Cleveland International Film Festival 2016: ‘Kings, Queens and In-Betweens’ a fantastic doc about the drag scene in Columbus
By Joanna Connors, The Plain Dealer
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on April 01, 2016 at 6:00 AM, updated April 01, 2016 at 11:51 AM
CLEVELAND — “I don’t have to be a man. I don’t have to be a woman. I just have to be me,” says a performer in “Kings and Queens and In Between,” an exceptional documentary having its world premiere at the Cleveland International Film Festival.
The eye-opening – and even better, heart-opening – film takes a deep dive into the vibrant drag scene that thrives in, of all places, Columbus, Ohio.
Director Gabrielle C. Burton goes backstage and into the homes and lives of eight performers – men who perform as women, women who perform as men, men who do men, women who do women, and transgender performers who really don’t care what you label them.
As one queen explains: “Drag is a way to explore the gray areas. Because it’s not about black and white. It’s never been about black and white.”
Burton, who worked for five years on the film, clearly spent a good part of that time selecting her cast. To a person, they are eloquent about their art and the politics that go with it. They’re also stunningly compassionate about those who have bullied or hurt them – including their parents – and tell their growing-up and coming-out stories with unexpected candor.
To mirror that candor, I will confess that I chose to review “Kings, Queens and In-Betweens” because I thought it would be an entertaining lark about a world of utter fabulosity and glam.
That it is, but it is so much more. Without ever becoming didactic, Burton and the performers explore the concept of sexual orientation and gender identity – of identity itself – with clarity, insight and a poignant wisdom born of experience.
Another confession: I fell in love not just with the film, but with the performers. The snippets Burton shows of their drag shows are not just a ton of fun, they also showcase some real talent. And after the make-up and wigs come off, their stories are unforgettable.
It’s OK to fall in love, though, because ultimately the film is about love – love of creating art, love of friends and family, and love of partners, whoever they might be. As one performer observes, “This isn’t a gay thing. It’s a human thing.”
“Kings, Queens and In Betweens” will make you feel grateful you got to know these particular humans. It will also make you want to take a road trip to Columbus, and soon.
Note: Burton and several performers will be on hand for the film’s screenings, and a Film Forum follows the screening on Sunday, April 3.
Kings, Queens and In-Betweens
What: Directed by Gabrielle C. Burton (2016/USA). 82 minutes. In English.
When: 9:15 p.m. Saturday, April 2, and 11:15 p.m. Sunday, April 3 at Tower City Cinemas.
Grade: A +