Always/Never was a perfectly solid set of shorts - no weak links - but there was a certain of sameness about them.
All the films were European (one was a very pale Brazil), and featured a pretty (one might say Bel Ami-esque) young boy about to, or in the process of, coming out. One wonders if this was deliberate; if it was wasn't, it's a shame we couldn't have had coming out stories (the theme for this anthology) from around the world. But who knows what goes on in the minds of the LLGFF programmers...
It's the story that never gets old, nor loses it power, regardless of how old you get, and when it's done well, it can be seismic. None of the films in the Always/Never strand have quite that impact, but they all had something to recommend them. Eicke Bettinga's Gasp (Germany) was certainly unusual (please don't play with plastic bags) and Nathan Cirino's Lament (Brazil) successfully throws the audience off the scent, and delivered a heartbreaking twist (oh, unrequited love...)
Kiss Me Softly
Elsewhere, Daniel (Netherlands) was a sweet, wordless, sunny delight, and Anthony Schatteman's Kiss Me Softly (Belgium) a big "f**k you" to conforming. Atoms (Belgium, again) is an agonising ode to restraint in the face of intolerable temptation.
Straight With You
Most successful of all, however, is Straight With You (Netherlands), a quietly unassuming little film about an 11-year-old sissy boy named Melvin. A documentary, it follows Melvin, his supportive family, and a few friends at a crucial stage in his life. It's lovely.
A strong collection, shorts once again proving that less really is more.
"It’s not illegal to be gay in Jamaica but legal sanction is the least of your worries. Jamaican society is profoundly and murderously homophobic. This utterly compelling account of how ordinary LGBT people exist under these conditions was filmed on the island itself. Extraordinary stories of violence and the constant living in fear make for sometimes uncomfortable viewing. Interview subjects tell of the casual and relentless attacks; their faces are digitally obscured because there is nowhere for an openly gay person to be safe on the island. The relationship between dancehall culture and some of its notorious artists is well known. Using interviews with a wide range of Jamaicans and leading cultural figures in exile, this is a wide-ranging film which explores how Jamaica got to be this way, and how some people are working for change."
Sometimes, good intentions just ain't enough, and without a doubt, Selena Blake's Taboo Yardies meant well.
Meandering and lumpy, Taboo Yardies limply circled issues like the corrective rape of lesbians, Jamaicans and the church, sodomy laws, and trans issues, without ever really drilling down into the nitty-gritty. There was no sense of structure, or narrative. Who were we supposed to be following in this? We jumped from one half-baked vox pop to another - the typical anti-gay Jamaican in the street here, a transgender person there, a lesbian, various people (Jamaican ex-pats?) in New York. Blake's scatter-gun approach left me cold, unable to care very much about the subject. Where was JFLAG? Where was Maurice Tomlinson? Sorry to say, I was bored out of my skull most of the time.
I really wanted to like Taboo Yardies, but there was just nothing to get your teeth into, and I can only imagine that its intended audience is a thinking straight one; for the average battyman, everything here is old, old news.
Tomorrow I'm seeing Always/Never.
Check back for my review on Sunday!
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn take the battle of the sexes to hilarious heights in George Cukor's classic courtroom comedy, Adam's Rib (1949).
Based on an original screenplay by the married writing team of Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, Adam's Rib sparkles with their sophisticated humor that's mixed with a dash of slapstick, and will have you rolling in the isles. Judy Holliday adds magnificent comic support in the role that landed her Born Yesterday. She's back up by the equally fine Tom Ewell, Jean Hagan, Hope Emerson and David Wayne as a composer who seems to possess a touch of bisexual tendencies. It's the only way to have a great day in court!Steve Hayes
(Syndication is with the kind permission of Steve Hayes.)
"Joe is a middle-aged, married man, out on a clandestine date with a teenage boy he met online. Abigayle, Joe’s teenage daughter, is spending the evening with her cocky beau Dexter, a Latino basketball player with one thing on his mind. As the two dates unfold over the course of one long, hot 4th July evening, these four individuals are forced to look at their lives and question what it is that they truly desire."
Director/screenwriter Joshua Sanchez has adapted a play by Christopher Shinn and cast four very strong actors (including The Wire's Wendell Pierce, playing against type). Four is a thoughtful, intense picture that gets under your skin. Neither Sanchez nor his cast put a foot wrong in a film that has echoes of Crash; in fact, in telling the story he needs to in an economical 76 minutes, Sanchez pulls off that rare trick of leaving them wanting more.
And yeah, E.J. Bonilla (Dexter): you're pretty as hell.
"An inspiring insiders’ account of the radical protest group the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power, generally known as ACT-UP. Out of the darkest days of the Aids epidemic a vibrant and urgent protest movement was created. The group started in New York and was a powerful and dynamic force orchestrating some extraordinary protests which captured imaginations and went on to save lives. Health education and medical research is difficult to make sexy and compelling but this coalition of artists and activists managed it. And they recorded everything they did on video."
