OUT ON FILM: It's not just for gays and lesbians anymore
While recent breakthrough films (Boys Don't Cry, Velvet Goldmine) and TV series ("Ellen," "Will and Grace") show how gay-themed entertainments can attract mainstream audiences, many potentially cross-over films often seem unfairly ghettoized in the gay film festival circuit, where they may play to a narrower market. While such festivals are important for building solidarity, inspiring artists in the gay community and honoring filmmakers, it is troubling to think that mainstream audiences, who most need films that treat homosexuality as an ordinary storytelling feature and not some esoteric special interest concern, may be missing out on some important, challenging films. As Nicola Shindler, executive producer of the ground-breaking, cross-over British drama "Queer as Folk," notes, "We didn't think ... 'this will be the first gay drama,' because we never saw it as a gay drama. What we saw it as was a drama about gay people. And I think that's what's resonated with so much of the audience."
One of the strongest examples of a film with cross-over appeal in Out on Film, IMAGE Film and Video Center's 13th annual gay and lesbian film festival, is Revoir Julie (Julie & Me), screening Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m. This captivating, fiendishly clever Canadian film treats its lesbian characters less as political archetypes and more as vivacious, quirky people.
After a nasty breakup, Juliet (Stephanie Morgenstern) hits the road in search of some emotional healing in the form of childhood friend Julie (Dominique Leduc), whom she hasn't seen in 15 years. Director Jeanne Crepeau — whose film suggests a cross between Jane Campion and Eric Rohmer — has a fantastically bent visual imagination. She abruptly inserts stodgy vintage nature shows and educational footage (on subjects from the Canadian maple syrup harvester to local foliage) into her story of the reunion of Juliet and Julie at the latter's bucolic farmhouse. The leads are terrifically appealing and quirky, and it's their slightly nutty sensibilities that seem to dictate Crepeau's oddball approach to storytelling.
A film about the hidden agendas behind friendships, Revoir Julie is a beautifully observed, psychologically complicated tale of two unique, sexy, terrifically real women.
Some of the best work in this year's Out on Film is its series of short films, especially the anthology program First Love and Other Pains (Sept. 30 at 4 p.m.), which the programmers have designated "a collection of short films for male audiences." Girls may like them, too. From "South Park" style shock animation in the amusingly bawdy (though tinged with viciousness) homo-revisitation of Greek myth "The Rape of Ganymede" to Bryan Jackson's haunting re-editing of a Disney kid's adventure into a veiled homosexual love story, this assortment of edgy, eclectic shorts treats issues of sexual awakening ("Birthday Time," "Something Close to Heaven"), gay-bashing ("The Prom Queen") and the cold-hearted bureaucracy of AIDS organizations ("Lost Cause").
Documentaries compose a large portion of Out on Film's program, though their quality and appeal differ wildly. Two of the stand-outs are a PBS-sponsored doc Our House: A Very Real Documentary about Kids of Gay & Lesbian Parents and a behind-the-scenes look at the British TV phenomenon "Queer as Folk."
An array of families from sophisticated Manhattanites to an isolated Arkansas family are interviewed in Our House (Sept. 30 at 2 p.m.) as they discuss their feelings about their nontraditional home lives and society's response to it. Most of the stories are uplifting, showing both the resilience of children to cope with a hostile world and the ability of non-gay communities to accept these "alternative" families. Other stories in Our House are less comforting and demonstrate the still vicious strain of hate fostered in small towns and especially churches, which justify discrimination and cruelty as "God's law."
Director Meema Spadola has managed to locate some fascinating, diverse families for the project, though her line of questioning can, at times, be laughably dense, as when she asks 9-year-old Jessica, an adopted child living with two gay daddies in a posh slice of Long Island, "What do you think about gay rights issues?" The mystified little girl offers the kind of response you'd expect to hear from a child: "I don't even know what that means." The exchange makes it clear some battles are just too heavy to place on children's shoulders. Spadola is often so close to her agenda she loses sight of plain logic as when she asks several of the children to ponder the depths of their parents' relationships — a super-ick subject no child (of gay or straight parents) wants to consider.
The Boys of Manchester: On the Set of "Queer as Folk" (Sept. 30 at 6 p.m.), a slickly made documentary about the taboo-breaking, wildly popular (with gay men and straight women) British television hit, interviews the cast and creators of this series set in the cozy Manchester gay community. With its amazingly detailed sex scenes, which shed new light on the proverbially clueless hetero question — "What do you all do?" — and sexy young cast, "Queer as Folk" seems light years ahead of "cutting
Unfortunately, this unique show, created by hip gay Manchester lad Russell T. Davies and his equally with-it executive producer Nicola Shindler, is headed to America to be remade by Hollywood hack director Joel Schumacher (8 MM), who will surely suck every drop of originality out of the show. The IMAGE festival will also feature the final installment in the "Queer as Folk" series.
Another double bill of docs feature women who've made forays into male-dominated careers, the short "The Single Most Feminist Thing" (Sept. 29 at 9:30 p.m.) is a mostly miss-able, babbling film about a woman metal worker, a woman sound recordist and a woman bicycle mechanic talking about their nontraditional occupations. But stick around for the real draw in this cinematic double whammy, "Red Rain," a ballsy verité answer to the upcoming Sundance femme-pugilist hit Girlfight. The film features the immediately likeable tough girl boxer Gina "Boom Boom" Guidi in mullet cut and tattooed body, talking about her life outside the ring as a lesbian and her training schedule as she works toward the Women's Junior Welterweight World Championship. Equally engaging are Gina's supportive, scrappy family, her tough-as-nails single mother and two brothers, who make up this fierce clan.
These documentaries all manage to offer informative, entertaining slants on unique gay lives and issues. Less thrilling choices on the documentary roster are the convoluted, sermon-dry Call to Witness (Oct. 1 at 4 p.m.) about the struggle between openly gay Lutheran pastors to be ordained by the intolerant national church bureaucracy. Another misfire is the unimaginatively made doc But I Was a Girl ... : The Story of Frieda Belinfante (Oct. 1 at 6 p.m.), a portrait of a lesbian orchestra conductor from Holland who served heroically during WWII in the Dutch resistance. Tony Boumans' is the kind of film that affirms why some viewers would rather have their eyes gouged out with hot pokers than see a documentary.
On a far lighter, frivolous note, this year's Out on Film follows last year's campy choice Boom! with the equally hootable adaptation of paperback tramp Jacqueline Susann's ticky-tacky scandal sheet, 1967's Valley of the Dolls (Sept. 29 at 10 p.m.), about pill poppin' nuts and sluts living the show-bizy high life in a film with more punch than a handful of amphetamines tossed back with a screwdriver chaser.