Wednesday, June 22, 2005

29th SF Intl. LGBT Film Fest - Day 6

It's sort of scary, now. I'm in the groove! I walked into the Castro theatre at 11:15 a.m. and didn't leave until 11:45 p.m. (Well, there was a brief pasta run at 3 p.m.) But do not fear! It was NOT a day of 35 short subjects! Just 6 features (and one short). And I wasn't alone through it all. markosf , Andy, Bong and Bob H. were there at one or more films at some point.

"Just for Leather" (dir Lawrence Ferrara 2004 USA 5 min video) is an ok little vignette about how a newbie acquires his first pair of leather pants. ;-) It preceded the first of three documentaries of the day:

"Original Pride: The Satyrs Motorcycle Club" (dir Scott Bloom 2005 USA 56 min video) This is a documentary about the possibly oldest gay social club. In a way, it is a significant document of gay history as it spans the 50 years of the club's existence. It possesses an archive of photos, films and oral history. It is focused on The Satyrs, almost exclusively, which might limit its audience appeal. But the director's technique is so academic (almost patronizingly so), that the film will probably only be shown in Gay/Lesbian Studies. That's not to say it is completely without entertainment value, however, if it weren't for some of the more salacious subject matter, it's a pretty droll hour. The next documentary was anything BUT droll...

"Same Sex America" (dirs Henry Corra & Charlene Rule 2005 USA 89 min video) This chronicled the situation in Massachusettes as it began to issue same-sex marriage licenses. Though there is no doubt where the intent of the directors lie, they were able to get a generous amount of interviews and footage from both sides of the issue, which only added to the emotional drama of the piece. The primary subjects are a half dozen couples who begin planning their weddings immediately after the news that the Massachusettes Supreme Judical Court ordered the state to begin issuing licenses. The drama of the film is only elevated by following the several attempts by the legislature and eventually, the governor to pass an amendment banning same sex marriage. The footage of the utter chaos at the state capitol during the debates is extraordinary! The building was jammed with protesters from both sides of the issue, just blaring away. It gave the whole process a surreal, if not circus like atmosphere. There are more than just a few touching moments involving the couples, as well as a fabulous interview with a single lesbian who speaks of her wishes and dreams of a wedding, though it is against her parents' ideology. The documentary is a very emotionally based appeal on behalf of same-sex marriage. What I wish it did, however, was explain in concrete terms, the civil rights involved. It does not provide examples of what is lacking in terms of the couples rights who are without that marriage certificate, i.e. property rights, death benefits, etc. What it does focus on is the emotional impact of the weddings on the participants. I will admit that this sort of pushed one of my buttons. Marriage isn't exactly on my 'agenda', however, I do believe it is something that if you want it, go get it. However, by playing up the emotional aspect of the weddings, the focus of same-sex marriage was presented as a validation of the relationships, which I do not believe is the point of changing the law. That is my hesitation in unconditionally praising this moving documentary. Perhaps the directors felt that an emotional appeal might be more effective than a legal analysis of the status of 'partnerships' in this country. The film is produced by Showtime, so I assume it'll be airing sometime this summer. The next documentary was probably as 180 degrees from 'weddings' as you can get:

"Gay Sex in the 70s" (dir Joseph Lovett 2005 USA 68 min video) This was exclusively focussed on gay sex in New York City in the years after Stonewall up until the AIDS epidemic broke out. It is very much like Marc Huestis' "Sex Is..." except that there is a great deal of film and photographs from that period, which adds a nice visual element. (Huestis' "Sex Is..." is basically all 'talking heads'.) Interviewees include the photographer Tom Bianchi and "writer/activist" Larry Kramer, whose book "Faggots" is referenced and quoted in the description of Fire Island. The film traces the more, how shall I say, riskier ways guys were having sex (i.e. the piers, the meat packing district, etc.), through the peak of the 'bathhouse era' and includes the excitement of the discos (Studio 54 and The Saint). It then details how it so dramatically changed in 1981, after the initial breakout of the 'gay cancer'. Overall, the film is titillating and waxes nostalgic (some of the guys literally glow when they reminisce!) about a short, yet dramatic era in gay history. The subject matter here, just as in the Satyr documentary, will probably limit its audience. However, the amount of archive material and its unapologetic manner does give it some historical significance. At least in my opinion. ;-) From these three fairly earnest documentaries, we launch into total narrative fluff with:

"Formula 17" (dir D.J. Chen 2004 Taiwan 93 min 35mm in Cantonese, English & Mandarin with English subtitles - except for the 8th reel!! ack!) This felt like it was written by Russel T. Davies ("Queer As Folk")! I found it charming and, yes, cute! And almost cute in an icky way, but after three hours of documentaries, this was the perfect little piece of fun! A newcomer to Taipei enters a dizzying miasma of friends who decide that they are going to get him laid. But he is holding out for love. Yes, it is totally predictable, plot wise. However, I found some of the performances charming and quite comically gifted! I don't know if I were to see it again, I might not be able to take it, but for today, it was just right. Even losing the subtitles in the 8th reel didn't lessen my enjoyment, unlike some other audience members. ("Rewind it!" - ??!! gawd!)

"Wilby Wonderful" (dir Daniel MacIvor 2004 Canada 99 min 35mm) This was what "Happy Endings" could have been, as far as I'm concerned. It features a large ensemble, multiple plot lines, and even though it becomes high farce at one point, I never doubted the characters' needs to press on! Sandra Oh does a nearly brilliant (yes, the "B" word!) job as an extremely high-strung real estate agent, who has no limits to what she will do to close a deal! The climax of her storyline was hysterical! She is just amazing. The rest of the cast and plots are understated in comparison, but do not lose interest. In fact, they balance the piece out rather well. The film is set in a SMALL town in Nova Scotia, so everyone knows everyone else, which is really the center of the 'drama.' There is a plot line involving a closeted gay man who is determined to commit suicide, though he is consistently foiled. This plot though is fairly incidental to the whole, which makes it sort of an odd entry for THIS festival. However, it is exceptionally well written and produced and deserves as much exposure as it can get. The film received theatrical distribution in Canada, however it will be released direct-to-video here. I plan to find it and get it! I also plan on obtaining a copy of the final program of the day:

"Kiki and Herb On The Rocks" (dir Mike Nicholls UK 2005 65 min video) It's a documentary! Really! It follows the near legendary lounge-act-on-acid that is 'Kiki and Herb' as they prepare to perform their act in London. Kiki (Justin Bond) and Herb (Kenny Mellman) remain in character for the entirety of the documentary, so it is hard to not call it a 'mockumentary' except that their personas are so finely etched (like the wrinkles on Kiki's face!) that it feels completely real. Kiki and Herb arrive in London, jet lagged and ready to step on stage of where they will be performing, but not before finding some much needed whiskey. ("You don't want to see Herb get the shakes, now do you?!") Unfortunately, Kiki thinks they will be performing at The Palace, where "Les Miserables" just closed a month before, and not the pub-cabaret-boat on the Thames, where they are actually booked. They are also given a tour of London, in which Kiki expresses her own special 'appreciation' of the city. ("The Ritz? You'd think they would have closed it after what they did to that princess.") There's lots of footage of Kiki getting incredibly drunk, some footage of the actual act, an absolutely classic scene at the after-show party, and of course, lots of footage of Kiki basically arguing with everyone she comes into contact with. She's a JOY! :-)

That's it for today. Tomorrow is another 11-11! woo hoo!!

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