Atlanta’s annual Out On Film festival begins with a 15-year-old being murdered for being out at school (in “Valentine Road”) and ends with a man being erased from his late partner’s life by a homophobic family (in “Bridegroom”).
If they’re smart, the concession stand at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinemas will stock up on Kleenex during Atlanta’s 26th annual festival of LGBT cinema. But there are plenty of laughs between the tearjerkers, as well as suspense, beauty, empowerment, information, nostalgia and even sex; plus a whole lot of reasons to be proud of the talent and creativity in our community.
Curated by GA Voice contributor Jim Farmer, Out on Film opens Oct. 1 at the Rush Center, 1530 DeKalb Ave., and continues Oct. 3-10 at the Landmark, 931 Monroe Dr.
The VIP Lounge for networking and socializing between films is next door at Apres Diem. Filmmakers, actors and others associated with the films are scheduled to appear almost every night.
More information is available at outonfilm.org.
We’ve managed to preview more than three dozen of the included festival films. Here they are:
Titles are listed alphabetically. Ratings are on a **** scale. With the exception noted, all screenings are at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinemas.
The Battle of AmfAR (***) (Tuesday, Oct. 8, 5 p.m.)
I guess the headline should be that Elizabeth Taylor has a new movie! We don’t need another AIDS documentary now, but this brief (40 minutes) one by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman is classy and star-studded. Liz, Rock Hudson, Sharon Stone, Woody Allen – but the real star is Dr. Mathilde Krim, who used her husband’s showbiz connections to jumpstart the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmfAR) and begin searching for a cure and vaccine before Ronald Reagan made his one public utterance of the word “AIDS” (at an AmfAR benefit); and before Congress, lobbied by Ms. Taylor, passed the Ryan White Care Act to provide federal funds for HIV treatment and care. Epstein and Friedman find some new faces and angles to what’s become an old story.
Before You Know It (** ½) (Sunday, Oct. 6, 12:45 p.m.)
Young gays can enjoy freedom and possibilities their elders fought for but either didn’t live to see or in some cases are too old to enjoy. P.J.Raval’s documentary profiles three gay seniors in different parts of the country. Dennis lives a sad, lonely life in Florida near his family, to whom he’s not out, but finds community when he moves part-time to Portland, Ore., where he wears drag in public for the first time. Ty is outreach coordinator for SAGE in Harlem. When New York approves same-sex marriage he’s ready but his older partner isn’t. Robert owns a Galveston gay bar that probably hasn’t changed in 50 years, and is passing the torch to his gay nephew. All three appear to have found some degree of contentment, but no gay man is going to see “Before You Know It” and say, “I can’t wait to get old!”
Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton (***) (Wednesday, Oct. 9, 6 p.m.)
I liked James Broughton (1913-1999) as a man but never cared much for his poetry or his experimental filmmaking, except for his status as a queer pioneer. This documentary reveals much that I didn’t know about Broughton and attempts to give his generously sampled work both context and meaning. He was part of the late 1940s’ San Francisco Renaissance, which essentially merged with the Beats in the ‘50s. He lived for a time with Pauline Kael and had a child with her. Though he also loved men he married a woman in 1962 and stayed with her until 1975 when, at 61, he hooked up with a 26-year-old student, Joel Singer, who was the love of his life and was with him to the end. Surprisingly there’s no mention of the Radical Faeries, an important part of Broughton’s last decades. Otherwise “Big Joy” is a comprehensive introduction to someone you should know about.
Birthday Cake (** ½) (Sunday, Oct. 6, 6:45 PM)
This sequel to the short “Groom’s Cake” starts off well as a mockumentary about a gay couple throwing a party for their adopted daughter’s first birthday. Steven (Rib Hillis) is a TV actor, Dan (Chad Darnell, who also wrote and directed) a TV writer, so there’s a lot of industry humor. Some drama intrudes because Steven has invited not only his own family but also Dan’s estranged mother and sister. It will pick up again, but the comedy comes to a screeching halt halfway through when Dan’s mother (Helen Shaver of “Desert Hearts”), a Pentecostal but thankfully not a Southern stereotype, delivers a five-minute soliloquy about her feelings for her son. After that it takes a death to lighten the mood, but it gets better when Dan has to visit the set to resolve a diva crisis. Despite being terribly uneven, there’s a lot to like about “Birthday Cake.”
The Blacks of Their Eyes (** ½) (Monday, October 7, 6:30 PM)
The subject of “race-based attraction” gets a cursory, Documentary 101-style examination in Robert Philipson’s film, which is highlighted by well-chosen clips (“The Defiant Ones,” “Hair,” “Mandingo” and excerpts from a ballet to Tennessee Williams’ “Desire and the Black Masseur”) and lowlighted by interview subjects who rationalize, pontificate or just plain babble. Despite some filming at a meeting of Black & White Men Together, the overwhelming majority of speakers, except for a couple of tokens, are white. No conclusions are reached on questions of racism and fetishism, but I hope Philipson was able to understand his own desires better, which seems to have been his goal in the first place.
