While “Beyond The Candelabra” is currently gaying-up Cannes in a very big way (check out our report from the film’s press conference here), most of us will be waiting until next Sunday night to watch the Liberace biopic on HBO. However, once Cannes comes to a close there will be all sorts of gay heading to film festivals that are actually near you: The summer queer film festival nears!
At the end of May, cities around North America will offer summertime fun in the form of the best LGBT cinema from the past year. Here’s 10 of the most notable: Inside Out (May 23-June 2 in Toronto), Out Twin Cities Film Festival (May 29-June 2 in Minneapolis and St. Paul), Film Out San Diego (May 29-June 2), Provincetown (June 19-23, and not explicitly a LGBT fest but come on… it’s in Provincetown), Frameline (June 20-30, its 37th edition!), Outfest (July 11-21), Philadelphia QFest (July 11-22), Damn These Heels! LGBT Film Festival (July 12-14 in Salt Lake City), QFest Houston (July 25-29), Vancouver Queer Film Festival (August 15-25) and finally NewFest (New York’s LGBT fest recently moved to September 6-11 for its 25th edition, which is technically still summer).
Not all of the festivals have yet to announce their programs (click on the above links for more information in that regard), but it’s likely they will have considerable crossover content. Which is not a blow to programmers, but simply a fact that each of these festivals aim to bring the best LGBT films from Sundance, Berlin, SXSW and the like to regional audiences, and there are rarely more than 20 good films in that regard in each year (if that). This year there are at least 10 as far as this writer is concerned, all of which are listed below (and before you rage up the comments, I’m aware that this list leans considerably toward films by and about gay men — which is sadly more an issue of a lack of good content outside of that representation than me deliberately excluding quality L or T film).
Happy summer LGBT film festivaling:
“Before You Know It” (directed by PJ Raval)
One of the biggest and often ignored issues facing LGBT communities today and tomorrow is the fact that there is a rapidly aging population within them that is not properly being cared for. In the United States — where PJ Raval’s documentary takes place — there are an estimated 2.4 million LGBT Americans over the age of 55. As a demographic, they are five times less likely to access social services than their heterosexual counterparts, half as likely to have health insurance coverage, and 10 times less likely to have a caretaker if they fall ill. And unfortunately there is not much attention being paid to them by their younger LGBT counterparts (or anyone else, for that matter). Which is one of the reasons that PJ Raval’s documentary “Before You Know It” is such a crucial new edition to the LGBT doc canon. Following three different LGBT seniors each facing a different array of issues, it affectingly personifies an increasingly forgotten generation of queer folks (and makes you want to become friends with all of them).
“C.O.G.” (directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez)
The first film to ever adapt the work of gay literary icon David Sedaris, Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s “C.O.G.” manages to both do justice to Sedaris’ unique voice and sense of humor while giving it a stamp of the director’s own. Based on an essay from Sedaris’s 1997 collection “Naked,” both the literary and cinematic versions of “C.O.G.” detail the experience Sedaris himself (played by the wonderful Jonathan Groff in the film) had when he travelled to rural Oregon to work as an apple picker. Through encounters with a glorious variety of locals, the twentysomething Sedaris came to considerable revelations about his religion (“C.O.G.” stands “Child of God,” an acronym that one of those said locals proudly self-identifies with) and sexuality. Expanding on those two themes, Alvarez makes good on the promise of his 2009 directorial debut “Easier With Practice,” keeping Sedaris fans happy in the process.
“Concussion” (directed by Stacie Passon)
While this list is indeed largely of the male variety, Stacie Passon’s “Concussion” more than helps make up for that. The story of a suburban lesbian housewife (an amazing Robin Weigert), “Concussion” is likely to be dubbed “the lesbian hooker movie.” But it’s so much more than that. While indeed Weigert’s character decides to secretly become a prostitute for women behind the back of her wife and kids, the film uses that context to explore a complex woman who implodes amidst the heteronormative lifestyle that crept up on her. Weigert plays Abby, a fortysomething lesbian who’s married with two kids and lives in the New Jersey suburbia. But after being hit in the head by her son’s baseball, Abby begins to unravel and through a series of events finds herself with a new double life: Lesbian housewife by night, high-end lesbian prositute by day. It’s a sexy, uncomprising and unique take on the cinematic mid-life crisis that works in large part because of Weigert’s peformance. It also offers what will likely be the hottest lesbian sex on a big screen this year.
“Continental” (directed by Malcom Ingram)
Fresh off its world premiere at SXSW, Malcolm Ingram (known best for his 2006 film “Small Town Gay Bar”) is likely to make the LGBT film fest circuit rounds with his latest film “Continental.” And no, it’s not about the airline or a certain hotel breakfast. It’s basically about the social opposite of a small town gay bar — New York City’s revolutionary Continental Baths, which ran from 1968 to 1975 and was basically the Ritz Carlton of bathhouses from its “Olympia blue” swimming pool to its disco featuring some of the best performers the early 70s had to offer. One of them was infamously Bette Midler, who got her break singing in the baths (with Barry Manilow — often in just a towel — accompanying her on piano). Though Midler is not one of the many talking heads featured in the film (unsurprising given she was quick to distance herself from the baths once she got more famous), Ingram’s documentary is not simply about the many celebrities that either performed at the baths (LaBelle, The Pointer Sisters, Peter Allen, Lesley Gore and The New York Dolls among them) or passed through them at their peak (allegedly Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali, Johnny Carson and Alfred Hitchcock all did — seriously). It’s about a fascinating institution that beyond being a really good time, really pushed forward gay visibility.
