If you’re antisocial, or have become that way during the pandemic, you’ll love this year’s Out On Film, which continues through Oct. 4.
For the festival’s first 32 years, if you wanted to see a certain film you had to be at a certain theater on a certain day at a certain time. This year you simply have to be in the state of Georgia (for certain events) at some point during a 72-hour period. It’s a flextival!
And you don’t have to be around other people. Besides the antisocial, this is an advantage for two other groups, the closeted and the curious, who may have hesitated to attend in-person festivals in the past for fear of being seen and identified as LGBTQ.
Those people may be sorry when/if life returns to normal and we all go back to seeing movies in theaters, if there are any theaters left by then. The rest of us see it as a temporary inconvenience, one of many sacrifices we’re making to get the pandemic under control faster; and we look forward to getting together and celebrating in person, without masks, hopefully at next year’s Out on Film.
In the meantime we’ll celebrate virtually the chance to see our lives reflected on screen, more in 11 days or so than we do the rest of the year, despite the successful efforts of Ryan Murphy, RuPaul and others to increase our visibility on television.
The virtual festival also allows more filmmakers to attend – virtually. You can’t get their autograph or pose for a selfie with them (unless you snuggle up to your computer screen), but you can tell them how much you enjoyed their film and hear them describe the process of making it.
This is the weekend for two special events. On Saturday a 20th anniversary screening of Margaret Cho: I’m the One that I Want coincides with the presentation of the festival’s Icon Award to the star, who will stay for a chat afterwards. The film preserves a theatrical monologue in which Cho reviews essentially the first decade of her career, including her private life.
Beginning at noon Sunday, you can see a benefit reading of Topher Payne’s play Perfect Arrangement, with an all-star cast directed by Chad Darnell.
Then on Wednesday the 30th Out On Film has another 20th anniversary screening: Del Shores’ comedy classic about life in a small Texas town, Sordid Lives. Shores and some of his crew will be available for a Q&A at 10 p.m. Wednesday.
Most shows will be available online for 72 hours, starting at noon on their premiere date. In some cases there will be a limit to the number of tickets that can be sold for each show, as if it were restricted to the capacity of a theater.
For full information and to buy tickets, visit the festival website at outonfilm.org.
As usual we’ve only had time to preview features – about two-thirds of them – but we also recommend the packages of shorts, especially for people with short attention spans. There’s bound to be something you’ll like in each group, even if you don’t love them all.
In the following reviews, ratings are on a **** scale, but I’m a tough grader.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 26
NO HARD FEELINGS
If you’re a gay immigrant you’ll relate to the discrimination in No Hard Feelings at least twice as much as I did. Parvis (Benny Radjaipour) was born in Germany to Iranian refugees; and even though, especially with his hair dyed blond, he doesn’t appear stereotypically middle-Eastern, he’s looked down on for his race in Germany though generally accepted as gay. Amon (Eidin Jalali) and his sister Banafshe (Banafshe Hourmazdi) are recent arrivals staying in a refugee shelter where Amon doesn’t dare reveal his gayness to his neighbors. They meet and become friends while Parvis is doing community service at the shelter. For what, we don’t know. Neither do we learn later why Banafshe is threatened with deportation while her brother isn’t. Director and co-writer Faraz Shariat isn’t too generous with exposition, unless it’s in German or Farsi and not subtitled. Speaking of which, Parvis is supposed to work as a translator at the shelter but only does that in one scene. The rest of the time he’s doing odd jobs or just hanging out. Parvis has an active sex life, of which Amon eventually becomes a major part. Banafshe even shares a bed with them on occasion, but not when they’re having sex. When it’s suggested she could avoid deportation by marring a German, the possibility of Parvis as a fake husband is never raised. Instead the trio runs away to somewhere for one last outing before Banafshe leaves. No Hard Feelings introduces us to people we can care about and takes us with them through some pleasant and unpleasant events, but the screenplay omits so many details we often feel like strangers in a strange land.
