Sundance Stories: Rhys Ernst on The Secret of “The Thing” by

Rhys Thing sign

Though feature films often dominate the conversation at the Sundance Film Festival, the smart filmgoer pays just as close attention to the shorts, many of which are turned into features after attracting attention on the festival circuit. Director Rhys Ernst’s short film The Thing was one of the most exciting shorts I saw at the festival this past weekend. Afterwards, I spoke with Ernst about how the film came to be, a pivotal road trip he took, and his thoughts on trans representation in cinema.

Describe what your short is about?
The Thing is about a couple –a woman and a transgendered man– who are traveling on a road trip with their cat towards a mysterious roadside attraction called “The Thing.” The closer and closer they’re getting toward their destination the further and further they’re getting from each other.

Where did the idea for the short come from?
Since I’m trans I certainly had a stake in putting that character out there. Obviously there’s a lack of trans men characters in film, but I didn’t want to make an identity film, I wanted to have the issue folded into a much larger narrative so it could appeal to all different kinds of audience members. I have gone on a lot of calamitous road trips and when I moved to LA from New York I brought my cat with me in the car.

Isn’t that sort of dangerous for a cat to travel that way?
The cat was okay. He was a little freaked out, but he was okay. My friend and I would sneak him into hotel rooms. It was so comic and strange it was one kernel for the film. The rest of it’s not particularly autobiographical – though I did grow up going on lots of road trips with my family. It’s so American – these tourist roadside attraction places. They’re these nice emblems of something that’s totally mysterious. More…

Memo Random by

Memo No. 2l
Hairs on head bristle
against hairs on head. Cheeks mash.
Lips meet zipper-like.

Memo No. 3p
First date pot roast: I-
rish mother cuisine; touched your
lumbar, made you hard.

Memo No. 4p
You cried once in bed.
I asked “why” and pulled you close.
We stopped having sex.

Memo No. 6a
You driving and pull-
ing my cum from me with the
seat belt strapped on tight.

Memo No. 7a
On my knees in the
you-pick field: sweetest white corn
I ever tasted.

Memo No. 7p
October air nips
at naked legs. You taught me
the scent of bay leaves.

Memo No. 9a
Thick with mud, standing
on dinosaur bones, you jacked
me off in the spring.

American Realness by


For fans of cutting-edge performance and theater, it’s a great time to be in New York, with multiple festivals around town presenting risk-taking new work. Tonight, American Realness, a ten day festival featuring dance, music, performance art, theater, and everything in between, kicks off at the Abrons Arts Center on the LES with Unreal, a show of photography by Michael Hart. Hart has been capturing the lives and performances of many of the artists featured in the festival for nearly a decade. Unreal will also feature a text piece by writer and performer Ryan Tracy in conversation with the photographer. Above, choreographer Jack Ferver, whose show Me, Michelle is one of the highlights of the highlight-filled festival.

Creative Punishments: Juan Betancurth on Faith, Pain, and Pleasure by


Since abandoning a lucrative advertising job in his native Colombia and moving to New York six years ago, Juan Betancurth has set about making work exploring the intersection of his sex life and Catholic upbringing. His latest project “For Faith, Pain and Pleasure” is a series of peculiar sculptures made out of vintage household objects that can be used for a variety of purposes, both kinky and holy. I met up with Juan earlier this week to explore the dual sides of his work.

You do a lot of different things in your practice. How would you describe it?
Honestly, I have a kind of hard time describing my work because of that. Sometimes I feel that it’s really complex. It has to do more with personal experiences, things that I want to do. My work depends on an idea or situation that I want to recreate.

Have there been similarities in the experiences you like to recreate?
It has to be experiences from my past that I want to overcome or understand. For me my work has always been a way to try and understand my reality and find out who I am. And I feel, if I have something from my past that’s limiting me, I just bring that out and put that in an installation, photograph, video, that I think is necessary, and it helps me out. It’s a tactic. More…

Das Butt by

In keeping with our poetry focus this week, young poet and Queer/Art/Mentorship fellow Tommy Pico offers a poem about butts and the men who love them and the way that can boost one’s self-esteem. Pico is the founder of birdsong, a Brooklyn-based poetry and prose zine whose contributors are committed to “social movements of feminism, anti-racism, queer positivity, class-consciousness, and DIY cultural production.” The new issue of birdsong (#16) has just been released and features contributions by Kelly Bourdet, Cat Glennon, Joey Parlett, Daniel Portland, Rita Sangre, Lauren Savitz, Max Steele, and Pico himself. If you’d like a free copy of the issue, Pico will send you one if you email, before December 31st.