Breaking the Girls (**) (Friday, October 4, 7:05 PM)
Professionally made in most respects, “Breaking the Girls” has serious script problems. It begins like another ripoff of “Strangers on a Train,” but with two women planning to commit murders for each other. Alex (Madeline Zima) is a serious psycho who intends to follow through; Sara (Agnes Bruckner) just lets her talk while they make love. The trouble here is that the girls are seen together publicly, negating the idea that neither could be linked to a murder the other commits. Two killings later the story shifts to “Diabolique” mode, then gets twist happy and goes off in all directions. A satisfying ending might have saved the day, but this one ends with a head-scratcher that reminded me of nothing more than M. Night Shyamalan’s dreadful “Lady in the Water.” A lot of good talent is wasted here, including “Drop Dead Diva’s” Kate Evering and “X-Men’s” Shawn Ashmore.
Breaking Through (***) (Saturday, October 5, 5 PM)
“Breaking Through” goes “It Gets Better” one better, showing the nearly unlimited opportunities for LGBT people in elective office. Many of us will live to see the first out U.S. president – most of us, if Hillary comes out after she’s elected. I digress, but Atlanta filmmaker Cindy L. Abel doesn’t. After a scattershot opening illustrating the hatred all LGBTs face, she quickly introduces some two dozen people who stood up to the opposition and won. They’re not just from California and Massachusetts, but Idaho, Montana, Arkansas, Wisconsin and of course Georgia. There’s the mayor of Houston, the sheriff of Dallas County (TX) and the first transgender judge. This portion is so quick that more of the subjects should be re-identified when they return to tell their stories at greater length. Some had to overcome dual prejudice, for their race as well as their orientation, to get where they are. (In the latter category is Atlanta’s Alex Wan, who, although I enjoy looking at him, gets a disproportionate share of screen time.)
Bridegroom (***) (Thursday, October 10, 8:30 PM)
The ironically titled “Bridegroom” is the tearjerker of the year, a documentary expanded by Linda Bloodworth Thomason (“Designing Women”) from “It Could Happen to You,” Shane Bitney Crone’s YouTube memorial (with over four million views) to the love of his life, Thomas Lee Bridegroom (1982-2011). The beautiful twentysomethings were together for six years and planned to marry when it became legally possible, but before they could Tom died in an accident and his mother, who had pretended to accept their relationship, swept in and took his body, threatening Shane with violence if he showed up at the funeral. There are plenty of photos and videos of their early lives and their life together, and testimonials from their friends; but above all “Bridegroom” reminds those of us without legal protection why it’s important to do everything we can to protect each other, before it’s too late.
The Campaign (***) (Friday, October 4, 3:30 PM)
There are many ways to approach the story of California’s Proposition 8. Christie Herring’s documentary puts that battle in a context of the historical movement for LGBT rights, but its limitations leave many areas for other documentarians to explore. The main purpose seems to be to give deserved props (other than 8) to the hard-working campaign volunteers in San Francisco. The rest of the state is largely ignored, as is the opposition, other than to compare poll standings and show them holding signs. Phone bank volunteers try to persuade undecided voters with a script “written by experts who never lose,” but there’s no analysis of strategies and little mention of arguments from either side, other than opposing TV spots. After showing post-election depression, final titles report an upswing in public support for Marriage Equality since 2008 and bring us up-to-date with this year’s Supreme Court decision overturning Prop. 8.
F to 7th (** 1/2) (Sunday, October 4, 12:40 PM)
My inner lesbian responded to the first season of Ingrid Jungermann’s webseries, but it will speak louder to outer lesbians. Jungermann’s vignettes run four to six minutes each, usually pairing her with other actresses (Amy Sedaris, Gaby Hoffmann, etc.) The first is probably the weakest of the eight, as the filmmaker, a 40-ish, recently single lesbian talks to two male dog owners in a park. Other conversations are more revealing, as Ingrid resists being called “butch” or a “dyke,” but is quick to strap one on when the occasion calls for it. Finally she wakes up with her doppelganger and reveals that her “type” is “someone like myself, but a little softer.”