MONDAY, SEPT. 28
Growing old is not a popular topic in LGBT circles, but those of us who witnessed a lot of the alternative in the ‘80s and ‘90s may not mind it as much. Twilight’s Kiss will be of most interest to members of Atlanta Prime Timers, but we can all use a reminder that we haven’t all been out forever. Pak (Tai Bo) and Hoi (Ben Yuen) have made it to their 60s (it’s not specified in the film but notes say Pak is 70, Hoi 65) living outwardly straight lives. Pak drives a cab and lives with his wife. Their son visits frequently with his wife and daughter, and Pak’s daughter is about to get married. Hoi, long divorced, is retired and lives with the son he raised, his wife and daughter. The men meet outside a public restroom, where Pak has been cruising in search of meaningless quickies. Hoi tries to strike up a friendship first, but Pak isn’t interested. He’s more amenable when they meet again and an affair begins, even though Hoi says, “Nothing good ever comes of dating a married man.” Though closeted, Hoi frequents a bathhouse and is active in a group of gay seniors lobbying for a gay home for senior citizens. Neither man is out to his family but Pak’s wife looks suspicious and Hoi’s son gets a clue late in the film. What kind of relationship can the men have in these circumstances? Writer-director Ray Yeung sets up the question but leaves it for us – or a sequel? – to answer. That’s a bit frustrating, after we’ve become invested in their lives; but the fact that we care means Yeung must have done something right.
TUESDAY, SEPT. 29
GIVE OR TAKE
Give or Take deals with a situation that’s thankfully not as common as it was before we were allowed to marry legally, but has rarely if ever been dealt with on screen. A gay man dies without leaving a will and his family swoops in, virtually ignoring the man he lived with for the last six years. In this case it’s his son, Martin (Jamie Effros), who hardly spoke to his father after he came out when his wife, Martin’s mother, died. Martin comes up from New York to his boyhood home in Cape Cod and takes control of everything from Ted (Norbert Leo Butz), compromising only on cremation instead of burial; but he won’t let Ted speak or sing at the funeral. “You’re exactly the way he described you,” Ted says with no flattery intended, as Martin treats him like a tenant who’s about to be evicted. A local realtor (Cheri Oteri) immediately produces a buyer for the house with an offer that’s hard to resist. There’s a glimmer of hope when Emma (Joanne Tucker), an old friend who’s now married and runs the local bar, softens Martin somewhat. He seems to prefer her to his girlfriend in New York. It’s not a funny situation but a bit more intentional comic relief wouldn’t hurt; and director Paul Riccio, who co-wrote the film with Effros, should have reined in Oteri and occasionally Butz a bit more. But overall it’s a moving story presented in believable fashion. The screening should be sponsored by a lawyer who specializes in wills, because I’m sure a lot of viewers will realize they have unfinished business.
WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 30
Pam Grier fans will be disappointed that this comedy has no connection to her Sheba, Baby, except a pun in the title requiring a long e and a short i to be pronounced alike. Still, I’m sure a homage is intended. Shiva Baby is about Danielle (Rachel Sennott), who has a bad day as she’s preparing to graduate college. She’s having sex with Max (Danny Deferrari), the lone client of her “babysitting” service, when her mother calls about a funeral she’s supposed to attend. Danielle can’t make it but they’ll meet up afterward at the shiva – a Jewish mourning period at the home of the bereaved. Danielle’s Jewish mother compliments her on having lost weight: “You look like Gwyneth Paltrow on food stamps, and not in a good way.” After that Danielle’s whole sex life flashes before her eyes, and not in a good way. Maya (Molly Gordon) is there, the childhood friend who became her girlfriend but who she’s been avoiding lately. Then Max arrives and Danielle learns he actually has a baby – and a wife. They’re there too. As each relationship ebbs and flows in a house full of yentas, Danielle’s final exams begin to seem easier than navigating real life. Though short for a feature at 78 minutes, Shiva Baby is mostly one long scene and it begins to feel padded as writer-director Emma Seligman, making her first feature, strains for fresh twists. Until the last few minutes, however, it’s mostly fresh and enjoyable.
