The Atlanta Film Festival, which runs April 15-23, again includes a “Pink Peach” component, with six features and two short film collections of special interest to LGBT viewers.
The massive festival drew more than 21,000 attendees in 2009, according to organizers. Now in its 34th year, it will screen more than 160 films, ranging from documentaries to animation, and everything in between.
The festival opened April 15 with a gala presentation of the civil rights film “Freedom Riders,” and closes April 23 with “Secret to a Happy Ending,” a documentary about the Drive-By Truckers, an Athens-based band. Director Barr Weissman and band members will attend the screening at the 14th Street Playhouse.
On April 17, there is a special 50th anniversary screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller “Psycho” at 9 p.m. in Piedmont Park. All regular screenings, including the LGBT films, take place at the Landmark Midtown Arts Cinema.
Two of the best festival features we’ve previewed are in the “Pink” section but have crossover appeal.
‘8: The Mormon Proposition’
Friday, April 16, 9:20 p.m. Wednesday, April 21, 7:10 p.m.
Documentaries aren’t usually tearjerkers but “8: The Mormon Proposition” evokes tears of joy in scenes of same-sex weddings in California, followed by tears of rage at the hateful tactics used by the Mormon church to pass Proposition 8, putting a ban on same-sex marriage into the California constitution.
Another film on the subject, “Annul Victory,” which screened in last year’s Out on Film, was a clumsy collection of home videos, mostly of rallies against Prop. 8. “8: The Mormon Proposition” is the real deal, a professional effort directed by Reed Cowan, that digs deeper and contains some real revelations.
Narrated by Mormon-born, Oscar-winning “Milk” screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, the film features Spencer Jones and Tyler Barrick, a Mormon couple who’d been together for six years and married in San Francisco the day it became legal.
“8” focuses on the campaign orchestrated and funded by the Mormons through various fronts, such as the National Organization for Marriage.
The church, which once faced persecution for its belief in polygamy, pressured its adherents to donate sacrificially.
Both sides get their say but the film’s sympathies are never in doubt.
‘The Battle of Pussy Willow Creek’
Sat., April 17, 2:20 p.m. Tues., April 20, 12:20 p.m.
Filmmakers in attendance (both shows): Writer/ Director/Producer Wendy Jo Cohen, Assistant to the Director Joe Braun, Actor Tim Cusack, Casting Director/Actor Luisa Battista.
“The Battle of Pussy Willow Creek” is a riot for history buffs, not usually known for their sense of humor. Wendy Jo Cohen has made real documentaries for the Discovery and History channels so she knows the drill and could have fun with it.
The fictitious skirmish occurred simultaneously with the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, but was expunged from history because its heroes were considered “examples of human degeneracy.”
A gay man, a former slave, a Chinese septuagenarian and a whore in men’s clothing saved the nation’s capital.
The story is told by a diverse lot of “experts,” most with their own agendas, including “Roger McEntyre, author of ‘Prejudice and Pride: A History of Gays in the Military.’”
The humor is droll and deadpan, accessible to all; but the more familiar you are with real documentaries the more you’ll enjoy this spoof.
Sat., April 17, 7:15 p.m. Wed., April 21, 2:25 p.m.
Before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” became official policy, it was common sense for gays in the military. “Handsome Harry” brings back those days in the story of the 32-years-aftermath of a Navy gay-bashing.
Harry Sweeney (Jamey Sheridan) has serial reunions with five Navy buddies, four of whom were involved with him on “the night we almost killed Kagan.” Kagan was beaten for apparently making a pass at one of the others.
Homophobic Thomas Kelley (Steve Buscemi) sets the plot in motion from his deathbed, asking Harry to seek Kagan’s forgiveness on his behalf. Harry visits the others (John Savage, Aidan Quinn, Titus Welliver), before approaching David Kagan (Campbell Scott) to attempt closure.
Many of the actors in this powerful indie drama have previously played gay or bi, or appeared in films with strong gay elements: Buscemi (“Parting Glances”), Scott (“Longtime Companion” and “The Dying Gaul”), Quinn (“An Early Frost”) and Savage (“Hair”). Karen Young, who plays the waitress with a crush on Harry, was in “Torch Song Trilogy”; and Bill Sage, here as Harry’s assistant, was in “Mysterious Skin,” “High Art,” “The New Twenty” and “Precious.”
‘Mother Earth (Tierra Madre)’
Sat., April 17, 7:30 p.m. Tues., April 20, 12:15 p.m.
Illustrating the fine line between truth and fiction, “Mother Earth” (“Tierra Madre”) and “Who Saw Him” (“Chi L’ha Visto”), listed as narrative films, are largely true stories of their lesbian and gay protagonists.
In “Mother Earth” Aidee Gonzalez narrates and recreates her story matter-of-factly. Director Dylan Verrechia drains most of the drama from a gut-wrenching tale that has enough for several seasons of a telenovela.
