Last summer we celebrated the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. This summer we mourned the victims of Orlando’s Pulse massacre.
But on the brighter side, the Republican presidential candidate (Is this really happening or am I trapped in a bad movie?) threw a crumb to the LGBTQ community, even if he couldn’t pronounce it.
Whatever happens, some people have to make movies and just about all of us have to watch them. So Out on Film goes on, as it has for 29 years, trying to discover LGBT films and filmmakers before the mainstream does, and offering a queerer alternative to what’s on other screens.
The more assimilated we become the less ghettoization there is, in cinema as well as real life. There are still films made by, for and about us; but most can be appreciated by wider audiences now that our secrets are as out as we are.
So why do we need a festival? I wonder that every year, until I start watching the films. Yes, there’s mainstream work out there that accepts and includes us; but these films are us. They bring up memories, happy or sad, of being bullied, of being out and proud; the pain of wanting someone you can’t have, the thrill of finding out you can have them and the letdown after you do. Loving and losing – or winning – aren’t exclusive to us, but sometimes the way we do it is special.
There are stories, real and fictional, that illustrate the steps we’ve been through on our journeys and remind us that others are still going through the process, which can be just as painful in this more enlightened age. The courage of our predecessors can empower and inspire us as they have others.
Festival Director (and Georgia Voice contributor) Jim Farmer has assembled a bumper crop of more than 110 feature films, documentaries, short films and web series in hopes of topping last year’s record attendance.
Out on Film 29 runs Sept. 29 – Oct. 6 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinemas. For complete festival information, including special guests, special events and updates, and to buy tickets, visit www.outonfilm.org.
STRIKE A POSE (***) (Sept. 29, 7 p.m.)
In 1990 Madonna hired seven young men as dancers for her “Blond Ambition” tour. As she always promoted diversity, the men represented nearly all colors of the human rainbow, and one of them was even straight! (This hip-hopping former homophobe from the hood of New Orleans is so flamboyant, if you had to guess which dancer is straight he wouldn’t be one of your first picks.)
The story was told in the 1991 documentary “Madonna: Truth or Dare.” This 25th-anniversary revisit goes further behind the scenes and answers the question no one has asked, “Where are those dancers today?”
Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan’s film does an excellent job of introducing the six surviving dancers (Gabriel died of AIDS in 1994) briefly but effectively. Clips showing Madonna are also quite brief, but there’s plenty of then-and-now footage of the dancers in action – performing, teaching, and in one case waiting tables.
The men speak highly of their one-time boss who, a decade or so older than them, was like their mother on the tour – Madonna and seven children. Even Kevin and Oliver, who, along with Gabriel, sued her over the “Truth or Dare” film for such things as fraud and deceit, invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress, dismiss that as strictly business and have nothing negative to say about Madonna today.
Delving into the men’s post-tour lives the film gets rather dark, brightened only by occasional dance clips. Besides Gabriel, Carlton and Salim were hiding their HIV+ status during the tour for fear of being considered unemployable. Salim only reveals his publicly for this film. Luis became a heroin addict after cutting some records (on which Madonna sang backup!) with Jose, and others partied harder than they should have.
For a happy ending the filmmakers arranged a reunion of the six dancers, most of whom apparently hadn’t seen each other in forever. They celebrate by playing – Will they never learn?!!! – Truth or Dare.
It’s too bad Madonna doesn’t participate in some way – or perhaps it was felt she would overshadow the dancers – but “Strike a Pose” offers a different kind of look at the great men behind a great woman.
[Dancer Carlton Wilborn will be the festival’s opening night guest.]
SUMMERTIME (***) (Sept. 30, 7:25 p.m.)
A vaudeville-era song asked about WWI veterans, “How You Gonna Keep ‘em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?” “Summertime” asks the same question, but about lesbians.
It’s 1971 and Delphine (Izïa Higelin) is content on her family’s farm in Southern France because she has a girlfriend in town. Her parents don’t know and assume she’ll marry Antoine from a neighboring farm. When her lover announces she’s marrying a man, Delphine moves to Paris and gets a job.
She meets some militant feminists and joins their group because she’s attracted to Carole (Cécile De France), who’s romantically – or at least sexually – involved with the man she lives with. Carole’s no pushover; it takes Delphine two tries to get her into bed. Then Carole learns what real romantic involvement is.
But when Delphine’s father is incapacitated she has to go home to help on the farm. Carole visits but obviously doesn’t belong there, so Delphine is torn between love and family. It brings up another question, one from “Fiddler on the Roof”: “A bird may love a fish, but where would they build a home together?”
“Summertime” provides fun nostalgia for the early days of the Women’s Movement (I wasn’t allowed in the meetings but I went on the marches), tinged with sadness that some of the goals still have not been reached. The romance likewise faces obstacles, some of which have changed and some which haven’t.
So besides being romantic and sexy, “Summertime” gives you a lot to chew on; and director/co-writer Catherine Corsini uses a reliable recipe with just the right amount of spice.
FAIR HAVEN (***) (Sept. 30, 9:20 p.m.)
“Fair” is the key word in the title of a film that shows your home is not necessarily a haven. James (Michael Grant) returns home to Fair Haven, the Vermont apple orchard that’s been in his family for generations, after undergoing conversion therapy by Dr. Gallagher (Gregory Harrison).
The timeline is unclear but James’ mother died sometime recently, leaving just him and his father (Tom Wopat – ol’ Luke Duke himself). Though Dad is glad James’ “problem” has been cured, he’s not happy that the 19-year-old wants to go to Berklee College of Music in Boston to study piano instead of staying home to tend the farm.
Flashbacks show some of James’ therapy, including the exit interview where he says everything the doctor wants to hear but we can’t tell whether he’s sincere. At home he tries to live the straight life, including going to church and dating the preacher’s daughter. She wears a “promise ring” so he doesn’t have to worry about temptation – or performance anxiety.