THURSDAY, OCT. 1
Some guys think Grindr is the place they’ll meet Mr. Right. I’m not saying Jon Garcia has a better idea, but the writer-director (The Falls trilogy) makes a pretty good case for prison as an alternative. The population of his prison is whiter than most, with a significant Latinx minority. Since he’s added to that population, Ruben (Ernesto Reyes) can’t be as innocent as he looks. Carlos (Jesse Tayeh), his cellmate, isn’t exactly welcoming, looking like a caricature of a garden gnome and attacking Ruben almost immediately. When Ruben fights back he gains some respect, and yada yada, you’ve seen prison movies before. It’s not clear how much time passes before Carlos says, “Stay here long enough, you can’t tell the difference between a man and a woman,” and proceeds to prove it; but after Carlos is released, Ruben serves three more years. His release is around the halfway point, leaving about an hour to resolve whether the men will pick up where they left off and, perhaps more importantly for Ruben, whether he will be able to get his young daughter back from his mafioso cousin who’s been taking care of her. There’s bad blood between the primos (cousins – there’s a lot of Spanglish dialogue but it’s well subtitled for gringo viewers). While I have some minor issues with the script and wonder if a certain actress is supposed to be as trans as she appears, Luz is shot and acted like an “A” movie, certainly not festival filler.
There’s a lot to like about Milkwater but unfortunately, none of it is people – at least not consistently. (I know it’s New York, but still…) We meet Milo (Molly Bernard) at a baby shower for her lesbian friend Noor (Ava Eisenson), feeling depressed and out of place among her old college pals. At a bar with her gay roommate George (Robin de Jesus) Milo meets Roger (Patrick Breen), a 52-year-old gay man who reveals he wants a child. He’s failed with two attempts at adopting and one with a surrogate. It takes a few minutes before Milo volunteers, thinking a pregnancy might spice up her dull life. She and Roger seem to become besties, until she gets pregnant. He soon becomes distant and sends her legal papers to sign that make it clear he will be the child’s sole parent. This cools off whatever warm side Milo had begun to show and she drives away her closest friends, plus any viewers who had begun to care about her. During this time she’s started dating Cameron (Ade Otukoya), a musician. She really likes him but uses her pregnancy to avoid sex, even though she’s in the first term and hasn’t started showing yet. Meanwhile she continues drinking wine into the third term. Roger performs as a drag queen, “Angela Merkin,” providing some light moments. Writer-director Morgan Ingari has come up with a very original story and filmed it well, but there needed to be a main character we could care about without regretting it five minutes later. Bernard is a unique actress, in appearance and manner, you won’t confuse with anyone else. Perhaps she’s just too good at portraying Milo’s negative aspects.
FRIDAY, OCT. 2
TWO OF US (DEUX)
Hell hath no fury like a lesbian scorned. Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) and German-born Nina (Barbara Sukowa), both 70-ish, have adjacent apartments in a French town. The widowed Mado, as Nina calls her, still isn’t out to her daughter Anne (Léa Drucker) or son Frédéric (Jérôme Varanfrain). The women, a secret couple for about 30 years (although “their song” was popular when they were teenagers), are planning to move to Rome, where they met; but Mado still can’t get up the nerve to tell her children. The strain gives her a stroke, which complicates things further, taking away her ability to speak, even after she regains her mobility. Anne hires a caretaker, Muriel (Muriel Bénazéraf), who is at first an obstacle to Nina and later an outright adversary. This sounds like a flat-out weeper, but director and co-writer (with Malysone Bovorasmy) Filippo Meneghetti has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. The opening scene of birds squawking in a park while little girls play made me think of Hitchcock, and a later shot of someone lurking in a shower confirmed it. (I liked Hitch before I liked cock.) Two of Us isn’t a suspense thriller, but you won’t know how it’s going to end until it does. There are also laughs when you least expect them, though they don’t upset the seriousness of the plot. Meneghetti’s first narrative feature marks him as a director to watch with a distinct style, even when you can spot his influences. It doesn’t hurt that he was able to attract two of the best European actresses of their generation and inspire some of their finest work. Though it goes without saying that older lesbians shouldn’t miss this one, its appeal should be much, much wider, because it has something to say to everyone. One of the best of the fest.
