push back against gay assimilation and homophobic punk culture, the poignant new documentary Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution is just that: a how-to-do-it guide for the next generation of queer radicals.
Directed by Yony Leyser, this doc features an impressively extensive participant list Included are Bruce LaBruce, G.B. Jones, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, John Waters, Justin Vivian Bond, Lynn Breedlove, Silas Howard, Pansy Division, Penny Arcade, Kathleen Hanna, Kim Gordon, Deke Elash, Tom Jennings, Team Dresch, and many, many more.
Isn’t it scary how you can date someone, break up, and then realize that you never really knew who they were? Faces is a Dekkoo-original short film that dives into this topic as the protagonist, Ryan, embarks on the emotional journey of dating Nathan. As is the case with many relationships, things start off great. But how well does Ryan really know Frank? I sat down with the writer and director of Faces, Ben Empey, to talk about the making of the film.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m Ben Empey. I grew up in Santa Rosa, California, about an hour north of San Francisco. I went to film school at the University of Southern California, graduated in 2011, and have made a couple of short films since graduating. But before Faces, I hadn’t been behind a camera in six years. I was on a journey getting to know myself and my voice.
What was your main source of inspiration for the film?
The name for Faces comes from the 1968 film of the same name directed by one of my favorite filmmakers, John Cassavetes. His movies are all about authenticity, and it was between his third and fourth films that he decided to stop kowtowing to the studios. So, he made the movie with his own money in his own house with a circle of friends as the cast and crew. I am so inspired by his methodology, and I wanted to honor him.
What can you tell us about the narrative of the film?
It was really important to not clearly delineate what is real and what is in Ryan’s mind because it’s all real in terms of Ryan’s emotional journey. It doesn’t matter what his literal experience was because the narrative is honest to Ryan’s perception of how his relationship progressed.
What has your personal experience with dating been like and how has that influenced Faces?
I see myself in both characters. I’ve never really been in a relationship for longer than a couple months, and that’s where Ryan is at the beginning of the film. I’m also like Nathan in that I am emotionally stunted, have issues with vulnerability, and push people away. I find that I chase unattainable men because I know I will never have to be vulnerable with them. I think that some gay men tend to project this armor to protect themselves, and everyone does it a different way. I tell jokes rapid-fire and don’t date men who might actually ask me to open up. I also insulate myself so I don’t have to do the real-relationship thing. Nathan does this too by presenting a glossy version of himself in the first half of the movie, and as that facade breaks down, Ryan gets to know the real Nathan. Michael Benjamin (Nathan 2) is a good friend of mine, and I wanted him to play the part because he projects such warmth and honesty. That gives the character an extra dimension and shows that he’s not a villain. He’s trying his best but is maybe just messed up emotionally from a past relationship. And now, he’s hurting Ryan unintentionally. That will probably fundamentally change Ryan which might lead to him unintentionally hurting his next boyfriend.
When working on Faces, did you have specific directions for the actor playing Ryan (Matt Pascua) when acting in a scene with Nathan 1 vs. Nathan 2?
I really just let the casting do the directing for me. I believe you never want to tell an actor to not feel what they’re really feeling. I don’t think it’s my job to dictate what an emotion is supposed to look like. So, I just let them go. There’s nothing better than watching an actor do something that isn’t how you initially imagined it, but it’s totally dead on. That’s why they’re actors, and I’m not!
What do you think the Nathans meant to Ryan?
Nathan is essentially Ryan’s first love. He’s never had a real boyfriend before and is ready to go all in. The relationship is no doubt going to leave an indelible mark on him.
Habits and falling back into old routines seem to be a major theme in this film. If you could scream something at Ryan through the screen—a warning, a piece of advice, a criticism, etc.—what would it be?
I wouldn’t yell anything at Ryan, because if he guards himself, he’d just turn into Nathan. I wanted him to have this experience and be able to move on to his next relationship knowing that there is no perfect relationship, but he should still be open and dive as his true self. It sucks, but sometimes you have to learn the hard way.
What do you think queer viewers will gain from this film?
I’m not interested in watching queer stories where the fact that they’re queer is beside the point. Why can’t we have a major superhero movie where there is a solid romance about two same-sex characters? We get a lot of characters that are flawless models or progressive liberal fantasies. But that’s not human. It’s not real, and it doesn’t interest me. We all have parts of our personalities that we wish weren’t on display, and that’s exactly what I think we should be displaying.