It’s a small town so James can’t help running into Charlie (Josh Green), who’d been his boyfriend when he was gay. At first James tells him, “We can’t be friends anymore”; but he softens, especially after Charlie is gay-bashed, and they resume their friendship – without benefits, at least at first.
When I say “Fair” is the key word, it’s because the screenplay is fair to everyone. There are no villains, except the unseen gay-bashers. Everyone is doing the best they can, according to their beliefs and desires, struggling to change what they can and accept what they can’t.
Even Dr. Gallagher, as much as we hate what he’s doing, is not painted with horns and a tail. He’s practicing Christianity as he understands it and sincerely trying to help people. I was kind of hoping for another flashback that would show him either becoming hatefully extreme or putting the moves on one of his male patients, but alas, this isn’t that movie; so hate the therapy, love the therapist.
If you can accept “Fair Haven” for what it is, you can appreciate Michael Grant’s fine performance as James and discover that you can understand points of view you disagree with.
WHERE ARE YOU GOING, HABIBI? (** 1/2) (Oct. 1, 11 a.m.)
The title sounds like something Donald Trump would say to a Muslim at the border, but it’s said jokingly in Berlin (Talk about building a wall!) to a German-born man of Turkish descent. He’s Ibo/Ibrahim (Cem Alkan, who resembles Antonio Banderas when he was starring in Almodóvar films), who just graduated with a business degree but can’t get a good job because of serious prejudice against Turks.
So he works in a gay sex shop. Even though he lives with his family, his parents don’t know about it until his bitchy sister outs him. Fortunately Ibo has an uncle who’s understanding because he works in the theater, so he has a place to live.
But the main storyline concerns Ibo’s friendship with Ali/Alexander (Martin Walde), a soft hardened criminal. Ali’s family will have nothing to do with him and he can’t walk down the street without being assaulted by enemies, but that’s not a red flag for Ibo. He joins a gym to be able to wrestle with Ali, even if it’s not the way he’d like.
Perhaps the outwardly homophobic Ali is a closeted bisexual all along, but his evolution is hard to believe, even as we wonder how far it will go. There’s a lot that’s hard to believe in the screenplay co-written by director Tor Iben, but I couldn’t help enjoying the movie, even when I was hating it.
AWOL (***) (Oct. 1, 11:40 a.m.)
“AWOL” is the kind of romantic lesbian melodrama where you stay two steps ahead of the plot, but one of them is wrong.
The question is, Why would a recent high school graduate with skills as a mechanic and a musician want to go into the Army when she could stay home and scoop ice cream at a carnival instead? The answer is as obvious to Joey (Lola Kirke) as it is to you, until she meets Rayna (Breeda Wool, a younger Uma Thurman), a hot, older blonde with two daughters, whose redneck truck-drivin’ husband is on the road a lot.
The idea of running away with Rayna replaces military service to help pay for college as Joey’s Plan A, but when Rayna doesn’t have the guts to follow her heart, Joey signs up for a three-year commitment. She comes home on Christmas leave before shipping out to Afghanistan, and—
Well, when the title is “AWOL” it can’t be a spoiler that the women become fugitives; but it’s not that easy to ride off into the sunset together, and more surprises await.
I’ve got to say “AWOL” effectively manipulates the viewer because I always felt something for the lovers, even when I didn’t like what I was feeling. I was happy for the love they shared but sometimes wanted to shake some sense into one or both of them.
It’s a film made by and about women, but that shouldn’t exclude men from enjoying it. OK, maybe some straight men. Director Deb Shoval effectively captures the atmosphere of a big small Pennsylvania town, and her screenplay, written with Karolina Waclawiak, suggests that sometimes the people who warn you about women like Rayna know what they’re talking about.
SUICIDE KALE (* ½) (Oct. 1, 5:40 p.m.)
“Suicide Kale” has to be the least appetizing title of the year, and there’s not much else about the film that tickled my palate either. I’m sure there are some women – and even a few men – who will totally relate and hang on every word, but most will be as bored as I was.
Jasmine (Brittani Nichols) and Penn (Lindsay Hicks) became a couple a few months ago and are still uncertain where their relationship will lead. They’re been invited to lunch at the home of a married lesbian couple, Billie (Jasika Nicole) and Jordan (Brianna Baker), who have been together for five years.
Before getting into the lunch table conversation that occupies about half of the film, Jasmine adds some edge to it by finding an apparent suicide note under the other women’s mattress. She tells Penn and they decide that rather than being confrontational about it, they’ll Nancy Drew their way through lunch, trying to figure out who wrote the note and why.
There’s potential in that concept but it’s lost in the execution. It’s claimed that two-thirds of the film was improvised, and this isn’t the sort of dialogue that can be left to chance. Not only are no clues to the suicide note uncovered at lunch, but no leading questions are asked that might evoke them, even when the topic of suicide is raised.
This is the sort of no-budget independent film that can serve as a calling card for everyone involved, when it hits the right combination of skill and luck; but neither is in abundance here. Sometimes the only thing that kept me awake was trying to figure out the characters’ names. I think “Billie” was mentioned once and “Penn” twice.
After essentially trivializing and exploiting suicide for the sake of the plot, the filmmakers atone by promoting a suicide hotline during the credits.
“It was an experiment,” director/editor Carly Usdin says of the production. “The worst-case scenario would be that we hung out with our friends for a few days, learned some things and produced something that was unwatchable.”
It’s not quite that bad, but pretty close. I hope they learned some things.
DO YOU TAKE THIS MAN (*) (Oct. 1, 7:40 p.m.)
There’s no sugarcoating it: director Joshua Tunick’s script is one of the worst ever brought to the screen. I found it a painful viewing experience. From horribly long speeches to dumb mistakes (the dinner count, the gift that “isn’t ready yet” but never turns up) to a happy ending that ignores time constraints to “Dawson’s Creek” references that suggest it was written a decade ago when the show was remembered, it’s just a mess.
