(*homocinematically inclined)

Monday, April 23, 2018

Reverend's Preview: Newport Beach Film Fest 2018 is Larger than Life


Despite having one major LGBT offering pulled at the eleventh hour by its distributor, this year’s Newport Beach Film Festival (NBFF) will still spotlight several feature-length and short films of interest to our community. The 19th annual event will run April 26th through May 3rd at multiple venues in and around its renowned host city.

NBFF strives each year to bring to Orange County the best of classic and contemporary filmmaking from around the world. It also provides an important forum for cultural understanding and enriching educational opportunities by showcasing a diverse collection of studio and independent films.

Among these are a number of productions with LGBTQ appeal, although this year’s final lineup had not been announced at press time. LGBTQ filmmakers participate as well as thousands of both LGBTQ and straight festival attendees.

One intended inclusion this year was The Game Is Up, a new documentary about LGBT professional athletes. It is inspiring and features several 2018 Olympians including out freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy. Unfortunately, distributor AT&T decided not to screen it at NBFF due to an altered release plan. The film is worth seeing though, whenever and wherever it does eventually show.

UPDATE: The Game Is Up has been retitled as Alone in the Game and will premiere on the AT&T Audience Network on June 28th. Watch the trailer here.

Another standout documentary that will be screened is Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story. Aucoin (pronounced Ah-kwan) revolutionized the art of makeup in the 1980's and 90's and would subsequently become an icon.

After his birth in 1962, Aucoin’s mother gave him up for adoption. He was taken in and raised by a loving family in Lafayette, Louisiana. As a kid, he continuously listened to Barbra Streisand and Cher albums, and was later spotlighted in his high school’s newspaper for his devotion to these divas. He is described in the film as “a tall and lanky club kid, dramatic and over-the-top.”

By the age of 11, Aucoin had committed himself to glamour and beauty, according to one of his friends at the time. Aucoin stated once he was an adult that he had been “a regular little boy who also liked some of the things girls did.” This paid off when he met a New York makeup artist by chance in the early 1980’s. “Months later, he was a pro beyond belief,” the artist who discovered Aucoin reports in the film.

Aucoin took a more naturalistic approach to makeup, and changed the style of the time as a result. “Meticulous,” “a painter” and “a natural with a twist” are a few of the descriptions applied to him in the film. He was also one of the first prominent, openly gay artists at the time and later prided himself on “working toward acceptance of diversity in this business.”

Following his initial work on models (including Paulina Porizkova and Christy Turlington, pictured above with Aucoin) and porn actresses, he began a highly successful career in New York City doing makeup for the covers of such big magazines as Vogue and Cosmopolitan. Aucoin worked on such beautiful and talented women as Tina Turner, Janet Jackson, Cindy Crawford, Brooke Shields, Andie McDowell, Liza Minnelli, the late Whitney Houston, and his childhood fave, Cher. As one of them comments, “He was addicted to making us beautiful.”Cher is interviewed in the documentary about her admiration for the late artist.

Sadly, Aucoin was diagnosed with a rare pituitary condition that caused some parts of his body, including his hands and skull, to grow larger than normal. This became more painful over time and he became addicted to Vicodin and other pain medications. Word of his addiction spread through the industry and ended his career. Aucoin died in 2002 at the age of 40 as a result of his drug abuse.

Directed by Tiffany Bartok, Larger Than Life is a comprehensive, intimate look at Aucoin’s short-lived but impressive time on Earth. His legend as both a makeup artist and a pioneer in the fight for LGBT rights lives on. Not even Aucoin’s untimely death could stop the revolution he helped to launch. As no less a luminary than Cher states in the documentary, “He inspired so many people.”

NBFF 2018 will also present an LGBTQ short films program entitled “Short, Sweet & Queer.” The lineup includes the following: 
  • Alex and the Handyman, in which a 9-year old boy develops a crush on the moody 25-year old guy who works in his family’s mansion.
  • Broad Strokes, about two gay, platonic friends who contemplate marrying each other and raising a family when they fail to find their significant others.
  • Disforia finds a young, gender-queer person returning home after an absence to discover his family has moved away and their house has been sold.
  • Jordy in Transitland, a modern fairy tale about a trans woman on the brink of her physical transition who finds it more challenging than anticipated.
  • Manivald, an animated exploration of the title character’s harmonious life being disrupted by the arrival of a hot young plumber.
  • Suitable, which features a young, ethnically diverse cast in a story of gender politics.
  • Swim, the award-winning look at a young trans girl who finds freedom taking a secret midnight swim.

Individual tickets and festival passes are now on sale. They may be purchased by visiting the NBFF website or calling 949-253-2880.

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

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