What would 15-year-old Ben say about seeing something likeFaceson screen?
15-year-old Ben was so deep in the closet, he probably wouldn’t have watched this film! Haha. But maybe at 17, I would have been incredibly excited to see a well-rounded gay story. I was 17 when Brokeback Mountain came out. It was very important to me to have this gay romance exist at the highest level of studio filmmaking. I wasn’t out then, but looking back, I can see it was hitting me on a subconscious level. It validated my existence in the cinematic world. Film has always been a big passion of mine, and seeing queer stories on screen helped me accept that I was gay. I can’t imagine who I would be if I’d had even more stories or the access to queer content that teens today have because of the internet. Now, you can look up listicles of classic queer cinema and find the movies online. I love it.
What’s the main message you’d like your audience to walk away with after seeing your film?
It all comes back to Papa Cassavetes: be authentic. When you aren’t authentic with other people, getting hurt is inevitable. It’s not sustainable. And part of authenticity is vulnerability. So, reveal yourself! It’s gonna hurt sometimes, but it’s worth it.
I’m so thrilled to have Faceson such a cool platform. I remember Dekkoo was featured in Film Comment about a year ago, and I thought, “Damn. One of the best film magazines in the world is devoting space to an all LGBT streaming site. That’s so exciting.” This is the first instance of my work being distributed, and to have it be on an LGBT streaming platform is amazing.
What are your future plans?
I’m trying to get my first feature as a director financed which is an uphill battle. It’s probably clear after viewing Faces that what I’m writing isn’t exactly what you’d consider “commercial.” I like to play with form in everything I do. I’m a bit of a tough sell, but that’s okay. I’m also writing a couple of other things as well that I’m really excited about—all queer in some way. The straights have enough.
Where can we find you online?
You can find me on twitter @realtoddhaynes. I am also a co-host on a podcast called movies imo where we pick a new release and discuss it in combination with some other films. You can find it on the podcatcher of your choice.
You can watch Facesright now, available for streaming on Dekkoo!
Real Boy is the coming-of-age story of Bennett Wallace, a transgender teenager finding his voice – as a musician, a friend, a son, and a man.
Directed by Shaleece Haas, the film follows Bennett over the first three and a half years of his transition – as he grapples with issues of identity, sobriety, and connection to the people he loves. And the person he loves most is his mom, Suzy, who struggles to accept and understand his decision to transition.
As Suzy works to overcome her misgivings, Bennett finds support in the people who understand him best – his musical hero Joe Stevens, a celebrated transgender musician fighting his own demons; and his best friend Dylan, another trans teen on a similar path to young manhood.
At its heart, Real Boy is a story about growing up. It’s a story about the meaning of family, given and chosen. And it’s a story about how our search for identity isn’t just personal, but involves those closest to us.
One of our Pride Month selections, Real Boy is now available on Dekkoo. You can watch the trailer below.
Part documentary, part narrative feature film, The Circle is a moving tribute to a life-long relationship that overcame intense obstacles and an insightful look at an important chapter in gay history.
Winner of the prestigious Teddy Award at the Berlin Film Festival, The Circle tells the true story of Ernst Ostertag and Röbi Rapp, a schoolteacher and a drag entertainer, who met through their participation in a social network of gay men that developed in Zurich in the 1940s and 1950s. The two began romantic relationship. Interviews with them and other survivors and experts on the era are interspersed with documentary film and photographs as well as a scripted dramatic enactment of the story.
Founded in the early ’40s, the network around the magazine ‘Der Kreis’ (‘The Circle’) was the only gay organisation to survive the Nazi regime. It blossomed during the post-war years into an internationally renowned underground club.
Legendary masked balls at the Theater am Neumarkt in Zurich provided visitors from all over Europe with a secret and safe space to act out their ‘otherness’ in a self-determined way. It is there that timid teacher Ostertag falls in love with drag star Rapp. Ernst searches for a way to fight for his gayness to be accepted as normal outside the boundaries of ‘The Circle’ network without losing his employment as a teacher. Röbi champions the joint fruition of their love.
Following a murder in the gay community, violent repression against gay people also endangers ‘The Circle’ network. Stefan Haupt’s riveting film uncovers the fascinating universe of one of the first gay liberation communities. Enriched by impressive conversational records with Ernst Ostertag and Röbi Rapp, the film depicts a decades-long love story – made taboo by society – and reveals the couple’s inspiring self-knowledge and courage.