It doesn’t help that there’s negative chemistry between the leading men, Daniel (Anthony Rapp) and Christopher (Jonathan Bennett). The story takes place on the eve of their wedding, when they give a dinner for family and close friends. You know the drill for these special-occasion movies: secrets are spilled, conflicts are contrived, everything blows up and then settles down again.
Essentially Daniel and Christopher go through couples therapy – and drag us through it too – as their dinner guests help them over a silly rough patch.
The actors aren’t at fault. No one could have made these words and situations convincing or pleasant to watch; and even if we could believe Daniel and Christopher as a couple, we wouldn’t accept the things they say and do.
The festival should have shown Do You Take This Man on a Thursday, because it’s a throwback to the kind of movie we grudgingly accepted when we were starved for gay content. Now that there are better options everywhere you look, this is just pathetic.
KIKI (** 1/2) (Oct. 1, 9:30 p.m.)
There’s a lot of fabulosity on display in terms of dance, wardrobe and attitude, in Sara Jordenö’s portrait of the Kiki Scene, the current incarnation of New York’s (and spreading) competitive ballroom scene that was revealed to the outside world in “Paris Is Burning.”
You meet all kinds of (mostly disadvantaged and at-risk) LGBT youth of color and hear all kinds of stories, and enough of them will stick to you – like spaghetti thrown at a wall – to make “Kiki” worth seeing; but technically it’s a poorly assembled hodgepodge that shows little in the way of filmmaking skills.
Jordenö, who hails from Sweden, and Twiggy Pucci Garçon, founder of the House of P.U.C.C.I., have a “script” credit; but there is no script. There’s no structure, no arc to the story and no rhyme or reason to the helter-skelter assemblage of personal anecdotes and scenes of community activities. Random shots at random balls give little sense of what’s going on.
Dozens of people, some introducing themselves by name, talk about coming out, losing homes and families, choosing a gender and transitioning, sex work, HIV testing, and providing emotional support for each other. With only one scene of conflict within a house, we get the feeling there is more unsaid than said as the film tries to accentuate the positive.
We can’t always tell if the person we’re hearing is the one we’re seeing, and if we’re seeing the same person as both female and male; and we don’t know at the outset which ones we’ll see again. Garçon and Chi Chi Mizrahi prove to be the most important, invited to an LGBT reception at the White House and traveling to a festival in Ireland on a mission to spread ballroom to the world.
Watching “Kiki” is like panning for gold, gleaning what nuggets you can from the disorganized detritus around them.
THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT (***) (Oct. 1, 11 p.m.)
NOTE: This historical relic is my original review from 1994, so some of the language is out of date. Oh and, I miss you, Diamond Lil!
If Boy George was right about America knowing a good drag queen when it sees one, wait ’til it sees the three in “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”! As for gay audiences, I don’t care how butch you are, your mascara will run from laughing until you cry!
Technically, only Mitzi/Tick (Hugo Weaving) and Felicia/Adam (Guy Pearce) are drag queens; Bernadette (Terence Stamp) is a woman, but did drag before having gender reassignment surgery. After a potential husband is asphyxiated by peroxide fumes, Bernadette agrees to dance down memory lane when her friends get an out-of-town engagement.
Their town is Sydney. The gig is in Alice Springs, in the center of Australia, and the land in between – well, no wonder producer Al Clark calls the film “Florence of Arabia”! Thousands of miles of nothing, punctuated by an occasional redneck settlement.
Stamp has the most difficult role, because femininity is no longer a game to Bernadette; he never makes a false move. Tick is more complex than he appears at first, as he reveals he has a wife and son in Alice Springs. Adam is the youngest and queerest of the trio and knows how to get money from his wealthy mother, so he has nothing to worry about. He just goes looking for trouble until it finds him.
Priscilla is the used bus that takes them on their journey. At first you’ll wonder why the three of them need such a large vehicle, but by the end you’ll wonder how they could have crammed all their fabulous wardrobe onto that tiny bus.
Truly a cross-cultural experience, “Priscilla” is loaded with bitchy drag-queen dialogue. Gays will relate to it, straights will love it. Sometimes the talk gets downright evil, but it’s always funny. When Adam says he wants “to climb King’s Canyon as a queen,” Bernadette replies, “Just what this country
needs: a cock in a frock on a rock.”
Maybe “Priscilla” will bring us closer to the day when I can review a gay film without considering its political implications, but that’s still a long way off. Though its humor is more cutting and cutting-edge, “Priscilla” doesn’t go beyond “La Cage aux Folles” in showing gay characters without compromise.
This film doesn’t challenge the prevailing wisdom that gay sex makes audiences nervous. Giving a transsexual a sex life (offscreen) may be progressive, but that’s still technically hetero sex. The only person we know of Tick having had sex with is his wife (Sarah Chadwick), and the only person Felicia comes close to having sex with is a cracker who tries to rape him.
The last is one of two major instances of homophobia in the film, both of them shockingly portrayed to ensure audience sympathy is on the side of the drag queens. Other things work against our expectations to provide positive surprises. A flashback to Adam/Felicia’s childhood, for instance, begins as a clichéd how-I-became-queer moment but takes off in a different direction. When Tick’s wife and son (Mark Holmes) prove to be incredibly cool, it sets up a happy ending with room for a sequel. But “La Cage” had those things too.
Still, we need terrific entertainment, and writer-director Stephan Elliott provides that in spades. “Priscilla” is more Gay-positive than the 90-some percent of movies that ignore us completely or put us down. It returns glamour to the screen as only drag queens can do – outrageously and preposterously.
Any night you decide to see “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” will be a “nice night for it.”
THE QUEEN OF IRELAND (***) (Oct. 2, 11:05 a.m.)
A month before the Supreme Court imposed same-sex marriage on the United States and we made a big deal of it, a little country called Ireland became the first in the world to approve marriage equality by popular vote. Conor Horgan’s film seamlessly combines the history of Ireland’s gay movement with the personal story of one of its most visible gay activists.
