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'Frat House' Tells the Story of a Town's Last Gay Bar

There is one gay bar remaining in Garden Grove, Calif., where there were once 15. A new short film showcases what the bar means to the community.

Garden Grove, Calif., a quiet town in historically conservative Orange County, once had more than 15 gay bars. Now it's down to one, and the bar's story is told in the new short film Frat House, screening this weekend in the UCI Collegiate Showcase at the Newport Beach Film Festival.

Frat House, which takes its name from that last remaining bar, began as writer-director Nancy Nguyen's documentary class project in the digital filmmaking program at the University of California, Irvine. Over the past year, she has secured interviews with founder Ted Heier's family as well as employees, patrons, drag performers, and the Frat's trans and Latinx community.

Ted Heier died in 2013. The bar is now owned by his daughter Shelly Heier, who operates it along with manager Cris McKnight; they describe themselves as "two straight chicks running a gay bar." McKnight is also curator of more than 10,000 photographs taken by Ted Heier, who documented decades of LGBTQ activism in Orange County. That activism laid the groundwork for the once-conservative county's election of a Democratic delegation to Congress last year.

The showcase includes both documentary and narrative films, plus web series and experimental works, all developed and produced through the UC Irvine digital filmmaking program. In addition to Frat House, several others deal with social issues, such as A Summer at Her Farm, about a farm in Nepal dedicated to women's empowerment, and Querer es Poder: Searching for Sustainable Education in Paraguay, about an entrepreneurial high school in that nation.

The showcase will screen at 1:15 p.m. Saturday at the Starlight Triangle Square Cinemas in Costa Mesa, Calif. Find tickets here.

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