Glitter & Doom is so gay, so ridiculous, and so over-the-top that it just might work. Tom Gustafson’s musical rom-com follows the titular characters Glitter and Doom, two 20-somethings chasing their outlandish dreams who fall in love. Glitter is a vibrant dilettante who wishes to earn a spot at the École Nationale de Cirque to become a clown; Doom is an emotional, dedicated musician trying to get his career off the ground by landing a gig at the club La Fountain. When the two cross paths, they fall in love at first sight. From then on, they help each other grow not only as artists, but also as people.
What makes “Glitter & Doom” special is not so much what it’s about, but how it goes about it. Every scene is jam-packed with vibrant colors, strange cuts and transitions, and outrageous fashion choices; every set seems miraculous and opulent to the point you begin to wonder who financed this independent film. The performances take these very light, admittedly shallow characters and make their every line as dramatic and Shakespearean as possible. Indeed, even the dialogue has a faux-Shakespearean quality, in that no one talks like a real human being because they converse purely in poetic ramblings. One of my favorite moments of the film is when Glitter, while making a video diary entry, almost says something normal (“I found this guy last night, and it was like nothing I ever felt…”) but stops himself to express his feelings in a much more over-the-top way (“I was looking for a body to hold me when I needed to be held and leave what I needed to be left alone and I guess I thought nobody exists like that. Walls: why do I have so many…”).
Now, “Glitter & Doom” may not be for everyone. What seems camp and Shakespearean to one person may seem shallow, histrionic, and ridiculous to another. Indeed, Gustafson’s hyper stylizing quite literally crowds the screen with visuals at points; the poetic way people speak can be unclear, too, making it difficult to follow what characters are saying or why. But the passion, effort, and earnestness behind this project bleeds through every frame, and that is undeniable (it also doesn’t hurt that the songs are by the iconic Indigo Girls).
Queer Exile Berlin — September 25, 6:30pm
Berlin: A city to which LGBTQ people from across the world flock in search of safety, community, and opportunity. Though many find what they’re looking for in Germany’s capital city, others continue to experience the bigotry they fled from or encounter new challenges living in a major city.
This is the Berlin director Jochen Hick captures in his documentary, “Queer Exile Berlin”, which follows the lives of seven queer people who all find themselves living in the city for their own reasons. Hick showcases a rich diversity of queer life with his subjects. They range from the Portuguese transwoman Eunice, going through gender confirmation surgery, to the Syrian refugee Haidar, who fled to Berlin to avoid mandatory military service, to the self-proclaimed oldest drag queen of Berlin, Gloria Viagra.
If “Queer Exile Berlin” has any one problem, it’s that some of its subjects are more interesting than others. For instance, one of the subjects is a modest activist who lives with her son and partner, while another is a performance artist who has sex with a new man every day for a year to unveil the loneliness of being gay and hairy in Berlin. However, it’s this range of representation that is “Queer Exile Berlin”‘s biggest strength. The process of moving to an oasis like Berlin to find community is an experience that is almost universal to LGBTQ folk, so that the film captures so much of the queer experience will make it resonate for audiences in Atlanta, which is itself a land for queer exiles.
Kenyatta — September 30, noon
John Fetterman may have won the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania’s 2022 Senate race, and he may have also gone on to win the general election. But Timothy Harris’s documentary “Kenyatta: Do Not Wait Your Turn” will have you forget all that and believe in a campaign that was perhaps destined to fail.
“Kenyatta” follows Rep. Malcom Kenyatta on his campaign to become the first openly LGBTQ person of color elected as a senator in Pennsylvania’s history. When the film begins, over a year before the primary election, Kenyatta appears to be the perfect candidate. He’s a bright, young star who, with his lived experience, can accurately represent the people of his state who need representation the most: minorities and the impoverished. However, as “Kenyatta” progresses, we see how systemic racism and homophobia intersect to impact his campaign. As a representative of one of Pennsylvania’s poorest districts, Kenyatta struggles to raise funding for his campaign in comparison to his opponents, limiting his outreach to other parts of the state. Furthermore, the DNC chooses to endorse Fetterman over him because they fear that running a candidate who can genuinely challenge a culture dominated by white, straight, cisgender men will lead to failure in a swing state like Pennsylvania.