Maybe I should say two activists, even though they share a body. Rory O’Neill grew up as a typical small town boy, feeling different from everyone else in Ballinrobe and aching to get out. He went away to art school, where he gave his first official performance in drag in his senior year. He cemented his career choice in Tokyo and returned to Ireland – Dublin, not Ballinrobe – as Panti Bliss, who looks like the love child of Marlene Dietrich and Cruella De Vil. Rory described her as “a giant cartoon woman.”
He’s fortunate to have friends who make good collaborators – co-owning bars with him, writing plays for him and designing Panti’s look.
Panti becomes famous for speaking without a filter, until a television appearance in 2014 offends homophobes and gets blown out of proportion when lawyers send threatening letters and RTE Television caves. Panti’s “Noble Call” speech at the Abbey Theatre three weeks later goes viral and is probably instrumental in gaining support for the marriage referendum the following year.
The election provides the film with an exciting climax and happy ending. What could top that? Well, wait and see. I told you this is two stories. Having resolved Ireland’s, there’s still a very special moment in Rory/Panti’s life to unfold.
Panti’s closing drag number ends with the line, “You’re gonna love me!” Truer words were never lip-synched.
JONATHAN (** 1/2) (Oct. 2, 11:10 a.m.; Oct. 6, 3:30 p.m.)
“Jonathan” is a gay love story, but not the one you expect. In fact there’s likely to be an armed uprising by unwary viewers when the title character (Jannis Niewöhner) has sex with the woman he’s been flirting with. (We hoped he was going through a phase.)
Even the ugly farm where most of the film takes place is beautifully photographed, as of course is Niewöhner, who should win the festival’s Handsomest Leading Man award. What? They don’t have one? Well, they should.
Aside from the hetero love story, most of the film’s first hour consists of people looking melancholy and avoiding conversation. Jonathan is taking care of the farm and his father, Burghardt (André Hennicke), who is dying a slow, painful death from cancer. Jonathan knows nothing about his mother, who died when he was young, and his father won’t talk about her.
At one point a stranger shows up at the farm and is chased away at gunpoint by Jonathan’s aunt.
A spoiler alert is warranted before discussing the real plot, which isn’t revealed until the final half-hour. The stranger returns. Ron (Thomas Sarbacher) was the great love of Burghardt’s life and he’s back to share his last days.
This story should resonate with older gay men who spent most of their lives in the closet, and there are more of them than you might imagine. Whether they’ll want to be reminded of their past and their mortality is another question.
As long as you know what you’re getting into, “Jonathan” isn’t bad; but if you go hoping to get into Jonathan, you’ll feel like a bait-and-switch victim.
POLITICAL ANIMALS (***) (Oct. 2, 12:45 p.m.)
The eve of the election of America’s first female president is the perfect time to look back on the careers of other groundbreaking female politicians, and “Political Animals” is a nearly perfect way to do it.
The subjects of Jonah Markowitz and Tracy Wares’ documentary are the first four out people – all lesbians – elected to statewide office in California. Sheila James Kuehl was voted into the state Assembly in 1994, followed two years later by Carole Migden and four years after that by Christine Kehoe and Jackie Goldberg.
In one of her few comments I disagree with, Kuehl (fondly remembered as Zelda Gilroy on “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” before she was fired for being gay and went to Harvard Law to start a new career) says gay men didn’t become political until the AIDS years, while lesbians had become politicized in the Women’s Movement.
I’ll forgive her because she got busy in the state legislature trying to pass a bill adding sexual orientation to categories for which schoolchildren are protected from discrimination. It took years to get this simple bill passed, by which time Migden had joined the fight. When the other women were elected they formed a caucus of four and started working on domestic partnership legislation, which Migden calls “a nose under the tent” on the way to the ultimate goal of same-sex marriage.
Considering California’s reputation as the place liberal ideas take root before spreading to the rest of the country, it’s surprising that out legislators weren’t elected there until 22 years ago, and shocking to hear the hateful rhetoric of conservative arguments against the women’s bills. You’ll appreciate the irony as their straight colleagues insist it’s “nothing personal” as they trash the community the women are part of, and you may be moved to tears by some of the women’s reactions.
This is balanced by the comic relief of Migden relating how, as a San Francisco supervisor, she educated then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein about the meaning of a “glory hole.”
There are heartbreaking losses – one of them by one vote – on the way to the victories that have led us to where we are today.
The film is largely made up of well-chosen footage of Assembly debates, along with old and new interviews with our heroines. An explanation of their strategy, essentially a variation on the “Gay Agenda” concept from our perspective, can help politicians in the many states where LGBT rights are still subject to debate.
You’ll cheer these “Political Animals,” all of them “bitches” in the best sense of the word.
FRONT COVER (***) (Oct. 2, 2:50 p.m.)
Ryan (Jake Choi) and Ning (James Chen) are obviously made for each other, in romantic movie terms. After all, they couldn’t be more different. Ryan is a stylist who prepares models and celebrities for photo shoots. He’s grown up in New York and is ashamed of his Asian heritage. He calls himself a “potato queen” because he only dates white men.
Ning is a proud Chinese man from Beijing, an actor who’s visiting New York to make a name for himself in the American market. He has a girlfriend back home because in China, even more than the U.S., movie stars are never gay.
“Front Cover” being a romantic comedy, though more romantic than comedic, the men overcome their initial differences and become friends, then– Well, I’ll leave it to your imagination. Problems arise and are eventually resolved, one way or another. Ning pronounces the “R” in Ryan’s name like “L,” so this could be his Year of the Lion.
The title cleverly represents both men. Ryan’s ambition is to get a photo he’s styled on the front cover of a magazine. The closeted Ning has to put up a front to cover up his sexuality.
Ryan’s parents provide perspective on the problems their son faced in his youth and their difficulty in accepting it when he came out to them. There’s a lot of serious content here but writer-director Ray Yeung doesn’t let the mood stay oppressively heavy for long.
