Gay Docs Grow Up at the NYLGFF
by Aaron Krach
The New York Lesbian and Gay Film Festival got off to a chic start last
Thursday with Lisa Cholodenko's debut feature "High Art." The party was
more entertaining than the rather somber Sundance award-winning film,
(Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award). Attracting the paparazzi, "Art" star,
Ally Sheedy, was joined by both her husband and her lesbian mother.
"High Art" soundtrack band, Shutter To Think performed while the well
behaved crowd sipped Sidecars. Until the clock struck one, and security
quickly cleared the building.
One might expect more glitz from a queer film fest in New York City. But
glamour is hard to come by in antiseptic venues like the Public Theater
where the chairs do not feel secure, and an auditorium at the New
School, which feels more like a church than a classroom. If anything, it
makes the film have to work that much harder to hold the audiences
Maybe that's a good thing, because this year's festival has had some
very good films; many of which were documentaries. A gay and lesbian
film festival is inherently political, yet 1998 may be the year gay
documentaries come of age. The best docs in this year's festival found a
balance between the story they were telling and the politics behind it.
One of the best examples was "Yin & Yang: Gender in Chinese Cinema," by
Hong Kong action director Stanley Kwan. The video combines interviews
with Hong Kong directors, Kwan's autobiography and the history of
gender-representation in Chinese cinema. Christopher Doyle's
cinematography and the frank discussion of homoeroticism in recent Hong
Kong cinema is as exciting as it is educational.
From the other side of the globe came, "Woubi Dahling" by Laurent
Bocahut of the Ivory Coast. "Woubi" is a surprisingly upbeat portrait of
gay life in the Ivory Coast. Nobody seems to mind as long as "woubis"
(effeminate men) pair up with "yossis" (masculine men). The arrangements
would be snickered at in the States, but the eloquence with which they
explain themselves silenced any dissenters in the audience.
Documentaries have a magical way of transporting an audience into
uncharted territory and "Woubi Dahling" deserves the opportunity to
reach audiences outside of the gay festival circuit.
Jeff Dupre's "Out of the Past" is getting a lot of mileage outside of
gay festivals, thanks to a documentary prize at this year's Sundance.
And any and all attention is well deserved. "Out of the Past" begins as
a straightforward doc about Kelli Peterson, the lesbian high school
student who took on the state of Utah in order to start a gay/straight
club at her high school. It then expands to include other pioneers in the
rights movement. I'm not sure how, but it all works together so well, so
much so that I was left awed and inspired.
Awe-inspiring is also the feeling I got from Mark Rappaport's latest
Hollywood-deconstruction, "The Silver Screen-Color Me Lavender."
Rappaport must have watched every film ever made in Hollywood to compile
is 103 minutes of clips. Unlike his previous films that focused on one
actor, Rock Hudson or Jean Seberg, "The Silver Screen" covers Bob Hope,
Carry Grant, Jerry Lewis and Danny Kaye, not to mention a brief European
segment on Jean Cocteau and Luchino Visconti. Although the film can feel
like a very long graduate seminar in queer theory, there is an
undeniable pleasure in watching its deconstructive playfulness.
Queer veterans Barbara Hammer and Rosa von Praunheim contributed
historical documentaries to this years festival. Hammer's "Female
Closet" is an informative if slightly educational film about three
lesbian artists. Hammer should be commended for not shying away from the
hard questions regarding race and class. Praunheim's "Gay Courage: 100
years of the Gay Movement" is another epic investigation in the history
of gay culture and the filmmaker's place in it.
Less exciting, but still intriguing was "Pierre et Gilles, Love Stories"
about the famed French photographers. It may look awful, but Michael
Aho's low-budget video will give you more information about the artists
than you ever thought you wanted to know. Catherine Deneuve, Nina Hagen
and Jean-Paul Gaultier appear in support for the post-pop artists.
The Festival is more than half way over, and although there has not been
a party to outshine opening night, the films seem to be getting better.
Still to come are Catherine Saalfield's documentary about brutal L.A.
performance artist Ron Athey, Jose Torrealba's circuit party doc, "Got
To Be There" and club kid killer expose, "Party Monster."