SATURDAY, OCT. 3
KEYBOARD FANTASIES: THE BEVERLY GLENN-COPELAND STORY
When I see documentaries about musical artists my frequent response as they drone on and on about themselves is “Shut up and sing!” (or “…play!”) I had the opposite reaction to this film about Beverly Glenn-Copeland, who lived as a female for nearly 60 years before transitioning almost two decades ago. He has such a sparkling personality I loved hearing him talk about himself, from growing up in a middle-class Black family in Philadelphia to being the only out lesbian at McGill University in Toronto in the early ‘60s to having a 1986 recording rediscovered in Japan in 2015 and earning him worldwide acclaim. He’s got a lot of stories to tell and only scratches the surface here. What I found less interesting was his music, a blend of folk, jazz and electronica with touches of classical, gospel and blues. I’m sure it’s very good but I had trouble staying awake as he and his band, Indigo Rising, toured and performed in several countries. Director Posy Dixon is aware that Glenn-Copeland can hold the audience’s attention and doesn’t go overboard trying to find visual gimmicks to keep the images constantly changing. There’s a large gap in the story, mostly years Glenn-Copeland spent working in children’s television in Canada, so you may come away wanting to do some research, like I did, about one of the most interesting people you’ll encounter in this festival.
MUSIC FOR BLEEDING HEARTS (MúSICA PARA MORRER DE AMOR)
Is there such a thing as Maximalism? There is now. This Brazilian deconstruction of love has so many characters, some of similar appearance, they should wear nametags. In some cases listing their orientation on the tags would help too. Ricardo (Victor Mendes) lives with his soulmate, Isabela (Mayara Constantino), and works with Felipe (Caio Horowicz). Isabela moves out to live with her current boyfriend, Gabriel, around the time Ricardo’s oldest friend, Thiago, leaves for Portugal. Felipe is shy but has a girlfriend. Everyone changes hands – and other body parts – frequently, amid many soliloquys about love, original and Shakespearean; and (see title) ranging from Brazilian pop to tango to classical to opera to a standard attributed to a 1935 film. If you try to associate a song with one couple, the movie will jump to another couple before it finishes playing. Ricardo has a crush on Felipe, who acts very friendly; but Isabela, who has dumped Gabriel, meets Felipe in dance class and they start dating, unknown to Ricardo, who dates a series of guys, some more than once. It’s said that he’s in love with the idea of love, but he never seems to stop having sex long enough to give it any thought. There are a couple of lesbians at the office too, and they become a throuple; and Isabela’s straight sister poses as a man online to hook up with her first woman. Flashbacks and other time tricks add to the confusion. The ending suggests writer-director Rafael Gomes may have based Ricardo on himself. I won’t say a lot of this hyperactivity isn’t entertaining, but it will leave some viewers scratching their heads and others trying to book the next flight to São Paolo.
Oenophiles may have specialized tastes in wine. Stone|Fruit will appeal to some cinephiles with specialized tastes, but if you don’t know what oenophiles and cinephiles are, you’re not among them. The conversation between Manny (Matt Palazzolo) and Russ (Rob Warner) that makes up most of the film often has an intellectual bent, as if it’s too good for most of us. That’s too bad, because Manny and Russ are otherwise relatable. After seven years of marriage, they’re marking their “divorce weekend” by touring California’s Wine Country on a tasting trip. Russ works in HR, Manny is a barista who wants to be a ceramicist. (Sorry, they’ve got me using big words now.) Manny has a chance to move to Santa Fe to study on a fellowship, and while he still loves Russ, he wants to develop a life of his own. Russ loves Manny too, but is too much of a control freak to consider a move on his behalf. They spend most of the first day with Byron (Thomas Hobson), who has taken advantage of their open relationship by having encounters with them together and separately. There are several mentions of Manny and Russ having an “interracial” relationship. If Russ were any whiter he’d be a ghost. I’m not sure what Manny’s supposed to be, but I think it’s mentioned once or twice in their often soft-spoken dialogue, along with a few accusations of Russ’ “white privilege.” Byron is refreshingly Black, no question. The movie certainly has its moments, maybe quite a few, depending on your taste. As the guys rehash every argument they’ve had in their seven years Manny says, “You gotta unpack everything if you want to close the suitcase. It’s why they call it closure.” A closing credit dedicates the film to Palazzolo, sadly revealing he died in 2018 at the age of 33.
