Hallelujah! Reports that the
lesbian centered feature movie is as much a dinosaur as say top 40 radio, TV
variety shows or pro-choice/gun adverse Republicans are greatly exaggerated –
that’s part of the news you can use from the 2011 edition of the Sundance Film
Festival (running from January 20th through the 30th in
Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah). This combined with at
least a mild revival of gay male generated films, as well as female directed
and/or written features augers well for queers at art houses and boutique mall
houses this year, that is, of course, if Hollywood feature buying bucks match
Park City buzz. What follows are my hunches on the films to watch out for:
based on early festival tweets and buzz, filmmaker/cast track records or in
some cases the allure of weird or consciously funny titles/synopses.
We Were Here: In 2001 David Weissman and Bill Weber
evoked the prank-filled, campy spirit of late sixties San Francisco when
a mischief prone band of cross-dressing, drug imbibing merrymakers, calling
themselves the Cockettes,
planted their freak flag in a North Beach movie palace. By
the time that party crested in the early seventies queer communities had spread
through the Tenderloin along Polk Street, from South-of-Market, to the Castro,
to Bernal Heights – an exuberant ex-hippie, Harvey Milk, was building an
unlikely coalition of gays, lesbians, trade unionists, anti-war,
anti-skyscraper pro-neighborhood activists who started to feel that they could
wrestle the city back from a pro-business entrenched political machine.
As their new film opens,
Weissman (producer/director) and Weber (editor/co-director) recreate the
sickening moments when this new coalition – fresh off the heady triumph of
defeating the anti-gay school teacher Briggs ballot measure – were hit by an unimaginable
tsunami of deadly setbacks: the Jonestown massacre, the city hall
assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Milk and then the
inexplicable news of a mysterious “gay cancer” that was acquiring a body count
and, worse yet, creating a palpable sense of fear that the LGBT community’s
human enemies had never fostered.
We Were Here – in the
tradition of Word is Out and The Times of Harvey Milk – is
cradled in a direct address style of intimate storytelling: five people, who by
film’s end feel like personal friends, describe how the AIDS epidemic
challenged everything they knew about themselves and their adopted hometown.
Illustrated by heartbreaking video/photo albums of men who perished in the
earliest days of the plague – sometimes after undergoing excruciating drug
trials (I caught a poignant glimpse of a close friend whose odyssey included
ingestion of Chinese cucumbers) -- We Were Here is the rare film where
the slow drip of shocking, almost unbearably sad anecdotes – details that we
might be loath for people to know about our last moments – provide the human
underpinning for the fabled “San Francisco model” for AIDS treatment that held
a community together until effective, life saving drug cocktails arrived.
We Were Here is in the Sundance
U.S. Documentary Competition and will be back in town for a late February run
at the Castro.
Ticket to Paradise: Cuban director Gerardo Chijona
Valdez nestles a teens on the lam story in the unlikeliest of places: an AIDS
hospice as teen rockers find a sweet haven in 1993 Havana as the Cuban economy
goes into post Soviet Union aide withdrawal.
Kaboom: Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin) lets his
boundless appetite for sex crazed nimrod characters from every possible
gender/fetish express itself in a silly romp that breaks down the walls between
comedy and horror, becoming a lovely spoof of the very idea of social
Co-dependent Lesbian from Space Seeks Same: Madeleine
Olnek definitely nabs the festival’s unofficial wackiest, self-spoofing title
prize with her (based on the 49 second trailer) incredibly low-tech tale of
gift shop worker Jane (Lisa Haas) who falls for lesbian alien, Zoinx (Susan
Ziegler), while fending off G-Men Dennis Davis and Alex Karpovsky. If this one
lives up to or down to its Ed Wood sort of karma it could give Peaches Christ a
very juicy midnight madness play thing.
Pariah: Dee Rees plants an African-American baby
butch in the lovely limbo between a hot dyke Brooklyn club scene and the cell
phone tether of her conservative parents. Early festival buzz suggests there’s
a good story nestled in the moments when the ball cap and polo shirt give way
to nice earrings and a good girl façade.
Circumstance: Potentially one of the hottest of the
queer entries, Maryam Keshavarz explores the robust closet busting antics of an
Iranian girl whose brother is also making life miserable for their conservative
HERE: I have a firm rule to never overlook a film
that Ben Foster graces. Foster who gives almost every screen moment a sizzling
intensity that can suddenly explode or implode, is in HERE the very
up-to-the-minute international post-modern, post-industrial worker guy: a
satellite mapping engineer, charged with “ground-truthing” one of the planet’s
most trampled over piece of real estate, modern day Armenia. Braden King’s
(with co-writer Dani Valent) Sundance writing lab’s test story gives Foster a
romantic fling with an ex-patriot art photographer – Lubna Azabal is generating
early festival buzz.
The Ledge: Matthew Chapman’s guy talking another guy
down from a fatal leap could provide
British Queer As Folk alum Charlie Hunnam the career
reboot he’s clearly needed since wandering from the path.
Red State: Another queer friendly guy who needs a career
boost is Clerks’ creator Kevin Smith. Smith sends three teen guys on a horror
drench search for the perfect on-line ad blind date.
Little Birds: First time director/writer Elgin James’
own checkered past (including a recent arrest for alleged gang activities)
fuels this tale of teen girls (Attonement’s Juno Temple) on the lam in
Higher Ground: The eternal quest to find a movie
about religion that we and the fundies can agree on is undertaken by Sundance
vet Vera Farmiga who helms and stars in this ambitious tale of a mom who tries
to find her own special spiritual path. Reports are that the filmmakers resist
the impulse to make fun of or demonize fundamentalists while not just miming
Homework/Like Crazy: Two sleepers in the cute
guy with substance department: In the former Gavin Wiesen pulls a spin on high
school rebels employing Freddie Highmore and Snow Angel’s sweetie-pie
Michael Angarano; in the latter Drake Doremus frames a US/UK immigration love
story around the talents of Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones and Winter Bone’s Jennifer
Take Shelter: Fans of Jeff Nichols harrowing
breakthrough feature Shotgun Stories will be happy to hear that Sony
Classics has picked up his latest project that reunites him with his actor/muse
Michael Shannon. Shannon is a family man who’s digging a backyard shelter,
fearing either an apocalyptic event or his own mental breakdown.
Vampire: Transamerica’s Kevin Zegers is the
anti-hero of this edgy Canadian tale about a seemingly normal young man seeking
an on-line companion.
Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times:
Andrew Rossi explains how the digital age is remaking what many people feel is
our last real newspaper.