The Queer Cuts: New Hope film festival will feature five documentaries from queer filmmakers on Nov. 4 at the Bucks County Playhouse. To assist in the filmmaking process, the filmmakers received mentorship opportunities and grants from the Creative Hope Initiative.
The film directors include Hansen Bursic, Joy Davenport, Natalie Jasmine Harris, Kase Peña and Kristal Sotomayor.
“Trans Heaven, Pennsylvania,” directed by Hansen Bursic
Originally from a rural area outside of Pittsburgh, much of LA-based filmmaker Bursic’s work focuses on the stories of queer people in rural areas.
His documentary focuses on The Raven, a legendary gay bar in New Hope, and the monthly parties it would host. The idea to focus on these parties came from the memoir of the star of one of his previous documentaries, in which they were mentioned.
“When I started digging deeper, I realized that this was like, every other month, hundreds of trans women and folks who identify as cross dressers would descend on the town and take over the town,” Bursic explained.
“And it became so much a part of the cadence of the year, that people in the town would be like, ‘Oh, it must be those weekends’ because there would be all of these glamorous, dressed up, like to the nines, trans women going out on the town spending money, hanging out, dancing,” he continued.
When doing work for an LGBTQ+ rights organization, Bursic met many queer people who lived in small towns. He said “seeing trans folks take over this town and reclaim it for themselves and get the same thing out of that town and that bar that gay men got out of it” was “just as liberating and as important as a story about LGBT rights and advocacy.”
He added that telling a story about the joy and perseverance needed to reclaim a space for the queer community and celebrate it is a very important one to tell right now.
The Raven was demolished in 2019, but will be brought back to life in the film through animation.
“New Hope Rondo,” directed by Joy Davenport
Unlike the other four directors, Davenport was not trained as a filmmaker, but as a historian. She got into filmmaking to show off the pieces of history she found that didn’t fit into the long academic papers she was writing.
“I was spending a lot of time, kind of in basements, looking through microfilm, and finding all this really cool stuff… There’s so much character and history in these documents that I wanted to show them to people,” said Davenport.
Her film focuses on the cycle of gentrification that New Hope has suffered, all the way back to when the Lenape Tribe was forced out 300 years ago.
Davenport was able to interview Jeremy Johnson, a cultural educator for the Delaware Tribe (one of the five tribes the Lenape formed after their removal) about the tribe’s history and culture.
Her film also focuses on how New Hope served as a safe haven for an openly queer community since the ’50s and ’60s and how it is being affected by gentrification.
“I was interested in the fact that 50 years ago, New Hope and surrounding Bucks County communities were complaining about gentrification. And now in 2023, people are talking about gentrification. And back in [the] 18th century, they were removing the Lenape so they could flip the land for higher real estate prices, which is — just like the first step of gentrification — colonization,” Davenport explained.
“Ben in Bloom,” directed by Natalie Jasmine Harris
“Ben in Bloom” combines Harris’ passion for coming-of-age stories with documentary filmmaking. The documentary follows Ben Busick, a recent graduate of Central Bucks South High School, and their mother, Rose Lopresti Busick, as Ben hosts the Rainbow Room open mic night.
“We did a casting call and met with a couple of different local young people and students [from] around the county,” Harris said. “But when we met with Ben, we just knew that they were the perfect person to follow and tell their story. And not only them, but also their mom.”
“Their mom, Rose, was actually a nurse during the AIDS crisis, and I think that’s a really big part of how she gained an understanding for the queer experience. Her love for Ben really just shined to me and to the rest of our team,” she continued.
One of the other issues the documentary deals with is the school district’s decisions affecting the safety of queer and trans youth in the district.
Harris explained that the film focuses on the importance of having joy and a good support system, as well as the harsher realities that queer and trans youth are having to deal with right now.
“When I can make films, I like to make them joyful and give a message of hope, that the younger version of Natalie really would have needed to see and wanted to see,” said Harris.
She added that she thinks this is true for many young people, including the star of her documentary, who watched and loved her first film, “Pure.”
“[The younger generation is] seeing it, and they’re finding joy in it,” Harris said. “And that’s really what makes me happy.”
“Prada P**y,” directed by Kase Peña
In the most personal of the five documentaries, Peña interviews Dr. Christine McGinn, who is a fellow trans woman, as a documentary subject and as a potential surgeon to perform her vaginoplasty.
One of the reasons she wanted to do this documentary was to give other trans people the information they would need to know about how to get their surgeries and how to interview doctors. Interviewing doctors is a very important step in the process, especially since people can now get the surgeries done with Medicaid. This helps marginalized groups, especially people of color, access these surgeries. As Peña pointed out, this is a double-edged sword.
“The problem is that because Medicaid is paying for it, a lot of doctors who don’t know what the hell they [are] doing, are jumping on the bandwagon because they know they’re gonna get paid,” she said.
Peña added that since these doctors don’t have experience with these surgeries, they’re botching them so badly that they’re mutilating people. Dr. McGinn told her that many of the surgeries she performs are to correct what other doctors did.
For Peña, the most important aspects of filmmaking are the stories she tells and the impact they have on her communities. Her experience at a small film school “planted the seed in my head that these personal, intimate stories matter.”
Her most recent project besides “Prada P**y” is a feature film entitled “Trans Los Angeles,” an anthology that follows different trans people in LA in 25 minute sections. She is currently fundraising to complete the final section.
“Don’t Cry for Me All You Drag Queens,” directed by Kristal Sotomayor
Archival footage introduced filmmaker Sotomayor to Mother Cavallucci, a legendary New Hope drag queen, and her annual wedding fundraisers.
Sotomayor was originally drawn to Mother Cavallucci as a subject after looking at archival photos of these fundraisers, but the more they learned about her as a nonbinary person in the ’50s and ’60s, the more inspired they felt.
“As I’ve continued to work on the film, it feels more and more like a project to preserve the stories of my ancestor, somebody that I never met, but that has deeply resonated with me — whose work in the community has made my life and my being here as a nonbinary person possible,” Sotomayor said.
The fundraisers were a way for the community to help support Mother Cavallucci as she got older.
“It was really just [a] community celebration and a really great opportunity to come, dress up, drink, have fun with your friends, but also to fundraise for the community and fundraise for her,” Sotomayor said.
Since the fundraisers ended when Mother Cavalucci died, Sotomayor teamed up with Phoebe Mantrap, the current Miss New Hope, and Miss Pumpkin to recreate one of the weddings as a community celebration.
“For me, the most important aspect of my filmmaking process is my involvement with the community,” Sotomayor explained.
“Being able to join the community [and] meet people has been really amazing,” they added. “And in particular, working with established members in the community like Miss Phoebe Mantrap and Miss Pumpkin has been amazing. Their collaboration and working with them has really made this film evolve from what I originally thought it would be to something that’s more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.”
Queer Cuts: New Hope will feature screenings and talkbacks 1:30-4:30 p.m. with an afterparty 5-7 p.m. on Nov. 4 at the Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S Main St, New Hope. Visit https://bcptheater.org/shows/queer-cuts-new-hope/ to purchase tickets.