The Falls: Testament of Love (**) (Thursday, October 10, 6 PM)
The first half of the sequel to The Falls achieves the impossible: It made me root for an “ex-gay”! Chris (Benjamin Farmer) has a beautiful wife and cute, three-year-old daughter, and is close to his family and the Mormon church. Then RJ (Nick Ferrucci), his former mission companion with whom he fell in love but whom he’s been avoiding for five years, comes back into his life. RJ is in a relationship with a nice guy he doesn’t love. The way Ferrucci plays RJ, he shows happiness by looking clinically depressed instead of suicidal; he doesn’t seem like any kind of prize. He admits he never got over Chris and once they are reunited, Chris realizes he’s not over RJ. Chris tries to honor his commitments but RJ behaves like a classic homewrecker and the film adopts a “Be true to yourself” moral tone, which I would applaud under most circumstances. The overlong film is so dialogue-heavy it would work better on stage. I may not have previewed a final cut but I can’t imagine the amateurish lighting mistakes being correctable.
First Period (** ½) (Tuesday, October 8, 7:15 PM)
When a comedy tries as hard to please as “First Period,” it has to succeed sometimes. This movie is so over-the-top campy it’s almost superfluous that the lead female roles are played by men. Brandon Alexander III, who also wrote the screenplay, stars as Cassie, the new girl in school who has five days to become popular before her 16th birthday party. The only friend she makes is school outcast Maggie (Dudley Beene), but she instantly wins the enmity of the Heathers, whose hunky boyfriends are obviously more into each other than the girls, although that’s supposed to be a surprise at the end. There’s too much buildup for the anticlimactic Big Talent Contest, which has a dozen people in the audience, including the judges. It’s hard to hate this overambitious puppy dog of a movie, but sometimes you’ll wish it would stop licking you.
Free Fall (***) (Monday, October 7, 9 PM)
The German equivalent of a good Lifetime movie, “Free Fall” is a gender-reversal on the traditional story (“Lianna,” “Desert Hearts”) of a woman who discovers her lesbian nature after she’s settled into a hetero lifestyle. A bromance develops in police academy between Kay (Max Riemelt), who is gay, and Marc (Hanno Koffler), who lives with his pregnant girlfriend in a house his parents bought him next door to their own. They start having sex and eventually Kay presses for more, while Marc, now a father, goes into denial. Kay is outed, bringing out homophobia in many of his fellow officers. The story hits all the expected marks but keeps you guessing how it will end. Which relationship will Marc fight to maintain? Will he get to have it all or lose everything?
G.B.F. (***) (Thursday, October 3, 7:00 PM)
Director Darren Stein returns to the “campy John Hughes” territory of his 1998 breakthrough, “Jawbreaker,” with another socially-conscious high school comedy that’s sometimes silly, sometimes hilarious. North Gateway High has a Gay-Straight Alliance but no out gays. You’d think everyone would know about Brent (Paul Iacono), “the queeny one,” if not his BFF Tanner (Michael J. Willett), but if they do they respect the boys’ right to come out when they’re ready. Tanner is accidentally outed, but because we’re trendy he finds three girls fighting to get him for their Gay Best Friend (see title). Talented, “sassy black” Caprice, religious (Mormon) ‘Shley and bitchy (but secretly brainy) Fawcett lead the school’s largest cliques and are competing to be prom queen. They see Tanner as a desirable accessory. Megan Mullally plays Brent’s mother, who can’t wait for him to come out so she can be accepting.
Geography Club (***) (Friday, October 4, 5:20 PM)
Another 21st-century version of a John Hughes movie, or maybe a very special episode of “Glee,” “Geography Club” convincingly shows the pressures high school students are under: peer and parental, academic and athletic. Of course lesbian and gay teens have it worst of all, especially at Goodkind High, where their miniscule support group (including Alex Newell, “Glee’s” Unique, and Nikki Blonsky, “Hairspray’s” Tracy) masquerades as the Geography Club to avoid discovery. Russell (Cameron Deane Stewart) isn’t ready to come out until he’s kissed by football star Kevin (Justin Deeley, the current guardian angel on “Drop Dead Diva”); then Russell’s ready but Kevin isn’t. Some contemporary kids won’t believe school was ever like this, while others will be empowered to make sure it never is again.
Getting Go: The Go Doc Project (***) (Saturday, October 5, 9:10 PM)
“Getting Go: The Go Doc Project” is like “Magic Mike” remade as a mockumentary. It’s high praise when I say I couldn’t tell most of the time whether it’s the real thing, improvised or totally scripted. “Doc” (Tanner Cohen) is about to graduate college in New York and move to Iowa. He’s obsessed with “Go” (Matthew Camp), a go-go dancer, and sends him a message one drunken night asking him to be the subject of a documentary he’s making. When Go accepts (“I’ve always wanted my own personal Andy Warhol”) Doc has to borrow a camera and get to work. There are two challenges for filmmaker Cory Krueckeberg: waiting just the right amount of time until the inevitable moment when the guys fall into bed, and filling out the rest of the movie without making it seem anticlimactic. He succeeds at both, his only misstep being inserting homages to early Warhol that are as boring as the originals.
Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia (***) (Sunday, October 6, 11 AM)
There was always more to Gore Vidal (1925-2011) than just being gay, as there was to his 19th-century in-some-ways counterpart Oscar Wilde. Nicholas Wrathall’s documentary gives a balanced, entertaining look at all facets of the novelist (“The City and the Pillar,” “Myra Breckinridge”), politician, revisionist historian and social commentator who believed in “socialism for the rich and free enterprise for the poor.” Interviews are shown from various periods of Vidal’s life, along with clips of his TV appearances with famous sparring partners William F. Buckley and Norman Mailer. He cites a boy he met in prep school as the love of his life and, curiously, describes the more than half a century he spent with Howard Auster, who’s buried next to him, as a nonsexual relationship. Queer in every sense of the word, Vidal was never dull. Neither is this film.
The Happy Sad (** ½) (Monday, October 7, 7:25 PM)
Relationships were never simple, except in old sitcoms, but today’s screenwriters are making steroidal efforts to find new complications. With no vampires, werewolves or zombies mating with humans, “The Happy Sad” is almost old-fashioned. Marcus (Le Roy McClain) and Aaron (Charlie Barnett) are trying to open up their six-year relationship, while Annie (Sorel Carradine) and Stan (Cameron Scoggins) are trying to “take some time off” after six months together. Annie claims it’s because she’s experimenting with a woman friend, and her lie soon comes true. Stan becomes seriously involved with Marcus. We never see how they meet but with all this movie’s coincidental encounters you’d think New York has a population of about 250. There’s too much exposition in the dialogue but the acting is good, the characters relatable if not always admirable.
Hawaii (** ½) (Sunday, October 6, 8:50 PM)
“Hawaii” is frustrating enough to give blue balls to female viewers! If filmmaker Marco Berger wanted to recycle a title that had been used before, “The Big Tease” would have been a better choice. Eugenio (Manuel Vignau) and Martín (Matteo Chiarino) look in each other’s eyes and crotches for a full hour and a quarter before a little drunken groping threatens to get something going; but that’s a false alarm and there’s another half-hour to go. It wouldn’t be so bad if something else were happening, but “Hawaii” is a random collection of scenes of unconsummated sexual tension between the two men. Eugenio is a serious version of “the only gay in the village” in “Little Britain” sketches and Martín never questions his hermitlike existence or asks, “What’s there to do around here?” Despite a long list of things I disliked about “Hawaii,” I must admit to a certain fascination that kept me from being completely bored by it.
Hot Guys with Guns (**) (Friday, October 4, 9:05 PM)
Like a “Scary Movie,” “Hot Guys with Guns” takes a scattershot approach to spoofing various genres, starting pretty well with some film noir-style narration and a 007-inspired credit sequence; but what follows is neither noir nor Bond. It’s about two amateur detectives, with a little help from a professional, investigating a series of crimes against L.A.’s gay community. Someone is robbing a series of circuit orgies in the private homes of Hollywood hotshots too famous and closeted to report the thefts. Danny (Marc Anthony Samuel) is an actor studying detective work for a role. He isn’t over his ex, Pip (Brian McArdle), who assists him in his sleuthing. Pip still lives at home with his mother, although she and the miscast McArdle look about the same age. Samuel is the better actor, though a little low on personality. The hot guys are the extras in the orgy scenes but they get very little camera time. Despite better production values than many gay indies, Doug Spearman’s direction fails in some key scenes and the plot would work better in a one-hour TV episode than a movie almost twice that length.
I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole (** ½) (Thursday, October 3, 9:15 PM; Thursday, October 10, 2:30 PM)
Porn is like sausage: you enjoy it more if you don’t know what went into it. Knowing the details of Wakefield Poole’s life won’t enhance your appreciation of his classic films, “Boys in the Sand” and “Bijou,” but it may fill in some gaps in your knowledge of gay life in the 1970s and ‘80s. Poole narrates, essentially reading passages from his autobiography, “Dirty Poole,” and breaking into tears when a memory touches him. Jim Tushinski has assembled the film artfully, with a wealth of archival materials, including only softcore elements from Poole’s films, although a frontal shot of Bill Harrison from “Bijou” rivals the final shot of “Boogie Nights” – without prosthetics! Like many artists of his time, Poole dabbled in a number of pursuits – dancing and choreographing in ballet and on Broadway, collecting art, making films and consuming vast quantities of cocaine. After a 15-year day job to secure retirement benefits he seems to be enjoying his return to the limelight.
