Yony Leyser is an artist, writer, director, and educator 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 due for release in late 2020. Most recently Leyser wrote and directed W(A)RM HOLES, his first theatre production, which premiered in Berlin’s Maxim Gorki Theatre in 2019. 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, ZKM Karlsruhe, Viennale, Guadalajara International Film Festival, IDFA, ACMI Melbourne, 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 and Tel Aviv, two cities with rich, queer histories and complex narratives around identity, race, displacement and belonging. From a young age, Leyser made it his life mission to explore these themes 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, studied Film Production at University of Kansas and Film Studies, Animation and Live Action at CalArts. 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.”
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.
Leyser’s most recent feature film production, 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
W(A)RM HOLES, Leyser’s most recent work, 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.
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 upcoming book, Queercore: How To Punk A Revolution, An Oral History and a new feature film.