FESTIVALS: NYLGFF Wrap-Up: Art & Politics Collide in Best Films
by Aaron Krach
You know we live in strange (and wonderful?) times when a film festival features a full-fledged, if amateur porn film and receives little, if any, extra attention for doing it. During the recent New York Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, which concluded it's 10 day run on June 13, NYLGFF played a home-made, transgender porn film called "Alley of The Tranny Boys." Director Christopher Lee won't be winning any awards for helming this 50-minute video, but he should be commended for offering more information about female to male transsexuals than a viewer could learn in a hundred conventional documentaries. The most shocking revelation is how easily transsexuals have appropriated mainstream culture's standard sexual fetishes. As a film, "The Tranny Boys" crossed several lines at once: erotic, informative and avante garde. It was at this same crossroads of art and politics that the best films in the festival could be found. While most of the films, videos and panels fell short of such mind-expanding significance, there were enough striking successes to please the most jaded New York audience.
After 30 years in obscurity, a film called "Pink Narcissus" by Anonymous, resurfaced as the other most revolutionary film in the festival. As a highly experimental feature about a man following himself through several different guises and situations--think Kenneth Anger crossed with Maya Deren--"Pink Narcissus" is mind-bogglingly gorgeous and erotic while being rigorously intelligent. Convinced that times have changed, writer/director James Bidgood recently put his name on his controversial piece of work. Strand has the rights to this new print and will hopefully continue with plans for a small re-release. Sundance entry "Treasure Island" by Scott King was another original, genre-crossing work. The black and white, neo-noir, spy flick boasts an amazing production design and a view of subterranean sexuality dark enough to scare William Burroughs.
Emerging themes from NYLGFF: Europeans are turning out the most intelligent queer films today. "Why Not Me," a French film by Stephane Giusti, is about a group of gen- X lesbians and their gay friend who decide to come out to their parents all at the same time. A witty script and handsome cast, "Why Not Me," received a rousing ovation and is ripe for domestic distribution. A Spanish film, "Not Love, Just Frenzy," is Almovodar-esque without being a clone. The furiously paced, sexy thriller should do well for Jour de Fete films, which recently acquired domestic rights. Even the German/Good Machine co-production, "Lola and Bilidikid," which won the Best Feature Prize, was commendable in it's broad, inclusive scope.
Amerindies continued to fall short of expectations. The Opening and closing night films, Rose Troche's "Bedrooms and Hallways" and Jim Fall's "Trick" are both amusing films, straightforwardly told, but nothing more, continuing a trend seen all year, of documentaries far outpacing features in originality and heartfelt directorial vision. Best Documentary winner, "Theme: Murder" by Martha Swetzoff begins as a investigation into the murder of the director's father and blossoms into a provocative essay on the inability to know anything for sure. Two other well-made docs shared this exact same theme: "The Most Unknowable Thing" by Mary Patierno and "The Accident" by Joseph Lovett. Both films cover the life and death of a family member. The fact that both directors collected so much footage over so many years that each film becomes a history, rather than just a story, saves both films from being irrelevant to outsiders.
For it's eleventh festival, NYLGFF was a strange affair. Spread over four venues, several block's apart, visiting the festival was a lot like visiting the sprawl of Los Angeles. There was no focus point. Without a central lobby, or even a central box office, it was hard to get a feel of the festival itself. Most filmmakers were present for their own screenings, but weren't seen again. As usual, audiences showed up in droves and patiently waited to fill the surprisingly small screening rooms, three of which were classroom/auditoriums. While it's true that New York lacks affordable and available theaters, classrooms/auditoriums are not the most exciting or enjoyable venues to watch films. But also like L.A., there were surprising moments to remind you that New York is a great place to have a festival. Two of the screening rooms, on the campus of NYU, were right next to a Krispy Kreme doughnut store and a Smoothie King shop. With festival lines in front of their store every day for a week, the bewildered shopkeepers kept the audiences enticed with free snacks and trays of frozen drinks.