I Am Divine (***) (Saturday, October 5, 7:05 PM)
LGBT history is about more than struggle and disease. It’s also a world of entertainment, including the most outrageous. Jeffrey Schwarz’s documentary is nostalgia for the Stonewall Generation, bringing back memories of midnight movies that shocked us back when people could still be shocked. John Waters was “The Sultan of Sleaze.” His muse and biggest star was his Baltimore neighbor, known to his family and friends as Harris Glenn Milstead but known to the world as Divine. This entertaining film tracks Glenn’s story from a chubby, bullied kid to an international cult figure who had brought cross-dressing into the mainstream before dying too soon at 42. What’s most heartening is how many goals he was able to achieve in his short life, including hit records, off-Broadway shows and being accepted as a character actor who could play male roles as well as female.
Ian Harvie Superhero (***) (Thursday, October 10, 7 PM)
Why will an Out on Film audience be watching, let alone laughing hysterically at, a stand-up comic talking about having sex with his girlfriend? A) because he’s funny; B) for the guys, because he’s cute; and mainly C) because Ian Harvie is “the ‘T’ in LGBT.” A frequent opening act for the film’s executive producer, Margaret Cho, who’d better bring her A-game when she follows him, Harvie is personable, filthy and self-effacing but not self-deprecating. His solid hourlong set answers most of your F-to-M transgender questions in an amusing way before an appreciative audience in his Maine hometown. This would be one of my all-time favorite comedy concert films without the unnecessary ten minutes of post-show material tacked on.
I’m a Pornstar (** 1/2) (Friday, October 4, 11:15 PM)
Charlie David’s hyperkinetic, generally entertaining documentary sets the tone with a 12-minute history of gay pornography that’s interesting enough for you to wish it moved a little slower. Clips throughout are kept impossibly brief, perhaps because the producers were afraid to give away too much for free. The film focuses – if that word can be used when it jumps around so erratically – on four stars of 21st-century gay porn: Colby Jansen, Johnny Rapid, Rocco Reed and Brent Everett. Only the last is in a gay relationship in real life. There’s a lot of talk about how many straight men work in gay porn because the money’s better. There’s also debate about requiring condoms in porn, talk of the actors’ post-porn plans, discussions of misconceptions about pornstars and the (unlikely) possibility of their crossing over into mainstream films. The industry is made to sound so clean your own sex life will seem dirty by comparison.
Intersexion (***) (Monday, October 7, 4 PM)
Most of us check Male or Female when we fill out forms, even if some change sides along the way. “Intersexion” is an informative, moving documentary about the people who check “None…” or “All of the Above.” More than one in 2000 are born intersex (formerly known as hermaphrodites), a catch-all term for over 30 different conditions of “ambiguous genitalia,” including small penises, large clitorises and manginas. For decades doctors followed the theories of Dr. John Money, which involved surgical alterations to more closely resemble one gender or the other, then raising the child accordingly. Filmmaker Grant Lahood visits five countries on four continents with his narrator, Mani Mitchell (who looks like a bearded lady), to talk to intersex people, including Officer Dani-Lee Harris of the APD. Many have horror stories to tell but most seem happy and well-adjusted. Intersexion is a well-produced eye-opener.
Joy! Portrait of a Nun (* 1/2) (Thursday, October 10, 4:30 PM)
A documentarian, like a journalist, should give you the “Five W’s”: Who? What? Where? When? Why? Joe Balass fails on most counts in this – sketch? series of snapshots? definitely not a portrait – of “one of the founding mothers” of San Francisco’s order of gay male nuns, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Back in the day I knew him well enough to call him Fred when he was out of drag, but you won’t know until the closing credits he’s “Sister Missionary P. Delight.” Even his nickname, “Mish,” isn’t mentioned for half an hour. Since he used to be Sr. Missionary Position, how and when did that change? Is Delight his married name? He lives in a rustic Southern shack filled with “archives” (hoarder alert!) in an unidentified location, apparently part of a community of latter-day Radical Faeries. When did he leave SF? Why? It was before he starred in Milford Thomas’ “Claire” in 2001, but that’s not mentioned either.
Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution (** ½) (Monday, October 7, 5:40 PM)
Although Myriam Fougére describes her film as a record of her journeys in 1985 and 2010 to meet fellow lesbians in Quebec and the United States, the actual content is organized more by topic and jumps all over the place in time and geography, with about a third of the comments in subtitled French. Fougére fails to mention that by 1985 lesbian separatism was eroding as many women became caregivers to their gay brothers with HIV/AIDS. Infighting is acknowledged as some lesbians broke off from the Women’s Movement to form residential communities, choosing to withdraw from patriarchal society rather than fight to change it from within. Some women still had to fight racism and anti-Semitism from other lesbians. No one seems to see irony in trying to express their individuality by forming communities of like-minded people, and enough creative artists participate in the film that it seems like everyone has books or albums to promote.
