By Johnny “Boardwalk” Burke
The Cherry Grove Archives Committee (CGAC) with the support of the Arts Project of Cherry Grove (APCG) has produced its second film festival. Although the term “film festival,” especially in a vacation setting, may conjure images of Cannes, Venice, Sundance, or even Provincetown – Fire Island now has its own, and a significantly established one as well.
The members have been diligently researching, gathering, collecting, and cataloging every aspect of the cultural and social history of the Grove. Items range from photographs to newspapers, theater posters, and other memorabilia. In 2016, they presented their first Outtakes Film Festival, to which the film lovers and Grovites certainly did come out. At that time, doubters claim no one would leave the beach, especially during the first serious heat wave of the summer to come inside and watch movies. But the house was standing room only for the majority of showings in the newly renovated Community House.
As wonderful as that first festival was, the learning curve the committee exhibited this year was substantial. Director (and self-styled “dominatrix”) of the film festival Parker Sargent and her committee have carried the level of excellence forward both in the selection and production of the films this year. Twenty films were shown over three days.
This season, in addition to heading the festival, Sargent submitted two films, both documentaries. “Snap, Year of a Queen” (2017) about the campaign and reign of entertainer and drag-persona-extraordinaire Ginger Snap (aka Emilio Deluca) as Homecoming Queen for the Arts Project last summer. The film not only chronicles all the fun and funny events that a Homecoming Queen is expected to oversee and appear at, but it also touched on the hopes and hesitations in Deluca’s own life as an artist. The surprise appearance of his own sisters in the documentary congratulating him on his victory (and, more importantly, his life journey) was very affecting.
Sargent’s other film was the much-heralded “Grove Girls” (2018), a comprehensive conversation with literally dozens of Cherry Grove’s women, both straight and gay. Above and beyond the cinematography and editing, the fact that Sargent gathered and interviewed so many diverse personalities delighted the opening night audience. Combining it with archival film footage from the 40s, 50s and 60s, he wove a rich tapestry of the history and heritage of the women’s roles in the Grove and their presence in its social life, businesses, community projects, and even in the AIDS crisis.
Other highlights of the festival included Alan Cumming’s star-turn in “After Louie” (2018) directed by Vincent Gagliostro, a moving tale about a middle-aged gay artist/activist questioning the motivations and worth of a careless and carefree younger generation of gay men, and his own attraction to them.
Shorter films included “Happy Birthday, Marsha!” by Sasha Wortzel and Reina Gossett, a documentary/ recreation about drag queen Marsha Johnson, the downtown entertainer/bon vivant who led a life very much on the edge. Present at the Stonewall riots, and seen and heard in so much of the Village scene of the 60s and 70s, she eventually ended up homeless and died under mysterious circumstances down by the piers on the Hudson. Nevertheless, Johnson is remembered as being a source of fascinating stories and anecdotes; accurate, embellished, or half-invented of her marginalized life and the famous figures that moved through it.
Daniel Nardicio’s “Great Gay Road Trip,” Julie Sokolow’s “Woman on Fire,” and short subjects like “11 Life Lessons from an Awesome Old Dyke” were among the stand-outs that amused and amazed the standing-room-only crowds at every one of the six showings.
Like I’ve said before, through all the trials and tribulations, economic booms and busts, political ups and downs, happy times, hurricanes, and health crises, folks in the Grove have found a place where a person can create himself … and be celebrated for it. Perhaps that’s one of the great messages that our Film Festival has to offer. There is still room for the eccentric, the special, the creative, and we can celebrate all the humanity that goes with it.