Robert De Niro honors late gay father with HBO documentary

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Robert De Niro

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Creativity runs in the De Niro family.

Robert De Niro’s father, Robert De Niro Sr., was an abstract expressionist painter, part of the post-WWII art scene, which produced such talent as Jackson Pollock. He was even endorsed by the famed art collector and socialite, Peggy Guggenheim. But while he was successful when he started out in the 1940s and ’50s, De Niro Sr.’s work went out of style as pop art became the trend in the ’60s.

He died in 1993 at 71, but his story is now being told by his Oscar-winning son. De Niro has made a documentary about his father called Remembering the Artist Robert De Niro Sr., which premiered at Sundance Film Festival and will air on HBO in June. He also put some of his father’s work on display at the Julie Nestor Gallery in Park City.

While attending a reception at the gallery on Sunday, De Niro said the intention was to make the documentary for his family.

“[I] wanted to make a documentary about my father with footage, whatever footage we had; people, whoever was around that were still with us, [I] wanted to have them interviewed and talk about him and have it for the family, for my kids, the grandkids,” he said. “And then it went this way that HBO picked it up which is really great.”

Remembering the Artist Robert De Niro Sr. made its debut at Sundance with the actor in attendance. The film examines the life of the late painter through the eyes of the actor. De Niro discusses watching his father paint and even reads passages from his father’s journals, which reveals he left De Niro’s mother when he realized he was gay.

When asked what he thought his father would think of the film about him, De Niro joked that he would probably be uncomfortable by the attention.

“He would be flattered on the one hand and say, ‘Well, I don’t know, that’s not accurate’ or this or that,” he said.

De Niro says he tried to feature his father’s art in his own work, like at his restaurant the Tribeca Grill in New York.

“I asked him if he would let me hang some of his paintings there and I thought for sure he’s not gonna, not gonna like that, but he actually went along with it. He hung them himself, especially the three big paintings in the back of the grill and I was told he’d bring friends from time to time like once a week or every 10 days or so to have dinners there,” De Niro said. “And then I asked him if he’d do the menu and he did the menu, which is still there. … It will be there as long as the place exists.”

De Niro is in town for the 30th anniversary of the Sundance Film Festival. The actor said he hopes his own film festival, the Tribeca Film Festival, which he co-founded with producing partner Jane Rosenthal after Sept. 11, will be just as successful. This year marks its 13th anniversary.

“I hope we do as well as Sundance in 30 years, on our 30th anniversary.”

—  Steve Ramos

Top 10: Controversy brewed success for ‘TOTWK’

TOTWK
UNDER ATTACK | Director Israel Luna, center, is shown with Jenna Skyy, left, and Krystal Summers, two of the stars of his ‘Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives.’

No. 6:

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Gay Dallas filmmaker Israel Luna has been building his reputation behind the camera since he wrote and directed his first feature film, Str8 Up, in 2001. His subsequent films — including The Deadbeat Club, RU Invited and Fright Flick — secured his place in the Dallas filmmaking community and made him a regular on the independent film festival circuit.

But it wasn’t until the early part 2010 and the release of his latest, the “transploitation” flick Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives, that Luna got a taste of the kind of fame that filmmakers long for. And it was due, in large part, to the protests of an angry transgender activist with nothing good to say about either Luna or his movie.

If Luna wanted attention, he got it, especially from local trans activist Kelli Busey, who at first protested the use of the word “trannies” — a word considered by many to be a pejorative term for trans women — but soon expanded her objections to include the movie’s content, which includes have trans women who have been bashed taking their revenge in a most brutal fashion.
Busey, who acknowledged never having watched the movie and refused Luna’s invitations to attend a screening, said the film painted trans women as psychotic killers who all have silly names, engage in campy dialog and work as “drag” performers. She said the film’s transphobic attitude was a reflection of Luna’s — and many gay men’s — own transphobia.

When, in mid-March, Luna announced that TOTWK had been chosen for the prestigious TriBeCa Film Festival in New York, Busey turned to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for help in spreading protests against the film. GLAAD soon called for a boycott of Luna’s movie, and called on officials with TriBeCa to rescind their invitation.

TriBeCa officials responded with a reasonably polite but thoroughly firm “no” to GLAAD’s demands, and screenings of TOTWK at the festival not only drew sell-out crowds but received, for the most part, positive reviews — despite protests staged outside the screenings by transgender activists.

