Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Reverend's Preview: Same-Sex Love is in the Air at Newport Beach Film Festival


The 17th annual Newport Beach Film Festival (NBFF) will take place April 21st-28th at multiple venues in and around its seaside setting. While not an exclusively LGBTQ fest, its programmers strive each year to incorporate at least a few films of appeal for our community. This year is no exception and actually a bit stronger than last year’s festival in this regard.

April 22nd’s Friday night spotlight film will be the Southern California premiere of Love is All You Need? This hard-hitting drama imagines a world where to be gay or lesbian is the morally-acceptable norm and being straight is considered wrong. Gender roles are also reversed in this otherwise conservative-Christian society. The local Catholic priest is female, as is the star quarterback of the high school football team.

Things start to change when the quarterback, Jude, and a male sports journalist find themselves falling in love with each other. When Jude is outed by her vengeful ex-girlfriend, the pair are disdainfully labelled “ros” (short for heteros) by their schoolmates and subjected to intense and ultimately tragic bullying.

Kim Rocco Shields adapted Love is All You Need? from her award-winning 2011 short film of the same title. When the short was leaked online without Shields’ approval but went viral, it providentially created a global dialogue about human rights, bullying and prejudice that is still going on today. The writer-director decided to expand her short into a feature film to similarly expand and further this dialogue.

“This is a very important project,” Shields said via phone in advance of this year’s Newport Beach Film Festival. “I’ve been working on it for over seven years. Everything that happens in the film has happened to someone, especially the religious content.” She revealed that her movie’s Christian zealots were inspired by Kansas’s notoriously anti-LGBT Westboro Baptist Church (although the film is set in Indiana). True to form, the church’s members have already condemned Shields for helping to bring about the Apocalypse.

The LA-based filmmaker specialized in commercials and educational videos before she developed Love is All You Need? While the feature version is heavy-handed at times and a little too long at over two hours, it emerges as a potent, science fiction-esque morality play not unlike a classic episode of The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling would no doubt approve.

“The film is free of stereotypes,” Shields said. “It begs the question ‘what if things were reversed?’ A gay world has been done before but only from a comedic or satiric perspective (notably the stage musical Zanna, Don’t!).” There are few laughs to be found in Love is All You Need? despite a cast that includes ordinarily funny name actors like Ana Ortiz (Devious Maids, Ugly Betty), Robert Gant (Queer as Folk, Popular) and Jeremy Sisto (Suburgatory, Clueless).

Shields’ movie will surely get people talking after it screens in Newport Beach. Whether their reaction is positive or negative, the conversation over important issues raised by the film will continue. As the director optimistically told me, “I think it’s going to change the world.”

My personal favorite of the fest films I’ve seen is Seeking: Jack Tripper, writer-director Quinlan Orear’s comedic yet sweet depiction of the misadventures of a married gay couple who try to spice up their sex life by picking up a guy for a threesome at a local dive. “So you guys are trying the Jack Tripper; you know, Three’s Company,” declares their astute bartender. This short is worth seeing for the bar’s Dorothy Michaels/Tootsie impersonator alone.

Other LGBTQ films to be screened this year include:
  • Io E Lei (Me Myself and Her), which also serves as the fest’s Italian spotlight film. It is a tragi-comic exploration of the five-year romance between two women, Marina and Federica.
  • Alexa to Exa, by Alexa Zminkowski, is a self-narrated doc about a transitioning transgender teen.
  • Breaking Fast focuses on the budding romance between a practicing Muslim and an American in West Hollywood.
  • Hole, a sure to be interesting, animated conversation between two men through a restroom glory hole.
  • Nineteen, in which a dying young man's sister buys him a prostitute so that he can lose his virginity.
  • Passengers, about a gay, deaf Lyft driver and his various clientele.
  • Pink Boy is the acclaimed documentary about a boy who prefers dressing like a girl and his adoptive, trying-to-be-supportive mothers, two butch lesbians who were never into anything "girly."
  • A Proud Woman tells the story of a transgender caretaker in Singapore who is forced to stand up for herself when the daughter of the woman she works for threatens to expose her identity.
  • Randy, a cheery short about the power of positivity and fabulousness as seen through the eyes of Randy, who has Down Syndrome. Among its cast is the always delightful Missi Pyle (Where the Bears Are, Another Period).

Tickets for this year’s festival offerings may be purchased by visiting the NBFF website or calling 949-253-2880.

By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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