Queer Film Fest changes focus
If films are any indication of where society is going, then maybe our war-torn culture is in a little better shape than it looks.
At least that's a conclusion that could be drawn by viewers delving into the variety of offerings on tap at this year's Queer Film + Video Festival. The 17th annual version of the event, happening August 4 to 14 at five venues around town (Cinemark Tinseltown, Emily Carr Institute, Granville 7, the H.R. MacMillan Planetarium, and the Pacific Cinémathí¨que), begins next Thursday with the French-made Cí´te d'Azur, a light-spirited family roundelay of sexual confusion. The festival, presented by the Vancouver Out on Screen Film and Video Society, ends 10 days later with Both, Lisset Barcellos and Rafael Dumet's look at the life of a bisexual haunted by a mysterious South American childhood.
In between, there are more than three dozen features and shorts on offer, with panels and workshops devoted to everything from screenwriting to lesbian tantric sex (not that the two are mutually exclusive).
"The festival's in great shape," says Michael Barrett, who has been its programming director for the past five years. Barrett came to the job through the side door of social work, but he always had a keen interest in the arts.
"Originally I made a video, and that's how I got involved with Out on Screen. Then, later, when a”¦position as a programmer came up, I said to myself, 'I can do that.' I really depended on my committee that first year, I can tell you."
Over the subsequent half-decade, Barrett saw the event-and the queer art crowd-go through significant changes. He says the festival, which started as a lesbian event in 1986, has shifted in focus to keep up with tectonic movements in the community at large.
"I think we're getting past the gender-identity thing. For one thing, there are less stories about identity politics and about AIDS, and fewer coming- out movies and the like. We're beyond the get-over-it stage and into relationships that go past any one community."
Well, not exactly. But at least the coming-out flicks that highlight the fest are definitively strong for that category. Written and directed by Tennyson Bardwell, Dorian Blues (August 5 and 13) is just about the last word in funny teen angst, with likable Michael McMillian perfectly cast as an American high schooler saddled with a perfect-jock brother, a milquetoast mom, and a dad who makes the Bush family look sensitive.
Ethnicity and gender preferences come in for a playful ribbing in the locally made Floored by Love (August 12), an hour-long comedy directed by the talented Desiree Lim, who came here by way of Singapore and Tokyo. (She also programmed the short collection Made in Queer Japan, showing August 7.) The well-shot and -acted film, amusingly if sometimes too bluntly written by Lim and Robson Arms's Karen X. Tulchinsky, follows the fates of two Vancouver clans: a mixed-Asian lesbian pair struggling to come out to their parents, and a Jewish-black couple whose family life is upended by the return of the wife's gay ex-husband.
Family politics are far more overt in Gay Republicans, which focuses on the same-sex conservative group called Log Cabin Republicans-or "the really white party", as described by briefly seen guest speaker Andrew Sullivan. Made just before the 2004 U.S. election, the L.A. and Pal Beach chapters are seen debating whether or not to endorse Dubya, who won something like a million gay votes-45,000 in Florida alone-four years earlier.
"Friends don't let friends vote Republican," says one member's more liberal partner, but both eventually agree Bush's marriage-amendment kerfuffle, raised that summer, is nothing more than "a tool to generate hate". There's a bearded Kerry hater who calls gay marriage a "Pandora's Box" and squashes anyone who dares to disagree with him on any issue. But you also meet the hunky army reservist who got kicked out of the army under Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell" policy after having already served as an openly gay Arizona legislator. He gets the film's best line: "We're fighting to make this country stand up for what it believes in."
The doc is paired August 10 and 14 with A Man in a Dress, a more roughly made item but still a fascinating slice of Canadiana. It follows the surprisingly successful campaign of Enza "Supermodel" Anderson-an outrageous drag queen who came in third in Mel Lastman's final mayoral race-to run for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance party. It's a testament to this country's legendary openness-or its deep-dish repression, at the very worst-that even rabid right-wingers can't quite bring themselves to dislike the campy but ultimately issue-minded candidate. Stockwell Day, it has to be said, won't let himself be photographed with Enza at the national convention, for fear of being kissed!
Speaking of killer fruits, you might want to check out the self-explanatory Hidden Fí¼hrer: Debating the Enigma of Hitler's Sexuality (August 7 and 12), a provocative new doc from Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, who made The Eyes of Tammy Faye. For a look at another individual who had a huge impact on 20th-century life-a positive one-there's Kinsey (August 6), titled the same as the Liam Neeson vehicle but actually a feature-length profile made for the PBS American Masters series. The film is packed with details that corroborate much of Bill Condon's slightly fictionalized version (one significant difference: bisexual researcher Alfred Kinsey's wife was definitely no Laura Linney.) And it parallels with today a world of Christian suffocation and fear of sexuality violently "at odds with Kinsey's passion for the rich diversity of nature", as the doc puts it.
Fest honcho Barrett fears we're in a similar "clampdown" period, but he sees signs that people are fed up with feeling bad. Happily, parts of the fest (a schedule and synopses of which are viewable at outonscreen.com/festival) seem designed to blow away some millennial grief with good, old-fashioned fun, Annie Sprinkle's Amazing World of Orgasm, with the sex-positive guru from San Francisco in attendance at Tinseltown. In addition, that August 6 show will open with the Wet Spots, a male-female folk duo known for its unflinching lyrics.
Raunch is given the once- and twice-over in Made in Secret: The Story of the East Van Porn Collective (August 8), about a gang of friends who thought they could do better than what's out there. And filmmaking itself comes under scrutiny in Being John Greyson (August 6), with the agent provocateur behind Lilies and Patient Zero in the house, and The Best of Secter & the Rest of Secter (August 9), which looks back at David Secter, who pioneered both Canadian indie cinema and queer moviedom with Winter Kept Us Warm back in 1965. A lot has happened since then.
"I think the biggest lesson of the last five years is to never underestimate the intelligence of the community. Sure, there's been fluff, but we've consistently challenged the audience, and now we see men going to women's programs, women to men's, and straight moviegoers, too. It means that people feel safe to check out all these different themes."
Overall, the festival is in healthy enough shape for Barrett to make this his last go-round. He's leaving to launch a new event to be called the One-Spirit Media Arts Festival, which he'd like to see happen in the doldrums of January. From a celebration of homophilia to meditations on human spirituality. He doesn't consider it that big a leap.
"I think that this festival may eventually get rid of the queer label anyway, and be called a Sexual and Gender Diversity Festival. We're concerned with what it really means to be human, and that's what I want to explore even further. Sex and spirit are always intertwined anyway-especially in Vancouver."