SXSW 2024 Review: A HOUSE IS NOT A DISCO, Burning Down Preconceptions

Brian J. Smith directs a love letter to Fire Island Pines, the legendary queer beach town in New York.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
SXSW 2024 Review: A HOUSE IS NOT A DISCO, Burning Down Preconceptions

How do you say "I love you" to an entire community?

A House Is Not a Disco
The film enjoys its world premiere today at SXSW 2024. The film screens again on March 10 and March 14. Visit the film's official site for more information.

Frankly celebrating the free and open lifestyle in Fire Island Pines, director Brian J. Smith begins his documentary quietly with one of the island's few year-round residents, accompanied by the sounds of waves lapping on the beach, clouds scudding through the sky, and voices gently talking.

It's a time that allows for peaceful meditation and thoughtful reflection, contemplating the glories of nature and the refuge provided by the village from the cruelties of the outside world. Soon, however, visitors begin arriving, ready to party all night and every day in a place where queer people can indulge in their most hedonistic instincts -- or not. There are no requirements, as to behavior; just relax and enjoy yourself.

Verging on a hagiographic approach initially, happily portraying happy people dispensing of their clothing and doing whatever they want, to each other and for each other, under the sun or inside houses packed with friends and strangers, Smith gradually collect stories of the great variety of individuals who return to Fire Island Pines year after year.

The thousands of visitors include many, many distinctive personalities who treasure the opportunity to relax in a welcoming community. They talk about what Fire Island Pines means to them, why it's so important, and why it's so valuable.

They also talk about how the town has changed over the years. Rather than rigorously documenting how the community has changed, or laying out a highly-researched timeline to highlight key events of the recent (or distant) past, the film is more concerned with the here and now, and what the future might bring. Can the island maintain its appeal? Will people continue to return for extended visits? Will the ocean continue to carry the beach out to sea?

The latter is a salient point, since we see the effects of climate change, which affects Fire Island, sometimes to a drastic extent. What can be done about that pressing issue?

Strong opinions are expressed from time to time, but mostly this is what I'd call a 'mellow' documentary, a film for like-minded viewers to sink into, luxuriate in, and recommend to friends. Like a literal vacation in a sunny beach town, A House Is Not a Disco stretches out and urges appreciation for a pleasant escape from everyday cares. And hope for the best in the future.

A House Is Not A Disco

  • Brian J. Smith
  • Doug Harris
  • Scott Bromley
  • Marc Christensen
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Brian J. SmithDocumentaryFire Island PinesSXSW 2024Doug HarrisScott BromleyMarc Christensen

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