a digital drawing of two versions of the same girl, all in purple, floating and reaching out a hand to one another
Embrace. Credit: Latesha Merkel / courtesy John Olson

The first Pride Film Festival features international LGBTQ+ films to stream October 26 through December 11. The festival recently separated from PrideArts, previously known as Pride Films and Plays, where it began in 2012. Pride Film Fest showcases LGBTQ+ shorts and features a diverse mix of riveting stories told across the LGBTQ+ spectrum. 

Black Rainbow Love

Written, directed, and produced by Angela Harvey 

Black Rainbow Love shines a brilliant light on the Black LGBTQ+ community. The documentary features beautiful stories of love, whether it be with friends, lovers, the community, and more. Harvey, who is a motivational speaker, social worker, and counselor, speaks with many people who she personally knows from her beloved LGBTQ+ community; she even officiated four of the couples’ weddings. 

“I teach grown folks how to grow up. One of my clients made up the word ‘growth-ologist’ and it truly describes me best. My name is now synonymous with ‘grow,’” Harvey says.

This is only her first go-around as a documentary filmmaker, and the film has already received several awards. Harvey was motivated to create the documentary while watching a program on TV that featured people talking about relationships. Noticing a lack of representation, Harvey set out to tell the stories of the Black LGBTQ+ community.

“The stories are absolutely making an impact on all of those who see it. I’m blown away but also honored that I was the person to bring forth these amazing stories.”

Ultimately, Harvey will produce Black Rainbow Love as a docuseries.


Distributed by Helia Behrooz, directed by Fatemeh Ghadirinezhadian, written by Masoumeh Bayat

Amid protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody, the unrest in Iran continues to fuel anger against a corrupt and autocratic government. Because many Iranians are not allowed to use cell phones, U.S.-based Behrooz spoke with the Reader to share the story behind Panah, a film centered around a middle-aged transgender man who has a heartbreaking meeting with his son before attempting gender reassignment surgery in another country.

The Iranian government only recognizes two genders, male and female. This includes trans people, but means that many trans Iranians have been forced into gender reassignment surgery. Despite the government recognition, the trans community is still not socially or culturally acknowledged in Iran, and other queer identities like being gay or bisexual are punishable by death.

“I haven’t spoken to my people in Iran for 18 days,” Behrooz says. “I speak on behalf of the filmmakers who come from a family of producers. In Iran the government doesn’t allow independent productions, and makes them hard to operate, so it is difficult to make these movies. The other day we were protesting in front of the CBS office in LA because they haven’t been giving us any coverage, and it’s crazy because we just had a huge protest; over half a million people were there. Because of what is happening in Ukraine and in Florida with Hurricane Ian, we aren’t getting any coverage. It’s important for us to bring it up any opportunity we get. This movement is led by young women near 25 years old, and gender equality and inclusivity is a part of all of this. The rights of every single citizen is denied by the government. So just imagine how much pressure our LGBTQ+ community faces.”

The Iranian government has made many attempts at silencing activists. Currently two LGBTQ+ activists, Zahra Seddiqi Hamedani (known as Sareh), 31, and Elham Choubdar, 24, have been sentenced to death due to being guilty of “spreading corruption on Earth.”

Behrooz continues, “When the Iranian government wants to execute someone, they do it overnight. We have to make sure their voices are heard internationally, so they feel pressure not to do so. I want to tell people in the Iranian LGBTQ community they are all my dear friends. We are all in this together. This is a fight for human rights, and they can count on us. ‘Panah’ is a name, but it also means refuge, shelter, or safe. Metaphorically, the director may have had something in mind.”

Cut Short

Written and directed by Charlie Andelman

A young nonbinary person must face a difficult truth about their father’s mortality while giving him a haircut after cancer treatment. Andelman based this short film around the memories of their dad when he was going through treatment, and how his hair finally grew back, different from how it used to be.

“At the time I had the chance to make this, you know, people talk about what they want their audience to feel,” Andelman says. “It’s a very intense thing to lay bare all of someone’s grief on the screen, let alone an entire theater and festival. It was entirely for myself, as it became the only way I could see myself processing my grief. I’m not a hairstylist. I cut his hair that one time. It was a nice bonding experience and a solemn one. It was the moment I accepted that this was going to end soon.”

During production Andelman experienced lots of ups and downs due to the personal and emotional attachment to Cut Short. They developed their own health issues over the past couple of years, and through the tough times their community came together to help make this film.

“It was amazing not only having trans representation on the set but being able to learn with each other and support each other and be there. It was really wonderful.”