Margarita (** ½) (Saturday, October 5, 11 AM)
What’s Canadian for telenovela? It may be “Margarita,” at once the most progressive and old-fashioned movie of the year. The retro aspect is the melodramatic plot. It could date back to the 1930s, when Dolores del Rio might have played the title role, a Mexican nanny working for a Toronto family. She’s lived with them for six years and her immigration status has never come up in conversation. Two people are vying for Margarita’s affection but the one she loves is commitment-shy. What brings “Margarita” into the 21st century is that the heroine is a lesbian. Her liberal employers don’t worry about her closeness with their 14-year-old daughter or her Sapphic pals coming over to use the hot tub, and the commitment her girlfriend resists is marriage. “Margarita” is competently made but too soapy for my taste.
Melting Away (***) (Sunday, October 6, 3:10 PM)
Any gay or transgendered man who ever had a mother will find something to relate to in “Melting Away,” Doron Eran’s Israeli drama that’s not as preposterous as some viewers will think. Hen Yanni stars as Anna, who was locked out of the house when his parents found their teenage son’s stash of women’s clothing. They thought he would come back but he didn’t, and four years later the father is dying of cancer. Anna has made a new life for herself, performing in a drag bar. In a subplot her gay best friend has a hot boyfriend but isn’t out to his mother. The main story is about how Anna reconnects with her family. Trust me, there will be weeping in the theater.
Meth Head (***) (Wednesday, October 9, 7:30 PM)
Lukas Haas gives a career-best performance, both as a gay man and in the title role of a “Meth Head.” Jane Clark’s film echoes many other cautionary tales, from the anti-drug hysteria of “Reefer Madness” – this might be called “Tweaker Madness” – to “Less than Zero,” where hustling was as low as a straight man could go, to the recent “Keep the Lights On,” about a gay relationship strained by one of the men becoming an addict. Kyle (Haas) and Julian (Wilson Cruz) are planning to marry when they encounter Dusty (Blake Berris), a hot dealer, passing out free samples at an anti-meth benefit. They both try it but only Kyle gets hooked, beginning a downward spiral that seems endless. While the film feels a lot longer than it is, it’s well-acted, generally believable and avoids preachiness by showing rather than telling.
Mr. Angel (***) (Tuesday, October 8, 6:30 PM)
Sorry, founding fathers, but all men are not created equal. Some are born with vaginas. “Mr. Angel” may be TMI F2M for some viewers, while others will welcome it as a well-made portrait of a personable gentleman who represents a rare shade on the gender spectrum. However Buck Angel will tell you he represents only himself, “a man with a pussy.” Most aspects of his life are so well documented, including home movies from Buck’s girlhood, Dan Hunt didn’t have to shoot a lot of new footage. Buck came out to her parents as a lesbian, had a career as a female model, recovered from addiction, had chest surgery and hormone therapy, was an award-winning pornstar and moved to Mexico with his wife Elayne, author of “The Piercing Bible.” Generally upbeat, Buck seems only mildly disappointed that puritanical America wasn’t ready to see him have sex with M2F co-stars. The only time he shows anger is when he’s booked on Tyra Banks’ show without being told the theme is “Sexual Oddities.”
The New Black (***) (Tuesday, October 8, 8 PM)
Yoruba Richen’s documentary focuses on last year’s passage of a marriage equality referendum in Maryland to show how the African American community is evolving on the issue, just as Pres. Obama did. This was four years after 70 percent of black California voters upheld Prop. 8’s ban on same-sex marriage, but after Obama, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and the NAACP voiced support for marriage equality. The film allows both sides to be heard, including the conservative black churches exploited by Prop. 8 backers, and shows family gatherings and neighborhood meetings where conflicting opinions are voiced. An interesting segment shows gospel singer Tonéx coming out and Donnie McClurkin freaking out. The point is made that Mormons and Catholics came into California to drive a wedge between LGBTs and the black community, whose support we took for granted, while in Maryland some black leaders pushed marriage equality as a civil rights issue.
Pit Stop (***) (Saturday, October 5, 11:20 AM)
For fans of Nora Ephron’s “Sleepless in Seattle” and Claude Lelouch’s “And Now My Love,” “Pit Stop” is another film that follows the individual journeys of predestined lovers until their paths intersect. In a small Texas town Gabe (Bill Heck) maintains a family with his ex-wife and their young daughter, but they’re free to follow individual pursuits. Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda) is forcing his much younger lover to leave the nest after two years. Adjust to the town’s slow pace and you can appreciate the two stories until they become one (with a gratuitous sex scene thrown in for commercial insurance). Director and co-writer Yen Tan won me over with “Ciao” and “Pit Stop” confirms him as a filmmaker overdue for a huge breakthrough.
