It’s the large Pink Peach (LGBT) section that makes the Atlanta Film Festival (March 23-April 1 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinemas and other venues) Atlanta’s second-gayest film festival; Out on Film, the winner and still champion, returns October 4.
Of the three Pink Peach features in competition for best LGBT film, two were unavailable for preview while the third is a bit less impressive than some of the other LGBT-interest films which are not part of the competition. The three up for best film are: “Glitterboys & Ganglands,” “Varla Jean and the Mushroomheads,” and the one that was available for preview -“The Grove.”
“The Grove” shows how hard it is to reach a consensus in San Francisco. It’s the story of the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park, called “San Francisco’s best kept secret.” (I lived in S.F. in 1991 when the Grove started and never knew about it.) The film’s recap of the AIDS era is to last year’s “We Were Here” what the Grove is to the Quilt: a weak relation. Amid squabbling over adding architectural features to the natural setting, no one mentions the elephant in the Grove, a stone circle with names of AIDS dead carved in it.
The other two competition features are drag-related. “Glitterboys & Ganglands” is a documentary about a drag competition in Cape Town, South Africa. “Varla Jean and the Mushroomheads” stars Jeffery Roberson as his alter ego, Varla Jean Merman, who tries to jumpstart her fading career by creating a children’s television show. Both may very well be better than their trailers, so check them out.
Some of the better LGBT films at Pink Peach are not up for best film such as “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies.” Like a sophisticated Austin Powers with wit instead of smut, “OSS 117” chronicles the adventures of Hubert (Dujardin), an arrogant, sexist, politically incorrect French spy who thinks he’s cool, suave and straight, and is wrong on all three counts. His denial of his sexuality is as funny as his ignorance of Eastern culture, which threatens to cause a holy war.
If the name Blondie only makes you think of Debbie Harry, you ain’t from around here, are you? “AKA Blondie” is a documentary profile of Anita Ray Strange, the best known stripper at the Clermont Lounge. Like the Varsity, but with booze and boobs, the Clermont is an Atlanta institution, a rite of passage for Tech students and a must-see for cool visiting celebs (as Margaret Cho affirms in the film).
After a rough Ohio childhood Anita made her way to Atlanta in 1977, “right after Elvis died,” started working at the Clermont and never stopped. Long a friend of the LGBT community – the men she’s loved have all been gay – she says she decided in 1996 “I liked women more than men.” A poet who crushes beer cans between her breasts, Blondie gets the celebration she deserves in this loving tribute.
“Cruising” meets “Badlands” in “American Translation,” a cautionary tale about romance and an illustrated course in abnormal psychology. Chris (Pierre Perrier), a happy-go-lucky vingt-something, is sexy and he knows it. He meets Aurore (Lizzie Brocheré) and their relationship quickly assumes an air of relative permanence. She hardly flinches when she learns Chris likes having sex with young men, and his partners don’t usually survive the encounters.
Also out of competition, but unpreviewed, is “Cloudburst,” a dramedy about an elderly lesbian couple (Olympia Dukakis, Brenda Fricker) driving to Canada to get married. Filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald made the wonderful “The Hanging Garden.”
There are two programs of Pink Peach Shorts. Four Documentary Shorts include “What Do You Know?” a reboot of 1996’s “It’s Elementary,” showing that kids continue to learn more about us at an earlier age, although the enlightened ones in this film are hardly representative of their generation.
Among six Narrative Shorts are “The Men’s Room,” a well-made drama that places a nervous young man and a confident older man in adjacent stalls; and “Half-Share,” a campy, Fire Island-set comedy that’s not bad at 30 minutes but might have been painfully stretched to 90.
Top photo: AKA Blondie (Publicity Photo)