Though “Kenyatta” can feel like a glorified political ad at times, it offers so much as a film: a deft examination into the intersection between race, class, and sexuality; a story of finding love amid chaos and turmoil; and a hopeful feeling that the politics of the future will allow those from poor, minority communities to truly represent themselves.
Silver Haze — September 23, 4pm
The 23-year-old Franky is tormented by her thirst for revenge in “Silver Haze”. As a child, she was the victim of what she believes to be an arson attack perpetrated by the woman who tore her parents’ marriage apart. Now working as a nurse and living in East London with her mother and sister, Franky intends to exact revenge against her father and his new wife for the event that left scars all over her body. That is, until she meets Florence, a suicidal patient Franky tends to at the hospital and forms a relationship with. Though Florence ends up fueling Franky’s fiery anger, Florence’s adoptive family offers her a chance to overcome her pain and find a happier life.
“Silver Haze” marks a new beginning for director Sacha Polak. While Polak’s earlier films are much more stylized, “Silver Haze” feels reminiscent of the social realist films of Mike Leigh. Indeed, much like Leigh’s “Naked” or “Secrets and Lies”, the story of “Silver Haze” unfolds in a natural, meandering fashion, picking up myriad plot lines as its characters go about their lives. For some, this will make Polak’s film feel aimless and messy. But for others, this experience will feel true to life. After all, when you live near the poverty line like Franky, the world tends to hit you from all angles, and Polak and lead actor Vicky Knight manage these angles with grace and care.
Chasing Chasing Amy — September 24, 2pm
Some documentaries are essayistic and dive into a subject with a point to prove; others are educational, giving a history or survey of a specific topic; some others simply observe. But I think the very best documentaries are about discovery, and discovery is precisely what makes “Chasing Chasing Amy” so special. When director Sav Rodgers set out to make this film, his original intention was simple but personal and earnest. Growing up, Rodgers identified as a lesbian girl, and no other movie made him feel as comfortable with this identity as Kevin Smith’s 1997 rom-com, “Chasing Amy”. Thing is, “Chasing Amy” is about a lesbian who ends up falling in love with her male friend, which has made it quite a controversial film since its release. Rodgers thus wanted to explore the legacy of “Chasing Amy” as a part of LGBTQ cinema and see how queer folk and the creatives who made the film view its queer representation now.
But it becomes clear early on that “Chasing Chasing Amy” is not really going to be about that. The topic, after all, is somewhat nebulous, and you can sense that Rodgers doesn’t have a planned method to accomplish the goal of his documentary (even though he comes to an insightful conclusion about “Chasing Amy”‘s legacy by the film’s end). Instead, things quickly shift to Rodgers’s unique experience making “Chasing Chasing Amy” with his partner Regina and meeting the people who created the film that meant so much to him growing up: Kevin Smith and Joey Lauren Adams (who plays Alyssa in “Chasing Amy”). During this process, Rodgers ends up coming out as a trans man, marrying his partner, learning about how Smith had been a difficult partner to Adams while making “Chasing Amy”, and nevertheless becoming friends with Smith.
This description might make “Chasing Chasing Amy” sound rather messy, but that’s because it is. Rodgers’ constant search for what his film is going to be about makes “Chasing Chasing Amy” an uneven and winding experience. But it’s through this winding that we discover — along with Rodgers — that it’s important to grow beyond the nostalgic artifacts that got us through our childhoods so that we can better appreciate the love, friendship, and identity we have in the here and now.
Elephant — September 21, 9:20pm
John Keats opens his ode, “To Autumn,” with the line, “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” and there is perhaps no better description of the atmosphere of Kamil Krawczycki’s “Elephant” than that. Set in the rolling hills and farmlands of an autumnal Poland, Elephant tells the story of Bartek, a young man who discovers his sexual identity when he falls for Dawid, a slightly older man with a troubled past who returns to Bartek’s small town after a long absence. Though “Elephant”‘s plot may be typical of gay indie coming-of-age films, its approach is not. Krawczycki is much more interested in celebrating the sensuousness of the fall season and young love than in telling a love story. “Elephant”‘s best scenes see Bartek sitting alone on a grassy hill during a misty morning or riding horseback with Dawid among bountiful red and golden trees. These slow, sensual moments create a warmth that lulls the audience into “Elephant”‘s mellow wavelength.
