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Presenting Princess Shaw; Out of Iraq; Those People
Knight at the Movies
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times

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The Princess of YouTube

There are Cinderella stories and then there's the saga of Princess Shaw—a Cinderella story that breaks the mold.

If the tale of a 37-year-old bisexual Black woman toiling as a caregiver for the elderly in New Orleans ( and barely scraping by ) with dreams of musical stardom—and achieving those dreams—seems improbable ( and it is ), it's also a little more familiar, thanks to other musical sensations who haven't quite fit the mold. Susan Boyle's zoom to stardom immediately comes to mind.

But the difference between Boyle's story and Shaw's ( whose real name is Samantha Montgomery ), as documented in Ido Haar's charming film Presenting Princess Shaw, is that with the latter we get the build-up to the "Star Is Born" moment, making it that much more compelling when it finally arrives at the midway point in the film.

By then, we are completely invested in Montgomery's story, thanks in no small part to her magnetic personality. Haar's camera follows her as she goes about life—working by day, waiting patiently for her turn at an open talent by night, uploading yet another of her original videos to YouTube, auditioning for The Voice, spending time with her on again/off again girlfriend Olivia and dealing with the economic stresses of everyday life—trying to keep the lights on, the car running, trying to earn enough to pay the rent. Always, the music just pours out of Montgomery, buoyed by her relentless optimism in the face of so many daunting challenges.

Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, an elusive musician known to the world as Kutiman through his YouTube mash-ups is working on crafting a new piece built around one of Montgomery's songs and utilizing her a capella vocals. Just at the moment when Montgomery is at her lowest ebb, Kutiman uploads his mashup. The following day, Haar's camera captures the moment when Princess Shaw hears it and reads the positive reactions from her new fans as they are pouring in. It's a genuinely moving scene that builds as the gobsmacked Montgomery next finds herself in Israel meeting Kutiman and performing with him onstage. Kutiman himself—calm and serene, his eyes sparking when he begins to create at the computer—is a fascinating camera presence, too.

Although Haar's film pushes the boundaries of documentary, we're not quite sure why or how the filmmaker came to film Montgomery and the timeline is a bit fuzzy. But that's a small quibble with such a well-loved staple of the movies as its theme and such an endearing, warm personality as its subject.

[Editor's note: An interview with Montgomery is on page 28 of this issue.]

Forbidden gay love

The LOGO network has built its reputation on the success of RuPaul's Drag Race, which has led to a number of spinoffs that can only be described as fabulous and frivolous. I'm particularly enamored—no surprise—of its camp movie show Cocktails & Classics, in which comic actor Michael Urie ( TV's Ugly Betty ) hosts a group of friends to sit around and watch everything from Valley of the Dolls to All About Eve with him. ( Hey LOGO! I'm waiting for my guest star invitation! )

Now the network is taking a serious turn with Global Ally, a newly launched, year-long social campaign. Sharing stories of queer activists around the world, in an effort to change attitudes, is just one goal of the campaign. Out of Iraq, which LOGO will begin airing Monday, June 13, is an inspired choice to focus on the plight of our queer sisters and brothers around the world.

Co-directed by Oscar-winning documentarian Eva Orner ( Taxi to the Dark Side ) and Chris McKim and produced by LOGO staples Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, the film is a searing indictment of the horrific conditions for Our People in bloodthirsty Iraq. Although same-sex relationships have been decriminalized, queers are often subjected to multiple forms of abuse—including murder.

The film follows the plight of a darling gay Iraqi couple—Nayyef ( a translator ) and Btoo ( a soldier )—who are separated when Nayyef is granted asylum to the United States before Btoo. Working with a gay human-rights activist in San Francisco, where Nayyef settles, the film tracks the years—yes, years—that go by as Btoo struggles to overcome red tape and be rejoined with his love. At every step of the way his life is in danger—first of being killed at any point in Iraq and later, after resettling in Lebanon, of being sent back to face certain death—often at the hands of everyday citizens. Communicating via Skype and cellphone, the couple struggle to keep their spirits aloft as they work to resolve all the red tape in bringing Nayyef and Btoo back together.

Out of Iraq is both an infuriating and emotionally compelling experience that needs to be seen. Bravo, LOGO!

WASP gay love

The plot of Those People is thus: On Manhattan's gilded Upper East Side, a young painter, Charlie, finds the man of his dreams in an older pianist who travels the globe.

If only Charlie weren't already secretly in love with his own manipulative best friend, Sebastian, whose family is embroiled in a Bernie Madoff-sized financial scandal, things mightn't be so complicated. The course of true love—especially for these twentysomething rich WASPs living it up in Manhattan—isn't bound to run smoothly. And in the wake of Sebastian's notoriety, Charlie and their tight-knit group of friends must confront the new realities of adulthood.

If writer-director Joey Kuhn's sophisticated, diverting, gorgeously filmed debut feature seems at times like a gay imitation of the films of Whit Stillman—which it does—that is meant as a huge compliment. Those People was a popular favorite at last year's Reeling Film Festival and comes to VOD and DVD from Wolfe Video on June 14.

Upcoming movie calendar

Highlights from films ( listed chronologically ) opening in Chicago, June 10 and 17 ( some descriptions come from studio press materials ).

The Conjuring 2 ( June 10 )—Those wacky ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine ( Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga ) are back for round two. This time, the deadly serious duo head to London to help a single mom with four children rid their lodgings of unwanted paranormal baddies. The first round was long on atmosphere and truly frightened; here's hoping that lightning ( of the ectoplasmic variety ) strikes twice.

Presenting Princess Shaw ( June 10 )—See details above.

Out of Iraq ( June 13 )—See details above.

Finding Dory ( June 17 )—In this long-anticipated sequel to Disney's undersea animated megahit Finding Nemo, Ellen DeGeneres returns to voice the beloved, daffy fish with the memory issues as she embarks on a journey to reunite with her mother ( voiced by Diane Keaton ) and father ( voiced by Eugene Levy ). If rumors are correct, the film will feature a lesbian couple.

De Palma ( June 17 )—Brian De Palma, the director who graphically combined sex and death on the screen; Hitchcock's most ambitious successor; and the filmmaker behind Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Body Double, The Untouchables and more, is profiled in this long-overdue documentary.

Genius ( June 17 )—This is the long-gestating screen adaptation of out writer A. Scott Berg's award winning biography detailing the "romantic friendship" between legendary editor Max Perkins ( Colin Firth ) and Southern writer Thomas Wolfe ( Jude Law ). Out screenwriter John Logan wrote the script; Nicole Kidman, Guy Pearce, Dominic West and Laura Linney co-star.

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