Ask, Tell: The 1999 San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
Homogenization is supposed to be for milk, not movies, but increasingly, mainstream cinema is becoming a faceless, lifeless art form, bottom-lined into oblivion. With marketing, demographic studies, and special effects narrowing the individual vision, the proliferation of film festivals grows ever more necessary. Happily, we live in film fest central, and one of the best is the annual San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. The largest event of its kind in the world, this year's fest offers a mammoth 267 mostly indie features, documentaries, and shorts by, for, and/or about queers of every persuasion and anyone interested in cinema who's so far resisted the corporate makeover.
Some of the more notable films follow the path of most resistance; few of these could make it onto "normal" American movie screens. For example, closing night's Show Me Love, directed by poet Lukas Moodysson, unleashes an unrepentant 15-year-old dyke and her objet d'amour, the school's bad blonde, on a clueless Swedish suburb. This enchanting film played to European audiences as Fucking Amal, the pair's pet name for the town they can't wait to escape. More transgressions appear in Queer as Folk, an eight-part series from Britain's Channel 4 that trumps Tales of the City in presenting engaging television homos having sex, doing drugs, and having all manner of illicit fun. Svend Wam's Desperate Acquaintances deserves attention merely for exploiting the hitherto unknown musical form of Norwegian bossa nova, but it's also a sweet story that reverses the common scenario of emotionally overwrought queen pining over hunky but indifferent straight man.
Closer to home, San Francisco is the setting for a hefty 37 works, with mixed results. Monika Treut's Gendernauts is a fascinating excavation of an elaborate tranny subculture; it shows how the marginal can gain many of the advantages of the mainstream through sheer will and a kind of tribal bonding. Less resonant but equally local is Scott King's Treasure Island, whose fabricated newsreel approach will amuse some and confound others. Nick Katsapetses' The Joy of Smoking, with its endless, allegedly satirical monologuing by a mismatched gay couple, is recommended only for San Francisco movie completists.
Another local, the inescapable Annie Sprinkle, appears in two of the films: once in Gendernauts, hugging the trannies, and again in Annie Sprinkle's Herstory of Porn. Aficionados may bristle at Sprinkle's version of "porn history" (she stars in every damn clip), but it's still a lively stroll through her life and work and has the distinction of offering by far the most images of hard-core sex in the fest (including the rarely spotted "trannydick").
Hong Kong fave Stanley Kwan is being honored this year and brings his two most recent efforts. Hold Me Tight is a tedious tale of unrequited gay love; the fact that it's Kwan's first feature as an out gay director may convince some viewers to add a few nails to their closet doors. Better is his history of homo imagery in Chinese films, Yin and Yang. Among the usual clips from queer-tinged chop-socky epics and John Woo's homoerotic ballets are some surprising finds, most notably potent images of the immensely popular Yan Kim-Fai, a star of midcentury Chinese movies who acted and lived with her female partner.
Other interesting docs this year include Red Rain, a pleasant portrait of lesbian boxer Gina "Boom Boom" Guidi; The Man Who Drove With Mandela, a fine docudrama about a gay man who played a crucial part in burying apartheid; and the long-awaited After Stonewall. Numbered among the many worthy features are the bittersweet Miguel/Michelle, in which a Filipino tranny causes an uproar in her native village; Don't Tell Anyone, a scathing indictment of the South American cult of machismo; and the wonderfully abrasive Spin the Bottle, an update of The Big Chill with a queer twist. President Clinton's poisonous "don't ask, don't tell" to the contrary, what distinguishes that film, and indeed much of the festival, is its characters' insistence, regardless of the consequences, on "asking and telling."
-- Gary Morris
The 1999 San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival screens Thursday through Sunday, June 17-27, at the Castro, Roxie, and Victoria theaters. See Reps Etc. on Page 92 for more specific screening info or call 703-8663 for tickets, information, and times.
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