‘Pink Peach’ lineup highlights diverse LGBT films

Atlanta Film Festival thinks ‘Pink’

There’s a lot of masturbation, literal and figurative, going on in the LGBT entries in the 2011 Atlanta Film Festival, whether they’re included in the gay “Pink Peach” section or in general narrative categories.

It’s common in festivals to find the results of filmmakers’ onanism splayed across the screen, but this year actors are doing the deed as well. Look for werewolf movies next year to explain all the hairy palms.

Joslyn Jensen in “Without” and Mark Cirillo in “The Seminarian” are each given more close-up face time than Meryl Streep has had in her whole career, so it’s not surprising that the camera doesn’t venture below the waist when they pleasure themselves. The prize for the most masturbation goes to Lydia Hyslop, who can’t keep her hand off herself in “Vacation!” except when she’s substituting household appliances, especially a blender.

More about those films and others below, but first let’s mention three we couldn’t preview. “Bear Nation,” not to be confused with last year’s “Bear City,” is a documentary by Malcolm Ingram (“Small Town Gay Bar”) that looks into the lives and lifestyles of big, hairy gay guys.

Half a world away geographically and even further otherwise, “I Am” finds filmmaker Sonali Gulati traversing India to speak with parents of lesbians and gays in preparation for coming out to her own mother.

You can be among the first to see “Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption,” showing as a work-in-progress. As in old school Hollywood previews, audience comments will help shape this documentary about an acting troupe bringing “Corpus Christi,” Terrence McNally’s controversial play about a gay Jesus, to less-than-welcoming venues.

Of the features I previewed, my favorite is the least pretentious, “Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same,” Madeleine Olnek’s sweet spoof of ‘50s sci-fi flicks that were made on equally miniscule budgets.

An absurd premise sends three bald females from the planet Zots to Earth to fall in love and have their hearts broken. Two of them date each other but Zoinx (Susan Ziegler) falls in love with shy, lovable Jane (Lisa Haas). A sample of Olnek’s sly, subtle humor: “I have no hair on my head but the pavement matches the concrete.”

“What’s the Name of the Dame?” is a pleasing documentary about the 2004 ABBA tribute album, “ABBAlicious,” by nine New York drag queens. With comments from the likes of Joan Rivers, Bruce Vilanch, Christine Baranski and ABBA’s Benny Andersson, the talk overwhelms the music; but the singing styles are surprisingly diverse and there are some clever videos. Enjoy a preview party for “What’s the Name of the Dame?” tonight at  8 p.m. at Amsterdam Atlanta, 502-A Amsterdam Ave., Atlanta, GA 30306, www.amsterdamatlanta.com. The party features DJ Jerome Farley and performances by Sade Pendarvis and Vernessa Mitchell.

On the same program is an excellent short, “Gay Shark Tank,” about online speed dating.

“We Are the Hartmans” seems gayer than it is because Richard Chamberlain is one of the most convincing men in the cast at playing straight, although that becomes questionable when the town mayor lisps to one of Hartman’s (Chamberlain) daughters, “Your father and I go way back.” Hartman is dying. His semi-estranged children want to sell his business, “the only gay-friendly bar in three counties,” while the people who care fight to save it. The anti-chain store message misses the point since a bar is one business the Wal-Marts can’t compete with.

In “The Seminarian,” Ryan (Mark Cirillo) is a closeted student at a conservative seminary who’s looking for love, but the only people able to sustain a relationship in “The Seminarian” are a homophobic straight couple.

Joslyn (Joslyn Jensen) in “Without” is caring for a helpless old man on an island but mooning over a girl, whose identity is withheld for far too long.

“Vacation!” sends four women, former school friends, to a North Carolina beach for a week. For all the catching up they have to do, they talk very little. Dee-dee (Melodie Sisk) is the only lesbian but each of the others has at least an intimate moment with her. If not for an early hint that someone will die you might think it was a romantic comedy for nearly an hour.

Engaging ‘Shorts’

Your festival time would be well spent on the Pink Peach Shorts packages, I for men and II for women. The best of the latter is “Love Is All You Need?” an alternate universe tale of a girl growing up straight in a world where gay is the norm. It evolves smoothly from ironically amusing to darkly tragic.

“Curvature” finds a straight waitress getting hit on by customers in a lesbian bar until a co-worker finds a hot solution to the problem. “Slip Away” wastes the star-power of Thea Gill and Wilson Cruz in supporting roles (and Hal Sparks in a quick cameo) in a heavy-handed romance with a misleading setup about soulmates that’s really a cautionary tale about substance abuse.

“Whispers” and “Civil Union: A Love Story” are equally brief but the first needs to be longer, the other shorter. “Double Fault” plays like a trailer for a feature about a coach-student relationship.

Of the men’s shorts (I saw all but “Animal Drill”) the best are about closeted gay men, a church worker and a husband, in films set 46 years apart: “Yes Man” and “Caught.” One is tapped to star in a commercial promoting Prop. 8; the other is drawn to a public rest room during a police sting.

“Dark Meat” revisits “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” with a gay twist but less wit. I’m not sure what “The First” is saying about a teenager exploring his sexuality, but it’s interesting and doesn’t overstay its welcome.

“Winner Takes All” fascinates as beautiful Gavyn Michaels becomes less attractive as we get to know him, when he goads his lovers into fighting over him. “Who Leads” is too arty and intense to bother making sense.

There will be more LGBT films to choose from at this year’s independent queer festival, Out on Film, Sept. 29 to Oct. 6.

Atlanta Film Festival LGBT films

All shows are at Landmark Midtown Art Cinemas, except “Vacation!” All times are p.m.

“The Seminarian”: 4/29, 7:15; 5/4, 2:45
Pink Peach Shorts I (gay men): 4/30, 12; 5/2, 2:45
Pink Peach Shorts II (lesbians): 4/30, 2:15; 5/3, 3:30
“We Are the Hartmans”: 4/30, 7:30
“Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same”: 4/30, 10:30; 5/7, 2:45
“What’s the Name of the Dame?”: 5/1, 7:30
“Without”: 5/1, 9; 5/4, 7:45
“Vacation!”: 5/2, 8, Plaza Theatre
“I Am”: 5/2, 9; 5/7, 12:30
“Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption”: 5/7, 2:15