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Movies to watch from the couch: Sundance Channel's nonfiction DocDay series and other TV documentaries celebrate gay pride all June long.

Truth, as the cliche would have it, is stranger than fiction. It's also, often as not, more entertaining. That's certainly the case with documentary filmmaking in recent years, and the slate of films dealing with gay and lesbian life screening in June on the Sundance Channel and elsewhere are no exception to the rule. Centered on real-life stories from Australia, France, Germany, and the United States, these films have no common denominator save for an insistence on dealing with a reality that "reality television" consistently avoids. (Note: Most films shown on Sundance Channel are scheduled to air multiple times in June.)

The Tasty Bust Reunion (June 14, Sundance Channel) manages to be both dramatic and upbeat in spirit. Directed by Stephen Maclean it tells of a 1994 police raid on a popular--and, from the archival footage we see, quite fabulous--dance club in Melbourne where 463 patrons and employees were violently strip-searched for drugs. Fighting back in court, the group--representing a complete cross section of society and sexualities--won a landmark lawsuit. Watching them fight for their right to party is a total joy.

The Amasong Chorus: Singing Out (June 15, PBS's Independent Lens--check local listings): "I guess I moved from political activism to musical activism," lesbian-feminist chorale director Kristina Boerger remarks at one point in this engaging documentary. And as director Jay Rosenstein shows, they're really two sides of the stone coin. Boerger and her friends, some of whom had musical careers before joining the Champaign-Urbana, Ill.-based Amasong Chorus and some of whom did not, overcome every obstacle, making both sweet music and self-realization possible where one might not expect it. This doesn't sound like particularly compelling material on paper, but the results on-screen are quite powerful in delightfully subtle ways.

Also delightful is Herr Schmidt and Herr Friedrich (June 16, Sundance Channel), which tells of two now-senior citizens who forged a decades-long relationship, with the complication of a once-divided Germany keeping them apart. Now reunited along with their country, they live what, can only be called fiercely domestic lives, devoted entirely to cooking, collecting, and other household preoccupations. Yet in their own seemingly quiet way, these two men testify to the power of gay love.

Paternal Instinct (June 20, Cinemax): When it comes to "mainstream" media attention, running neck and neck with the gay marriage story is the gay-couples-are-having-children story. And that's on display quite interestingly in this documentary by Murray Nossel. The couple in question, Mark and Erik, are in their late 30s and have been together for a decade when they get the family itch. The pair decide to forgo adoption and have a child via a surrogate mother. While the film touches any number of bases relating to this complex situation, some viewers may be left wondering about the words of another gay couple as to why this push toward the heterosexual domain has overtaken so many. As convivial as this film's picture of domesticity may be, the question still hangs in the air.

No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon (June 21, Sundance Channel) recounts in brisk and amusing fashion the history of that most celebrated of lesbian couples, whose recent San Francisco marriage was just one highlight of their over haft a century's worth of commitment not to just gay and lesbian causes but to feminism and human rights as a whole. Just listing the various organizations Martin and Lyon have fostered and the demonstrations they've attended is exhausting. But their ebullient humor is everywhere in evidence as they continue to lead us all into a new century of love and political commitment.

Yves St. Laurent: 5 Avenue Marceau (June 28, Sundance Channel) is a thrilling peek at the working life of the haute couture legend who, while the rest of the world has descended into hoochiewear, continues to create beauty. Filmmaker David Teboul's camera slays at a discreet distance, but it's the best seat in the house for watching St. Laurent and his assistants take the sketches he's created and put them right on the models as his muses Catherine Deneuve and Loulou de la Falaise watch appreciatively and his ex-lover and business partner, Pierre Berge, gives the great man a much-needed hug.

I Can't Marry You (throughout June, various PBS stations--check local listings): With the gay marriage story changing so rapidly, either the words I'm writing now will be obsolete by the time you're reading them or haft of you will be seriously making honeymoon plans. Consequently, it's no surprise that this documentary by Catherine Gray, which appears to have been made in advance of the matrimonial avalanche that took place in San Francisco earlier this year, deals with the subject in the most general way possible. Nevertheless, as we drop in on a number of couples in a variety of situations across the country, the film touches on all the core issues of why the right to marry has become so important to so many, for reasons beyond the more than 1,000 federal benefits that are afforded straights automatically every time they fly to Vegas to have an Elvis impersonator tie the knot for them. With queer America's favorite mom, Betty DeGeneres, hosting, the film almost takes on the aspect of an infomercial--but maybe that's appropriate, given how many people still need to be sold on the concept.
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Title Annotation:television
Author:Ehrenstein, David
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Television Program Review
Date:Jun 22, 2004
Words:892
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