From top: Casa Susanna (PBS), Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution (Beth Dubber/Netflix), Ungentle (MUBI); Bottom: Last Call (HBO), We're Here (HBO)

Pride Guide: 10 Docs to Stream for the Long Weekend

Docs spotlight queer history and voices pushing for change

12 mins read

It’s been a hectic month here at POV and June flew by without properly marking Pride Month. (Although the month kicked off with the tail end of our Inside Out coverage.) Fortunately, though, the end of the month coincides with a long weekend and Pride Sunday, so doc fans looking to keep the spirit going after the parade have lots of options to explore stories from all stripes of the rainbow. Here are 10 LGBTQ+ film recommendations for streaming to keep the pride alive this summer. (Plus as a bonus: don’t forget the theatrical release of Any Other Way: The Jackie Shane Story in August!)

 

10 Docs to Keep the Pride Spirit Going

 

For the Queens: We’re Here (Crave)

Four icons from RuPaul’s Drag Race—winners Priyanka, Sasha Velour, Jaida Essence Hall, and fan favourite Latrice Royale—strut their stuff in small town America. While We’re Here admittedly falls under the unscripted/reality series rather than documentary per se, it’s arguably the most important series on television right now. The queens make over LGBTQ+ people and allies in small towns in Red states like Murfreesboro, Tennessee and Bartlesville, Oklahoma and use the power of drag to uplift the queer communities that exist in towns of all sizes. This season offers the queens’ biggest challenge as the polarization of American politics and the alarming rise in anti-LGBTQ+ movements pits the queens in some tense situations. However, the hosts rise to the challenge and find teachable moments to open minds—with a little razzle dazzle.

For the O.G. Queens: Casa Susanna (CBC Gem)

Casa Susanna offers a joyous study of a community of transgender women who came together in the Catskills. Directed by Sébastien Lifshitz, the film assembles surviving queens and features a handsome array of photographs that show how one tightly knit oasis saved many lives. Lifshitz draws moving direct-address interviews from the women who reflect upon being a transgender person at a time when no word existed in popular use to help them discover their true selves. The women, along with younger family members of queens no longer with us, look back at years when cross-dressing was seen as an aberration and when homosexual acts were crimes. Casa Susanna confronts this all-too-recent history to invite audiences to consider the changes that still need to be done, but also to embrace with open, loving arms the people who create safe spaces for others to grow.

For the Experimental Ones – Ungentle (MUBI)

Ben Whishaw narrates this poetic work from directors Onyeka Igwe and Huw Lemmey. Ungentle explores the hidden lives and loves of British spies. Whishaw performs a series of letters in which men in the service open up about being “double agents.” Double entendres and raw emotions laid bare offer a playful portrait of an unlikely occupation that catered to men whose lives benefitted from a layer of secrecy. The stories appear atop episodic observations of British city life—strolls in the park, walks by the water—in which anyone can see get lost amid the hustle bustle of anonymous faces. The film evokes the spirit of British filmmaker John Smith with its dexterous play on narration and image, and finds an unexpectedly touching spy game in these tales of secret love.

For the Brave Ones: Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York (Crave)

This four-part doc series is not an easy watch. However, it proves that true crime, when done properly and smartly, can use the popular genre to offer a deeper investigation than the cops do in the field. This chilling documentary by Anthony Caronna explores a case from the early 1990s in which men began disappearing after visiting a nightclub in New York City. What was once their safe space became a hunting ground as a predator picked them up, killed them, and then dispersed their dismembered body parts along the highway. The doc blows the case open not by tracking down the killer, but by interrogating the culture and systems that created a climate of homophobia and invited police to turn a blind to a community they felt was getting its just desserts amid the AIDS epidemic. Last Call tells how that community came together in a time of crisis.

For a Quickie: The Hook-up (NFB)

Back in 2019, the NFB released a quintet of short docs to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of Bill C-150 into law, which partially decriminalized homosexuality in Canada. This short film by Michael V. Smith explores how cruising, hook-ups, and one-night stands have changed over those years. Two generations of gay men talk about what it means to meet a guy simply by swiping when, only until recently, people had to meet in secret and take a chance on strangers at the bar. Veterans talk about making the transition to the pace of digital, while the younger men reflect up the loss of authenticity that comes with the transactional nature of app-based hook-up culture. Swipe right! (For the doc, anyway.)

For the Ladies: Girlfriends and Girlfriends (MUBI)

Art imitates life in Zaida Carmona’s refreshingly funny Girlfriends and Girlfriends. This smartly observed slice of auto-fiction draws openly from the filmmaker’s life. Carmona plays Zaida, an aspiring filmmaker working on a script that strikingly resembles the tale unfolding on screen. The recently dumped Millennial finds herself looking for love, too, as she shops her script around Barcelona’s lesbian art scene. Carmona’s style gives a slice of Rohmer with a dash of Greta Gerwig: Zaida is the hybrid Frances Ha, more natural and stylistically muted than Noah Baumbach’s black-and-white ditty, but equally endearing in its offbeat, observant humour. Girlfriends and Girlfriends is spot-on a reflection of messy Millennial life.

For the Funny Ones: Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution (Netflix

LGBTQ+ people have long served as the butts of jokes for many films, TV series, and stand-up comedy routines. Even a zinger that earns a belly laugh can be harmful, though, if it perpetuates a negative stereotype or wrong information. In this Netflix documentary, Page Hurwitz tells the stories of LGBTQ+ comedians who took the stage and reclaimed the punchlines. The film features a notable list of queer comics, including Wanda Sykes, Joel Kim Booster, Billy Eichner, Lily Tomlin, Rosie O’Donnell, Sandra Bernhard, and other funny folks who pushed for change, visibility, and queer rights one joke at a time.

For All of Them: My Prairie Home (NFB)

This 2013 music doc by Chelsea McMullan (Swan Song) was notably ahead of its time with its portrait of musician Rae Spoon. About a decade before sharing and listing one’s pronouns became a norm, part of Spoon’s appeal was getting folks to use the right pronouns when telling their story. This NFB film takes an appropriately hybrid approach to presenting the life and music of the trans and non-binary in a film that straddles the fiction/non-fiction binary. Spoon has a great way of telling their story in a personable and accessible manner that opens up the eclectic nature of their music.

For the Young at Heart: Hummingbirds (VOD, July 1)

Directors Silvia Del Carmen Castaños and Estefanía ‘Beba’ Contreras put themselves in front of the camera with this freeing and revitalising tale of young love. This prizewinner from the Berlin Film Festival follows the young women as they live day by day in the bordertown of Laredo, Texas. Beba awaits her papers to live securely and freely in the States, but the summer nights go by with youthful abandon in the interim. Told with a kinetic handheld, hybrid style the embraces the girls’ situation straddling two worlds and exploring their identities, Hummingbirds captures their story intimately as they face the realities of a divided America.

For the Partiers: The Last Year of Darkness (MUBI)

Don’t take your favourite queer spaces for granted while putting your drinks up at your favourite watering holes during Pride. Last Year of Darkness follows the club kids of Chengdu, China, as they get ready to say farewell to their beloved Funky Town, a dive bar, but a hallowed safe space lost amid gentrification. Director Ben Mullinkosson offers a vivid and poetic study of life in a rapidly changing city as drag queens, DJs, partiers, and young folks struggling for love share their lives. This observational film shows how the house beat goes on and the party never ends, even when the dance floor has been literally torn up.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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