The 33rd Out on Film Festival, Sept. 24-Oct. 4, will be heavily featured in our Sept. 25 issue, but we wanted to fill you in on opening weekend now so you can plan ahead.
Although most of the festival will be virtual, that doesn’t mean there will be unlimited “seating.” Distributors show films in festivals to relatively small audiences to build anticipation for when they are released later in more lucrative formats.
One advantage of a virtual festival is the ability to bring in more special guests to interact with audiences. It takes a lot less time and money for an actor or filmmaker to sit in front of their computer for an hour than to fly to Atlanta from another city or country and spend a night or two in a hotel here to have that interaction in person.
As Festival Director Jim Farmer says, “While we miss the feel of a traditional film festival in a movie theater and an event that celebrates community, we hope to duplicate that in a virtual arena. Going virtual does give us access to more filmmakers and we fully plan to utilize that.”
Margaret Cho will be a special guest on Saturday, Sept. 26, to receive the festival’s Icon Award in conjunction with a 20th anniversary screening of her film, I’m the One that I Want; and she’ll stay for a chat afterwards.
Beginning at noon on the 27th, you can see a benefit reading of Topher Payne’s play Perfect Arrangement, with an all-star cast directed by Chad Darnell.
For full information and to buy tickets, visit the festival website at outonfilm.org.
Following are reviews of most of the opening weekend features, which will become available at noon on the date indicated and stay up for 72 hours. Ratings are on a **** scale, but I’m a tough grader.
THURSDAY, SEPT. 24
Dry Wind (Vento Seco), set in a small Brazilian town, begins at a swimming pool, an excuse to show off a number of scantily-clad males. Sadly, the one who gets the most screen time is also the least attractive: 50-ish, hairy, chunky Sandro (Leandro Faria Lelo). And he’s our main character. In the next hour or so he’ll have graphic sex with several younger, prettier guys, and some of them will have sex with each other. Dry Wind is the closest thing to porn you’ll find in this or most other festivals, but writer-director Daniel Nolasco (Mr. Leather) has made it porn on a relatively grand scale, with multiple locations, some interesting fantasy lighting and splendid work with a voyeuristic camera. There’s a lot less sex and nudity in the second half as Nolasco focuses on plot, but he hasn’t given himself much of that to work with. Sandro works in a fertilizer factory where, incidentally, the union is protesting the workers’ shortage of PPE (something I’d never heard of before the current pandemic; and there’s a plastic shield protecting the supermarket cashier). The union rep, Paula (Renata Carvalho) is one of Sandro’s best friends. The actress gives off a transgender vibe but it’s never mentioned. Another co-worker, Ricardo (Allan Jacinto Santana) is Sandro’s steadiest friend-with-benefits. He wants to be more but Sandro isn’t interested. Then Maicon (Rafael Teóphilo) enters the story on a flashy motorcycle and the plot thickens. It’s not always clear whether Sandro’s tricks are in his head or IRL. The local atmosphere is emphasized with periodic weather reports on screen, all headlined “céu sem nuvens” (“cloudless sky,” though it’s not translated). The dry wind isn’t the only thing blowing in this film, and if the other one doesn’t interest you, there won’t be much here that does.
SURVIVING THE SILENCE
We’ve waited 25 years for a sequel to the TV movie Serving in Silence, which starred Glenn Close as Col. Margarethe “Grethe” Cammermeyer, who was dishonorably discharged from the Army, after 26 years of exemplary service, for being a lesbian. Here it is, not a dramatization – that’s still possible if Close needs a gig – but a documentary directed by Atlanta native Cindy L. Abel. It’s mostly about the woman who chaired the board that discharged Grethe, Col. Patsy Thompson, a fellow nurse and fellow lesbian. Pat did what she could to help Grethe (short of coming out, which wouldn’t have helped either of them) but the conclusion was foregone. Late in the film Cammermeyer virtually throws away the information that a court overturned the board’s verdict and reinstated her. Pat kicks things off, telling her story from a podium at what we learn much later was a Pride celebration at a college. Born a “Depression baby” in rural North Carolina, she remained closeted to her family until she was 80, even though they were fond of her female “friend” of 24 years. As an Air Force nurse and an officer, Pat was less likely to be surveilled than enlisted women during the days of zero tolerance for lesbians and gays in the military. Most of her story is told in an interview setting, enlivened by a parade of film clips, photos and even some reenactments of events. Then Pat introduces her wife to the audience. We don’t learn her name for a few minutes, but it’s Barbara Brass, and she tells her own story in a similar format to Pat’s. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, she was raised in a middle-class Jewish family. Almost 20 years younger than Pat, she grew up an anti-war activist but was able to rationalize loving an Army officer because Pat was a nurse. Grethe comes in around the 45-minute mark to tell her story and has a touching conversation with Pat, crediting her with saving her career. Barb has started an activist group, the RATT Pack, and she and Pat still speak at rallies and such. Lots to admire here.
