Between the ongoing hardships for the LGBT community in Russia in the shadow of the Sochi Olympics and the recent coming out of likely NFL draft pick Michael Sam, sexuality and the world of sports have been front page news over the last few weeks. The queer cinema cannon is full of stories where LGBT lives cross paths with the world of
athletics and here are just a few highlights:
This classic film from the lesbian sports genre was released in 1982 to critical acclaim but poor box office sales. It tells the story of a young bisexual track and field athlete named Chris (played by Mariel Hemingway) and Tory, her older lesbian training partner (played by real-life track star Patrice Donnelly), as they push themselves to qualify for the 1980 Summer Olympics. This kinetic and sensual film is remembered for its depiction of the world of professional female athletics, use of real footage from competitions and a totally 80's nostalgic look. It was written, produced and directed by Robert Towne whose most famous contribution to cinema was writing the script for Chinatown.
This coming of age flick out of Germany from gay director Marco Kreuzpaintner follows Tobi, a young competitive rower who attends a week-long training camp in preparation for a big competition. It's at camp where he meets the members of Queerschlag ("Queerstrokes"), a gay youth rowing team who are fearlessly out of the closet and are the
cause of tension among campers. This experience pushes Tobi to deal with his encroaching sexuality which has taken the form of a crush he has on fellow team-mate and close friend Achim. The film is a great slice of adolescence sexuality, full of longing and painful realizations that stands out in the genre thanks to its earnest performances, beautiful cinematography and some well-paced rowing sequences. This film was inspired by Kreuzpaintner's own experiences growing up and this film was his first hit on the festival circuit. His newest film Coming In, about a gay man who shockingly falls in love with a woman, debuted at the 2014 Berlin Film Festival.
The Rugby Player
This documentary catalogs the unique bond between a mother and her gay son, who became an unlikely hero and role model. Mark Bingham was a charming and fun-loving man with a passion for making friends, traveling and playing rugby. By watching video footage taken by Mark over the course of his life, viewers come to know a excitable,
care-free prankster who overcomes family struggles and navigates his sexuality, all while becoming enamored with the camaraderie and physical challenges that come with playing competitive rugby. Mark Bingham was one of the passengers on the infamous United Flight 93 on 9/11 who, according to taped calls, was likely instrumental in fighting the terrorists on board and taking the plane down before it reached its intended, heavily-populated target in Washington, DC. Bingham's life and heroic death along with the coverage his story received in the media after the tragedy inspired many athletes to come out of the closet as well as an international gay rugby tournament championship in his memory. The film follows his mother as she becomes a restless advocate for gay rights and greater transportation security in American and it is as touching as it is inspiring and heartfelt. Winner of the HBO Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2013 Miami LGBT Film Festival, this doc remains one of the best LGBT sport documentaries ever made.