In June, Fort Worth’s Q Cinema film fest also screened TOTWK, and again, the movie drew protesters, this time led by Busey herself.

Yet again, though, the screenings sold out, and Q Cinema organizers put together a panel discussion of trans issues after one of them.

The panel included Fort Worth trans woman Tori Van Fleet who had initially agreed with Busey and was opposed to the movie.

Van Fleet, however, agreed to watch the movie before forming an opinion, and she came out of the first Q Cinema screening as a fan of both TOTWK and filmmaker Luna.

Luna’s movie went on to win spots in numerous festivals — including Seattle International Film Festival, Philadelphia Q Fest and Telluride Horror Shows — and audience favorite awards at many of those screenings.

As icing on the cake, in late July Luna reached a distribution deal with Breaking Glass Pictures that put the film on even more big screens through a limited theatrical run of midnight screenings that began in October, and a DVD release in November.

Earlier in the year, Busey turned her attention to an eventually successful effort to convince Dallas Area Rapid Transit to extend protections to its transgender workers, and she continues her trans advocacy online.

— Tammye Nash

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Culture: Year in Review 2010

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | jones@dallasvoice.com

Jonathan_Blalock_as_Lazaro_and_Wes_Mason_as_Reinaldo_Arenas3
WHAT’S OPERA, DOC? ‘Before Night Falls,’ above, was one of two acclaimed operas (both by gay composers) to get their world premieres in North Texas in 2010.

While 2009 got a lot of the arts ink with the opening of the new performance spaces Downtown — which have turned out to be problematic behemoths with too many issues to name here — 2010 had its own highlights culturally (both high and low culture at that), especially those of relevance to the gay community.

While the Winspear Opera House itself continues to underwhelm with its limited restrooms, awkward configuration and confusing ergonomics, the world premiere of Jake Heggie’s opera Moby Dick turned out to be an artistic highlight of the year. Combining a massive set with video graphics, it may usher in a new technological advance to the venerable art form.

Over in Tarrant County, Fort Worth Opera general director Darren Woods helped cultivate his own world premiere, Jorge Martin’s Before Night Falls, based on queer poet Reinaldo Arenas’ memoir. It was shocking, frank and a promising addition to the canon.

As the Dallas Theater Center continues to toil in the cramped Chinese box that is the Wyly Theatre, Uptown Players held its first full season at the mostly vacated Kalita Humphreys Theater — making it truly an Uptown troupe now. The experiment proved so successful that not only was the entire season staged there, but 2011’s full season (with a few special events) will be there, too.

College student John Otte tried to put on an excerpted version of Terrence McNally’s controversial play Corpus Christi as part of a school project, but threats by others in the community led Otte to cancel his production. Threats were not able to derail several screenings — local and national — of Dallas filmmaker Israel Luna’s grindhouse revenge fantasy Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives, which caused a hoopla at the Tribeca Film Festival.

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X MARKS THE SPOT | Jorge Rivas’ Faces of Life photo exhibit seeks to raise money for AIDS Arms.

Jorge Rivas’ Faces of Life photographic venture took the concept of stylized photos that make a political and artistic statement — from PETA to NOH8 — and gave it a local angle, with dozens of Texans posing with oversized red ribbons to raise money and awareness for AIDS Arms.

Gay sports fans had a lot to cheer about this year, too. First, Uptown Vision’s TKO team took the top trophy at the gay softball World Series in Ohio this summer. Unrelatedly, but still impressively, the second annual NAGAAA Cup — a kind of prelim to the World Series — will be held in Dallas next spring. Major League World Series fans also got to see the Texas Rangers in their first bid ever, though they lost in the fifth game to San Francisco.

In the fall, the Dallas Diablos held the second HellFest rugby tourney and exceeded all expectations when teams from eight cities participated in an event everyone involved declared a success …. even the half-dozen escorted off the field in stretchers. Hey, it is rubgy.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

La Luna Entertainment announces festival dates in FW, Seattle, Philly for 'TOTWK'

After screening in the Tribeca Film Festival, filmmaker Israel Luna and his company are using that momentum to take his “Ticked-Off Tra**ies with Knives” on the festival circuit. Today, La Luna Entertainment announced the movie’s upcoming screenings, with one stop  in Cowtown.

