Saturday, January 28, 2012

Reverend's Report: The Year in GLBT Film Begins

Each January, the eyes of everyone in Hollywood turn toward remote Park City, Utah. While skiing may be on the agenda for some, most film industry insiders are curious about the offerings at this year's Sundance and Slamdance film festivals. The concurrent events ending this weekend provide a sneak preview of independent movies that GLBT audiences can look forward to later in 2012. After all, such popular queer-interest films as Pariah, Circumstance, Contracorriente (Undertow) and Quinceniera all debuted at Sundance in the past.

Some of this year's most intriguing GLBT indies that just had their world or US premieres in Park City include:

Unconditional: From British director Bryn Higgins comes this dark, psycho-sexual tale about bored teenage twins, Kristen and Owen, who meet an older man promising them endless love and good times... if Owen becomes his sister.

Love Free or Die: The bluntly-titled biography of openly gay Episcopalian bishop Gene Robinson, this documentary provides considerable insight into the many obstacles he has endured as he has tried to serve God's people (including death threats) as well as into his longtime relationship with his devoted partner.

Heavy Girls: A poignant German comedy, in which an overweight "mama's boy" teams with his elderly mother's male caregiver to find her when she goes missing. The two men soon discover an unexpected affection for each other. Heavy Girls won two special awards at Slamdance: a Special Jury Award for Bold Originality and the Spirit of Slamdance "Sparky" Award.

The Invisible War: Not specifically GLBT but nonetheless of interest is the latest eye-opening documentary by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Kirby Dick (Twist of Faith, This Film Is Not Yet Rated). He details how an estimated 30% of women and at least 1% of men serving in the US military have been sexually assaulted by their trusted comrades.

Kelly: A young transgender prostitute searches for love and acceptance in a landscape of broken Hollywood dreams in this powerful documentary.

Keep the Lights On: Documentarian Ira Sachs helmed this fictionalized but no less personal account of a gay relationship fueled as much by addiction as attraction. This film was among the finalists in the Sundance Film Festival's US Dramatic Competition.

How to Survive a Plague: A bracing expose of mostly HIV-positive young men and women who took on the medical establishment during the AIDS epidemic's early years. Not unlike last year's We Were Here, this is a revealing and inspiring documentary.

In addition to features, both Slamdance and Sundance showcased a number of GLBT-interest short films. Notable among these were 33 Teeth, about a hormonal boy who becomes fixated on the comb of his hunky neighbor; The Devotion Project: More Than Ever, the moving true story of two men who forged a 54-year romance against tremendous odds; Park, in which a teenage girl living in a trailer park begins a relationship with an older woman; The Thing, by trans filmmaker Rhys Ernst, finds a trans man, his girlfriend and their pee-shy cat on a road trip to see the title oddity; and Andrew Ahn's intuitive, telling Dol, which focuses on a gay Korean-American man's coming of age through the occasion of his nephew's first birthday.

I can't conclude without mentioning the Slamdance Audience Award winner for Best Feature Narrative, Bindlestiffs. It is directed by Andrew Edison, who has the distinction not only of being the youngest filmmaker at this year's fests but of being the grand-nephew of cinema pioneer Thomas Edison (curiously, both Edisons are deaf in their right ears). Tom Cruise's Joel in 1983's Risky Business didn't have anything on the three degenerate youths (one of them played by the director) desperate to lose their virginity in Bindlestiffs. It is crude, gay-ish, bound to offend some and absolutely hilarious. Watch for it and all the great features and shorts showcased in the Mormon capitol this year.

UPDATE: Congratulations to the makers of Love Free or Die and The Invisible War, who are among the award winners of this year's Sundance Film Festival.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

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