(directed by Darren Stein)
Isn’t about time that gay boys got their own version of “Mean Girls”? That’s the reductive gist of Darren Stein’s “G.B.F.,” a high school comedy that puts the usual second (or third) banana role of the gay best friend front and center. Tanner (the adorable Michael J. Willett, in his film debut) is accidentally outed, becoming his high school’s first openly gay student. The three most popular girls at school (Sasha Pieterse, Andrea Bowen and Xosha Roquemore) — in a clear send up of the Heathers or the Plastics — race to snatch him up as a “the new hottest accessory,” leading to Tanner’s popularity skyrocketing while threatening his friendship with his own G.B.F. (and potential love interest), played by the hilarious (and also adorable) Paul Iacono. Though in large part a send-up of the genre of straight teenage romantic comedies it mirrors, “G.B.F.” also stands nicely as its own (rare) entity: A sharp, sweet gay teen rom-com.
“God Loves Uganda” (directed by Roger Ross Williams)
Roger Ross Williams’ harrowing doc takes us to Uganda, where LGBT people are facing a terrifying situation. A group American evangelical Christians have chosen the country — which has Africa’s youngest population — as prominent location for their mission, joining forces with Ugandan religious leaders to fight “sexual immorality.” And by fight, they mean help pass a so-called “kill the gays” bill — which is exactly as disgusting as it sounds. Williams gains remarkable access to both the religious leaders and their communities, in addition to a few incredibly brave individuals (one of whom — David Kato — was suspiciously murdered during filming) who are fighting back against both the Americans trying to export their extreme beliefs to a vulnerable nation and the Ugandans who are supporting them. It’s a maddening and at times shocking experience but a wholly worthwhile one that should send you out of the theater ready to research whatever you can do to help this situation.
“I Am Divine” (directed by Jeffrey Schwarz)
One of the most fabulous, transgressive people to ever almost cross into mainstream American culture is at the heart of Jeffrey Schwarz’s new documentary, “I Am Divine.” Framed around the 1988 death of then 42-year-old Harris Glenn Milstead — the man behind Divine — it is mostly a loving, hilarious (there ain’t no talking head like John Waters’) and complex tribute to a man and his female alter-ego, both of whom lived their lives to the fullest. It takes us from Milstead’s challenged Baltimore upbringing as an overweight kid (where he grew up just blocks from Waters, though the two didn’t cross paths until they were both 17) to the night he died in his sleep (“of happiness,” friend and manager Bernard Jay says in the film). The film must be watched by anyone who thinks, say, Lady Gaga is transgressive. Because Mother Monster has nothing on who the film rightfully proclaims “the Queen Mother of us all.
“Interior. Leather Bar.” (directed by Travis Mathews and James Franco)
Actor-director-playwright-academic-etc James Franco has collaborated with up-and-coming queer filmmaker Travis Mathews for this film that explores the idea of the two of them remaking the 40 minutes of explicit S&M material allegedly cut from William Friedkin’s controversial 1980 film “Cruising” to avoid an X-rating. While that in itself is a worthwhile concept for a film (and a part of “Interior. Leather Bar.” is indeed a hardcore recreation of just that), the film extends well beyond it to offer footage — perhaps real, perhaps not — of Franco, Mathews and their cast and crew as they attempt to full off the feat. The result is a discussion of representations of queer sex in both Hollywood and society in general that won raves when it debuted at Sundance in January. Say what you want about Mr. Franco, but try not to admire his attempt at utilize his celebrity to push certain boundaries in this film.
“Pit Stop” (directed by Yen Tan)
Yen Tan’s quiet, moving “Pit Stop” made its world premiere at Sundance back in January, where it was largely overshadowed by more name-heavy (though also very good) queer flicks like the aforementioned James Franco co-directed “Interior. Leather Bar.” and David Sedaris adaptation “C.O.G.” Hopefully it will manage to find the audience it deserves on the LGBT film circuit (and more hopefully, beyond that). The film depicts a series of characters living in small-town Texas, among them two lost gay men in their mid-30s (Bill Heck and Marcus DeAnda). Similar in tone to 2011’s queer cinema breakout “Weekend” (a staple on this circuit two years ago), “Pit Stop” has a sincerity that creeps up on you and will linger in your mind long after the credits roll.
“Valentine Road” (directed by Marta Cunningham)
Eight-grade student Brandon McInerney shot his openly queer classmate Larry King during first period at a school in Oxnard, California on February 12, 2008. On Valentine’s Day King died in the hospital and his story became a topic of considerable discussion across America and beyond. Six years later, filmmaker Marta Cunningham takes us beyond what we saw then and into an extensive and heartbreaking investigation of that terrible incident and the events that led up to it. And she doesn’t simply look at King’s side of the story. She provocatively also looks at the idea of McInerney — who was sentenced to 21 years in prison back in 2011 — as an additional victim in the narrative. Both King and McInerney rose damaged from physically and emotionally abusive childhoods, and “Valentine Road” — though certainly respectful of the undeniable tragedy that came from murderous and horrifying behavior — also asks why McInerney’s behavior came to be in the first place. Both a tribute to Larry King and a discussion of the state of society in America, “Valentine Road” is as haunting a film as you’ll find on the LGBT fest circuit this year.