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November 20, 2006 9:12 AM
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DISPATCH FROM BRAZIL | Getting Bigger and Better, Mix Brasil Walks the Line Between Experimental and

A scene from "2 Girls," which screened at Mix Brasil. Photo provided by the festival

Turning 14 years old, the Mix Brasil Film and Video Festival of Sexual Diversity has grown from a fringe showing of alternative Brazilian cinema to a popular international queer film festival. Its flagship showing was Nov. 9-19 in Sao Paulo, but the event will also tour to Rio de Janeiro, Niteroi, and Brasilia, with the sort of ambition that seems impossible with the shockingly low budget typical of a niche film festival. Logistical pressures alone make Mix Brasil a success worth celebrating, but the creative focus of its 2006 program - an expert balance between experimental and crowd-pleasing - is surely the festival's greatest strength.

For festival director Suzy Capo, one of the biggest challenges of Mix Brasil has been including women: even for a festival that challenges traditional notions of gender and sexuality, movies about and for men still constitute the main share of the program. "It's a vicious circle," said Capo. "We didn't have women attending because there was no lesbian program, and there was no lesbian program because women weren't attending" - not to mention that there are much less works made for such an audience. So Capo decided to break the cycle this year with a marathon showing of this year's female-centric movies, complete with free caipirinhas and music provided by popular lesbian DJs at the festival's headquarters in the Espaco Unibanco. The results were magic - "a historical night for the festival," declared Capo - and for one night women invaded Mix Brasil and claimed it as their own.

Turkish artist and activist Kutlug Ataman's "2 Girls" helped attract women to the theaters this year, as well as the Romanian "Love Sick" by Tudor Giurgiu, which both examine the exciting yet difficult relationships of two young women. The Berlinale-winner "Soap", directed by Pernille Fischer Christensen, stood out for its portrayal of the delicate friendship between a confused straight woman and a depressed transsexual. One of the year's special programs, Rock Me Baby, showcased female rocker films such as "Prey for Rock and Roll" and "Linda Linda Linda" among others, as well as the gay-themed "Pop Music", which was one of the sleeper hits of the year.

While music was one of the intentional themes of Mix Brasil (embodied by the centerpiece film "C.R.A.Z.Y."), a more taboo subject recurred in several of the selections for 2006: pre-adolescent sexuality. Considering how crucial the transitional years from childhood to adolescence are in forming a sexual identity, it's a delicate issue that offers rich dramatic possibilities. "Pre-adolescents are sexual", said Capo, yet society tends to associate the sexuality of minors with pedophilia. "I'm so glad that I found films that talk about this without having pedophilia." Nevertheless, films such as "A Whole New Thing" and "50 Ways of Saying Fabulous" surprised audiences with their nonchalant portrayals of young people beginning to become aware of their sexual selves.

A scene from "Glue," which screened at Mix Brasil. Photo provided by the festival

Although the majority of "gay" movies are still produced in English-speaking countries, the festival's Mundo Mix program dedicated itself to showcasing another cultural point of view. In conjunction with the "Hombres Argentinos" photography exhibition, the focus this year was on Brazil's neighbor Argentina, with four features and three shorts. "Glue", with its stunning cinematography and naturalistic performances, was one of the highlights of the festival. Stylistically sadder, though also contemplative and melancholic, the award-winning "A Year Without Love" was the only movie to look at the critically out-of-style subject of AIDS. Argentina is in the midst of creative boom, and it shows.

Brazilians, however, wouldn't let their rival Argentines steal the spotlight without a fight. The newly named Mostra Competitiva Brasil expanded on the festival's origins as a showcase of Brazilian shorts to a larger and more prestigious collection of national works, including the Cannes Semaine de la Critique award-winner "Something Like That". The competitive program is part of what makes Mix Brasil regionally important - the opportunity to show their work gives local filmmakers the incentive to produce more, while celebrating the diversity of Brazilian filmmaking. The festival also saw the launch of the first queer feature-length Brazilian film promoted in Brazil as a queer film: Condominio Jaqueline, produced by Coracao da Selva. But Mix Brasil's most exciting investment was its 5-week workshop with 22 students from impoverished parts of the city, who produced 5 films that will be shown at the Sao Paulo closing night ceremony.

Speaking to Sao Paulo residents who have frequented Mix Brasil since the beginning, many observe that the festival has grown so much that it has become more commercially successful - that is, more mainstream. Does that mean Mix Brasil has become less experimental? While the festival has certainly become one of the city's largest film events, Capo makes sure to point out that screenings at infamously underground Autorama, or a program curated by the PornFilmFestival of Berlin, or the remake of classic "Flaming Creatures" are just a few examples of keeping things interesting and new. (Mix Brasil has to be one of the first festivals to curate a YouTube program, which can be seen online.)

"It's not an experimental festival," said Capo, explaining that there's room for more than one kind of profile, "but the audience responds so well to [experimental films], and it's so great that we can do that." It's the sort of cinematic mix that has earned the festival the dedicated core audience that has kept it thriving until today.

[Based in Sao Paulo, Michael Gibbons is filing occasional Dispatches from Brazil for indieWIRE and he is also has a blog, hosted by indieWIRE.]

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