FRIDAY, SEPT. 25
AHEAD OF THE CURVE
Having achieved her goal of lesbian visibility through the magazine she founded 30 years ago, Frances Stevens, known as Franco, gets some more personal visibility in what is actually three films in one. It’s Franco’s biography, directed by her wife, Jen Rainin. It’s a course in modern lesbian history that should be required viewing for baby dykes. (Do we still use that term?) And it follows Franco as she meets with younger LGBT people to ask if glossy magazines are still relevant and if not, what should replace them? Montages of magazine covers are confusing as they mix Deneuve with Curve, until it’s finally explained that the name was changed in the mid-‘90s after actress Catherine Deneuve sued over the use of her name, shortly after the magazine took off with national advertising and celebrities on the cover. A few of these celebs pop up in the film, including Melissa Etheridge, Jewelle Gomez and Lea DeLaria. You’ll also meet some lesser-known women who deserve their own films. There are controversies over the use of the word “lesbian” on the cover and which labels are acceptable today, and a list of goals yet to be achieved, including rights that have been taken away during the Trump administration. TV clips include an awkward moment from “The Facts of Life” in the ‘80s and a triumphant “Geraldo” show about “Power Dykes” from 1994. Stay through the credits. You won’t want to miss the punchline. Ahead of the Curve is a good story or several, very well told.
Cicada is a movie only a festival could love. I don’t mean that quite as sarcastically as it sounds, but it can be very frustrating for a viewer who just wants to be told a good story. Unless you’re familiar with the life cycle of the title insect, which comes out after 17 years underground, you won’t know that’s what Ben (Matt Fifer) and his mother are talking about in the final scene. But if you’ve gotten that far you’ve had a lot more to wonder about. We’re told at the outset that this is “Based on true events.” Since Fifer is also the writer and director, we can assume he’s playing himself, which many actors say is the hardest thing to do. The film begins with a montage of shots of Ben cruising and having sex with men, women and himself. Eventually he meets Sam (Sheldon D. Brown) and pretty much settles down. But Sam, who is Black, isn’t out to his father (though I sensed that Dad knows) or the world. He eschews PDAs and accuses Ben of exhibiting him to show his white friends “how woke you are.” By extension, this dialogue seems intended to show us how woke Fifer is. Despite all their intimate scenes together, I didn’t feel any chemistry between the actors (even though for all I know, Brown is playing himself too). Ben suffers physical symptoms that are probably psychosomatic reactions to having been molested as a child. There are several shots of young Ben, often in dreams, but we never learn those specifics. One brief mention of a stepfather may be a hint. The film’s quite an acting exercise for Fifer and lets cinematographer Eric Schleicher show off too; but for viewers it’s too much of an exercise in mindreading to fill in gaps in the script. Fifer needed advice from someone who hadn’t lived the story, but he was too proud to take it.
SATURDAY, SEPT. 26
What I don’t know about Islam could fill the Quran – and does. Breaking Fast provides a lot of insight without being didactic. A discussion of how Muslim parents react to their sons coming out reveals a surprising support spectrum of 0-100, like almost any other group, and the religious reasons behind their attitudes. Set in West Hollywood, it’s billed as a romantic comedy but is really more of a drama – not even a dramedy, though it does have some comic relief, including a couple of really funny lines and a major character who’s the kind of flaming stereotype we rarely see anymore. The story begins one Ramadan – the holy month during which Muslims fast, from impure thoughts and acts as well as food, from sunrise to sunset. Mo (Haaz Sleiman) learns his partner is going to marry a woman to avoid coming out to his 80-year-old father. Mo refuses to be part of his life under those conditions. A year later Mo’s best friend Sam (Amin El Gamal), a non-practicing Muslim, introduces him to Kal (Michael Cassidy), a white American who speaks Arabic because his father was stationed in Jordan when he was young. He also learned the cuisine and offers to cook Iftar – the sunset meal – for Mo every night during Ramadan, after learning they’re both big fans of Superman. (There’s a stupid scene where Kal surprises Mo with a movie, as if Mo couldn’t see the huge marquee on the way in.) Romance develops accordingly, although there are moments when you might want to tell one man or the other to turn and run. Overall this is one of the better gay romances I’ve seen lately.
