art feature
 June 25, 2010

 

From Howl to Owls: The Gay & Lesbian Film Festival brings unique films to KC
by Dan Lybarger

Since 2000, the movies that have played at the Kansas City Gay & Lesbian Film + Video Festival have not only debunked a lot of stereotypes about gays and lesbians, but they’ve also demonstrated a diversity of subject matter and style that has been the envy of any festival in the area. What can you say about a festival that features both the light romantic film Big Eden and Outrage, a scathing documentary about how closeted politicians writing laws they themselves are unable to follow?

This year’s festival, which runs from Friday, June 25 through Thursday, July 1 at the Tivoli Cinemas, features A-List stars, landmark historical events and gems from other countries that might not screen otherwise in Kansas City. Tickets for evening shows are $8.50 and shows before 6:00 p.m. are $6.50. For more information or to order tickets go to www.kcgayfilmfest.com.

Howl

Friday, June 25 at 6:45 p.m.

The Festival’s opening night film stars James Franco as Allen Ginsberg in a film about how the poet’s most enduring work, Howl, was almost banned during an obscenity trial. In addition to recalling the trial and the era that sparked it, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Celluloid Closet) present a sort of visual representation of the poem. The cast includes Jeff Daniels, Jon Hamm, Mary-Louise Parker and David Strathairn.

You Should Meet My Son!

Tuesday, June 29 at 7:45 p.m.

Writer-director Keith Hartman made a name for himself with a pair of viral videos: “The Defenders,” www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNiqfRyoAyA&feature=player_embedded and “The License,” www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntC0PNHFRgU&feature=player_embedded) that dared to ask what is a traditional marriage after Proposition 8, the California law which banned same sex marriage after it had briefly been legal in the state.

“The License,” which received hundred of thousands of YouTube viewings features a man and a woman whose trip for a wedding license goes horribly wrong. The city clerk admonishes the groom for not offering six goats to the bride’s father and the bride for not wearing a chastity belt. More unpleasant, if antiquated, traditions follow.

Hartman, who will be presenting both short films and his new romantic comedy You Should Meet My Son!, says that people may be using the term “traditional” too loosely.

“That’s very much what we were trying to point out,” says Hartman from his home in Los Angeles. “Traditions have been changing for a long time and for the better. I’ve heard a lot people talk about how they’d like to go back to the good old time times, and I say, ‘If you knew what you were talking about, you would not want to be living then.’”

Having written the nonfiction book Congregations in Conflict: The Battle over Homosexuality and the genre-bending novels The Gumshoe Witch and the Virtual Corpse and Gumshoe Gorilla, he turned to viral filmmaking to express his outrage over what the 2008 law. “I’m not really good at marching: I can’t deal with crowds. So, what can I do? I make films,” Hartman says.

You Should Meet My Son! — his debut feature — has a lighter tone that his previous films. The film concerns a conservative southern mother named Mae (JoAnne McGee) who discovers that her son’s roommate shared more than the rent with him. While she’s initially traumatized by the revelation, she and her sister Rose (Carol Goans) love young Brian (Stewart Carrico) just the way he is and proceed to befriend every gay man they can find in order to locate a better “roommate” for him.

Hartman says, “I wouldn’t have written this film if I wasn’t from Alabama. We had an Academy Award-winning actress back out at the last minute. She said, ‘No woman in this day and age’ could have a 30-year-old son and not know that he’s gay.’ I said, ‘You need to come back to Alabama and meet some of my neighbors.’”

Although You Should Meet My Son! has played at other festivals, Kansas Citians will be the first viewers to catch the film with its final musical score and with proper color correction. When asked how he feels to present a work-in-progress at a festival, Hartman bluntly replies, “Nerve-wracking. I’ve borrowed a huge amount out of my retirement account. People either love it, or they don’t.” But the laughs the film generates should defuse any objections.

Undertow (Contracorriente)

Monday, June 28 at 7:45 p.m.

Part ghost story and moral allegory, this terrific Peruvian entry concerns a married fisherman named Miguel (Cristian Mercado) who’s carrying on a clandestine affair with a visiting artist named Santiago (Manolo Cardona). The two men practically drive each other to madness because Miguel won’t leave his pregnant wife (Tatiana Astengo). He frequently dismisses Santiago in public even though he wants to run back into the other man’s arms when everybody else leaves.

After Santiago suddenly dies and Miguel becomes the only person in the village who can see him, it initially seems as if their crises are over. Miguel gradually discovers, however, that all three members of the triangle suffer because he simply can’t be honest with anyone else in his life. Beautifully filmed and downright heartbreaking, Undertow won audience prizes at the Sundance, San Sebastian and Miami Film Festivals for writer-director Javier Fuentes-León.

In addition to the justly acclaimed Undertow, this year’s festival also includes Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s French-language I Killed My Mother, which took three prizes at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls, a documentary about New Zealand entertainers who claim to be “the world’s only comedic, singing, dancing lesbian sisters.” It earned a People’s Choice Award at Toronto in 2009.

The Owls

Sunday, June 27 at 6:45 p.m.

Some of the other offerings at this year’s festival include The Owls, an intriguing little film that defies any easy categorization. It’s about middle-aged two lesbian couples that are united only by the fact that they are hiding the death of younger woman after a party got out of hand. Director Cheryl Dunye (The Watermelon Woman) intersperses the story with talking head testimony from all the characters, including the woman who dies in the opening frames. She even includes cast interviews where the performers admit that their roles aren’t the most likable.

Also included are the documentaries Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, which is shown Friday, June 25, and Stonewall Uprising, presented Monday, June 28 at 5:45 p.m., the 41st anniversary of the actual uprising.

While independent cinema has been struggling in the current market place, Hartland says that films that cater to gay and lesbian audiences can still do good business.

“The gay market is generally much stronger than the general market if you’re in a low-enough budget range. There’s still a limited number of places where gay people can go to see themselves in movies.”

Dan Lybarger can be contacted at  Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com.