Monday, May 22, 2006

2006: the nadir of gay cinema

As of late, I find that gay cinema (for lack of a better term) sucks.

I can say this, because I am not only a movie maven, but I am also on the selection committee for the North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Now, before some of you scoff at that and think that the words 'gay' and 'north carolina' should never appear in the same sentence together, you should realize that the NC film festival is one of the most respected in our country. This year marks the 11th anniversary of the festival and now we even have Sundance's stamp of approval! So nyah!

Durham, bizarre as it may sound, is this odd little island of insane liberalness in a big red sea of conservatism. It hosts the American Dance Festival every summer (HUGE dance event), the Full Frame documentary film festival, and the Gay and Lesbian film festival. Not to mention being home to Duke University, a huge lesbian population, and all things American Tobacco.

This week our little committee meets to finalize our film choices for this year's film festival (August 10 - 13). We've been compiling ratings on an ever-growing list of films for a month and a half now, and it is finally drawing to a conclusion. And for that I actually send up a silent prayer. I wish I could say that I was overjoyed by this year's crop of films, but alas... I cannot.

Please don't get the wrong impression; I love being on the selection committee. Its a big honor for me, its fun, and I get the chance to see a lot of films that most people don't get to see. Its cool to get to see the fruits of some other fruit's labor. Plus I get to be 'back stage' at the festival and act all important. Its ego-boosting for sure.

I think some of my negativity perhaps stems from the fact that after weeks of being bombarded by gay and transgender-themed movies, I honestly get a bit 'gayed out'. The rest of my negativity stems from the fact that the majority of the films are pure schlock.

I'm being generous when I use the term 'schlock'. To make it more North Carolinian, I could call it "Pure-T Schock". Dreck would be apropos. Drivel works too. So does shit. Whichever synonym you choose, it doesn't sound good.

I wish my ratings reflected some sort of overinflated sense of Ebert-Roeper egotism, but I really don't think that's it. When you boil it down, I'm an easy grader with fairly low standards. As long as the movie has good pacing, a few cute people, believable situations, and a few laughs (or tears), I give it full marks. And I enjoy the full gamut of cinema: drama, documentary, mockumentary, comedy, dramedy, satire... you name it, I value it all. And I really even lower my standards for the gays because of the independent nature and small budget constraints of the films.

But Jesus wept! The films don't have to suck, do they folks?

I screened at least four films involving drag queens trying to camp it up but failing miserably. Drag murders, drag zombies, drag queens trying to outgross Divine. None of the films remotely worked. I enjoy high camp as much as the next gay man, but these were more like low camp. Or the outhouse AT camp. Uggh.

There were several self-indulgent short films that were sort of documentary-ish but that didn't make much of a statement other than "Hi, I got a sony handicam for christmas".

The documentaries were a real mixed bag. There were a lot of docs about transgender folks- the most disturbing of which involved transgenders in prison. Seriously creepy. Oh, and my two personal favorites involved fetishes: pony play, and pup play. To spare you the google search, pony play involves people dressing up and pretending to be horses (with bits, harnesses, stirrups, blinders, riding crops, etc. Sometimes they even have riders). Pup play is similar but involves pretending to be a dog.

Also in the whole melange were some bizarre, experimental films, one of which involved stop action placement (and removal) of hundreds of donut holes on a naked man. (why???)

We also get a lot of foreign films. I like foreign films because they don't seem to be bound by the constraints of mainstream hollywood-america. In other words, they tend to be really out there. Most of these I generally liked. The slickest one was a futuristic, french, bladerunner-esque story about cloning. Unfortunately it was all in futuristic, parisian-french slang with no subtitles. Try following THAT for 30 minutes!

Of course, after sifting through all of this, there were a few keepers. If you can get to a film festival this year, I think you should look for the following:

Amnesia- guy loses memory, and struggles with trying to remember if he's gay or not

Boy Culture- I didn't see this one, but our committee recommends it highly

Coffee Date- straight guy internet blind date goes awry when date turns out to be a gay man. Straight guy's life spirals into 'gaydom' afterward against his will.

Long Term Relationship- personal ad brings two together, but trying to make it a long term thing proves more difficult

Mormor's Visit- swedish short film about an escaped granny who comes to visit her gay grandchild in NYC

Man Seeking Man- finnish short film about a man placing an ad for the first time, but doesn't quite get what he bargained for. This is one uncomfortable film!

Oedipus- French bladerunner-esque film. Very slick- as long as you have subtitles!

Room Service- my favorite film! A short about a kid who hires a hustler from an ad, and the hustler used to be an actor (and the childhood crush) of the kid.

What grown ups know- Aussie film. Sort of a complicated ailing mother / son /'daddy' triangle.


And that's it. Kind of a short list from the 100 plus films we received in. Not like I saw all of them, but it was enough.

That'll do pig, that'll do.

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