The movie slices its way cross-country celebrating its Southwest Premiere at the 12th Annual Q Cinema Film Festival in downtown Fort Worth, on June 5; then heads further west June 12 and 13 where the movie will be featured as part of the Midnight Adrenaline section of the prestigious Seattle International Film Festival in Seattle. The tour then cuts back east to screen at Philadelphia’s QFest in July.

La Luna is working on getting TOTWK into additional festivals.

Editor’s Note: This post is not intended as an editorial statement either for or against the film’s title and/or content, so there’s no need to turn the comments into a pissing match. But we’re pretty sure you will anyway so never mind.

—  Rich Lopez

Greetings from Tribeca

We received this video diary from the cast and crew of Ticked Off Tra**ies with Knives on the night of their debut. Thought I’d share it.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

More on 'Ticked Off Tra**ies With Knives'

Transgender advocate and writer Ashley Love issues a scathing indictment of Dallas filmmaker Israel Luna’s “Ticked Off Tra**ies With Knives” in a piece published by The Huffington Post yesterday. As Arnold Wayne Jones noted below, the film opened Friday night at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Also, The Advocate has a story about Luna’s decision to blur out some of the letters in the controversial title, a decision that was arrived at with input from “Milk” screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. And OUT has a review of the film from activist and author Kate Bornstein.

—  John Wright

BBC mentions 'Ticked Off Trannies with Knives' in Tribeca report

BBC reports on how Tribeca has grown as a film festival but also mentions its inclusion of Israel Luna’s controversial short film. Festival co-founder Robert DeNiro even talks about the Tribeca’s obligation to feature diverse voices in cinema and you could say he basically defends the movie.

UPDATE: Well, shucks. It turned out I had the incorrect BBC clip and now having trouble with the embed code. In the meantime, click here to for both the video and the story.

—  Rich Lopez

'Trannies' gets another local advocate for free speech

Bubbles

I’m please to be one of the few  people unconnected to Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives who has actually seen the film and thinks it’s good. I’m also proud to say that, unlike some others, I actually believe in freedom of speech.

It’s nice to see Todd Camp does, too.

Camp, founder of Fort Worth’s Q Cinema, has announced that Israel Luna’s controversial film — where drag queens, some actual transgender women, fight back after a brutal gay bashing — will get its “Southwestern premiere” at the 12-year-old gay film fest later this spring. But what I really like is the thoughtful way Camp & Co. address the attacks on the film:

The film has already touched off a wave of criticism throughout the blogosphere, inspiring a Facebook group out to have the pulled from Tribeca and planned protests in New York. [GLAAD] issued an action alert declaring that, “the film, its title and its marketing misrepresent the lives of transgender women and use grotesque, exploitative depictions of violence in ways that make light of the horrific brutality they all too often face.”

Q Cinema staffers had made the determination to show the film before the trans tempest began stirring, but remain even more committed to presenting it after watching the efforts to try to have the film removed from Tribeca.

Q Cinema, first and foremost, has been a supporter of local filmmakers and Israel has been a long-time friends of the festival since we premiered his first feature several years ago. … Oone of the roles of any film festival is the present new, dangerous, sometimes unpopular ideas and the allow audiences to decide for themselves. …

For the film’s legions of critics, this is an opportunity to see it before you pass judgment on it in order to avoid the kind of sight-unseen criticism that has long plagued gay- and lesbian-themed entertainment of all kinds. We’re here to screen films and open a dialogue about them afterwards. That’s what we’ve done for 12 years, and we’re not about to stop now.

Another strike in favor of free speech! Thanks, Todd, for reminding GLAAD (which Tribeca called out as hypocrites after they ENDORSED the film earlier before shifting their opinion with the political winds)  and their fellow advocates favoring censorship would think about this, they’d see what they are doing is no better than what happened in Stephenville and ever gay-themed movie that has ever tried to play in a small-town.

Dallas — and New York — is not a small town. Too bad it is being painted with small-town thinking on this issue of artistic expression.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

GLAAD issues call to action demanding that Israel Luna's 'Trannies' be pulled from Tribeca

A while back we reported that gay Dallas filmmaker Israel Luna’s “Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives!”— which will be the subject of a feature story in Friday’s Voice — had been selected for the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival. But today comes word that GLAAD has issued a call to action demanding that the film be pulled from the festival. Why? I’ll let you read it for yourself. I’ve also left a message with Luna to get his take. My guess is he’ll be thrilled to have the free publicity.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the story from our print edition, in which some of these issues are addressed.

—  John Wright