If you want to understand diversity, try programming a mini-film festival with five features and a package of shorts that makes everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community feel represented. (Or try living in Florida, where diversity means that anyone who is not straight, white and Christian breaks the law if they demand equality.)
Though anyone can find nits to pick, Out On Film checks an amazing number of boxes in their first spring mini festival. Part of the Queer All Year campaign, it runs April 3 – 6 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, sponsored by Atlanta Pride.
You’ll travel from Macon to Morocco, being entertained and educated, laughing and crying through dramas and documentaries populated by people of many colors and orientations.
Here’s the schedule, with one person’s opinion about the features:
BLUE JEAN (April 3, 7pm) **1/2
If not played with such great subtlety by Rosy McEwen, the title character of Blue Jean might have been called Gloomy Gus. She’s a PE teacher in England in 1988, at the time Parliament was preparing to pass Clause 28, which forbade the “promotion of homosexuality.” Though the politics are largely kept in the background, the story could easily be set in America today. Between teaching netball at school and playing pool at the local lesbian bar, Jean has plenty of balls, but not enough to keep her from being privately depressed and paranoid. Jean has a butch biker girlfriend, Viv (Kerrie Hayes), who tries to be supportive but can’t help feeling frustrated. Siobhan (Lydia Page), a lesbophobic student, is looking for a chance to make trouble for Jean, and finds it when a new girl, Lois (Lucy Halliday), joins the class and starts going to the bar (at 15?) where Jean hangs out. If director Georgia Oakley’s screenplay isn’t always believable, McEwen keeps us rooting for Jean to pull it together.
LITTLE RICHARD: I AM EVERYTHING (April 4, 7pm) ***1/2
I thought I was pretty well-versed in the life and career of Macon celebrity Richard Penniman (1932-2020), better known as Little Richard, but Lisa Cortés’ documentary proved me wrong with all sorts of new information. (Who knew the original lyrics of “Tutti-Frutti” were about anal sex?) Never camera-shy, Richard left plenty of footage of concerts and interviews; and anyone who knew him never forgot him. Nor did people he influenced, from the Beatles to David Bowie to Billy Porter. John Waters boasts of still having Richard’s pencil-thin mustache. Richard himself drew from blues and gospel singers to create his own version of rock n’ roll, which integrated young audiences in the segregated South. He called himself “one of the first gay people to come out,” but he also went back in during his religious periods. At the height of his mid-‘50s string of hits he dropped out of his recording contract, sacrificing future royalties, to go to a Seventh-Day Adventist college in Alabama and marry a woman. Five years later he was touring the world as a flamboyant rocker again, but later he returned to preaching and renounced homosexuality. You could say he lived two lives, and he lived each to the fullest. Cortés manages to pack enough material for a ten-hour series into 98 minutes without making it seem rushed or hard to follow, but she does leave you wanting more.
LOVING HIGHSMITH (April 5, 5pm) **1/2
The novels of Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) were adapted into such great films as “Strangers on a Train”, “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and 2015’s “Carol”. She remained closeted most of her life, having published “Carol” (said to be the first lesbian novel with a happy ending) under a pseudonym in the 1950s. Her story is interesting, and I’m glad I saw it, even though German writer-director Eva Vitija has not told it very well. She’s stretched a good hour-long documentary to 83 minutes by such devices as including stock footage from rodeos under the excuse that the Texas family that raised Pat for her first six years, before she moved to New York to live with her mother, liked rodeos. Voiceovers are a confusing mix of a narrator, readings from Highsmith’s unpublished diaries, and three women introduced early on who all turn out to have been the author’s lovers at different times in her life, including German “drag king” Tabea Blumenschein. Pat had a bizarre relationship with her mother, who tried to abort her and divorced her father the week before Pat was born. We see plenty of the real Highsmith in photos, interview clips and what look like home movies (though who shot them when she was living alone?). She traveled extensively in Europe, lived for a time in France and Switzerland, and spoke several languages. It’s too bad her story could only be told in her secret diaries in her lifetime but good that it’s being told now, even if you have to work harder than you should to piece it together.
KOKOMO CITY (April 5, 7pm) ***1/2
I lived for years in an area of San Francisco’s Tenderloin that was thick with transgender sex workers, many of them Black. Some lived in my apartment building, but I never got to know them as well as I now feel I know the four main subjects of D. Smith’s documentary: locals Koko Da Doll and Liyah Mitchell, and New Yorkers Daniella Carter and Dominique Silver. Smith, who filmed, edited, and directed, has a background in the music industry, and it shows in the way she keeps the screen alive with relevant, vibrant images while the trans women tell their stories. All are practical, some can be emotional, but some speak with such intelligence they could be teaching a college course on the subject. Being honest on websites today, they don’t catch as many men by surprise as my neighbors did walking the streets. Still, the sex workers sometimes face dangerous situations as they meet all kinds of clients. Some men want them to keep their genitals covered so they can pretend they’re cis women, but Atlanta’s Koko describes herself as a “top” and says some men “want a pretty-ass girl with a big dick.” Filmed in black-and-white, “Kokomo City” lets you know as human some people who are merely objects to many they encounter. The winner of two awards at Sundance, it’s the most educational documentary I’ve seen in years, and one of the most entertaining.
LADIES CHOICE – SHORTS BLOCK (April 6, 5pm)
This encore shorts program was labeled For the Ladies 2 in the fall festival. It includes Jillian Junco’s Killing Myself, Kryzz Gautier’s Keep/Delete, Aleksandra Odic’s Frida, Kate Black-Spence and John Klein’s Static Space and Emanuela Boisbouvier’s Margins.
THE BLUE CAFTAN (April 6, 7pm) ***
Morocco’s worthy submission for the Best International Film Oscar (it wasn’t nominated) is a drama that will be too leisurely for many modern viewers, but there are worse ways to spend two hours. Halim (Saleh Bakri) and his wife Mina (Lubna Azabal) run a shop that makes – by hand, no sewing machines – elaborate caftans that are traditionally passed on from one generation to the next. Mina has a terminal illness and Halim has his eye on Youssef (Ayoub Missioui), their hot young apprentice. We eventually learn that Mina is aware of Halim’s gay tendencies and probably knows he gets serviced regularly at the local hammam (a public bathhouse common in Morocco, although the film makes it look more like a gay American bathhouse). I’m not usually a fan of movies that are spent waiting for a main character to die, but in this case, it’s somewhat offset by simultaneously waiting for the two men to hook up. Both events seem inevitable. Writer-director Maryam Touzani might have sped up the process a bit, but she does both jobs so well that fans of classic cinema will find her pace worth their patience.
Tickets for the 5pm shows are free. The 7pm shows are $12 each or $40 for all four. For more information and tickets, go to outonfilm.org/queer-all-year.