The 2nd annual Out East Queer Film Festival was held from June 20th to 23rd at the Neptune Studio Theatre in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Last year I wasn’t able to attend, but after catching a bit of the Inside Out Film Festival when I visited Toronto this past May, I decided that I would try and take in as much of OutEast this year as I could, and that equated to pretty much all of it! My bestie (Heather) and I, purchased an AllOut Festival Pass (granting access to all events and screenings) and set out on a weekend-long journey through a wide-range of LGBTI cinema!
It was an exciting and action-packed, but still delightfully intimate affair. In addition to movies, there were champagne toasts, disco dance parties, art exhibits, retro dance nights, a Big Gay Prom, extremely dreamy visiting artists (who also sang Whitney Houston & Mariah Carey songs), pink popcorn, a festival-exclusive hanky code and an awards brunch. All of this, squished into four humid days in downtown Halifax!
As for the films, they consisted of mostly documentaries this year, three straight-up docs, one explicit doc/drama hybrid, a program of shorts, and a hilarious teen comedy.
More on each of the feature films screened at the festival, after the jump…
I Am Divine
The festival opened with a portrait of Baltimore, Maryland’s most infamous Gay icon. Born Harris Glenn Milstead, the drag performer known as Divine rose to cult superstardom in the 1970s and 80s through his work with another of Baltimore’s entertainment elite: film maker John Waters.
Having come into this screening with little knowledge about Divine’s career, aside from Waters’ 1988 film Hairspray and the disco hit “You Think You’re a Man”, I Am Divine was an educational piece and I admit I was thoroughly schooled. As it would turn out, in both his personal and professional lives, being Divine was both a blessing and a curse. Most interesting to me was the revelation that his metamorphosis from Glenn to Divine was set into motion, not by a passion or desire for doing drag, but simply because of the notoriety he gained after being asked to play a woman in an early Waters’ film, 1969’s Mondo Trasho.
Director Jeffrey Schwarz pieces together clips from films, interviews and music videos with new interview footage of Divine’s friends, family and collaborators. Given the sometimes outlandish subject matter, I feel a conscious decision may have been made to stick to a conventional documentary format, and perhaps that was a wise choice, but as a result I didn’t feel that it broke any new ground from a technical standpoint. That being said, I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish, and left Neptune’s Scotiabank Studio Theatre with a new respect and appreciation.
Check out the trailer below:
God Loves Uganda
Last September at the 32nd annual Atlantic Film Festival, I caught a screening of Call Me Kuchu, a documentary which followed a group of gay/lesbian activists living in Uganda – a country where they’re attempting to have legislation passed to have known gays punished by death. It told their individual stories and experiences living in a country where fear was a constant.
In God Loves Uganda, Roger Ross Williams takes a step back and instead explores the root of the hate that is driving support of this unjust culture; America’s International House of Prayer, a Christian mission group. They have focussed their attention on “Saving” Uganda and nurturing the seeds of hatred already growing there so prominently.
As with any good documentary, you are forced to examine both sides of the issue. While it’s evident that there are some IHoP members, and other powers that be, who have very deliberate and sinister intentions, the viewer is also presented with the youth workers on the Uganda mission, who genuinely seem to believe that they are doing good work. In contrast, we also learn about people who have risked their lives to reveal themselves as mere allies to Uganda’s LGBT people, and how their speaking out has changed their lives. From those who fervently believe that all homosexuals should be put to death, to those who still fight to have Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill thrown away in Parliament, this film explores all sides.
Overall, God Loves Uganda was an eye-opening look at the big business of Christianity, a heartbreaking reminder of society’s tremendous capacity for hate, and how far we – as a global community – still have to go in our journey for equality.
Check out the theatrical trailer:
Interior. Leather Bar
The concept behind the wank-iest film (pardon the obvious pun) to screen at OutEast 2013 was actually a good one. Controversial psychological thriller Cruising, released in 1980 and starring Al Pacino, was edited down by Director William Friedkin, to avoid an X rating by the MPAA. The reported 40 minutes of cut footage, consisting of scenes depicting some level of explicit gay sex, are the inspiration for Interior. Leather Bar, which ultimately felt like a bloated, self-indulgent wank-fest by Franco for his college professors and the most bafflingly meta piece of film I think I have ever seen.
