BFI Flare 2016: Akron + Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story

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Benny and Christopher are first year students at their local university in Akron, Ohio. When they meet on the sports field they discover a shared passion – for each other. The thrill of a blossoming romance soon develops into a steady relationship. Christopher’s parents are supportive and everything is going well, until a spring break trip to Miami to see Benny’s mother uncovers a tragedy that involved their two families almost a generation earlier. The shock of the revelation drives the boys apart, as each retreats to the comfort of their own family. Can this unfortunate shared history really destroy their burgeoning love?

This is a gay love story with a difference, in which the boys meet, date, fall in love, meet each others families... All the things straight couples get to do in romantic movies. Akron, it seems, is a place where homophobia doesn't exist. Some of us might find that a fanciful notion. Others might be glad of a change to the playlist.

Gay cinema, it turns out, can be about things other than being gay, or things happening because you're gay. As in real life, things happen to our protagonists that have nothing to do with their sexuality. The drama in this film comes from somewhere else entirely, and that's a good thing.

Writer and director Brian O'Donnell debut feature is both flawless and accomplished. Akron, apparently, is a low budget feature, but you wouldn't know from looking at it. The film looks gorgeous. Veteran Flare programmer Brian Robinson asked O'Donnell at the Q&A where does Akron fit into Akron. The answer is there on screen, with every beautiful shot a love letter to the place.

Equally beautiful are the two boys (Matthew Frias as Benny, and Edmund Donovan as Christopher) who turn in delightfully naturalistic and understated performances. It feels, at times, like we're spying on something very private. That's a hard trick to pull off.

Everyone involved should be very proud of this future classic.

Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story

Benny and Christopher are the kind of boys who would have slotted straight into Falcon Studios in the '90s, in a movie like, say The Freshman.

Gay porn and gay history; what a heady mix. Writer and director Michael Stabile's film sheds light on the fascinating story of Chuck Holmes, the founder of the legendary Falcon Studios, who became obsessed with the notion of his legacy.

There is plenty of footage of older Falcon productions here, stretching back to the '70s, ensuring belly laughs at that much loved art form "porn acting" (being naturalistic is harder than it looks). But as fun as these clips are, they're less interesting than the story of the sex biz, politics, and hypocrisy that swirled around Holmes. And as a story of gay men in the '70s, '80s and '90s, AIDS inevitably rears its ugly head. All those clips of beautiful young men we all laughed at earlier in the film are followed by a sobering roll call of their death notices many of these print articles can be viewed at the film's official Facebook page). As always, we're left with less of a sense of shock at the losses, but with a feeling of astonishment that anyone survived the era.

Seed Money also touches on Holmes' dubious attitude to race in porn, bigotry that continues to persist in the industry to this day. Although the documentary doesn't dwell on the issue, it's appropriate that it's addressed. Falcon continued after Holmes' demise, and we can only imagine what Holmes would have made of the fragmented and decimated industry that exists today.

Every year, KAOS reports from the annual BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival. This year, I'll be reviewing twelve films (including a few programmes of shorts). Next time: From Afar, and Theo & Hugo.


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