Full coverage of the Seattle Gay and Lesbian film festival can be found here.
Yesterday’s onslaught of emotional movies was unrelenting and left me drained today. By the end of Lyle, I was the closest to a wreck one could be. Essentially, I crammed 9 hours of emotional film into a 12 hour time span. So, the last thing I really wanted to do today was see a movie I had been excited about since I got the program. But…fuck, I had to see it.
Children 404 documents a website in Russia where queer youth can go and anonymously stand and be counted. The Children 404 website is the brainchild of Elena Klimova, who started the project after her and her girlfriend were both fired from their job for being in a discrete homosexual romantic relationship. If you’re an American who doesn’t quite know everything about Russian anti-gay law, Children 404 isn’t made especially for you. It makes brief mention of the Russian laws, but Children 404 isn’t the type of movie to outline all of the laws and how they came to be.
Instead, Children 404 is a Russian documentary made for Russians about the pain that queer children face because of the institutionalized homophobia. Because there are anti-homosexual-propaganda laws, the documentary is as renegade as the website was, filming people without permits, no signed releases, no blurred faces, and just pure raw reality. Directors Askold Kurov and Pavel Loparev follow a few queer teenagers around to experience their lives and the oppression they face. Pasha has finalized his plans to escape Russia and move to Canada. One girl has vowed to stay in Russia to help fight. A woman in the country provides a safe house for abandoned gay youth.
Even though Children 404 is a Russian doc made for Russians, it still holds some purpose for Americans. First, it captures raw blunt homophobia in ways that are rarely experienced in North American big cities. Second, it reminds us of how far we’ve come as a country. Third, it serves as a reminder that bullying and homophobia isn’t just a random phenomenon that comes out of nowhere, but is an attitude indoctrinated from the top down, thus necessitating the constant language monitoring of our civic and religious leaders. And, finally, it’s a document that somewhat reminds us that America was like this not too long ago. There is no answer provided by Children 404. The directors don’t have a call to action. This is a smart enough doc to let the viewer make up their mind about what they just witnessed instead of beating them over the head with “This is bad.”
The first centerpiece of the festival, Blackbird, breaks the usual white middle- or working-class coming out story by being about an African American teenager in the religious deep south. Director Patrik-Ian Polk (Noah’s Arc, The Skinny) made a gay coming out film in the image of the Southern Baptist message film. Set in Hattiesburg, MS, Randy is a choir boy, drama student, and a religiously repressed homosexual. He knows what he is, his friends know what he is, people he meets know what he is, but his church tells him to repress it because it’s a sin.
Polk’s adaptation of the first novel in Duplechan’s book series changes many of the novel’s elements, including placing Randy in a broken home where the kidnapping of his sister tore apart his parents’ marriage. Polk touches on issues ranging from sex to STDs and abortions to interracial relationships to southern oppression. Although the characters and storytelling are frequently reduced to rote archetypes, the essential core of the film is rooted in earlier films that deal in the exact same characters and storytelling arcs.
While newcomer Julian Walker adeptly manages through the various emotional demands of the film, Isaiah Washington steals every scene he’s in as the estranged father. Even Mo’nique’s third-act powerhouse performance as Randy’s religious mother doesn’t stand up to Washington’s quiet fatherly dignity. The re-imagining of the coming out story makes Blackbird feel fresh, new, and deeply affecting. Blackbird might be the rare gay film to cross over into a more mainstream consciousness. But, I could just be dreaming.
Folsom Forever is two documentaries clashing against each other. The first documentary is the now-common commercial-as-documentary, similar to Kink‘s adoration of Kink.com and The Armory. This section of Folsom Forever notes the kinky sexuality that defines the annual Folsom Street Fair, the music and activities, and the community welfare that the Folsom Festival generates and donates. These sections function as just a big commercial that doesn’t delve too far into kink play or salaciousness. The second documentary is the sociopolitical history of SOMA and how Folsom Street Fair ties into it.
The current stereotype of Folsom is that it is just a big old touristy kinky scene where the true kinksters come out to do deviant acts for the ogling eyes of the vanilla public. Folsom Forever tries to break that stereotype by laying out Folsom’s history as a neighborhood fair that was meant to raise money for AIDS and human service charities while raising awareness of the neighborhood’s gentrification as bathhouses, leather bars, and leather stores shut down left and right. There are also political issues of the history of kink in the gay community. These histories are unfortunately sandwiched between two big chunks of Folsom commercial, and the final product feels like a Frankenstein’s monster or a bait-and-switch. A little bit more time in the editing room would have helped Folsom Forever feel more singular.
Shorts! I worked in two shorts packages today: Boys Shorts and Out. The Boys Shorts program was something else. Outside the absolutely adorable Australian bear short, Word of the Day, and the Colby Keller-starring Seattle-erotic film Zolushka, the Boys Shorts were generally really bitchy…in the best way possible. The title for this post was actually inspired by the Boys Shorts program, where five of the films exploited gay stereotypes and sometimes turned them on themselves. The Disgustings features two bitchy self-absorbed assholes who set out to make everybody else as miserable as they are. Dinner at 40 exploits bitchy insecurity about being old. God I Hope I Get It exploits the worst of our stereotype by having auditions for being a guy’s next faghag. Gaysian confronts physical stereotyping, but never actually actively criticizes (and almost endorses it). If We Took A Holiday had a friend’s birthday present be dressing up as Madonna and indulging in a day consisting of all of the Madge stereotypes (including Taco Truck Bonita, the new version of Fajita Roundup). While there were no duds in Boys Shorts, I wasn’t prepared for the mountain of cliches, and the only occasional subversion of those cliches, this collection dealt out.
On the other hand, I was fully preparing myself to hate the Out shorts, but they were all brilliantly subversive. From the all-too-short animated transitioning short Teagan to the I-can’t-believe-that-was-only-30-minutes Alone With People about a girl who struggles to come out, the Out Shorts were all insightful and moving, and frequently heavy. Like, really heavy. How do you come out as Poz the first time (The Package)? What happens when you and your hetero friend find out you really like each other (Tomorrow)? What happens when you get in too deep at somebody else’s party (Thru Her Eyes)? Somebody in Children 404 said that people think children are just mindless plants to care for, when really they have a lot to say. I found myself thinking over that quote throughout this program.