There can be little doubt that we are at (maybe even just past) the tipping point of a global shift in awareness of LGBT issues. Heightened activism related to trans visibility, gay marriage, workplace protection and bullying is taking place around the world.
That doesn't mean the news is all good, of course. The pushback against queer agency and visibility has been deadly, from Russia to Africa, with spikes in violence stateside as well.
Outfest, in an extraordinarily strong year of programming, has put together a lineup of films that captures some of the nuances of the conversations LGBT folk are having with and about themselves.
“Something new I've noticed,” says Kristen Pepe, director of programming at Outfest, “is that filmmakers and artists are not hiding their LGBT content, since they know there is an audience. … Gay people were portrayed as 'the sissy,' or gay persons were killed off and we didn't have healthy relationships. Later we became the best friend, and then coming out was the focus. Now we are seen in greater complexity, with lives and desires that stretch beyond our sexuality.”
This year that complexity is wonderfully reflected in the boundary-pushing Platinum Showcase (hosted at REDCAT downtown), which includes everything from a tribute to hugely influential queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz, who died suddenly last year, to rare screenings of short films by visual artist David Wojnarowicz. A special series called “Provocateurs” pays tribute to rabble-rousers from Bruce LaBruce to Kate Bornstein.
Here are our top film picks for this year's festival.
Appropriate Behavior Iranian-American writer-director Desiree Akhavan's Sundance hit has been compared to the TV show Girls, and it's easy to see why. Her deadpan, Brooklyn-based, Iranian-American, bisexual heroine Shirin (played by Akhavan) is equal parts exasperating and hilarious as she stumbles from her breakup with her girlfriend to a series of disastrous sexual hook-ups while sidestepping her sexuality with her family, starting a new job she's ill-prepared for and commiserating with her wisecracking, straight-girl best friend. The writing is crisp and often droll in this warts-and-all portrayal of Shirin, a winning character despite herself.
Fifi Howls From Happiness This engrossing documentary on the late gay Iranian artist Bahman Mohassess hopefully will bring him the attention his work deserves among a wider audience. Fifi follows Mohassess in his final years living in Rome, where a pair of artist siblings from Dubai find him and rouse him from his creative malaise. An old-school intellectual political artist with a withering perspective, Mohassess' take on sexuality is both retro and radical and likely will annoy many modern queer viewers, but his work is gorgeous and his larger worldview, while dark, is clearly rooted in pained disappointment in man's continued inhumanity to man.
Futuro Beach The latest from Karim Ainouz (Madame Satã) is a gorgeous, experimental (though accessible) film whose love-story narrative is broken into three chapters outlining the stages of a love affair between a Brazilian lifeguard and a German race car driver. Meeting in the wake of tragedy, the men embark on a relationship that spans cultures and countries; Ainouz gets at the rich interiority and emotionalism of the tale by masterful use of color, framing, music and stretches of silence. A visual feast, it's one of the most beautiful films in the festival.
Gerontophilia Bruce LaBruce manages an impressive hat trick with Gerontophilia. An intergenerational, interracial love story between a model-handsome white teen and a septuagenarian black man who lives at the nursing home where the boy works, the film subverts both Hollywood's hoary romantic comedy formula and LaBruce's own outré filmography. With a feminist politic at its core, and the driest of humor as its best weapon, the film charms viewers while skewering conventional notions of desirability and sexual power and (sans pedantry) critiquing the ways society views and treats the elderly.
I Always Said Yes Wakefield Poole, acclaimed Broadway dancer turned legend for his groundbreaking, experimental early-'70s gay porn films, gets the reverential treatment he deserves in this incredibly well-reported, riveting documentary. Poole's life of personal and professional invention and reinvention is staggering in its own right (he hobnobbed with a who's who of Broadway icons), but his shrewd insights into the radical political and social significance of early gay porn prove him a formidable queer theorist and activist in his own right.
Naomi Campbell An experiment in form that, in both structure and content, challenges notions of truth and authenticity, Naomi Campbell fuses fiction and nonfiction elements in telling the story of a Chilean pre-op trans woman who tries to get on a reality TV show in order to pay for her surgery. The film eschews familiar cinematic treatment of trans women, capturing its heroine's struggles and setbacks without being gloomy or depressing. The film gains gravitas through its unforced looks at class and race — the latter through the experiences of an Afro-Chilean stripper whose dreams give the film its title. (It has no relation to the supermodel of the same name.)
Of Girls and Horses Legendary German lesbian film director Monika Treut is back with a coming-of-age/coming-out tale that is often hypnotic in its beauty. Set on a horse ranch whose lesbian caretaker has been assigned a wild-child intern for the summer, the film essays Treut's political concerns very softly this time out (they come in the form of radio newscasts to which the caretaker listens), as the point seems to be to focus on the textures of lives lived against the backdrop of current political theater. There's a soothing quality to the film, broken up by flashes of tension when the young charge screws up, but what the film does best is capture something of the meditative, therapeutic aspect of doing even hard work you love.
Out in the Night This documentary powerfully fleshes out the case of the New Jersey 4, the four young black lesbians who, in August 2006, defended themselves against assault from a homophobic street vendor and wound up imprisoned as a result. Director Blair Dorosh-Walter employs crime-scene video, court transcripts and interviews with lawyers, the arresting officers, journalists, the family and friends of the women and — of course — the women themselves to make it clear that a gross miscarriage of justice occurred. The film is infuriating and depressing in equal measure, but it's oddly inspiring because the four women are all charming, funny, winning presences.
The Way He Looks The crowd-pleasing, (happy) tear-jerker of the festival, this Brazilian teen drama is about a blind teenager and his longtime best girl friend who both develop a crush on the cute new boy in their class. Wonderfully written, acted and directed, the film is a smartly observed look at the coming-of-age process (hormonal outbursts, battles with parents, bullies) with the wrenches of a disability and fledgling queerness in the mix. Utterly charming and moving.
Also recommended: The Dog, Club King, Jamie Marks Is Dead, My Prairie Home, Lady Valor, Lilting, Tom at the Farm, X/Y
OUTFEST | Through July 20 | Citywide | outfest.org