Category: lesbian bisexual

RINGOLEVIO Movie World Premiere Review

The praying mantis, which opens and closes the film.

Even as the Coronavirus global pandemic has shut down virtually every industry, it comforts me to know films are still being released. I recently attended an on-line screening for the world premiere of RINGOLEVIO, the debut feature length film by Milwaukee-based filmmaker Kristin Peterson.  (And yes, there are spoilers in the following review, but the film is an emotional exploration of relationships, not bloody Game of Thrones.)

Here is the synopsis put out by the filmmakers.

 Ada (Nicole Velasco Lockard), a reserved young woman with a passion for entomology travels to rural Wisconsin with Marissa (Meredith Johnston), her free-spirited musician girlfriend. She’s finally ‘meeting the family’ – the three brothers who helped raise Marissa.Desperate to make a good impression over the course of a weekend packed with fun and frivolity, she instead struggles to find common ground. Funny, lacerating, and tender (often in the same scene), Ringolevio is a sensitive and incisive look at the games we play when trying to connect with one another.

Immediately, and then throughout the film, you will see how beautifully the film is shot, especially the closeup imagery of the insects. (No, they are not gross or icky at all, rather quite beautiful.) The scenes with human characters are energetic, both because of the exuberance from the brothers interacting with their long absent sister, Marissa, and because of the handheld camera work.

Marissa (Meredith Johnston) makes a simple request. Ozzie (Joshua Koopman) and Ada (Nicole Velasco Lockard) are frozen.

The film maintains a tension that for me as an introvert at times transforms this family drama into a horror movie.  This tension Ada suffers under comes from trying to fit in, or at least attempting to understand what is happening within the family dynamics and with her girlfriend, Marissa. It is an experience all too familiar for those of us who live introverted lives. Ada expertly portrays the overreaching attempts to match the energy of the brothers, and she wonderfully displays the familiar shame and confusion that comes from yet again getting it wrong. Her gentleness and quiet ways are like a delicate sparrow catapulted off the feeder by raucous bluejays.

While the chemistry is strong between the two female leads, the emotional intimacy between Marissa and Ada continually fails as they struggle to connect and communicate. Physically they misfire too. Ada end ups causing pain when she hopes to comfort; Marissa retreats once again. Still when not overwhelmed with the alien landscape created by Marissa’s family, they display a freshness and an ease in their interactions with each other.

The entire film points to Marissa. In fact, she is the most fully drawn character. If the film were a stylized Instagram photo, Marissa would be the central figure in full-color and in sharp focus, while Ada and the brothers would be in black and white and with a blurring of their features. They frame Marissa as she wrestles with everyone including herself. Marissa is stuck in the liminal space between who she was as a child and a young adult growing up in a disastrously dysfunctional family and who she strives to be as an adult–a thoughtful artist in a stable, healthy relationship.

Marissa (Meredith Johnston) listening to the instructions for the children’s yard game “ringolevio”

Marissa’s flaws are evident–the secrecy and shame she displays over a serious injury, her erratic and strong reactions to the tensions Ada stirs up in the family, and Marissa’s tendency to retreat emotionally and physically from Ada. These flaws though do not alienate her from me as a viewer. I found myself rooting for her, feeling empathy and understanding. On the other hand, I grew tired of the brothers quickly. These man babies are trapped in childhood and childish ways. They are obnoxious lost boys who might never escape the emotional Neverland that distracts them from meaningful relationships.

Ada attempts to create spaces for bringing the others into her world, but she is too impotent next to boorish brothers and a partner who is much more complex than any of them. Unlike the ease with which Ada identifies the bugs she collects then sticks pins to affix them on her displays, she cannot pin Marissa down who squirms under Ada’s failed attempts at intimacy and understanding.

There is no guarantee Marissa and Ada’s relationship will survive the family reunion. In fact, in perhaps the deepest glimpse into Marissa’s internal life, we hear Marissa predict where her current relationship might go wrong based on a past failed relationship. Ozzie, the oldest brother, plays a song from Marissa’s upcoming album. The music is rich, thoughtful, and dreamy. Marissa explains it is about an ex-partner who just couldn’t comprehend her or her painful, complicated family background (and likely the frenzied family get-togethers.)

The brothers and Ada pretty much end up where they started at the beginning of the film. Marissa on the other hand steps more firmly into the self she wants to be. I will not be surprised if she leaves everyone else behind. Maybe like the praying mantis Ada releases at the end of the film, Marissa will find her own escape.

There are never enough movies about lesbian relationships or of bisexual women in relationships with each other, and what I like about this relationship is the universality of their struggles. They happen to be struggles two women are facing, but these struggles are familiar to most of us who have chosen to love someone who comes from a different background and upbringing.

I hope the film does well in festivals and that lots of folks get to see it. And I highly recommend it to you my dear reader. Note if you are an introvert, it will be very very scary in parts, but you will be okay.

I look forward to seeing what Kirstin Peterson does next.

