Joe Balass

Baghdad, Iraq
Lives in
Montreal , QC
Quebec CA

Documentarist. Concordia-trained Montrealer Balass has made few films since leaving film school in the early nineties, but these unique video documentaries earned him a respectful following within two religions, three languages and many sexualities. One of them, Nana, George and Me (1997, 48), was autobiography disguised as separate but intertwined interview encounters with an elderly woman and man belonging, like Balass, to the Iraqi Jewish diaspora. The two couldn't be more apparently different, the filmmaker’s 92-year-old traditional grandmother and a maso bon vivant who likes being playfully trampled by his “trade” retinue. But Balass's subversive probing of their respective sexualities as fully as their Bagdadi ancestry is what brings them together as foils for the filmmaker's own faux-naif offscreen self-exploration. Subversive of inherited documentary ethics and visual styles (who says you can't ask your grandmother about her bridal deflowering over extreme closeups of the skin folds of her neck that may mimic what you saw as an infant in her arms?), Nana, George and Me is one of the boldest entrants in the queer autobiographical wave of the 1990s.

The Devil in the Holy Water (2002, 94) has a playfully superficial, journalistic edge that seems to cloud its intensely personal stake and style, made in collaboration with Balass’s partner Giampaolo Marzi. The quirky, insightful investigation of Catholic institutional homophobia and a definitively Italian street theater of everyday life all crystallize in the clash of the 2000 Vatican Jubilee with the "Word Pride" counter-demonstration taking place in the Holy City at the same time.