THROUGH THE GLASS DARKLY
Sometimes we get so comfortable in Atlanta we forget it’s surrounded by Georgia. This movie, shot in Ellijay and Jasper, is a reminder. At least that’s how it starts. The year isn’t specified but no one is using cell phones and Charlie (Robyn Lively) runs a shop in Elrod, GA, that sells film and processes photos. We see more of the story than we realize through Charlie’s eyes as she continues searching for her daughter, Lily, who disappeared a year ago. She has frequent fantasies of seeing Lily again, plus flashbacks, as to the time she explained that Lily couldn’t call her partner Angela (Bethany Anne Lind) “Mommy” in public because “Some people don’t like that we’re a family.” Then another little girl disappears, Elodie, the daughter of Trip Carmichael (Michael Trucco), the richest man in town. Actually it’s his mother (Judith Ivey) who has the money. Trip just lives with her and works for her. Charlie suspects a connection between the disappearances and chastises the sheriff for not taking Lily’s case as seriously as Elodie’s. Of course it’s the rich people who get the attention, but the law isn’t making any progress in either case; so Charlie starts playing detective herself, teaming up with Amy (Shanola Hampton), a visiting reporter attracted by the Carmichael name. Charlie becomes a suspect herself, while her intuition leads her in the direction of Trip. Around the time the repetition becomes unbearable, there’s a twist that leads to a new way of looking at things and eventually to a climax. Director and co-writer Lauren Fash must be aiming this movie at Trump supporters who will believe anything they’re told, because when you reexamine the story in terms of the new information, none of it makes sense. Lively pours herself into her performance and gives it her considerable all, though the makeup department lets her down in the later scenes. This one won’t do much for Georgia tourism.
They’re not so quirky in Albuquerque. The Whistle features a dozen or so lesbians talking about their high school days in the ‘70s and ‘80s. That city was somewhat behind the times, with police still raiding gay and lesbian bars; but most of their stories are relatable to most of us from some time in our lives. As some of the women point out, it’s a lot easier for today’s LGBT high schoolers to be out, but it’s also more dangerous with hate crimes on the rise under the Trump administration. So we hear their tales of being closeted, finding others like themselves, having crushes on coaches, sneaking into bars, and getting a spectrum of reactions from parents, from total acceptance to being sent packing to being sent to therapy, where many doctors were supportive. The title comes from one thing that sets them apart from the rest of us: a high-pitched whistle they could use in public places to identify others like themselves. It’s probably the least interesting thing they discuss but it’s also the only one that’s unique. The one commenter who stands out from the crowd is the film’s producer-director-writer-editor, Storm Miguel Florez, a trans man who was still female-identified in high school. Amid horror stories like a girl getting fired over a kiss on the cheek in a fast-food parking lot, a heroine emerges in a lesbian teacher, Havens Levitt, who was out enough that many girls went to her for counseling. There are a dozen or so happy endings as the women introduce their partners/wives of many years. Nothing extraordinary here, just a bunch of lesbians and one trans man who are nice to spend an hour with.