To it’s merit, the re-imagined scenes are beautifully shot, and had Interior. Leather Bar been a simple presentation of this “footage,” it might have been more successful. Instead, it uses the context of recreating these scenes to artificially explore the challenges and ideologies behind making such a film in 2012, compared to having done so in 1980. To present this re-imagined footage, Franco and Matthews persist on pretending to film a documentary while they set up full-orchestrated scenes. Not only the lost sex scenes reek of artifice, but also the documentary footage, as we see Franco and Matthews feeding lines and instructions to the cast that are then filmed and presented as documentary, seconds later. We’re given Kardashian-style, scripted plot points that purposely draw similarities to the 1980 film (i.e. Straight male lead Val Lauren quietly struggles as he watches his gay co-stars have sex, the tension in his face and his gaze lead the viewer to question what his true feelings are about the sexual activities he’s surrounded himself with, in the same way Al Pacino’s character did in the original film.)
Watch the trailer:
Despite the commendably executed sex scenes, this one is going to stay somewhere in limbo. It just doesn’t make enough impact, and gets far too lost in it’s own concept, even if that was kind of the point.
Les Invisibles (The Invisible Ones) is a beautiful and touching, yet simple documentary that profiles French gay and lesbian men and women who were born between the two world wars, and lived through several decades living their intimate lives in the shadows, as the world around them slowly began to grow more accepting. They talk about how they met their partners, or muse about past lovers, but as the film goes on, we learn more and more about the remarkable ways in which they came in to contact with the history of France’s civil rights journey.
Though a little over long, Les Invisibles is a beautifully-filmed and nicely executed documentary that is both moving and historically informative.
Watch a clip:
Darren Stein’s “G.B.F.” evaded me earlier this year, when I traveled to Toronto during the 2013 Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival. I had heard on Twitter early on that “G.B.F.” would be screening, and though the program looked incredible overall, I was super disappointed to learn that the one film I had been salivating for the opportunity to see would unfortunately be screening during the exact moments when my plane back to Halifax was taking off.
It was a huge disappointment, but luckily Out East came to my rescue, announcing that they had procured “G.B.F.” as their Saturday evening main event. In addition, it was to be followed by the “B.G.P.” (Big Gay Prom)”, an after party which promised to re-create the high school prom experience, in an actual high school, but with all of the inclusiveness that many of us didn’t get to enjoy in our own high school experience.
The film centers around Tanner, a closeted gay teenage wallflower and his best friend Brent, also closeted but significantly less introverted. Tanner’s recent smartphone upgrade inspires Brent to download Guydar – a gay hookup application that uses GPS to tell you how far away the nearest man candy is at any given moment. Meanwhile, the hopeful leader of the school’s gay-less Gay/Straight Student Alliance decides to download Guydar to see if they can find any gay students in their halls to avoid having the club shut down. In succeeding, she accidentally causes social warfare among the Queens of the school’s three main cliques. All of their eyes firmly on the coveted title of Prom Queen, they hope to snatch the crown by securing the trendiest of all accessories, the G.B.F! (An acronym for Gay Best Friend). Upon being outed to his entire school, Tanner is faced with trying to stay true to himself and his friends while being swept up by his new-found social life and high school celebrity status.
Fans of the teen comedy genre will find a lot to love about “G.B.F.” It’s brand of rapid-fire comedy makes for great replay value. I spent the majority of the film’s 98 minutes laughing, but could tell that I was missing a lot of jokes while reeling over those that came before. Despite a LOT of innuendo, the humor is relatively clean too, going for clever banter and warm feels rather than cheap shocks. It’s both unabashedly queer and undeniably familiar, as despite it’s transgressions in subject matter, it takes cues from many classic teen comedies of yesterday, and manages to fit very nicely in to that canon.
“G.B.F.” was easily my favorite pick from Out East and was well worth my wait! A delightful piece of Pop Heaven!