Jesus Days 1978 – 1983 by


During my twenties, I was fervent Believer in Christ and an in-the-closet gay young man.  I worked for a national evangelical organization called InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I traveled to college and university campuses where I met Christian students, lead prayer meetings and taught Born Again students how to witness for Jesus to their non-believing peers. I was involved in evangelistic outreach on the beaches of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida during spring break, summer camps and weekend conferences, witnessing on campuses, and missionary trips to Central America. By 1983, after many years struggling with my sexual identity, I left the ministry, came out as a gay man, moved to New York City and entered the graduate film program at Columbia University. I was thirty years old.

Jesus Days, 1978-1983 are photographs (originally Kodachrome/Ektachrome slides) that I took of my own circle of friends. At that time, I was an untutored photographer with no ambition to make pictures other than my own pleasure and as a record of my friends and the world in which I lived. More…

The Click Goes Off And That’s A Poem by

Michael Montlack’s witty narrative poetry and prose are filled with subjects familiar to anyone who grew up in an American suburb in the past forty years – girls lounging by swimming pools, Stevie Nicks songs blasting from a car radio, and parents and siblings alternately loving and hurtful. Yet Montlack offers so much insight and charm that these subjects don’t feel stale or trite. The poems in his latest collection, Cool Limbo deals with his upbringing, his family, and his life in New York after coming out of the closet in both satirical and tender ways. I met up with Montlack to discuss his process.

Adam: Do you consider yourself more of a poet or a writer or how do you characterize yourself?
Michael: I see myself as a writer; the word poet sounds too serious. And I started writing short stories. Prose mainly. I’m working on a fiction book.

Your last book was My Diva. Can you talk a little bit about what that was for people who didn’t read it?
My Diva was an anthology of essays that I edited. It came out in 2009. It started with an essay I wrote on Stevie Nicks. My friend who’s a journalist kept urging me saying, “You’re a storyteller, you write great stories. And I didn’t know what to write about so I looked back at this topic I’d written about years ago about Stevie Nicks and tried to deconstruct my strong fascination and attraction to her, since I was a gay boy in the closet. And that led to an essay and then I started to talk to all the gay poets and writers I knew and ask them about their divas and squeeze these essays out of them. Poems too. So My Diva was all essays about divas like Sappho, Cher, Julia Child and Princess Leia. That was a great experience, and now I’m finishing up the poetry version called Divining Divas, due out in February 2012.

What I noticed about Cool Limbo is that a lot of the poems are also about your fascination with women, feminine qualities, your sisters, etc. I was wondering if you saw this book as a new book or as a continuation of the previous one?
I think I’ve always been surrounded by strong female figures. I have an older sister who was ten years older. I always looked up to her. She was a rocker chick, in a band. And I think that’s where my Stevie Nicks fetish came from – my older sister looked like Stevie. And she used to protect me from anybody who she thought was picking on me – although it didn’t happen that much – she was always standing up for me. And then I had this twin sister who had this really strong energy as well. And then my mother, and my mother’s sister – were also these really strong women. It’s always been really comfortable to me. More…

My Thanksgiving Prayer by

Each year I try to watch this great video of the legendary William S. Burroughs reading his poem “Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1986″, and think about how I would update it. The poem is taken from the collection Tornado Alley and the video above was directed by Gus Van Sant, who had cast Burroughs as a drug-addled priest in his 1989 film Drugstore Cowboy. The video for me seems especially prescient this year and if could make my own 2011 Thanksgiving day prayers they’d go something like this: More…

Joan’s Digest: A Film Quarterly by

If you’re not Occupying lower Manhattan tonight, head over to Anthology Film Archives to kick off the launch of a new online feminist film quarterly called Joan’s Digest, which aims, according to editor Miriam Bale to “step away from the hubris and voyeurism of reviews and focus instead on long and personal relationships with the cinema, how we live with film over time and how it forms our sense of self.” Tonight’s screening is all about Joans on the beach, with Joan Crawford in the ultra-campy Female on the Beach at 6:45PM and then Jean Renoir’s The Woman on the Beach, starring Joan Bennett. From 8:30 to 11:30PM complimentary Joan-themed bourbon cocktails will be served. The program repeats on November 21st and 22nd.