Variations on this story have been told before but making it about Gaysians gives it a refreshing new slant.
RETAKE (***) (Oct. 2, 7:05 p.m.)
Four words I never thought I’d say: “Vertigo” meets “Pretty Woman”!
Middle-aged Jonathan (Tuc Watkins) hires a young male prostitute (Devon Graye) for several days to ride with him from San Francisco to the Grand Canyon. The youth is to role-play as Brandon, the great love of Jonathan’s life, and the trip is a recreation of one they took in 2005.
We don’t learn the deets until later, but it obviously ended badly, leaving Jonathan emotionally traumatized and unable to move on with his life. His new “Brandon” isn’t in much better shape, essentially putting off starting his life.
If this were “Pretty Woman” they would fall in love; if it were “Vertigo” someone would fall in the Grand Canyon. But this is “Retake,” which shows life isn’t as simple as movies (although I swear, after the haircutting scene I half-expected Kim Novak to emerge from the bathroom!).
Director and co-writer Nick Corporan puts a new twist on the road trip genre, focusing more on the travelers than the people they meet on the road. Watkins, with the square jaw of ‘50s actors like Dana Andrews and Frank Lovejoy, makes the emotionally distant Jonathan hard to like, but lets us sense there’s a good man behind the wall he’s built. Fun-loving but sympathetic, Graye (who could be the next Steve Buscemi) might have been discovered on the same corner where Jonathan finds him – and that’s a compliment.
“Vertigo” is one of my all-time favorites and “Pretty Woman” is so iconic you have to love it, even if you don’t like it (I like it); so I found their love child irresistible.
TAEKWONDO (**) (Oct. 2, 9:20 p.m.)
Do Spanish-speakers have an expression like “huevos azules”? “Taekwondo” is the teasingest movie I’ve ever seen, gay or straight.
Fer (Lucas Papa) invites his dreamy-eyed taekwondo training partner Germán (Gabriel Epstein) to vacation at his father’s spa, where seven of Fer’s buddies are already in residence. Talk about a chorizo party!
It’s eventually established that at least six of the guys are straight. One, despite talk of a girlfriend, is questionable, as is Fer, whom Germán is lusting after.
We’re in Argentina. I know straight men in other cultures are less uptight about physical intimacy than Americans, but this is ridiculous! There’s a scene where all nine guys crowd into a tiny sauna, and I’ve been to orgies where there was more space between naked male bodies.
Fer and Germán are together most of the time, usually with one staring at the other, but nothing happens. Writer and co-director Marco Berger keeps raising the stakes. There’s a montage to romantic guitar music that finds them alone together in several places, including a small hot tub. Nada. They share a bedroom, where their pillow talk consists of discussing the works of Hermann Hesse; and then they share a single bed for a night.
Meanwhile the camera, which is definitely gay, gives us one closeup after another of men’s crotches, clothed or naked. For variety there’s a frequently used angle shooting up toward the face from the feet, so guess what’s in the foreground?
A spoiler wouldn’t matter, because after an hour and a half of this torture, the only acceptable payoff would be for the cast to come out in person and do everyone in the audience; and that doesn’t happen.
I’d tell you more about “Taekwondo” but there’s something I have to take care of first…
LETTER TO ANITA (***) (Oct. 3, 4 p.m.)
By 1977 our movement had slowed down in Atlanta and elsewhere. Most of us who were out had been there and done that. Our annual celebrations hadn’t become commercialized yet and weren’t drawing much of a crowd. Then Anita Bryant came to town and the (then Gay & Lesbian) community showed up in record numbers at the Omni to protest her.
The pop singer/professed Christian/founder of the Save Our Children Coalition/orange juice pitchwoman had started with a successful campaign to overturn an anti-discrimination ordinance in Dade County FL that protected gays and lesbians. She had a negative effect on our lives, especially in Florida, but energized our movement as no one had before, inspiring activism that led to positive results in the long run.
“Letter to Anita” is one woman’s testimony about Bryant’s impact on her life. Dr. Ronni Sanlo sent the letter to Bryant but has also read it publicly, as seen in Andrea Meyerson’s documentary, where other portions are read by narrator Meredith Baxter, who is also seen interviewing Sanlo.
Sanlo knew she was a lesbian at age 11 but, like so many others, married and had two children before she came out. When she came out in 1979 and divorced her husband, she was surprised to learn of a Bryant-inspired Florida law that had been passed the year before, saying homosexuals couldn’t be parents. She lost custody of her children, except for minor visitation rights, and their minds were poisoned against her.
Six years later the children refused to see her at all and she heard nothing from or about them for the next nine years. In 1994 she finally heard from her daughter and in 1998 from her son. They became a family again.
Because the story is told chronologically, including telling of Sanlo’s personal activism and work as an AIDS Surveillance Officer and later supporting LGBT students on various campuses, the impact of her personal happy ending is diluted by showing part of an interview with her son, Erik Sauls, relatively early on. Not only is he supportive of his mother now, but if he doesn’t set off your gaydar you’d better have it checked.
Sanlo begins by saying she knew she had to get over her rage against Bryant for breaking up her family, and ends by forgiving her and expressing gratitude for all the things Bryant inadvertently did for LGBT activism in general and her own work in particular.
I’m not sure I could be as magnanimous, but when I remember that 1977 rally at the Omni and what it did for Atlanta, I get a craving for orange juice.
LAZY EYE (***) (Oct. 3, 7:15 p.m.)
Even though it was made by Tim Kirkman, whose “Dear Jesse” and “Loggerheads” I admired, if you had described “Lazy Eye” to me I would have bet any amount I would hate it.
It basically consists of the most conversation between two men I don’t find particularly attractive (sorry, guys) of any film since “My Dinner with Andre.” (I got bored typing that sentence.)
Well, as the *** rating indicates, you would have won the bet. The guys are real, their situation intriguing, the dialogue interesting and the backgrounds, including Joshua Tree, California, better than the interior of a restaurant.
