Folsom Forever is a new documentary by Mike Skiff. It tells the story of the history of the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco. Folsom Forever combines interviews with organizers, scholars and politicians with archival footage, as well as footage and interviews from the 29th annual Folsom Street Fair in 2012.
The Folsom Street Fair started as a neighborhood project in 1984. Inspired by Harvey Milk’s Castro Street Fair, Kathleen Connell and Michael Valerio hoped to raise both awareness about gentrification in San Francisco’s South of the Market (SOMA) district and funds for AIDS charities.
Now, Folsom Street Fair draws 400,000 people from all over the world. Last year, Folsom Street Events was able to award $330,000 in grants to local nonprofit organizations. Demetri Moshoyannis, Executive Director, said, “There’s nothing of this size and nothing that mirrors the diversity of Folsom Street Fair anywhere. It just doesn’t exist.”
The Folsom Street Fair is currently recognized as being one of the largest leather and festish events in the world. In addition to providing the history of the Folsom Street Fair, Folsom Forever helps solidify some important points in the history of the LGBTQ and BDSM movements.
Anthropologist Gayle Rubin explains that as low-cost housing was demolished in SOMA, many of the empty businesses were taken over by gay leather bars. From the beginning, BDSM was a part of biker leather culture, and an expression of a gay male masculinity.
Unfortunately, however, when AIDS hit San Francisco, the press wanted to blame leather culture, or suggest that leather men were somehow more affected than mainstream gay men by the epidemic. “It was kind of a Puritan reaction to the pleasure principle – a kind of over-reaction – and it was destructive,” journalist Jack Fritscher explained. “Everyone wanted to declare a statement that would make themselves safe,” said comedian and performer Danny Williams.
Not only were leather dykes essential caregivers and fundraisers during the AIDS crisis, but BDSM participants helped start conversations about safer sex practices. Bringing non-insertive yet erotic choices to the table, the leather community gained some social acceptance by teaching non-kinky people how to incorporate the rhetoric of “safe, sane, and consensual” into their own sex lives.
It was actually Williams who made the initial push to include the leather community in the Folsom Street Fair. Leather and BDSM involvement began as a hour-long leather fashion show, but over time, has ended up taking over the festival.
“Most of the kinky scene the leather scene took place behind closed doors for a long, long, long time. When Folsom Street Fair essentially brought that to the streets it was revolutionary,” Fritscher said. “That simply wasn’t done before. And that was one of its great powers of the time – to give people that sense of pride.”
In addition to this sense of history, the most interesting part of Folsom Forever to me was the opinions of the performers and attendees of the festival. Performance artist Liliane Hunt noted, “It has become this symbol for me of celebrating diversity and taking the shame out of it.” An attendee told the cameraman, “It should be like this everywhere and I think it’s ridiculous that it’s not.”
The Folsom Street Fair is loved my many because it represents diversity, freedom, and the right to self-expression. Nudity is often practiced at the festival, though many also continue to sport leather and fetish gear as well.
Folsom Forever reminds us that it isn’t only LGBTQ individuals who still fight for public acceptance. Those who participate in BDSM see Folsom Street Fair as an important place to freely express their identities and desires without guilt or shame from the mainstream population.
“We’re standing up for not just for ourselves but for everyone,” Hunt explained. “If we’re denying human rights and equality for anyone within our community, then in a way, we’re denying it for ourselves as well.”
For the thousands of people who flock to San Francisco annually for the festival, Folsom Street Fair represents “the freedom to do and wear what you want and have your own opinions and not be suppressed.”
My favorite parts of the documentary were the footage from the festival, and Folsom Forever is great inspiration to plan to attend in the future. I think the documentary captures well the spirit and importance of this historic event in LGBTQ history, and reminds us to celebrate diversity, cherishing the self-expression which makes us all unique.
Folsom Forever makes its Southwest Premiere Sunday, Sept 14 at 8:15pm at the Alamo Drafthouse S Lamar.
This review was originally published by The Horn on 09/14/2014.