Prior to Andelman releasing the film, their family didn’t talk much about their father’s death. Andelman’s father had been the glue of the family, and since the film’s release, Andelman’s family became more able to talk about him and the impact he had in their lives.

“I can hear him in my head,” Andelman says. “He would be so excited and proud. I was the apple of his eye, anything I completed or put out in the world, he was so happy to see it and experience it with me. This project is one that I wish I could share with him. It’s a complicated feeling to deal with, but I know that he would have been happy to see me work through my emotions like this.”

Pride Film Festival
Streaming Oct 26-Dec 11
One-week general admission $10, festival passes $50, student and senior discounts available; pridefilm.org

Inside the Beauty Bubble

Directed by Cheryl Bookout and Cheri Gaulke

Set in artistic desert haven Joshua Tree, the Beauty Bubble Salon and Museum boasts an impressive collection of more than 3,000 vintage hairstyling artifacts. When owner Jeff Hafler was young, he dreamed of being an archaeologist. When he grew up and joined beauty school, he began collecting hair and beauty artifacts. Known as America’s Hairstorian, Hafler is just as delightful to watch as every piece of his collection. The documentary captures Hafler’s family pre- and mid-pandemic.

According to Bookout, “When [Hafler] moved his business from Wonder Valley to Joshua Tree, he came with his collection of vintage beauty artifacts. He created this wonderful roadside attraction and it’s actually a working salon. You can go there to get your hair done within all these artifacts. When he moved in I met him and had a life-changing haircut. He told me his story, that of his husband and his teenage son. I left his salon and called my filmmaking partner, Cheri Gaulke, excited that I thought we had the subject for our next documentary film.”

Gaulke adds, “Jeff is very entertaining, and a funny guy. He works the word hair into almost every sentence. He says things like, ‘That’s hair-sterical,’ or ‘The rest is hair-story.’ He’s full of hair jokes and puns. The tourists love him.”

Busia’s Babushkas

Directed by Dan Pal

A heartwarming memoir about a grandmother’s babushkas and the connection her grandson had to them, Busia’s Babushkas helps director Dan Pal explore why he is obsessed with long hair while also honoring his grandmother. After Pal’s mother passed away two years ago, he inherited all of her home movies and photos. Throughout his childhood, Pal’s mother would always take pictures and film her family. Pal originally used his mother’s footage to make a feature documentary about her, Harriet & Her Husbands. When Pal decided to honor his Polish busia (grandmother), he used footage of her babushkas (scarves). As a child Pal often wore her babushkas and pretended to be someone with long hair, often imagining a connection to celebrities like Cher or Barbra Streisand. 

“It was my way of connecting with celebrities, and as I thought about it I noticed maybe that was my own inspiration for wanting to grow my hair out,” Pal says. “I realized there had to be a connection to all of that. My grandmother and my obsession with long hair and celebrities. My hair is like a little past my shoulders; it’s not long but it’s not short.”

Busia was well known for her compassionate personality, and for her love of her family, especially her grandchildren.

“She always accepted us and loved us deeply.”

Pal’s busia passed away before he got into filmmaking and teaching, but he has no doubt that she would have been very supportive of the film, and probably would have laughed along with it.

“I still have so much footage, and wanted to do something with that. I thought this is a great way to tell part of my own story and also honor her. If Busia were here, I would say we really miss you, and we wish that you were here to be a part of our lives.”


Directed by Latesha Merkel

This beautiful animated short is a film about asexuality and explores the common experience faced by those who identify as ace. Asexuality is an orientation defined by a lack of sexual attraction or desire regardless of gender. Of course there is a wide spectrum, but this particular film shares the story of a person who tries to date but does not feel comfortable connecting to a partner with physical intimacy—similar to Merkel herself, when she started college. Having seen no real representation of asexuality onscreen or otherwise, Merkel was inspired to share her experience.

“When I was around 17 or 18 I noticed a disconnect from my peers,” Merkel says. “I questioned why it was so hard to engage sexually. I wondered how it would affect my dating life and tried to figure out romantic relationships. I casually stumbled upon the term asexuality online, and that was the moment when it clicked, the moment it made sense. It felt relieving to know there was a word to explain why I felt so different and isolated in this specific case.”

“The most important people in my life have been very accepting. Some are curious, and I made a whole film about it, so I am open to discussing it. My own experiences and the ones I talked about in the film are very specific to each person. Asexuality is a spectrum. Some aces are OK with sex on some level, some aces want children and some don’t. It varies from person to person and this is my own take on it.”