Review of documentary and short feature at Queer Film and Arts Festival

Promotional image for Uýra

Blurby bit

Uýra, a trans indigenous artist, travels through the Amazon forest using performance art and ancestral messages to teach indigenous youth and confront structural racism and transphobia in Brazil.

Manifesting liberation through sharing history and nature drag. Alongside a community of queer Afro-Brazilians, they reinvent drag to bring the life-sustaining power of the forest to the urban spaces of Manaus. This prescient doc amplifies the queer and trans voices of colour at the centre of the fight for climate justice.

Before the feature, we will be screening the short film Chaac + Yum by Roberto Fatal. Inspired by the sacred and ancient relationship between Chaac, the Mayan deity of Rain, and Yum, the Mayan deity of corn, this short erotic drama tells a story about two queer, Mayan-descended Two Spirits who meet at a queer San Francisco bar.

Post screening we will be joined on stage by Rico Johnson-Sinclair and, via Zoom, director Juliana Curi and producer Martina Sönksen and Chaac + Yum director Roberto Fatal for a ScreenTalk.

(Snowflake Arizmendi from Chaac + Yum also appeared.)

From the Barbican website

The screening

It started ten minutes later and the host of the event, Rico, apparently an experienced hand at these sorts of things, behaved like a slightly ditzy teenage girl when introducing us to the evening. He told us to leave the screening for a comfort break once Uyra’s nine minute credit sequence started to roll. There was also a BSL interpreter to sign for the panel, plus both films had sound description subtitles. Annoying.

People were still coming into the cinema even after the lights went out and no one said anything to the person blatantly recording on their mobile phone. I kept falling asleep but luckily the bearded woman in the seat next to me generously jumped about like a demented four year old, so just enough to stop me nodding off completely.

As for the trailer for the queer festival itself. Well, if a gender critical person had put it together, i.e. short clips of various sexual practices with lots of ugly people flaunting their flabby bodies, there would be cries of maligning.

Review of short feature: Chaac + Yum

A very wrong-headed short film about the fertility myth of Mayan origin played out in a gay San Francisco bar between two men. The sound description drew our attention to ‘toilets flushing’ as a metaphor for the rain. In the club men wore boob-tubes, long hair and lipstick to indicate their ‘two-spirit’ nature. Lots of snogging and ‘sexy’ pouts down the camera. Final scene was a red palette, so not watery at all, with one dude predictably trussed up with ropes, though to be fair the ropes fitted the corn theme, being made from natural fibres, (they don’t just throw these things together you know). It was implied that the ‘dom’ pissed into a bowl, then he picked the bowl up and smeared the contents on himself and the other man. Mutual licking of faces. So that was the water element dealt with. Not quite sure when the fertilising happened. The whole thing was so amateurish, the way it was shot, acted, etc. A thinly veiled excuse for a bit of BDSM. I noted from the credits that a ‘rope play expert’ was employed. Money for mates.

Review of documentary: UÝRA – The Rising Forest

The film began powerfully with aerial shots of the earth and we were quickly introduced to the subject of the documentary, Uyra himself, actually a likeable and fairly humble young man.

The absolute stand out moment was when we first see Uyra in his drag costume. I actually thought for a few seconds that I was watching a clownfish darting about in deep sea waters, until the bearded woman bounced the seat again and I realised in fact it was Uyra crawling about in a cave. His make up and costumes are very creative, surprising and congruent to his climate activism, and so unlike the horrible sexualised flat art normally favoured by trans activists.

Where the documentary falls down though is in exploring Uyra’s background. Some hiding is definitely going on here, because although he is billed as ‘indigenous’, when probed on camera it sounded more like he had a mixed heritage and a degree of indigenous ancestry, just like millions of Brazilians. We also see him ‘at home’ in a tiny little shack in what looks like a favela, whilst he talks in a general way about ‘growing up’ and getting his Masters degree in science. We sense the artifice, since a boy who went to university, having come from the favela, would have had to struggle hard. Also missing is any sense of him having ever experienced or witnessed any violence. He’s too soft and nice. Too calm. There is none of that savviness you get from people who have been up against it for real. There is minimal trans activist propagandising, although he does do ‘trans people are the most vulnerable people on earth’ schtick a little bit, but freely admits that Brazil is the epicentre of the violence (Brazil having one of the highest murder rates in the world).

There is a brief scene of Uyra doing some climate activism, dressing up as a snake, a metaphor for the stream’s effluent. The snake performance took place in 2019 according to this interview with Uyra. It is not clear if the scene was recreated for the documentary or whether shots of it were shoehorned in. I say not clear, because we see it so briefly, we see so little of the alleged reaction it created amongst the locals. Either a waste or an artifice.