Reaching for the Moon (** ½) (Wednesday, October 9, 7:15 PM)
Reaching for the Moon might have been made in 1951, when its story begins, if they had made movies then about lesbian triangles without substituting a man for the woman in the middle. Miranda Otto even looks like Susan Hayward, who might have played Elizabeth Bishop then. A renowned poet (I had to look her up too), she goes to Brazil to visit Vassar classmate Mary (Tracy Middendorf), who is living with Lota (Gloria Pires). Soon the shy, uptight New Yorker has replaced Mary in Lota’s affections and settled in, while Lota helps Mary adopt a child to keep her around too. What could go wrong, right? Surprisingly little for several years, it turns out, until Elizabeth becomes an alcoholic and Mary a bitch. Well-acted and beautifully filmed, the movie’s weak point is the screenplay, adapted from a novel based on Bishop’s life.
Remember to Breathe (***) (in Women’s Shorts, Saturday, October 5, 12:45 PM)
Lee Meriwether peaks as an actress in the vanity-free role of a legendary nightclub singer who lives a Norma Desmondesque existence, visited only by a young lesbian (Leigh Ann Larkin) she’s mentoring and the ghost of her late partner (Susan Blakely).
The Rugby Player (***) (Saturday, October 5, 1 PM)
It concerns me that some 9/11 commemorations are less about remembering the dead than spreading hatred of Muslim extremists or, by extension, all Muslims. There’s no fear of that in “The Rugby Player,” a loving tribute to Mark Bingham (1970-2001), the gay passenger on United Flight 93 who helped keep the hijacked plane from reaching its intended target in Washington. It’s also a loving tribute to his mother, Alice Hoagland, who raised him, loved him, accepted him and took up his causes – our causes – after he died. After enough talk of Flight 93 to establish Mark’s identity, the film’s first half-hour focuses on his early life, up to his coming out. He played rugby in high school, in college and on a gay team in San Francisco. He was in a relationship for over six years but died single, and a hero.
Seventh-Gay Adventists (***) (Wednesday, October 9, 3:30 PM)
This surprisingly low-key film details the spiritual journeys of two gay men and one lesbian who were raised in the Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) church. Their stories are intercut so you don’t get bored. Marcos had a wife and two children in Brazil, where he was an SDA pastor until the church learned he was gay and fired him. His son lives in San Francisco with Marcos and his partner. They find a welcoming religious group, Second Wind, but it disbands. Sherri and her partner are raising two daughters in Ohio. Preached against in Sherri’s former church, they found a congregation that accepted them but aren’t sure what will happen when a new pastor takes over. Like the others, twentysomething David went through a period of trying to pray away the gay. He meets Colin and moves from Kansas to Canada to be with him. The best outcome for all three, who still cling to their faith, is to find acceptance but not approval in a faith community. It’s maddening that no one mentions MCC or the SDA’s own LGBT affinity group, Kinship, either of which would let them feel better about themselves while still connecting to God.
Solo (Alone) (***) (Friday, October 4, 11:20 PM)
“Solo” is a Gotcha! movie that got me. Despondent over a recent breakup, Manuel (Patricio Ramos) meets Julio (Mario Verón), a chatroom hookup, and brings him home. Julio, unemployed and homeless, sends up all kinds of red flags Manuel ignores. Maybe things are different in Argentina? One minute Manuel’s asking Julio to leave, the next they’re loading a U-Haul faster than a lesbian couple. Is this a romance or a thriller? With the two hot men lying around naked for most of the film’s central hour, you may not care; but when “Solo” gets where it’s going it’s worth the trip. Expect big things from first-time filmmaker Marcelo Briem Stamm.
Southern Baptist Sissies (***) (Wednesday, October 9, 9:15 PM)
Fans of “Sordid Lives” have doubtless bought their tickets to Del Shores’ latest, which should ensure a sellout. Being a film of a Los Angeles stage production has its disadvantages but gives you closeups of actors crying real tears that the theater audience may have missed. It’s about four boys growing up gay in a Baptist church in Dallas, TX, and you know what that means. Mark (Emerson Collins) questions everything he hears in church. Benny (William Belli) floats above it all on a pair of high heels. Andrew (Matthew Scott Montgomery) believes it all and hates himself. TJ (Luke Stratte-McClure) believes it and fights temptation the “ex-gay” way. There are enough of Shores’ fabulous one-liners to make you think you’re watching a comedy, but there’s a lot of seriousness too, especially toward the end. When things get too heavy Shores cuts to Leslie Jordan and Dale Dickey as a couple of barflies, but even they have serious moments. There’s still potential for an actual film adaptation, but it’s better to see “SBS” this way than not at all.