Dean (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) has the visual impairment of the title (because who would go to see a movie called “Amblyopia”?) and is struggling with progressive lenses. He gets an email from the great love of his life, Alex (Aaron Costa Ganis), who disappeared 15 years ago after a hot summer in New York (some of which is shown in flashbacks). He’s seeking to reconnect.
So Dean invites him to his desert house, where they immediately jump into bed. Though there are questions, the men obviously still have feelings for each other. So they talk. One of the conversations is so long one of the men needs a bathroom break in the middle. But it’s good talk which never reached even my low threshold of boredom.
For all we learn about the men, Alex retains some mystery. How did he get to be independently wealthy? Were there some shady dealings that cause him to maintain a “small footprint” on the Internet?
Around the midpoint of the film a twist is introduced which indicates that if things are headed the way they appear, they’re going to have to take a more intricate route to get there.
After this description you’re probably betting you won’t like “Lazy Eye.” It’s my turn to win!
FIRST GIRL I LOVED (***) (Oct. 3, 8:15 p.m.)
It’s been over 20 years since Maria Maggenti gave us “The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love,” and would you believe it? Girls are still falling in love with each other, and it still feels incredible! Or not. Sounds like it’s time for a new movie.
“First Girl I Loved” could have been made by a latter day John Hughes, or his twin sister Jane, but it was made by Kerem Sanga, who uses a novel narrative style that jumps backward to fill in gaps you didn’t know were missing. I’m not sure all the dots are connected at the end but I had a good time getting there.
It’s clear from the first shot that Anne (Dylan Gelula) is crushing on Sasha (Brianna Hildebrand), their school’s softball superstar she’s stalking with a camera, ostensibly for the yearbook. When Anne tries to tell her best friend Clifton (Mateo Arias) about her crush she finds out he’s been crushing on her all this time.
With the situation established, all three characters are free to behave stupidly, as teenagers do today but you and I never did when we were their age.
The course of true love doesn’t run smooth and some reactions and overreactions are genuinely surprising. The female stars are lovely and good actresses, although Sanga’s script leaves Sasha less developed than I would have liked.
If you’re looking for hot sex scenes, look elsewhere. What happens is left to our imagination, because of the possibility that it only happens in our imagination. If you can accept those boundaries, get ready to relive the agony and ecstasy of your first same-sex crush. “The fundamental things apply, as time goes by.”
PARIS 05:59: THEO & HUGO (***) (Oct. 3, 9:20 p.m.)
If I ran the festival I’d have a special midnight screening of the first 20 minutes of “Paris 05:59: Theo & Hugo” and charge twice as much as tickets for the whole film. The amazing sex club sequence will fit any but the most prudish definition of “art” and even the most liberal definition of “hardcore pornography.”
The story begins at 04:27 and unfolds in real time. In the club’s orgy room Théo (Geoffrey Couët) is watching Hugo (François Nambot) while each of them is screwing someone else. Their eyes meet, then their lips. For a moment everyone else disappears, and then they’re having sex with each other. Never in the history of cinema has a scene been both so romantic and so hot at the same time.
But with an hour and a quarter to go, what do you do for an encore? Filmmakers Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau try several things, some more effective than others. Fortunately their rocky road to romance is a.k.a. the streets of Paris, which the new lovers traverse walking, running and biking.
Unfortunately their first quarrel concerns Théo not having worn a condom. Hugo, who is HIV+ but with a currently undetectable viral load, is upset to find this out; but the way their encounter unfolded he was in control and should have been aware, so his outrage makes no sense.
After an emergency room visit they’re back on the streets, alternately breaking up and growing closer together. A few unrelated political points are made in conversations with a Syrian working in a kebab shop and an old woman who works as a maid because she can’t afford to retire.
In other words, about 70 percent of “Paris 05:59” is an ordinary movie with good and bad points, but you may need that time to cool down from watching the opening sequence.
THE SLIPPERS (** 1/2) (Oct. 4, 3:30 p.m.)
“The Slippers” is arguably the gayest film in the festival, even though the word “gay” is heard only once, when it’s sung by Bing Crosby. But the Hollywood nostalgia is like Turner Classic Movies on steroids, many of the speakers and those they speak about will set off your gaydar, and there’s just an overall gay sensibility.
The subject is the ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in “The Wizard of Oz,” and how they’ve helped create a boom in the movie memorabilia business. Actually there were at least four pairs (some say up to twice as many), plus a test pair in a different style.
MGM was sold in 1969 to Wall Streeter Kirk Kerkorian, who wanted to clear the “junk” off the lot so he could sell the real estate. This kind of thing was happening all over town, and while many big-ticket items were sold at auction, all sorts of nostalgic treasures were shipped off to landfills.
More would have been lost if not for the “memorabilia underworld,” people who “looted” the studios to preserve items that might have been lost forever. Chief among these was costumer Kent Warner, who became an early AIDS fatality in 1984. Among countless items he rescued were some of the ruby slippers from MGM.
As they rise in value from $15,000 to $600,000 to priceless and some are donated to museums, each pair develops a mythology and sometimes a controversy. Collectors, historians and archivists gush over them in this film by Morgan White, seemingly in competition to exaggerate the shoes’ cultural significance.
A “B” storyline involves Debbie Reynolds (represented here by her son, Todd Fisher) spending all the money her husbands didn’t get in alimony to buy memorabilia in hopes of opening a museum, which she could never get financed.
The structure becomes annoying when it’s mentioned that a pair on loan to the Judy Garland Museum in her birthplace of Grand Rapids, MN, was stolen; but we have to wait half an hour or so for details (Film at 11?).
It’s also sad that White couldn’t have gotten better quality clips from “The Wizard of Oz,” when he includes so many, albeit brief ones. Not that most of us can’t rerun the movie in HD in our gay brains.
This is a typical example of a great hourlong documentary stretched into a good hour-and-a-half feature.
