By Ciara Reid, staff reporter
WICHITA - The 15th annual Tallgrass Film Festival will take place Oct. 18-22 and will screen several LGBTQ films: Alaska Is a Drag, Woman on Fire, The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, and The Feels.
Alaska Is a Drag is director Shaz Bennett’s feature debut, and was born from her own dreams while working in a cannery in Salt Lake City. The film stars Martin L. Washington, Jr. as Leo, an aspiring drag superstar, who is stuck working in a fish cannery in Alaska. He and his twin sister are trapped in the monotony of fist fights and fish guts. Out of necessity, Leo learned to fight back, which catches the attention of the local boxing coach. When a new boy moves to town and wants to be his sparring partner, Leo has to face the real reason he’s stuck in Alaska.
Matt Dallas, star of the show Kyle XY which aired for several seasons in the mid-2000s, plays the role of Declan, the new kid in town who becomes Leo’s boxing sparring partner. Dallas became involved in the film after a call from his manager.
“I immediately fell in love with the message,” Dallas said in an interview with Liberty Press. “The journey that the lead character goes through, to fight for his right to be himself. There is so much hope and beauty. I am thrilled to be a part of it.”
Alaska Is a Drag was shot in three weeks. During filming, the main cast lived together in a beach house. Dallas says they would rehearse all day, then continue work into the night. This allowed the cast to truly gel as an ensemble.
A native of Phoenix, Dallas currently lives in Los Angeles with his husband Blue Hamilton and their son, Crow, who they recently adopted through Arizona’s foster care system. For about a year, Dallas and his husband have been producing content for their YouTube channel, Matt and Blue, which currently has more than 177,000 subscribers. The idea for the channel stemmed from Dallas and Hamilton feeling creatively disconnected.
When Dallas worked on Alaska Is a Drag, his costars Maya Washington and Martin L. Washington, Jr. had YouTube channels. “After spending three weeks with them, and seeing their creative outlet, you have this platform where you can do anything you want,” Dallas says.
Their videos showcase various elements of their daily life, and is incredibly relatable and hilarious. The most popular video is titled “Things Husbands Do” and includes scenes of Dallas and Hamilton accidentally wearing the same thing, being mistaken for twins by a stranger, and humorous confusion over which dad their son Crow is referring to when he calls for “dad.”
“As we started doing it, we started realizing it was an opportunity to shed light on the foster/adoption system, and what it means to be a gay family,” Dallas says. Their story has resonated with many people.
Last fall, during a trip to Disneyland, Dallas and Hamilton noticed a teenager staring, seeming to recognize them. The boy and his mother came over and introduced themselves, and the boy told them how watching their videos helped him feel comfortable and to come out. His mother was crying.
“Her son made her sit down and watch the videos with him,” Dallas says. “It was a moment of realization for her, that he could have kids, that life. To me, that was one of the most powerful moments, hugging his mom and her kid.”
Dallas and Hamilton are focusing on expanding their channel and content. “We’re excited to grow and evolve the channel and the brand,” Dallas says. In addition to their YouTube channel, Dallas has been working on a passion project for the last six years that he hopes will go into production soon.
The script tells the story of two veterans who return from deployment and begin to re-acclimate. “It’s really about post-traumatic growth,” Dallas says. Dallas has been serving as a producer of the film, and will play a role in the film as well.
Another LGBTQ film that will be featured at the festival is Woman on Fire, a documentary that focuses on Brooke Guinan, the first openly transgender firefighter in New York City. Guinan is a third generation fire fighter. The film documents all facets of her struggles as she transitions, both professionally and in her personal life.
The Feels, directed by Jenee LaMarque, starring Constance Wu, Josh Fadem, as well as LaMarque, tells the story of a lesbian bachelorette weekend that goes awry when one of the brides admits she has never had an orgasm.
The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, a documentary directed by Jennifer M. Kroot, examines the life and work of one of the world’s most beloved storytellers, following his evolution from a conservative son of the Old South into a gay rights pioneer, whose novels have inspired millions to claim their own truth, according to the synopsis on the film’s website, www.armisteadfilm.com.
Kroot’s documentary about the creator of Tales Of The City moves nimbly between playful and poignant and laugh-out-loud funny. With help from his friends (including Neil Gaiman, Laura Linney, Olympia Dukakis, Sir Ian McKellen and Amy Tan) Maupin offers a disarmingly frank look at the journey that took him from the jungles of Vietnam to the bathhouses of 70’s San Francisco to the front line of the American culture war.
For showtimes, venues, and ticket information, visit www.tallgrassfilm.org. l