Yony Leyser is a writer and director with a focus on subcultures and queer history. In 2010 Leyser released his debut documentary feature film, William S. Burroughs: A Man Within, followed by his first fiction feature film, Desire Will Set You Free in 2015. 2017 saw the release of Leyser’s critically-acclaimed documentary about the cultural and social movement Queercore: How To Punk A Revolution, with an accompanying book released in 2020. Leyser wrote and directed W(A)RM HOLES which premiered in Berlin’s Maxim Gorki Theatre in 2019. In 2022 he wrote and directed the documentary miniseries Drag Me to the USA for RTL+. He has two forthcoming films The Fourth Generation, a narrative film and Chokehole: Drag Wresters do Deutschland, a documentary both slated for a 2023 release.
Collectively Leyser’s films have been screened in over 150 institutions and festivals around the world, including Slamdance, Seattle International Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival, Sheffield Doc/fest, Viennale, Guadalajara International Film Festival, IDFA, Filmfest Max Ophüls Preis,Outfest, Frameline and HotDocs.
Born in Chicago in 1984, Yony Leyser is the descendant of a German-Iranian-Jewish family. He spent his youth in Chicago. From a young age, Leyser made it his life mission to explore themes identity, race, displacement and belonging and give a voice and platform to those marginalised by society.
Leyser has a B.A in Film and Journalism from NYC’s Eugene Lang College at the New School University and a MFA (Diplom II) in Media Arts from KHM (Academy of Media Arts Cologne) with honours (1,1). He has also lectured at film universities throughout the world.
Leyser released his first film William S. Burroughs: A Man Within when he was just 24. In this film Leyser documents the life and work of “the first person who was famous for things you were supposed to hide.” The film is an unflinching exploration of one of the world’s first openly queer poets, junkies and challengers of censorship, demonstrating that Leyser is unafraid of looking at the dark corners, as well as the bright lights, of the queer experience. Variety Magazine wrote “Like his subject, Leyser strives to disengage from the conventional, while still being lucid. He succeeds admirably.” It screened on over 15 TV stations around the world as well as on Netflix.
Desire Will Set You free continued Leyser’s fearless examination of queer identity, belonging and hedonism. The fiction feature film sees an American writer of Israeli/Palestinian descent follow a Russian artist and escort down the rabbit hole of Berlin’s decadent underground queer scene. Through a kaleidoscope of drug-fuelled parties, freedom, desire and deviance, the film unveils what it means to explore the parts of the self that society deems off limits. “The director achieves a raw vitality with fiction-doc hybrid,” wrote Dazed and Confused. It was funded by Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg and ZDF.
Queercore: How To Punk A Revolution, dives into the world of the cultural punk movement known as Queercore. In response to society’s disdain and rejection of queerness, the LGBTQ+ punks of the 1980s formed an explosive, furious, vibrant army of kings, queens, rockstars and artists to perform in the underground institutions of Toronto, Portland, San Francisco and London. Leyser’s documentary paints a powerful and profound picture of how the global queer community mobilised to forcefully create space for their marginalised comrades. The film won several prizes at international film festivals including the Felix Prize at the Rio International Film Festival and Best Film at Merlinka film festival (Serbia) in 2017. It was funded by Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg and ARTE/ZDF.
W(A)RM HOLES, Leyser’s, premiered in Berlin’s Maxim Gorki Theater in 2019. The play follows five Berliner’s of differing generations on a journey through Berlin’s queer history. The performers were encouraged to channel their icons, ex-lovers and past selves to explore the intersection of queer identity in a collective consciousness.
He has collaborated with Chokehole drag wrestling collective on their show Eurofist which opened the 2021 season at Kampnagel in Hamburg.
Drag Me to the USA follows three diverse German drag queens on a road trip from New Orleans to LA as they meet locals and perform in towns along the way. Its a journey of empowerment and self-discovery for the queens in this commissioned three part series for RTL+.
Leyser was the inspiration for the character of Yony in Israel Cárdenas & Laura Amelia Guzmán’s film Holy Beasts starring Geraldine Chaplin and Udo Kier, and the character Yoni in Ingrid Veninger’s I am a Good Person / I am a Bad Person. Leyser is a member of the European Film Academy and has worked with some of the world’s most prestigious art and music icons, from punk princess Nina Hagen to king of filth John Waters as well as Sonic Youth, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Amiri Baraka, and Peaches.
Leyser’s productions have received critical acclaim from international publications including The Guardian, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, NME, Wall Street Journal, Vice, The LA Times, Haaretz and dozens more. Leyser has exhibited and performed at Manifesta in Zurich, Sprechsaale Gallery in Berlin, No No Gallery in Melbourne and Heaven Gallery in Chicago. He has done guest film programming at Chicago International Movie and Music festival, 3hD art festival (Berlin), and the B3 Biennale (Frankfurt).
Today, Yony Leyser continues to blaze a trail for the global queer community with his two upcoming films The Fourth Generation and Chokehole: Drag Wrestlers Do Deutschland.