"Never a victim" might work as a mantra for nearly all the gay characters striding across festival screens over the next two weeks. In 1939, the fearlessly butch writer, junkie, and adventuress Annemarie Schwarzenbach embarked on an auto expedition to Afghanistan with travel journalist Ella Maillart. The Journey to Kafiristan, an intriguingly ephemeral but unnecessarily dour Swiss-German-Dutch production, dramatizes the unwavering tension -- sexual and otherwise -- that marked these women's longing for escape and freedom.
Tension, or any form of rigor, is absent from the Cuban farce Nights of Constantinople. Hernán's secret erotic novel wins an international prize, shocking his conservative grandmother into a coma and the household into anarchy. After endless shenanigans and double-crosses, a troupe of drag queens rides to the rescue just ahead of the end credits. At least the film posits a semivisible place for gays in Cuba; in the Japan of Waterboys, an unapologetically sophomoric teen comedy about five losers who become unexpectedly cool by leading a wave of male synchronized swimming, "queer" is an afterthought. In this context, the ultra-brief appearance of a pair of transvestite beauty parlor owners and a 30-second reference to one boy's long-standing crush on another aren't homophobic so much as surreally out of place.
Surprisingly, the feel-good films in the lineup come courtesy of Bay Area documentary makers. Johnny Symons' delightful first-person Sundance entry Daddy & Papa depicts his and other gay men's success in adopting children, bureaucracies notwithstanding. "All straight people have to do is fuck, and they get a kid," gripes Johnny's partner, William. "We have to be grilled." Another pioneer, Harry Hay, formed the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles more than 50 years ago in the face of queer persecution -- and never stopped campaigning for gay rights. Health permitting, he'll be on hand for Eric Slade's history/hagiography Hope Along the Wind: The Life of Harry Hay. But if all this love makes your sweet tooth ache, catch Pasolini's scabrous 1968 satire Teorema instead.
Pier Paolo Pasolini and a Dream's Reason: Friday, April 19, 7 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Sunday, April 28, 3:45 p.m., Park
The Journey to Kafiristan: Saturday, April 20, 4 p.m., Castro; Tuesday, April 23, 10 p.m., AMC Kabuki
Nights of Constantinople: Sunday, April 21, 9:30 p.m., Castro; Thursday, April 25, 9:15 p.m., Pacific Film Archive
Waterboys: Saturday, April 20, 10 p.m., Castro; Monday, April 22, 4 p.m., Castro; Thursday, April 25, 1 p.m., AMC Kabuki
Daddy & Papa: Monday, April 22, 6:30 p.m., Castro; Tuesday, April 23, 1 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Friday, April 26, 4:30 p.m., Pacific Film Archive
Hope Along the Wind: The Life of Harry Hay: Sunday, April 21, 12:45 p.m., AMC Kabuki; Thursday, April 25, 9:30 p.m., AMC Kabuki
Teorema: Sunday, April 21, 6:30 p.m., Castro