SUNDAY, OCT. 4
ARMY OF LOVERS IN THE HOLY LAND
Not knowing much about the Swedish pop group Army of Lovers, I checked them out on YouTube and recognized the first song I played – “Crucified,” their biggest hit – from the first note; but the visuals were something else again. How did I not know they were the Campiest. Band. Ever? “Band” is an exaggeration, according to Asaf Galay’s documentary about Jean-Pierre Barda’s Aliyah (immigration to Israel). Performance artists is more like it, as none of them could sing or play an instrument. Or so they say here. They just lip-synced to the hired voices on their records while they pranced around on stage with Barda in high heels and everyone in outlandish costumes. When Barda was nearing 50 and working as a hairdresser except for an occasional reunion gig at Pride somewhere, he felt a calling from the Jewish heritage he’d abandoned as a teenager because it didn’t fit with being gay. The band had recorded “Israelism,” a parody of a Hebrew standard, in 1993, spurring criticism for the offensive symbolism in the video; but more than 20 years later Barda was ready to take Israel seriously. He sees bandmates Alexander Bard and Dominika Peczynski during the transition, and after, when they visit him in Israel and perform for Tel Aviv Pride in 2017, followed by what may be their final show the next year in Riga, Latvia. Barda lives modestly in a small apartment and works for an Israeli Army auxiliary. Though he discusses the difficulty of his transition he appears content with his new life, as long as he can see his old friends occasionally. This hourlong film is a good introduction with a lot of fun clips from videos and performances. It made me want to join their Army.
We have festivals like Out On Film so we can see ourselves represented on screen. OK, I’ve seen myself. Gene (Nick Pugliese) is a 17-year-old closeted gay agnostic who’s made it through high school by hanging with fellow nerds in the Drama Club. Tonight one of them, Rose (Anna Grace Barlow) is throwing a going-away party before leaving for college in New York. Besides Gene she’s invited Ally (Danielle Kay), a future opera star; Claire (Megan Suri), who’s going to a Christian college; and Oscar (Nico Greetham), who’s going to UCLA. All five are virgins. (There my resemblance to Gene ends, if oral counts.) Oscar presents as a ladies’ man, but he’s never happier than when he and best friend Gene are rolling around on the floor, “wrestling.” And Oscar gets jealous when Gene goes places with JD (Zak Henri), the hot (and straight – he doesn’t like musicals) pizza guy who dropped out of school to be rebellious, and doesn’t invite him along. Oh, it’s the summer of 1994, when things were different from now. Or were they? At a time when most of our entertainment is as heavy as our reality, Jonathan Wysocki’s film begins like a welcome alternative, but it gets weightier as it goes along. As the party progresses, three years of repressed feelings come out – but not Gene, although not all of his friends are as clueless as he thinks. I probably wouldn’t be as enthusiastic about Dramarama if I hadn’t lived it, but it’s still a well-made film a segment of our community will relate to as I did (although the guy who plays “me” should be taller).
ELLIE & ABBIE (& ELLIE’S DEAD AUNT)
It may be a problem of expectations, but the title and synopsis for this movie made me anticipate a sweet and probably funny fairy tale about lesbian teenagers. It begins with Ellie (Sophie Hawkshaw), 17, coming out to her single mom. (Her father is never mentioned.) This triggers the arrival – to Ellie – of her late Aunt Tara (Julia Billington) as her “fairy godmother.” Ellie qualifies for one because she has “a gay relation who died before they were born.” Ellie’s big on affirmations and now has a new source of advice and encouragement. Oh, and Mom’s best friend Patty (Rachel House) is also an out lesbian. Growing up in this dykocoon, it would be a wonder if Ellie had turned out straight; so why is Mom surprised, let alone disturbed? Ellie’s immediate problem is inviting Abbie (Zoe Terakes), the girl she has a crush on, to the formal (Australian for prom). Abbie’s an out and apparently friendless lesbian who appreciates Ellie’s friendly overtures. What should have been a simple romcom just gets heavier and heavier as details of Aunt Tara’s past emerge and Ellie goes deeper into her shell as the formal date nears. I was a shy teen too, but this is ridiculous. Maybe I just don’t understand women. Writer-director Monica Zanetti dedicates the film to her two “guncles” (which is defined along the way in case you can’t figure it out). They deserve better.