BEING 17 (**1/2) (Oct. 4, 7:05 p.m.)
In a typical romcom two people fight until they realize they’re in love with each other. “Being 17” isn’t typical, or a comedy. In school Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) and Thomas (Corentin Fila) are the last to be picked for teams. Maybe they should support each other but Thomas bullies Damien, who shows him up in class.
Their fighting becomes physical, and things don’t improve when Thomas moves in with Damien, whose mother (Sandrine Kiberlain), a doctor, is caring for Thomas’ pregnant mother. The movie’s half over before it’s revealed that Damien is gay (Surprise!), and it takes even longer for Thomas to let his defenses even halfway down before snapping back into denial. This troubled loner could as easily be a potential serial killer as a repressed gay youth.
The work of director and co-writer André Téchiné, one of France’s most dependable filmmakers, whose work (e.g., “Wild Reeds”) is sometimes gay-themed, “Being 17” can’t be faulted on a technical level. The acting and direction are first-rate.
Where I had trouble with it is the story, which probably touched suppressed nerves from my own teen years. I’d have to watch it with a therapist to understand my resistance. That’s either a testament to the film’s strength…or my weakness.
Objectively I have no complaints, but subjectively my endorsement must be muted.
CLOSET MONSTER (***) (Oct. 4, 9:15 p.m.)
Just when you think there can’t be another variation on a coming-out story, along comes young Canadian writer-director Stephen Dunn with “Closet Monster.”
Oscar Madly (Connor Jessup of “Falling Skies” and “American Crime”) is not the most lovable 18-year-old you could wish for. He’s unhappy and takes it out on everyone around him. He was traumatized in childhood by his parents’ divorce and by witnessing a brutal gay-bashing which, reinforced by his father’s (Aaron Abrams) homophobia, keeps him living in fear of his own desires.
Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf) is Oscar’s muse and model for his hoped-for career as a movie makeup artist. It doesn’t hurt that Dad thinks she’s also his girlfriend. They get along most of the time, but the only one Oscar can really confide in is Buffy, his talking hamster. (Well, Oscar hears her. So do we, and if you haven’t heard who provides the voice I won’t spoil the surprise.)
Oscar’s hoping to be accepted by a makeup college in New York so he can get away from his miserable past and present. But meanwhile there’s this new guy at work, Wilder (Aliocha Schneider), who’s hot and friendly and might even be one of those people Oscar’s trying not to be…
If a lot of “Closet Monster” sounds like things you’ve seen – and perhaps lived – before, you’ve never seen the story the way Dunn tells it. You may not like Oscar but you’ll root for him. Likable heroes are so last decade, and Jessup walks a fine line to keep you on his side – or bring you back to it when he loses you.
An award winner at several festivals, both LGBT and mainstream, already, “Closet Monster” should add to its haul here.
SLASH (** 1/2) (Oct. 5, 6:15 p.m.)
Bisexual characters are rarely sympathetic, except when they married someone of the opposite sex before accepting that they’re gay and now realize their error. In real life we often resent bisexuals because we assume they’re having twice as much sex as we are.
“Slash” is the story of two high schoolers who may be bi, or may just not have figured it out yet. Everything about Neil (Michael Johnston), 15, screams gay, from the way he’s bullied at school to the Slash (gay erotic) fan-fiction he writes obsessively.
But he’s drawn to Julia (Hannah Marks), 16, who also writes erotic fan-fic and encourages him to post his online. She claims to be bisexual but dates guys.
As much as I hate stereotyping, I found it hard to believe Neil and Julia could be more than friends; and because of their ages the consummation of their friendship is left to our imagination. Neil is still curious, but it looks like his best chance to try it like the heroes in his stories is with Denis (Michael Ian Black), a man more than twice his age, at a Comic-Con.
If “Slash” encourages kids to experiment – safely and consensually – instead of accepting the binary choice society imposes on them, it won’t be a bad thing; but I found the situation presented here hard to believe. If I had known as much about gay sex as Neil does before ever trying it, I would have become the man I am today ten years sooner.
REAL BOY (***) (Oct. 5, 8:20 p.m.)
Being a documentary and spanning several years in a young person’s life, “Real Boy” might have been called “Real Boyhood.” Home videos show Rachel at the age of six and photos even younger. The bulk of the film takes place when she’s 19 and transitioning into Ben/Bennett. We want to think of him in masculine terms sooner but his male name isn’t revealed until half an hour in, making it more difficult.
While “Real Boy” doesn’t gloss over difficulties, it’s basically an upbeat, positive look at the female-to-male transgender experience. Bennett’s father and sister stop talking to him and his mother struggles to adjust. There’s a wonderful moment early on when she’s telling Ben he should accept what he’s been given and he retorts, “Is that why you get plastic surgery?” It’s a stand up and cheer moment!
After a rough adolescence and early teen years, Rachel gets support from fellow transgenders on the Internet. She meets Joe Stevens, like her a transgender singer-songwriter but who’s already transitioned, at a sober support group; and he becomes her mentor. She also finds a friend in Dylan, who is on a similar timetable to hers. They plan to get an apartment together and have surgery on the same day.
There are no major surprises that the camera can’t be there for, so the story flows as smoothly as if it were a scripted work of fiction. Kudos to director-producer-cinematographer Shaleece Haas for creating a documentary that plays like a narrative film.
Kudos also to Bennett Wallace, whose sharing of his experience will make life exponentially easier for the next young transgender who’s dealing with the same issues.
SPA NIGHT (** 1/2) (Oct. 5, 9:20 p.m.)
For most LGBT youth the road to self-awareness and self-acceptance has grown infinitely shorter, smoother and better-lit over the last few decades.
But there are exceptions. David Cho (Joe Seo) is one of them. The 18-year-old is the only son of Korean immigrants whose restaurant in L.A.’s Koreatown goes out of business. His mother becomes a full-time waitress and his father a full-time alcoholic. As their hope for the future, David enrolls in a class to boost his SAT scores so he can go to college.