Learn about the film and find out how to see it at the official RINGOLEVIO site.

All photos courtesy of the film.



Nytt Inläg in Lund

That’s “New Post in Lund.” I arrived in Lund, Sweden yesterday after a short flight from London to Copenhagen (thanks Esther for the ride and for sharing a bowl of coffee with me!) The last time I was in the university city of Lund with this past September. I visited twice on that trip. The first time was with the crew from the gay theatre troupe in Malmö. Then a few nights later I came with Alex & Noa for Kulturnatten.

This time I stay with a Quaker Friend, Janet and her husband, John, who is a professor at the university here in Lund (about 40,000 students). Today I have the day off to just chill, go to a cafe and do some writing then maybe see a film. Tomorrow I give a talk at their Gay & Lesbian film festival before they screen Fish Can´t Fly.

Thursday the student group, Smålands Nation, sponsors my performance of Homo No Mo at the university as part of IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia). Then on Friday I fly up to Stockholm to meet up with Alex and also see Daniel (formerly of Malmö). Then it is off to the North to Umeä where I will hang out with Alex, Noa and their three children.

Right now it is 3.20 in the morning. Due to a combination of unresolved jet lag, too much fabulous Swedish coffee and a very entertaining dream about all the US presidental candidates, I am wide awake. (Oh, in my dream, similar to the famous question once asked to Bill Clinton about his pot smoking, where he admitted yes, he did but did not inhale, in my dream, all the candidates and their wives sit in on a cozy roundtable discussion and have to answer if they ever had a same-sex sexual encounter. The LOOK on Hillary´s face! Then there was this whole exchange between Hillary and Laura. Needless to say it got me laughing, which woke me up.)

Tonight I am thinking about the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference in Irvine this summer and what an amazing time it will be for so many of us who spend a great deal of time thinking and writing and talking about ex-gay experiences. As I spoke in Oxford Friends Meeting on Sunday, I shared how the work I do and the conference is not a direct attack on the Ex-Gay Movement.

In fact, some gay activists would most likely want us to come out harder against Exodus and others. But the hope is that by having survivors step up and tell some of their stories, we can tease out the more sublte points that will help to understand the many factors that may lead someone to enroll in an Exodus program and pursue change in other ways, in some cases, for decades.

The press and folks who do not know the issues too deeply, often make broad swipes at Exodus and ex-gays in general. I do believe that program leaders are responsible for the harm their programs cause, and I do believe that more harm than good come from most ex-gay experiences, but the bigger picture reveals that other players influence these issues, including the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer & Questioning (LGBTQQ aka the gAy,B,C´s) community.

During the Q&A at Oxford Meeting on Sunday, I shared some about my faith and my years in the ex-gay movement and in a church system that loved me unconditionally, well except for one strong condition. The audience contained lots of gay men in it along with some lesbians and no doubt bisexuals (the Invisibles as I have come to call them. Yeah, they too do exist), along with lots of straight folks.

After sharing some of my faith journey in response to a question about why I am still a Christian, one man asked, “Why do so many people use religion as a crutch?” (Which sounded to me like an opinion dressed up as a question). I shared how some of us are “wired for God” and just like our ancestors from the earliest days, we pursue a spiritual path of understanding and enlightenment and that for me to deny the God part of me, would be like those years that I denied the gay part of me.

I need to be authentic, and it would be illogical for me NOT to develop a spiritual practice and seek to know the divine. I also acknowleged that some (many?) do not feel the same way and do not understand why someone would choose a spiritual path, especially in light of the oppression many religions pratice. I concluded that I need to be honest about my spiritual path and be aware that much religion can control and hurt people, and that I must avoid those sorts of systems.

I thought about his question the next day in the shower, and considered how so many of us God-wired people have felt (and feel) like unwelcomed outsiders in the LGBTQQ community, especially when we run up against the anger and hurt and accusations we sometimes feel from people who do not share our experiences or interests in matters of faith. Yes, I know that the Church has been CRAP to most to us LGBTQQ folks, and I do not expect folks to embrace their oppressors. I understand that anything that looks and sounds and feels like that old time religion will not work for most (one of the reasons I joined the Quakers.)

But people of faith, Christian and otherwise, within the LGBTQQ community, often feel silenced and shut out by the hurt and the anger and the intolerance of folks who are either not wired for God or not interested. (Much like many of us felt shut out by the hurt and the anger and the intolerance of straight church folks. Hmmm, perhaps we learned it from them…) No wonder some LGBTQQ people of faith turn to an ex-gay program where they can both openly acknowlege their attractions for people of the same-sex along with their love for God.

It is easy to point the finger at Exodus and Focus on the Family and other groups that spread false messages about us as they promise “freedom”. And yes, these groups and leaders need to be held accountable for their actions, particularly when they become aware that they harm people. But those of us in the LGBTQQ community need to also look at ourselves and question “How open and affirming are we?”

Do we love our own unconditionally or only as long as they line up with our politics, style and beliefs?