SATURDAY CHURCH is a trans story yes. But much much more. It is transporting, transcendent and transformative, with themes of belonging and being that reach well beyond the coming out. The film is essentially a drama, but the interspersed songs and dancing, a bit like LA LA LAND, come smoothly together to inform, touch and influence hearts and minds.
Monosyllabic and almost somnambulant, bullied and taking secret forays into women’s attire Ulysses is now the man of the house after his soldier father’s death. We see him first at the funeral, gangly in a suit too big. He is closed, tight, slouched and slow moving. Ulysses’ all singing, all dancing fantasy life doesn’t seem enough to get him through.
Stuck with a straight-laced tyrannical aunt filling in for a mom who is doing double shifts to keep the family afloat, and a dibber dobber little brother, Ulysses will take the train to a world where he can belong. Famous for its colourful population, West Village’s Christopher Street neighbourhood is where Ulysses will be adopted by a group of loud and volatile , brassy and ballsy, fashion-conscious and fabulous inhabitants. He will be taken to Saturday Church which is a very different place to the traditional church where his aunt has enrolled him as an acolyte and he will discover the NYC Ball Scene! It’s come a long way since PARIS IS BURNING.
Saturday Church is a real place, a real sanctuary and Writer/ Director Damon Cardasis knows the organization well. He has volunteered there and their work of providing a safe space for LGBTQ youth is foregrounded in the film. There is an element of outreach about it but this is not a documentary film. It is a domestic drama of two families.
His natural family, even Aunt Rose, are not evil people, they are simply unable to cope with the person Ulysses is becoming and the film succeeds powerfully in its highlighting of the domestic issues that contribute to youth homelessness and street living. Ulysses’ also has his adopted family where love, and high heels, abound. The impact of the film is in the way it focuses on positive choices from both families which will allow him to be who he is.
Luka Kain plays Ulysses with a vulnerability which is skilfully elided with the determination and courage that comes of self-understanding. One can completely empathise with why the community envelopes and protects him. His mentors have been through it themselves and their care and love gives him strength. Even the bitchy one … we know that girl and she’s a powderpuff under the gruff!
MJ Rodriguez as Ebony, Alexia Garcia as Heaven, Indya Moore as Dijon are engaging – flamboyant true but yet, fully realised characters who are charismatic and thrilling to watch. Each with both a backstory and a current situation which is such a indicting statement of survival. Plus, Rodriguez has a killer voice. Her solo is powerful, moving and vibrates with the redolence of every emotion an LGBTQ person has felt in the struggle.
Similarly, there is a wonderful romantic duet between Ulysses and Raymond (Marquis Rodriguez) that comes after the sweetest first kiss ever committed to film. Empowerment with a thumping, drum hit track.
Nathan Larson’s music (Lyrics Damon Cardasis) and Loni Landon’s choreography, from the first dance sequence with its pulsing, siren screaming score to the final real-life Vogue performances over a pounding track is infectious and energetic. And loving of community. The song ‘Moving On’ is poetic, realistic and an anthem for dancing with hands above heads and rocking a spangle and a stiletto. SATURDAY CHURCH is a don’t miss.
For more information about Queer Screen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival visit: http://queerscreen.org.au/mardi-gras-film-festival-2018