THE CAPOTE TAPES
You can’t expect Truman Capote to play himself as well as Philip Seymour Hoffman played him in his Oscar-winning role in 2005’s Capote. But Truman (1924-1984) does rather well here as more of a supporting player, though the main character. He appears in clips from talk shows and paparazzi photos, while much of the screen time goes to people who knew him and are no less inclined to talk about him than he was to talk – and write – about them. That writing emerges as the subject here, eventually focusing on what Capote joked about as “my posthumous novel,” “Answered Prayers.” Three chapters were published, causing him to lose his friends in New York society because he revealed all their secrets through thinly-disguised fictional characters, but the rest has never been found. Raised in the South, Truman was left by his mother with two aunts when she took off for New York. She sent for him as a teenager and became the model for Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” – not the romantic Holly of the movie but the sleazier one of the book. Truman was noticed for his first novel, “Other Voices, Other Rooms,” in 1948, when people didn’t talk about gay men, let alone write about them. Bored socialites invited him to dinner parties to be entertaining, and used him as an escort when their husbands were too busy. There are on-camera interviews for the film (most prominently Kate Harrington, the “adopted daughter” whose father Truman had an affair with) and from other sources (gay Dotson Rader talks of going to bathhouses with Capote, while straight Norman Mailer tells of going with him to a bar full of working-class Irishmen and expecting a fight), but the audio “tapes” of the title were recorded by George Plimpton, researching a book about Capote (“Infamous,” published in 2006). This film by Ebs Burnough gossips about Capote in an entertaining way.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 27
Hey, I’m normal! Okay, some would disagree, but not in the technical sense they might have employed through 1973, when the American Psychiatric Association (APA) finally agreed to remove homosexuality from their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual’s list of mental disorders. This documentary by Bennett Singer and Patrick Sammon is really a short course in the history of the LGBT movement, from the founding of the Daughters of Bilitis and Mattachine Society in the 1950s through recent Supreme Court decisions in our favor. But the focus is on efforts to change the perception of us as mentally ill, needing and able to be cured – by the torture of shock therapy and even lobotomy. A clip from Mike Wallace’s CBS documentary reminds us that in 1967, “two out of three Americans look(ed) on homosexuals with disgust, discomfort or fear.” Stonewall came two years later, as we joined the Civil Rights, Women’s and Anti-war movements in the streets. The first inroads were made at the 1970 APA convention in San Francisco (Duh!), and we got a better hearing in subsequent meetings. A 1957 paper by Dr. Evelyn Hooker, when the APA finally paid attention to it, helped seal the deal by contradicting their flawed research. The change was made in 1973 and confirmed by a referendum the following year. One of the fiercest opponents was Dr. Charles W. Socarides, who got rich (mis)treating us but had a gay son himself (Richard, an activist, who also appears). Barbara Gittings and Franklin Kameny, shown over the decades, are among the faces that should be familiar to all of us. I could go on and on about the people and events chronicled here, but Singer and Sammon have told the story clearly and concisely. This will be a real eye-opener for those who don’t know what life was like for us in America half a century ago.
I can think of many reasons not to like Monsoon, and yet it’s my favorite of more than a dozen festival films I’ve seen at this writing. It’s slow and subtle, leaves basic questions unresolved and makes the viewer fill in a lot of unspoken dialogue. I hate movies like that – except this one. Henry Golding became something of a matinee idol, or the 21st-century equivalent, in Crazy Rich Asians. This time he’s a little scruffier and a lot gayer as Kit, who is visiting Vietnam for the first time in 30 years, since his parents fled when he was six and settled in London. He and his brother are bringing their parents’ ashes to scatter, but he doesn’t know where. That leads to a lot of sightseeing, which makes Monsoon a virtual Vietnam travelogue. We’re not given a lot of specifics about what we see in Saigon and Hanoi, just a lot of obviously postwar construction, some ruins yet to be removed, and some old buildings that survived the war. It’s all photographed for maximum impact, beginning with the overhead shot of Saigon traffic where mopeds outnumber cars about 50 to one. Lee (David Tran), a distant cousin whose family couldn’t leave, helps refresh Kit’s faded memories. Lee, Lewis (Parker Sawyers), an African American Internet date who lives in Saigon, and Hanoi tourguide Linh (Molly Harris) provide different perspectives on issues Kit’s parents refused to discuss. We don’t see any sex but Golding throws himself into serious kissing scenes, some of them shirtless, without reservation. The title of Hong Khaou’s film doesn’t refer to weather, but the emotions welling up inside Kit, most of which aren’t manifested in this low-key drama. I didn’t realize how little I knew about or had seen of Vietnam until this atypical festival film made me aware.
THE STRONG ONES (LOS FUERTES)
Let me start by saying I couldn’t watch Samuel González and Antonio Altamirano make love for more than three weeks…without a lunch break. That’s good, because there isn’t much more to do during the 98-minute run of The Strong Ones. Lucas (González) is visiting his sister in Valdivia on Chile’s southern coast. He lives in Santiago but is soon to leave for Montreal to study architecture on a scholarship. He meets Antonio (Altamirano), who works on a fishing boat when he’s not taking part in historical reenactments of the 1820 battle that won Chile independence from Spain. They meet again and it’s not long before I’m setting my stomach alarm for three weeks. Lucas’ sister’s marriage is in a rough patch because her husband found out she was having an affair. Lucas is estranged from their parents because they don’t accept his homosexuality. Antonio is dealing with local homophobes and a closet case he rejected. That may sound like a lot of plot but writer-director Omar Zúñiga stretches it pretty thin, with little in the way of development. It’s a terrible (but honest) thing for a critic to admit, but this review would have been far more negative if I had found the leading men far less attractive.