Tell No One (***) (Sunday, October 6, 11 AM)
If National Coming Out Day ever goes international, “Tell No One” will be the perfect movie to screen that day. It’s an Italian comedy about a youth struggling to come out to his family. Flashbacks show Mattia (Josafat Vagni) being bullied in school, kissing his first boy, going to his first gay bar and being befriended by the reigning drag queen, attempting unsuccessfully to come out to his divorced parents and overly fertile sister, and falling in love with Eduard, whom he’s moving to Madrid to live with. In fact today is moving day. But first Mattia has to come out because he’s told Eduard he already has and Eduard is coming to his farewell dinner to meet the folks. It’s classic farce material, very well executed for the most part. A word of warning: The actors speak rapidly, which sometimes means you’ll be speed-reading the subtitles; but knowing the basic plot you could probably skip them altogether and still follow and enjoy the movie.
Test (***) (Sunday, October 6, 5 PM)
I had a love/hate relationship with Test as I was watching it, but I ended up on the love side. The main character, Frankie (Scott Marlowe) performs with a small modern dance company in San Francisco. About half of the film’s first hour is devoted to scenes of dancers exercising, rehearsing and performing. Plot fragments are interspersed: Frankie’s verbal sparring with another dancer, Todd (Matthew Risch), that would lead to love if this were a romcom; a bar pickup that leads to seconds; the understudy getting his big break. Because it’s 1985, the specter of AIDS hangs over everything; and writer-director Chris Mason Johnson captures the era as accurately as David Weissman did in the documentary “We Were Here”: the paranoia, the threat of quarantine, the introduction of condoms (“These things are going to end sex forever”) to our sex lives and the HIV test.
Truth (**) (Saturday, October 5, 11:20 PM)
“Truth” features more telegraphing than Western Union in its heyday. The first few seconds, with a closeup of crazed eyes and a hand grabbing a large knife, could come from another “Psycho” remake. There’s a lot of flashing back and forth but once we settle into a story we have a long wait for those eyes and that knife to get down to business. A psychiatrist (Blanche Baker) is interviewing Caleb (Sean Paul Lockhart) in prison. Caleb claims he doesn’t know why he’s there, but agrees to tell his story “from the beginning.” Though we go further back to explore his abandonment issues, life basically began for Caleb when he met and fell in love with Jeremy (writer-director Rob Moretti). The men lie around naked a lot discussing their miserable childhoods (but in eight months Caleb never wonders where Jeremy lives) before “Truth” becomes a somewhat more effective horror film than it was a romance.
Two: The Story of Roman & Nyro (**) (Wednesday, October 9, 5:30 PM)
It’s good for the cause to show that families with two daddies or two mommies can be as boring as any other, but some home movies should be kept at home. Even with celebrity guest appearances (Jon Bon Jovi, Deepak Chopra), this well-meaning documentary comes across as a real-life version of “The New Normal,” but without the humor. Desmond Child, a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Curtis Shaw Child have been together 22 years in the film’s present-day. In 2001 they decided they wanted a child and lined up Angela Whittaker to serve as a surrogate. The conception, pregnancy and delivery of twins, Roman and Nyro, are all shown in detail, with photos, home movies and videos covering all aspects of the lives of the three parents and two sons. Political points that should speak for themselves are spoken aloud, many times. The Shaw Childs are a lovely family but I didn’t need to know them so well.
Valentine Road (***) (Tuesday, October 1, 7:00 PM, at the Rush Center)
School shootings have become so common it usually takes multiple victims to get national attention. The February 2008 Oxnard California killing of 15-year-old Larry King by 14-year-old Brandon McInerney was unusual in many ways. Larry, who was gay or transgender and wore high heels and makeup to school, had embarrassed Brandon by asking him to be his valentine in front of his friends. Brandon came to school with a gun from his father’s home arsenal and shot Larry. Marta Cunningham’s documentary tells the story well, though it could have been tightened up a bit. You may think it’s too balanced for an LGBT festival, but with the tide going our way we need to be reminded of the homophobic attitudes and rationalizations out there, lest we grow too complacent.
Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf? (**) (Monday, October 7, 7 PM)
I fell in love with Guinevere Turner in 1994 when I saw “Go Fish,” an amateurish but endearing indie film about a group of lesbians. Most of the cast quickly abandoned acting careers but almost 20 years later Turner’s back in another amateurish indie film about a group of lesbians. Having continued to develop as an actor, she stands out like a healthy thumb among the cast, even veteran Carrie Preston. This is a vanity project for producer-director-star Anna Margarita Albelo, who also conceived the semi-autobiographical story about an indie filmmaker turning 40 and trying to reach her annual goals of making a film, losing 20 pounds and getting a girlfriend. Incredibly, none of the women are attached, leaving open all kinds of romantic possibilities; but the focus is on Anna (Albelo), whose self-pitying, self-destructive behavior (including chain smoking) wins her no sympathy here.