United in Anger: A History of ACT UP has one big problem: How To Survive A Plague.
It concentrates - surprise! - on the ACT UP movement, rather than the specific journey of surviving the AIDS epidemic that its Oscar-nominated sister does. But it covers a lot of the same ground, uses the same source material (that amazing "found footage"), and we see a lot of the same clips we saw in How To Survive A Plague.
United also suffers from being less slick than Plague, with a few decisions undermining it. There's the timeline that signposts the journey, and an odd soundtrack, both of which combine to lend proceedings the feel of those educational videos we used to have in school.
But these are fairly minor, cosmetic details which are only relevant when contrasting the ballsy Plague approach. The footage, and the story, is fascinating, and as with Plague, one airbrushed from history. United in Anger tells us about the terrible impact the epidemic had on women (they weren't included in the CDC definition of the virus, and therefore didn't receive benefits), about ACT UP's poster art and its relevancy today (its influence on the Occupy movement), and on a lighter note, how those New York ACT UP meetings were a seething hotbed of sexual tension.
Although undoubtedly in the shadow of How To Survive A Plague, United in Anger: A History of ACT UP is still utterly unmissable.
Tonight I'm seeing Four.
Check back for my review tomorrow!
"Greenwich Village, the mid-1980s. With the city’s formerly thriving gay population hit hard by the AIDS epidemic, the community became increasing despondent by the lack of treatments available and the apparent resistance from both the government and drug manufacturers to seek new cures. With time running out, hundreds of activists took to the streets, demanding research into new drug development. In the face of such crippling adversity, a community was forced to become its own doctors, its own pharmacists and ultimately its own saviours. Largely comprised of astonishing archive footage of political rallies, activist workshops and interviews with inspirational activists, How to Survive a Plague is a deserving nominee for Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards®. A vital and rousing chronicle of how a community united to fight for their lives, demanding change and the respect they deserved."
In a way, it's not surprising that How To Survive A Plague ended up with an Oscar nomination. Here we have a story of incredible bravery, with a good-looking hero - Peter Staley - facing a seemingly insurmountable task. There's a pantomime villain (well, several) and a happy ending.
Of course, that's simplifying things. Peter Staley isn't the only hero of the piece (but he's one of the few who survived) and the happy ending is qualified, and it's not for everyone.
Everything you've heard about this picture is true. It's almost unbelievable. This is the story of AIDS that hasn't been heard before (film-maker David France points out that books, films and plays have tended to concentrate on the beginning of the epidemic - Plague starts six years into it) and it's told with amazing archive footage (Larry Kramer's "plague speech" is jaw-dropping). France himself was stunned at the sheer amount of footage he had available to him.
I'm halfway through my LLGFF schedule, and I doubt anything will top Plague. It's the biggie. Not only is it incredibly compelling, heartbreaking, enraging, affirming, but it's real, and probably the most important story about the gay community never told.
"Lucas and Lincoln are a hot QPOC couple in love, with a nice home, good jobs and once Referendum 74 passes, they will even be able to get married. Lucas, thrilled at the prospect, proposes in anticipation. However, photographer Lincoln feels uneasy about their domestic bliss and then, one day, he picks up a cute hitchhiker sporting a pink triangle patch on hir bag and everything changes. Raccoon is all glitter hotpants, free spirit and direct action – Pacific Northwest style, opening up a world of possibilities to the frustrated Lincoln and together they challenge what they see as the capitalist agenda behind the marriage equality bill."
There's a lot to like about Billie Rain's film, not least the fact that it wears its heart on its sleeve, and I was pleased to see a film looking at the homogenisation of queer culture... Clearly a labour of love, it's a low budget effort that sometimes has the look and feel of a daytime soap (as American indies often do). But that doesn't matter, this isn't a movie where style triumphs over content. The cast is charming - Lil’Snoopy Fujikawa is a delight as Racoon, and Maximillian Davis is perfect as nice guy Lincoln. Poor Lowell Deo makes the best of uptight asshole Lucas.
There's a few problems here, though. Lucas is just too much of a jerk for us to have an empathy with, and the cod news broadcasts are clunky and unwelcome. The somewhat incoherent resolution felt rather contrived and ill thought out (you're going to get your man back by provoking him even further? Really?), lending proceedings a somewhat amateurish feel.
It's hard to find too much fault here, however, especially when Billie Rain appeared afterwards for the Q&A, radiating good vibes, hir big infectious laugh filling the theatre.