An academically-challenged Asian is a real stereotype-buster, but David fits an older movie stereotype, the “inscrutable (pardon the expression) Oriental.” His blank face is as emotional as a robot’s. This may be because actor Seo actually lacks personality, or because David is afraid to express himself for fear of revealing the parts he’s trying to keep hidden.
For more than half of “Spa Night” you may think it’s in the wrong festival. It’s more like a serious episode of “Fresh Off the Boat” than a gay film. The only hints of David’s proclivities come when his friends catch him peeking at their genitals.
At last David discovers the spa his family goes to is a very different place after dark. He takes a part-time job there without telling his parents (who would surely wonder where he is when he works the night shift).
While not yet participating in the sexual goings-on, David facilitates hookups by declaring the sauna “closed for cleaning” after he sees two men enter together. Eventually a customer complains, the police are called, and David is ordered to report any shenanigans he observes. (It’s not clear whether his boss is really that naïve or just putting on a show.)
The politeness and modesty associated with Asians are on display here with brief bits of nudity and coy suggestions of sexual goings-on. The one Big Sex Scene would have looked pretty hot a decade ago but could probably be shown on network television today.
The positive aspects of “Spa Night” – and there are many – have less to do with its gay story and more to do with the tale of an immigrant family failing to realize the American Dream.
SOUTHWEST OF SALEM: THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR (** 1/2) (Oct. 6, 6:40 p.m.)
Sometimes I wonder if there aren’t more innocent people rotting away in prison than guilty people wandering the streets. This thinking is encouraged by documentaries like “Southwest of Salem,” the story of the “San Antonio Four,” four lesbians who were wrongfully convicted of gang-raping two girls, 7 and 9, in 1994.
The film is presented as another victory for the Innocence Project, which has achieved many a legal miracle, often by presenting new DNA evidence. In this case three of the four women served most of their 15-year sentences before being released (the fourth served about 15 of 37½ years), and at last report had been awarded new trials in hopes of being fully exonerated. It’s progress but not yet victory.
The theory the film puts forth is that the supposed victims, one of whom finally recanted, were put up to inventing the story of being raped by their aunt, Elizabeth Ramirez, and her friends, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh and Anna Vasquez, by their father, Javier Limon, because Ramirez had resisted his advances when he was her brother-in-law and his proposal after he had divorced her sister.
Homophobia played a big part in the convictions. It was hard to find jurors in San Antonio who didn’t believe all gay men and women were predisposed to molest children. There were also stories circulating at the time – and here’s where the reference to Salem in the title comes in – of a cult engaging in Satanic ritual abuse of children.
The women were tried in 1997 and 1998 and imprisoned after losing appeals in 2000. A decade or so passed before people started reexamining their case, partly because many areas of forensic science had been debunked. One of the “victims,” now grown, told the truth in 2012, despite pressure from her family. Vasquez was paroled shortly afterward and the other women released a year later, to be registered as sex offenders for life unless they’re exonerated on appeal.
It’s quite a tale – a real-life “Children’s Hour” – and it’s hard not to be sickened by the thought of the women collectively losing over 50 years of their lives. Director Deborah S. Esquenazi combines home video footage from shortly before the 2000 appeals with prison interviews and interviews with family members, lawyers and various experts. It’s not the smoothest, most coherent assemblage of the available elements; but it gets the story told and it’s a story that needs to be told.
Great (and very true) quote from an attorney in the film: “If people knew how little truth and justice have to do with how the legal system works, they’d storm our courthouses with torches.”
AN ACT OF LOVE (***) (Oct. 6, 6:45 p.m.)
Documentaries, more than narrative films, appeal to viewers based on an interest in the subject – although great ones can stimulate curiosity about something new. Religion is not a hot topic with many LGBTs, but we need to know what impact we’re having on entrenched institutions, who our friends (and enemies) are, and when they change sides.
Conservatives in the United Methodist Church (UMC) were quick to see the writing on the wall when Stonewall jumpstarted our movement. At their next general conference, in 1972, they inserted language in the church’s Book of Discipline that, among other things, forbade ministers to officiate in same-sex weddings.
Cut to 2007, when Rev. Frank Schaefer married his son Tim to his same-sex partner; and to 2013, when a congregant complained about it, less than a month before the statute of limitations would expire. Church trials and appeals followed, with Schaefer being defrocked, refrocked and – well, I’ll omit the final result for those who don’t know.
Scott Sheppard’s film focuses on Schaefer’s trials, literal and otherwise, but includes other significant failures to bring the UMC up to date. There’s the defrocking of Jimmy Creech for marrying two women in 1998, and of Beth Stroud for coming out to her congregation in 2003; and floor fights and demonstrations at the church’s general conferences as conservatives continued to prevail, even though the Reconciling Ministries Network, accepting of all people, keeps expanding within the church.
The film wrapped last year so doesn’t include the results of this year’s general conference, which referred sexuality issues to a newly-formed commission, effectively kicking the can down the road for up to four more years.
People on all sides get a fair hearing, but there’s no question where the film’s sympathies lie. I heard Schaefer preach last year at an interfaith service and was impressed by his sincerity and lack of pretension. I’m glad to see his story reach the screen, where it will inspire others to follow their conscience, rather than the rules.
Award winners from the big summer festivals that are showing in Out on Film include:
Frameline (San Francisco):
Audience Award Best Documentary: Real Boy
Jury Award Outstanding First Feature: Jonathan
Jury Award Outstanding Documentary: Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four
Outfest (Los Angeles):
U.S. Narrative Audience Award: Miles
Audience Award for Best First U.S. Dramatic Feature: Suicide Kale
U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Spa Night
International Grand Jury Prize: Being 17
Grand Jury Award Best Documentary: Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four
Grand Jury Special Mention for Outstanding Performance: Joe Seo in Spa Night
Special Programming Award Emerging Talent: Twiggy Pucci Garçon and Sara Jordenö, Kiki