We're Here, We're Queer

2000 San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival

Some of the stronger features that deserve a commercial run are Gerardo Vera's Second Skin, a passionate love triangle drama starring two of Spain's hunkiest actors; Rodrique Jean's Full Blast, a solid slice of working-class life, gay and straight, in a remote Canadian coastal town; Aisling Walsh's Forgive and Forget, a well-acted coming-out drama that proves that television -- at least Scottish TV -- can be a rich source of queer imagery; and Liu Bingjian's Men and Women, a subtly comic tale of a straight country boy's initiation into the wicked ways of the big city (Beijing).

More upbeat fun can be found in the fest's opening and closing nights' films. Taking them in reverse order, Jamie Babbit's But I'm a Cheerleader has a bright, colorful quality and a farcical approach to the subject of forced conversion of gay teens to heterosexuality that makes it easy to swallow, if ultimately forgettable. Natasha Lyonne shines as the 17-year-old cheerleader who must learn the abiding pleasures of the straight life. Patrik-Ian Polk's Punks is a rarity: a black, gay Friends. Set in Los Angeles and shot in vivid pastels, this film too veers between bathos and farce but gets points for some witty lines and a buoyancy that extends to the ending, which is far indeed from the "happy homosexual = gay corpse" formula that used to be de rigueur in queer film.

Finally, murderous dykes were once as common in movies as gay corpses, but that's mostly changed now. Still, the festival deserves credit for revisiting "killer lesbians" in a special program of that title. The series has six films and a slide show, but most significant here is the revival of Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct. Some will recall that this 1992 film caused wild protests, letter-writing campaigns, and general hand-wringing amongst many gays and lesbians. The fact that it no longer triggers such reactions shows that it's perceived as an innocent artifact of another time, and that the gay community can now afford to be more democratic and open about such things. In this sense, even Warren Sonbert might say the queer community is finally growing up.

2000 San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
Screening June 15-25 at the Castro Theater, 429 Castro (at Market); the Victoria Theater, 2961 16th St. (at Capp); and the Roxie Cinema, 3117 16th St. (at Valencia). For more information on tickets and show times of individual films call the festival's hot line at 703-8663 or visit www.frameline.org/festival.

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