A Mexican, Aidee has two children by different men. One abandons her, the other marries her but is shot as a drug runner. She supports herself and her children by pole dancing. Rosalba introduces Aidee to the pleasures of women. They live together until Rosalba wants a child and goes off with the man who fathers it.
“Mother Earth” looks like a black-and-white home movie but better.
‘Play in the Gray’
Sat., April 17, 9:20 p.m. Mon., April 19, 2:30 p.m.
Filmmakers in attendance (both shows): Director/Producer Kaitlin Meelia, Director of Communications Danielle Connor, Editor Ian McFarland, Director of Photography Justin Francese
It’s 11 o’clock. Do you know what gender your children are?
Kaitlin Meelia’s “Play in the Gray” is a portrait of the Boston-based All The Kings Men (www.ATKM.com), described as “a drag theatre troupe dedicated to challenging the confines of gender identity.” The film has its world premiere as part of the Atlanta Film Festival.
Started in Massachusetts in 2001, All The Kings Men is made up of six lesbians (four of them scheduled to attend the festival screening) for whom frilly feminine attire is as much drag as male clothing with fake facial hair. The film takes you into the lives of Julee, Katie, Maria, Jill, Leighsa and Karin and some of their partners. Perhaps a separate performance film is upcoming, because “Play in the Gray” shows only brief, tantalizing snippets from their shows.
For all the fun they’re obviously having, the troupe’s work looks more polished than you might expect. Those who just wanted to goof around have apparently fallen away, leaving a core group dedicated to serious fun.
‘Who Saw Him (Chi L’ha Visto)’
Sun., April 18, 7:20 p.m. Tues., April 20, 2:05 p.m.
“Who Saw Him” coasts on the charisma of its subject, Gianni Meurer, a gay man who was raised in Berlin by his German mother but decides to search for the Italian father he hasn’t seen in over 20 years. The biographical details are reportedly true, the action pure fiction.
Looking like a cinema vérité documentary, it has some of the same flaws, including narrative gaps because cameras aren’t present when major events occur. As a result the unexplained ending comes out of left field.
Meurer, more Italian than German-looking, carries most of the film on his charm, especially when he plays all the roles in the reunion he anticipates with his father; but once he reaches Rome even he can’t get us through the narrative confusion.
Sat. April 17, 4:50 p.m. Filmmakers in attendance: “Catching On” Associate Producer Gregory Walsh, Director Nick Pistorino; “Bedfellows” Writer/Director Pierre Stefanos
Wed., April 21, 4:35 p.m. Filmmakers in attendance: “Danny” Producer/Director T. David Field
Though he’s not expected to attend, actor James Franco is doubly represented as a director, with the feature “Saturday Night,” about the week leading up to an “SNL” telecast, and a short, “The Feast of Stephen,” that rivals Franco’s “Milk” director Gus Van Sant for its understanding of the gay psyche.
In “The Feast of Stephen” a gay youth fantasizes about four basketball players and what they do to him for fantasizing about them. Or is it a fantasy? It’s one of eight films in the “Gay Shorts” program and to their credit, most of them seem too short.
T. David Field’s “Danny,” about a schoolmate who befriends a loner with an abusive father, has the depth of a feature in a compact 24 minutes.
A gay man tries to have sex with his best (female) friend, who wants a baby, in Jonathan Lisecki’s “Gayby,” a reverse “Humpday” except it’s funny. If the marriage montage in “Up” made you misty you’ll weep buckets at the gay equivalent, “Bedfellows” by Pierre Stefanos.
Other gay shorts include “Catching On: The Day The World Turned Gay,” “Curious Thing,” “Non-Love-Song,” and “Rubbuds.”
Mon., April 19, 7:20 p.m. Filmmakers in attendance: “To Comfort You”: Actor Pauley Perrette; “One Night” Writer/Director Laura Jean Cronin, Actor Dejonna DeMarco
Thurs., April 22, 12:10 p.m. Filmmakers in attendance: “One Night” Writer/Director Laura Jean Cronin, Actor Dejonna DeMarco
There are only six in the “Lesbian Shorts” package. The films offer a variety of moods: comedy to tragedy, romance to rage.
Hyperactive editing hurts “Simple Pleasures,” about a wife’s lesbian fl ing during a business trip, and “One Night,” which jumps between an eventful evening and a mundane morning after. In “The Roe Effect,” about a woman whose girlfriend gets jealous when she gets pregnant, filmmaker Kiel Scott is almost trying to make a “Memento”-style reverse narrative.
“Yulia” is a brief animated short with a lesbian punchline. Susan Blakely stars in “To Comfort You” as a mother who has a strained, long-distance relationship with her HIV-infected lesbian daughter (Pauley Perrette). The young assistants of two high-powered PR women hook up in Gianna Sobol’s “Public Relations,” which is inconsequential, but generally joyous.