"Inspired by the idea of recreating 40 minutes of footage missing from the film Cruising, Franco and Mathews record their preparations with the actors who will play the roles. A professional SM Master is in charge of authentic leather equipment and the cast’s anxieties about how far they are supposed to go are part of this fascinating project. The sex scenes are very real, but rather than mere pornographic intent the film exists as a powerful discussion of the boundaries of sexual and artistic freedom."
nterior. Leather Bar was, ultimately, a frustrating experience. There's too little of the re-created "lost" footage, and way too much of lead Val Lauren's tedious angst. The message is positive and uplifting - Franco's really putting his money where his mouth is - but the emphasis is all wrong. I wanted more of the cute gay couple who perform the unsimulated sex, and of Master Avery, the hot leather daddy who appears in the film, and who made a surprise appearance for the Q&A after the film (to be utterly patronised by programmer Brian Robinson).
Director Travis Mathews was also responsible for I Want Your Love, the beardy weirdy indie flick which also featured unsimulated sex. As was the case with that picture, you're left with the impression the film-makers enjoyed it more than the audience.
Two shorts screened alongside Interior. Leather Bar (which is great - it's a glorified DVD extra, really), including In Search of Avery Willard, a fascinating "investigation into the life of an all-but forgotten pioneering gay filmmaker Avery Willard, whose love of art, drag queens and leather bars found expression in his films." This intriguing short was infinitely more interesting than Hollywood celebrity Franco's "Leather Bar".
Tom's Gift was billed as "a meditation on how the internet has changed cruising habits," but it was so much more than that. Definitely the highlight of the evening, this short, bitter-sweet (and full of protein!) film was a warning about everything technology is taking away from us.
"Returning to South Korea for the first time since a painful experience drove him away two years previously, enigmatic flight attendant Won-Gyu reunites with his ex-boyfriend one cold winter’s evening. Frustrated by the encounter, Won-Gyu departs into the night, in search of a one-night stand. He meets Tae-Jun, a courier looking for some fun, but instead the two embark on an unexpected journey over the course of a long night, during which Won-Gyu must face the demons of his past and deal with his anger."
hite Night was as frustrating as Interior. Leather Bar. Look, my favourite director is Tsai Ming-Liang, who's famous for long takes and little or no dialogue. But silent, permanently masticating flight attendant Won-Gyu isn't enigmatic, he's just annoying. The film is saved by lively, likeable courier Tae-Jun, whose face I could look at all day.
Beautifully shot by Leesong Hee-il, White Nightnearly works, but Won-Gyu's character is just too offputting.
Today I'm seeing R/Evolve.
Check back for my review tomorrow!
"Inventively blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, Animals tells the peculiar story of Pol, an introverted music fan who still has conversations with his childhood imaginary friend, Deerhoof, despite now being in his teens. One day, Pol decides he has outgrown his pretend friend (who takes the form of a walking, talking teddy bear) and throws Deerhoof into the river. Now Pol must get by on his own, battling the pressures of high school, and attempting to understand growing feelings towards his enigmatic classmate Ikari."
Filmmaker Marçal Forés's debut feature is a very strange film (there's a walking, talking bear who speaks English to our Catalan-speaking lead), full of ideas and surprises, and beautifully filmed in the stunning mountains of Catalan.
Forés has assembled a strong cast, but the standout for me was Dimitri Leonidas as loudmouth classmate Mark. He's deliciously acerbic, and gets all the best lines ("I wouldn't mind getting raped by him," he matter-of-factly tells Pol and Laia on first seeing Ikari.) His mouthy character is a welcome relief from the suffocating introspection of Pol. It's a surprise to see Martin Freeman on board, in a small supporting role (Forés didn't realise "how famous" he was, he said in the Q&A). And then there's Deerhoof, whose disembodied voice is very odd.
Animals is mesmerising, magical, moving and shocking, and a thrilling start to the festival.
"Frustrated by his dead-end day job in a call centre, thirty-something Ed spends his evenings trying to make a name for himself on London’s stand-up comedy circuit. One evening, following a particularly unsuccessful gig, he meets a confident young man called Nathan on the night bus home and the two immediately hit it off. But as feelings between the two men intensify, so does Ed’s relationship with his fragile flatmate Elisa, and soon he must face some difficult decisions about his life."
Like a lot of stand-up comedy, The Comedian is sometimes hard to watch. Take Edward Hogg, who plays Ed with simmering intensity; you really feel this guy's pain, and that's not easy to watch. But it's Nathan Stewart-Jarrett who really got my attention, a glittering jewel who somehow brings an incredible vulnerability to an outwardly tough character. He effortlessly steals the show. His first encounter with Hogg's character on a night bus is a subtle masterpiece, in which we feel like we're spying on a very private moment. There's a later scene - on another night bus, with some hoodrat girls - that's as ugly as that first encounter is beautiful, and left me genuinely shaken.
Unfortunately things trail off towards the end, with a very low-key, claustrophobic scene in a minicab that feels like treading water. It's a shame, because Tom Shkolnik's film is otherwise a fascinating, viscerally real view of London life in the 21st century.
"I would also like to take this opportunity to squash the persistent rumours about mysterious 'disappearances' and emphasize that rural and urban areas are now enjoying a life of harmony and peace. I'm sure you're glad to hear this. And I'm happy you're glad."