“A Big Gay Hairy Hit! Where the Bears Are: The Documentary”
Screened at the 41st Annual Reeling Chicago International LGBTQ+ Film Festival (5/5); Letterboxd (4.5/5), Imdb.com (9/10), TMDB.com (4.5/5)
So you think all of the world’s bears are in zoos or in the wild, right? Well, if you visit any venues or neighborhoods frequented by gay men, you just might find yourself in the company of another pack of ursine creatures – Bears – one of the largest and least-known constituencies of the LGBTQ+ community. Consisting of predominantly big, burly, bearded, hirsute males (many of whom are best compared to modern-day lumberjacks), the Bear community’s numbers have swollen since their emergence in the late 1980s/early 1990s. But they’ve often gone unnoticed, both by society at large and even in LGBTQ+ circles – that is, until the premiere of an internet TV series known as Where the Bears Are. As an impromptu project dreamed up by a trio of seasoned entertainment industry professionals who were between gigs, the long-running series, which launched in 2011, is best described by its creators as a cross between The Golden Girls and Murder, She Wrote with a cast of big, fat, bearded gay guys. This bawdy, campy, outrageous internet TV show quickly became an unexpected sensation, partly for the quality of its product but also because it filled a niche for an otherwise-largely unserved audience, success that enabled this surprise hit to air for seven seasons. Director Eduardo Aquino’s excellent new documentary tells how the show came into being, including a look at its creators’ impressive movie and TV background. But the film also examines what it’s like to produce a seat-of-one’s-pants video project on a shoestring budget with a ragtag crew of artists who are in it primarily for the sheer enjoyment that they get out of their work. It also shines a bright light on the uplifting impact the show has had on body and attitude positivity for gay men who don’t exactly fit the commonly held twink, leatherman and gym bunny stereotypes often associated with them. And it accomplishes all this with a briskly paced, no-nonsense, economical, insightful and highly entertaining approach, truly a fine example of what a good documentary should do. This one is a lot of fun and highly informative, particularly for those who’ve never been introduced to the show or to the raucous, sensual, fun-loving segment of gay society that it so fittingly represents. Two paws up!