Friday, June 15, 2012

Reverend's Preview: Beasts, War & More in LA

Summer in Hollywood doesn’t just entail a wanna-be blockbuster opening every weekend. It also serves as the start of film festival season, with a new fest running virtually every week in the greater Los Angeles area between now and mid-November. Dances With Films recently ended, the LA Film Fest (LAFF) is now beginning, and Outfest is just around the corner.

LAFF, presented by Film Independent, opened last night with the US premiere of Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love (which fellow critics who saw it in advance are saying is no Midnight in Paris) and closes June 24th with the world premiere of the male stripper epic, Magic Mike. In between, a promising smattering of narrative features, documentaries and shorts — several of them GLBT-themed — will be screened.

Reverend was able to preview a handful of the festival’s offerings and even spoke with the acclaimed director of one of them (see further below). Of note among this year’s GLBT offerings is Four, which will have its world premiere at LAFF tonight. Adapted from Christopher Shinn’s play by talented new screenwriter-director Joshua Sanchez, it follows a quartet of ethnically-diverse and sexually-complex characters during one revelatory 4th of July night. One of them is an older African-American man (an excellent performance by Treme’s Wendell Pierce) who picks up a closeted chorus boy (Emory Cohen of Smash). Secrets and hypocrisies arise. The nicely shot (by Gregg Conde) but occasionally talky film is most potent in its characters’ silences. It is well worth seeing.

Other GLBT-interest films being shown include Call Me Kuchu, a documentary about the oppression of homosexuals in Uganda; Gayby, a feature version of the popular comedy short in which a gay man tries to impregnate his best girlfriend; and France’s Unforgivable, a bisexual, modern-day piece of film noir.

The Sundance- and Cannes-anointed indie Beasts of the Southern Wild will also screen tonight at LAFF. Set in “The Bathtub,” a small bayou community off the coast of Louisiana, the film is evocative and filled with magnificent sights and spirit. Its central character is 6-year-old Hushpuppy (an amazing debut by the charismatic Quvenzhane Wallis), who lives with her no-nonsense father (Dwight Henry, also a non-actor but similarly riveting). When disaster strikes in the dual forms of hurricane and heart disease, Hushpuppy must step up to the plate for the good of her community. Meanwhile, some giant, prehistoric monsters are also bearing down on The Bathtub. As wide-eyed and imaginative as its pint-sized heroine, Beasts of the Southern Wild shouldn’t be missed. It is scheduled to open in US theatres starting June 27th.

The Invisible War is the latest work of institutional critique by Oscar-nominated documentarian Kirby Dick. Dick previously took on the Roman Catholic Church with his Twist of Faith (2004), the secretive dealings of the Motion Picture Association of America in 2006’s This Film is Not Yet Rated, and anti-gay, frequently-closeted politicians in his last film, Outrage. In Dick’s latest, disturbing opus, he uncovers the dark history of sexual abuse against women and men serving in the US military by their fellow soldiers. It will receive a free screening at LAFF tomorrow, prior to its June 22nd theatrical release.

Dick, who I previously had the privilege of interviewing at the Sundance Film Festival when Twist of Faith premiered, spoke with Reverend a few days ago about his new film. No stranger to difficult subjects, the director revealed of making The Invisible War: “It was tough…I think I was more personally affected by this film than any other I worked on before.”

Consisting primarily of interviews with the victims, most of whom speak of their rape and abuse for the first time, Dick’s film is hard-hitting and upsetting. “To deal with these survivors, who are all really idealistic and joined the military because they felt it was the right thing to do, and hear their stories was devastating” he said. But Dick insists his film is not anti-military. “The intent of the film is to challenge one aspect of the military so it and our society as a whole will improve.”

The statistics are staggering. The Department of Defense estimates there were 19,000 violent sex crimes in the US military (many of which go unreported by the victims for fear of reprisal) in 2010 alone. 20% of all active-duty female soldiers have been sexually assaulted, and 1% of male soldiers (nearly 20,000) were sexually assaulted in 2009. While three male victims appear in The Invisible War, Dick says “It was much, much more difficult for the men to come forward and tell their stories; there is an incredible stigma.”

Throughout Dick’s more recent work, I’ve noticed a trend of critiquing historically patriarchal institutions. I asked him whether this was intentional on his part. “I am intentionally challenging patriarchal systems in my films,” he replied. “Certainly this is true of the Church — especially with the current attack by the bishops against American nuns — and the military and the film industry too, especially in light of the recent LA Times article about the predominantly-male membership of the Academy (of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences).” He admitted his tendency “to take on these institutions that are at the center of these injustices.”

I naturally asked Dick who his next target might be. “We are looking at a couple of institutions right now,” he shared without revealing any specifics. “We don’t want to give any ‘spoilers’ to the institutions we are thinking of investigating (laughs).” Here that, you representatives of abusive, patriarchal systems out there? You had better reform or your sins may soon be exposed on the big screen.

For more information about the 2012 LA Film Fest or to purchase tickets, visit their website.

Reverend's Ratings:
Four: B
Beasts of the Southern Wild: A-
The Invisible War: B+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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