At one point there is a visit to an indigenous settlement and Uyra talks to the people there. They listen. Patiently. I wonder whether this was simply a stipulation for them getting funding. There was also a preposterous workshop scene in the rainforest where Uyra and his friends all did make up and dress up together.

The main problem with the film was that it is too ponderous, too long with too few striking images to sustain such a meditation. It doesn’t help that Uyra as a character isn’t fully fleshed out. Probably his real back story is interesting, but like so many artistic people, ashamed of his comfortable origins.

When the credits began to roll, people of course left in droves for the comfort break, as advised by Rico. But a few minutes into the credit sequence we saw the only full performance from Uyra, back again in the caves, doing an interpretative dance. So half the audience missed that. Doh!

The panel discussion

The discussion lasted thirty minutes. Given the documentary was only fifty minutes long without its credit sequence, we could have almost been given a director’s narration.

As per the ludicrous nature of diversity and inclusion, the director and actor of the short film Chaac + Yum were given equal billing and time in the discussion with that of the Uyra documentary, despite the fact their film was substantially shorter and completely rubbish. Rico also aced it as the moderator who spent more time thinking about how to moderate, rather than ask interesting questions. People did begin to walk quite early on in the discussion, but because I’m a professional I stayed to the bitter end.

It began with Rico and the four member panel, who were on a Zoom call, to give their pronouns and a description of what they looked like for any possible sight impaired audience members. Rico, too scared to show favour to any particular panel member, chose one to start and that they must choose the next person to go after that. But of course, the panel couldn’t remember this bizarre rule, so Rico had to give a reminder. (Top tip Rico, just go clockwise.)

Roberto Fatal, the white director of Chaac + Yum, described himself as ‘lightskinned Latino mixed indigenous person’. Snowflake, performer and screenwriter, told us of his indigenous credentials and that it was very rare for indigenous people to have their stories told and that when they were told, they ‘were not told from our perspective’ and in ways which ‘exploited our culture’. A ludicrous comment given his homosexual pornographic retelling of a Mayan fertility myth. Snowflake was formerly a principal ballet dancer. He claimed that the region his family comes from in Mexico had only discovered mobile phones in the last ten years and that there was little access to the outside world. Fatal told us he was just happy to make ‘quasi-pornographic contemporary indigenous stuff’. Fatal experienced a ‘very deep spiritual connection’ when he realised the film was ready and claimed it focussed on ‘indigenous displacement’, this apparently being the reason for the lighting being red in the BDSM sequence.

One of the women from the Uyra documentary wanted to emphasise that the film had been made by a team of women who were all indigenous, BIPOC and queer. They knew the film was done when the film was ready.

Rico then mumbled a question, which even Rico didn’t understand, so Rico added an extra explanation with example (possibly for his own benefit). The question involved phrases like ‘religious colonialism’, ‘black folk’ and wah-wah-wah. The panel were non-plussed and there was a long pause. Finally Snowflake answered that he was prepared to accept money from organisations he might not necessarily like and received them as ‘reparations’ but ‘refused to succumb to their tropes’. He and his family had survived more than ‘500 years of genocide’.

Sorkin told us that Uyra had been made a producer on the film to prove their anti-colonialist credentials. They shot the film first and then got the production money after part of which came from public arts funding. One grant was from an impact fund which stipulated they had to take the film back to the community, so they had been putting on screenings for indigenous communities which included workshops post-screening.

Curi said that Uyra was the most intersectional character they had ever worked with and that Uyra could connect with people at so many levels and taught us about the preservation of life and the importance of keeping the forest alive. She wanted to do further work on intersectionality.

Fatal told us in future he wanted to do work to cover the history of trans ‘in my tribe’ and also to tell the current history of trans people, not just the hardships but also the triumphs and ‘showing them as heroes’ rather than victims. His next short film was in the science fiction genre about a queer trans person navigating the singularity, who was potentially interested in uploading their consciousness to the internet (aren’t we all?). A potential action feature centred round a ‘black ops assassin’ funded by the US government with the exploitation of the LGBTQ+ community for ‘woke points’.

Fatal also had to have the last word, recounting that he was telling his students the other day, when they were complaining about the ‘alphabet mafia’ to him, that ‘until we stop comparing every form of existence on earth to straightness and cisness, you’d better get used to the fucking alphabet!’ Fatal explained that it is like comparing every other liquid to Coke Cola. Personally I would have put water as the universal comparator, but what do I know? Anyway people giggled and clapped. Fuckwits.

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