However, if “Elephant”‘s sensory pleasures make up its strongest moments, its attempts at creating narrative tension make up its weakest. As Bartek and Dawid fall for each other, the locals of their small town — particularly Bartek’s mom — begin to chastise and alienate them. Krawczycki never shows the town’s discovery of their relationship or why Bartek’s mother is so opposed to their coupling (it feels especially strange considering her reliance on Bartek), so the bigotry the two face ultimately feels inert and one-dimensional. Additionally, Bartek’s environment serving as the film’s main antagonist creates tension with Krawczycki’s rosy depiction of rural Poland, as the director emphasizes the silent beauty of the land more than its conservative politics. This tension ultimately makes the central conflict of Elephant feel more like a frustrating, unnecessary obstacle to the film’s sensory delights than actual compelling drama.
Nonetheless, “Elephant” remains a beautiful film about young love, and its success in building a cozy, warm atmosphere with its cinematography, direction, and set and costume design is a triumph.
FLAWED, BUT INTERESTING
In Her Words: 20th Century Lesbian Fiction — September 27, 8pm at Out Front Theatre
The Well of Loneliness: it’s not just the title of Radclyffe Hall’s 1928 novel that kickstarted a rich history of lesbian fiction in the twentieth century. In their new documentary, “In Her Words: 20th Century Lesbian Fiction”, filmmakers Lisa Marie Evans and Marianne K. Martin suggest that the metaphorical well of loneliness also binds lesbian fiction writers together. “In Her Words” gives an impressive survey of the development of lesbian fiction by looking at landmark novels in the space, starting with The Well of Loneliness and continuing through to the 1990s. Through myriad interviews with lesbian authors, Evans and Martin find a universal experience among them: that there was an absence of lesbian representation in fiction that alienated them, so they wrote the novels they had always wished they could read. If anything, “In Her Words” could have made the story of how lesbian fiction progressed in the twentieth century clearer, as the film rarely gives enough historical context to the novels it covers; it could have also spotlighted more authors of color (or at least more from outside the West). But for people unfamiliar with the subject, “In Her Words” provides an engaging history of lesbian fiction writing and, perhaps, a way out of the well of loneliness for those who feel unrepresented in the books they read.
Norwegian Dream — October 1, noon
Robert is already living on the margins of society by the time “Norwegian Dream” begins. He’s a Polish immigrant who just moved to a remote coastal town in Norway to start a blue-collar job at a fish processing factory. The pay is terrible, the living facilities worse, and the environment surrounding him feels endlessly lonely, cold, and depressing. Things only become more complicated for him when he becomes closer with Ivar, his coworker who is openly gay. Robert develops a relationship with Ivar that puts him at risk of being ostracized by his homophobic coworkers. To make things even more tricky for Robert, Ivar joins the workers’ union, which goes on strike to address the poor conditions at the factory. This leaves Robert with a difficult decision: does he participate in the strike and risk losing the minimal wages that allow him to live in Norway, or does he side with love and dare to face the consequences?
“Norwegian Dream” is strongest when it focuses on Robert’s environment. The fluorescent white lights of the factory, the broken door of his claustrophobic apartment, the expanse of empty, patchy grasslands: Director Leiv Igor Devold masterfully uses these details to build a sense of place that is real and effective. However, the Norway of “Norwegian Dream” seems incapable of fostering love, so the film falters when it focuses on Robert and Ivar’s relationship. The two have a lack of chemistry that makes their affection for each other hard to believe. Consequently, as “Norwegian Dream” becomes more and more about how Robert manages his relationship with Ivar while keeping his sexual identity hidden and his job secure, the film becomes less and less convincing. Still, Robert’s struggles as an immigrant living on the wrong side of the poverty line are genuine. The grittiness of his work and environment are also rare in the gay indie coming-of-age genre, which tends to purify lead characters rather than show the messiness and complications of becoming an adult.
