Full coverage of the Seattle Gay and Lesbian film festival can be found here.
Due to having seen 2 of the movies in today’s lineup, 3 of my 5 screenings today were shorts programs. The first movie I had already seen was The Muppet Movie, intended for families. Yes, The Muppet Movie is good, but I really dislike seeing movies with little kids. If the extremely loud kid who would periodically shout at his parental unit during the first hour of 52 Tuesdays was any indication, I really did not want to see a movie intended for the kids instead of the adults. Also, parents, please don’t take your kids to see a grown up drama at a film festival if they can’t control their volume. If they continue for more than 15 minutes, take them home. Don’t see if maybe the wings of the theater (or the hallways in the case of the multiplex) is better. It isn’t. I understand that, in some cases, this might be the only time to see a movie with our people in a big crowd, but that just means you’re ruining the movie for our people. /rant
Fortunately, in the 7 days of screening movies at the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, that has been the only incident of children. There was one incident where a guy was checking his watch, and every time he made the watch light up, the watch would let out a beep, and when he would make it go dark it emitted another loud beep, but a couple of well placed glares and a “REALLY?” got him to cut that out. So, considering the number of screenings I have been in, interruptions have been very few and far between.
The second movie I had previously seen was the excellent The Circle, a faction docupic cross over about a gay erotica magazine published and distributed in 1950s Zurich, and the community that developed around it. The magazine, The Circle, had a mailing list around the world and would throw quarterly balls for all the queer people to come, gather, socialize, and have fun as themselves. After a couple of hustler killings rocked the community, the police finally had an excuse to go gay bashing, and it all plays out. The historical is intercut with a present-day interview of two sweet older gentlemen, Ernst and Robi, who met while they were close to the inner workings of The Circle. The format of The Circle, mixing an extended interview with a re-enactment, could have been cheap, but it is just so extremely well done. The story is fascinating, the interview subjects are adorable, the production is fantastic, and overall this was one of my SIFF favorites.
The first program of shorts I saw was In With the New Out: Web Series Panel, which featured episodes of 5 different ongoing web series: He’s With Me, Capitol Hill, Wallflowers, Kelsey, and Where the Bears Are. While the closest series to my taste was Where the Bears Are and He’s With Me (gay intentional camp and Curb Your Enthusiasm awkwardness, respectively), what struck me about these is how close to a personal vision each of them are. The quirkiness of the shows (especially the Seattle-based Capitol Hill, which I don’t entirely get), are hardly watered down for mass consumption. The individuality of the various shorts are evidence that web series are more starting to become more interesting than much of the network fodder (and for shorter times, as the longest episode in this series was 14 minutes).
The panel itself was fascinating as it detailed the current struggles and woes of trying to figure out marketing and finances of making a web series on your own. Since it is still a very young market, the web series have to figure out a way to grab an audience while still not compromising their vision. One example outside this panel’s scope was the saga of the Sifl and Olly relaunch in 2012, where they even started on a channel (Machinima) and then got shuffled to another channel (Nerdist) before they were cancelled again. It’s a rough market out there, even if you are self-financed. Several of the directors have separate jobs to finance the web series, so its not lucrative (yet) but it is fun.
The second program of shorts was the Reel Queer Youth program, which highlighted four films made during a Seattle-based youth camp and a handful of other films made by young new filmmakers. The first four films were obviously labors of love that were working with both limited time and budget. They were all trying to figure out how to work with no budget (except for film equipment) and a week to go from start to finish. It’s a boot camp. The four shown here were fascinating looks into the psyches of the youth who made them.
The two standouts of the non-RQY program were Tides and Maikaru. I had seen Tides at a screening in the Women in Cinema festival at SIFF in September. Tides is an emotional short of a guy dealing with the death of his boyfriend. It’s exceptional, especially since Tides is one of the few shorts I’ve seen where the filmmaker, Amelia Burnatowski, chose not to use words to tell the plot. The only words in the film are instructions on how to meditate to find your calm. The main plot is shown and felt through abstract visuals, displaying a command of the visual language. Maikaru, on the other hand, is all voiceover. It’s a long running monologue given by an artist, Maikaru, who started life as the son of a drug-addicted victim of human trafficking. Amanda Harryman mixes the voiceover with animation and abstractions to never let the film devolve into just being a single long monologue. The visual interest she brings is amazing, but it still pales next to the story Maikaru tells of his life.
The third program of shorts was Dynamic Lives: Queer Women of Color, which was a series of docs about a variety of queer women from an Asian artist (Bernice Bing) to African-American singer (Melanie DeMore) to a Chicana bartender (Nancy Valverde), to a South Asian community leader (Sabina Neem). What was fascinating about these docs is that only Intersections, about Sabina Neem, and Underground, about musicians Casper and Xuan, addressed being both queer and a minority. Most of the topics either explored being queer or being a minority in more exclusive terms. Bernice Bing’s life was far more explored as a Chinese woman than as a lesbian. Conversely, Nancy Valverde’s Latin heritage is barely brought up, focusing on her history as a lesbian bartender in East LA. I find this exclusivity to be fascinating. Why is it so difficult to embody both queer sexuality and a minority status? Why do we tend to fixate on the one we relate to, letting the other be secondary.
Finally getting out of shorts world, I chose to watch the Northwest premiere of the Greek film, Xenia, about two Albanian-Greeks trying to find their father. They were born to a nightclub singer who became an alcoholic, and their father left the family while his sons, Danny and Odysseus, were very young. This search provides the MacGuffin, as the film is about the brothers reconnecting after being estranged for years and reconciling their past with their present and making the roads for their future. The other MacGuffin is Danny pressuring Ody to perform on Greek Star, an American Idol-esque contest.
Overall, Xenia is an amazing piece of fire. Director Panos Koutras (The Attack of the Giant Moussaka) seems pissed at the various irrational hates that everybody has. He’s pissed that the Greeks are free to bash the Albanians. The Albanians fight each other. Everybody hates the gays. He’s pissed that people would exploit other people for profit and gain. He’s pissed at politics. Koutras is raging against everything. Yet, there’s a warmth and connection at the center of Xenia that keeps it from being a raging asshole of a film. Koutras may be shouting at everything, but Xenia is also tender and warm and eccentric.
The final film of the day was The Dark Place. The less said about this asinine “thriller” the better. This is a movie which feels like a rip-off of the point-and-click interactive movies The 7th Guest and Phantasmagoria (1 and 2), combined with the high quality acting in Heavy Rain, and the production values of a 1313 movie. These elements all combined to make one of the most irritating films of the festival. It didn’t make me angry, unlike Never, it just made me want something interesting to happen. That’s the one thing about the 1313 series, they may not be great films, but at least they’re fascinatingly strange. One doesn’t expect Bigfoot to be a magical forest spirit conjured by a woman who was verbally denigrated at a party. Or, that a part of an alien conspiracy is tying boys to bed in their tighty whities. But, one does expect EVERYTHING in The Dark Place.
Today’s line-up (one screen only):
12:30 An Honest Liar a doc about a magician intent on revealing all of the tricks.
2:45 – Family Ties shorts (No, I don’t think that Michael J. Fox is in any of these)
6:30 – Closing Film – Life Partners