If size matters, the 27th San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival must be meaningful indeed. From its ramshackle origins as a small event with a handful of titles, it's become the world's biggest gay movie fest. This is Cannes for queers, with high visibility, wheeling and dealing, glamorous guest stars, and 77 features and 194 shorts from 32 countries sprawled across a mind-numbing 18 days.
Of course, quantity doesn't always mean quality, and this year's SFILGFF has its share of stinkers, not the least of which is the dreary drag satire Die Mommie Die, inexplicably the opening-night film. Fortunately, though, there's plenty else here to please the fest's multiple constituencies.
In accordance with its reputation for l'amour, France weighs in with some of this year's most seductive works. Porn Theatre brilliantly blends a seriocomic story with hard-core sex in its depiction of an evening in the life of the titular space. Close to Leo, about a young boy coming to terms with his brother's sickness, deftly dodges the mawkishness common to "AIDS dramas." The confusions of love and friendship among angsty teens filigree the fresh, well-acted You'll Get Over It.
Admission is $5-9 for single tickets (prices vary for special events and festival passes)
Closer to home, The Giftpowerfully riffs on the controversial practice of "gift giving" and "bug chasing" -- those apocalyptic activities wherein addled queers doggedly attempt to give and get HIV.
The Gang of Four wisely warned that history's "not made by great men," but some of those great men (and women) at least make it more interesting. Surely that's the case with radical novelist, playwright, and master of aphoristic dish Gore Vidal, lovingly sketched in The Education of Gore Vidal.His bons mots ("Why become a senator when you can buy one?") are especially welcome in a country crawling with criminal politicians. Other "greats" feted this year include charismatic poet Audre Lorde (The Edge of Each Other's Battles) and, for connoisseurs of white trash, the irresistible Anna Nicole Smith (Dark Roots).
But "real people" are this fest's bread and butter, and there are a number of worthy works probing the lives and loves of the hoi polloi. Juchitan, Queer Paradisehappily tours an unsuspected homo Shangri-La in southern Mexico. Dildo Diarieshilariously explores latex lovin' via a visit to that zany Gehenna known as Texas, where possession of five dildos is OK but six is, of course, a felony.
Put the Camera on Me is a knockout doc exploring the world of a budding queer filmmaker in the 1980s. Darren Stein started making movies in the '80s at age 7, corralling his too-willing pals to enact gory, sexy, campy dramas that are well sampled here. Budding artists of all orientations are advised to forget the tired tropes of Orson Welles and other decrepit enfants terribles: This kiddie auteur is the real deal.