Jewelle: A Just Vision — September 28, 7pm at Out Front Theatre
As a writer of influential lesbian fiction and drama, an activist for LGBTQ rights, and a litigant in the case to legalize same-sex marriage in California, Jewelle Gomez has played an important role in queer history and culture for much of her life. That’s why it’s unfortunate that “Jewelle: A Just Vision”, Madeleine Lim’s documentary on Gomez, fails to show the significance of her work. “Jewelle” functions perfectly fine within the regular rhythms of a documentary, showcasing Gomez’s development as a woman, artist, and activist. However, Lim fails to show why Gomez’s work has been influential and vital to queer culture. For instance, we are told that she used speculative fiction to explore LGBTQ themes in her work, which is certainly interesting. Still, we are not told why Gomez’s speculative fiction is particularly important, nor much about what she speculated. Overall, Jewelle is completely unoffending as a film and offers a spotlight on a subject who thoroughly deserves it; however, Lim should have used this spotlight to discuss Gomez’s work beyond the surface level.
All the Colours of the World Are Between Black and White — September 23, noon
There is a moment in Nigerian filmmaker Babatunde Apalowo’s second film, “All the Colours of the World Are Between Black and White”, that showcases his promise as a director of slow cinema. When the main character, Bambino, eats lunch in a poorer area of Lagos one day, a thief is stopped in the background by a group of men, who then proceed to beat the thief relentlessly and light him on fire. The entire time, Bambino eats in the foreground with a disaffected look on his face, never once turning to watch the scene. This moment speaks to a culture of normalized violence — of the deadening effect that witnessing violence and poverty all the time can have on the human psyche — more than many films explicitly about the subject ever do.
Unfortunately, Apalowo doesn’t continue to tap into this rich vein in “All the Colours”; instead, he focuses on Bambino’s burgeoning romance with a photographer named Bawa, a subject he is less apt at depicting. Apalowo’s strengths lie in presenting a larger cultural attitude and not in isolated character study. Thing is, “All the Colours” is all about examining Bambino’s character: his frustrations with his sexual urges, his inability to conform to heteronormative expectations. Moments of intimacy between him and Bawa thus tend to feel empty. Lead actor Tope Tedela’s performance does not help in this regard, either, as he plays Bambino with such depressive mannerisms that it’s hard to believe Bambino could fall in love with anyone.
Nevertheless, “All the Colours” is one of the most artistically daring films I’ve seen all year. Not only is Apalowo’s slow, methodical pacing and beautiful, unique framing a huge risk that pays off, but so too is depicting a same-sex relationship: Male homosexuality is illegal in Nigeria and is punishable by up to 14 years in prison. This makes it difficult to tell whether the lack of romantic energy between Bambino and Bawa in “All the Colours” has to do with Apalowo filming around the restrictions against homosexuality in Nigeria or if it’s just a fault of the film. Regardless, “All the Colours” offers much in terms of artistry, even if it fails to deliver in terms of romance.
The Dancer — October 1, 4pm
The Dancer may have been made to share the legacy of the queer Black dancer Gerard Alexander, but it ultimately comes across as a cruel exercise in misery. Produced by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and sleekly directed by Ryon and Tyson Horne, The Dancer tells the story of how Alexander rose from tragedy and poverty to great heights as a professional dancer, only to then fall into drug addiction, homelessness, and eventually an untimely death. Interviews with Alexander’s past partners and dancing teacher show just how special a man he was. He wasn’t just beautiful and endlessly kind; he also changed the world of dancing for Black men. This latter point is not only emphasized by Alexander’s former partner, Ferdinand de Jesus, but also by the Hornes, who replay the clip of him saying that on multiple occasions. That’s why, when The Dancer ultimately skirts over Alexander’s influential career — summarizing it rather than showing its importance — to focus on his trauma and downfall, the film begins to feel cruel. Of course, drug abuse and homelessness were a massive part of Alexander’s life and thus needed to be shown. However, the lack of insight into why his career was so spectacular ultimately leaves little to take away from the film besides Alexander’s unfortunate demise. Indeed, when The Dancer ends with Tracy Woodard, a care worker who assisted Alexander during his homelessness, saying of his life, “he was just so sweet and so unhappy, and there was just nothing we could do about it,” that’s all the film leaves us with: the depressing story of a sad life, not the legacy of an amazing dancer.