by Sara Michelle Fetters -
SGN A&E Writer
Last night at Seattle's landmark Cinerama Theatre, the 17th Annual Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (SLGFF) kicked off with a gala screening of Struck by Lightning, a high school coming-of-age comedy about a young man hit by lightning who subsequently finds a way to blackmail his fellow students into contributing to his literary magazine. Written by and starring Emmy nominee Chris Colfer (Glee), in many ways the movie was a perfect start to this year's event, embracing the festival's 'Come Out and Play' mantra in all the ways that count.
'Even in our 17th year, programming the festival never gets old,' comments Jason Plourde, interim executive director of Three Dollar Bill Cinema. Speaking the day before Thursday's opening, Jason could hardly contain himself. 'I am definitely excited,' he continues with a smile, 'but of course there's always some nervousness that comes with producing an 11-day, 150-film event that anticipates thousands of attendees. That goes without saying.'
For help programming the 2012 version of SLGFF, Jason pulled from Seattle's rich cinematic resources. 'It was a wonderful experience putting together the festival,' he comments. 'We had a fascinating collection of films to choose from and a diverse group of people viewing, discussing, and selecting films. Our programming committees are led by Keith Bacon, lead programmer, and this year our friend Beth Barrett from the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) came on board as programming coordinator.'
With the world of independent film opening itself to even more diverse and challenging stories, the longtime Three Dollar Bill Cinema stalwart couldn't be happier with both the state of LGBT film at large as well as with the schedule of screenings and events he and his staff have created. 'Filmmakers are telling challenging stories and are expanding the definitions of what LGBT cinema means,' Jason observes. 'Beyond coming-out stories, there are documentaries on social issues, thoughtful relationship dramas, and experimental films [and] I think audiences want films that broaden the genre of LGBT cinema. We know our audience is diverse and the films we show should reflect that. Doing so also makes for a more interesting lineup.'
What about this year's lineup? Any standout selections Jason is personally fond of? 'There's so much to choose from,' he says with a smile. 'I think Habana Muda is one of the most personal and thought-provoking films I've seen all year. It is a look at the lives of deaf Queer people, which is unique. The tribute to Maurice Sendak is a free family program, so bring the kids and celebrate a groundbreaking Gay artist! We're also featuring two films that have won awards at Sundance, Berlin, and countless other festivals, the completely moving and important Call Me Kuchu and our Closing Night film, Young & Wild. That film is definitely an example of envelope-pushing, contemporary, sexual Queer cinema.'
FUN WITH A PURPOSE
For Jason, this year's SLGFF tagline has a special meaning. 'We open this year on National Coming Out Day and 'Come Out and Play' refers to that,' he explains. 'But, even more, it speaks to the fun that happens throughout the festival. Why not encourage people to 'come out' since we know that visibility is what leads to acceptance and understanding of our community, and it's that sort of excitement and commitment from the community that is going to help us Approve Ref 74 in November!'
As for Three Dollar Bill Cinema, the local nonprofit shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon, a full slate of events on the organization's calendar. 'Three Dollar Bill Cinema is doing a lot and we're poised to do even more,' says Jason exuberantly. 'We're starting to bring our programs to areas outside of Seattle and want to do more to support the filmmaking happening in our community. We're also constantly developing and growing our Reel Queer Youth program and hope to have even more young people participate next year.'
In regard to this year's edition of SLGFF, Jason is more than happy to offer up advice for those making plans to head out to the theater. 'Choose a selection of films that are diverse and may challenge what you would normally see,' he urges. 'Come to the receptions through the week of the festival and talk with other attendees about films and the festival. Definitely come to a program during Take Action Tuesday [October 16]. That whole night is devoted to films that are about issues important to the LGBT community, and organizations will be there to provide information and opportunities to get involved. Most important of all, have fun, enjoy the films, and get inspired!'
Following are capsule reviews for some of the films playing Friday, October 12, through Thursday, October 18 (see next week's SGN for the remainder). Festival passes range from $85 to $210 while individual tickets are $11 (there are senior, youth, and member discounts). Visit www.threedollarbillcinema.org for all the details.
Habuna Muda (Friday, Oct. 12, 5:45 p.m., Northwest Film Forum)
A well-done documentary from director Eric Brach covering three years in the life of deaf-mute Havana farm worker Chino. The movie posits a relatively impossible choice, Chino having to decide if he should flee Cuba to join Jose, a Mexican who claims to have fallen in love with him. Complicating matters are his relationships with his wife and with his friends in the Cuban deaf-mute community. The movie is relatively straightforward and doesn't exactly surprise, but Brach showcases events as they happen with remarkable intimacy and immediacy, the feeling of hope flowing through the picture close to astonishing. (3 stars)
Elliot Loves (Friday, Oct. 12, 7:15 p.m., Northwest Film Forum)
A somewhat standard coming-of-age romance made notable for its robust and invigorating first half, which chronicles its titular protagonist as a questioning nine-year-old (beautifully portrayed by child actor Quentin Araujo). Things get a bit more standard by the time Elliott (now played by Fabio Costaprado) reaches 21, but writer/director Terracino manages his fair share of winning moments and humorously satisfying events to make the familiarity of it all more than tolerable. (2½ stars)
BearCity 2: The Proposal (Friday, Oct. 12, 9:15 p.m., Egyptian Theatre)
As I didn't care for the first film, I can't say I was all that enthused to sit through a sequel. It it's possible, this cheaply produced follow up is an even greater waste of time that the original BearCity was, and it was all I could do to watch all 101 minutes of it without chopping my own head off. Fans of the first film will probably disagree with me, and that's fine, but as far as everyone else is concerned this is a pointless sequel. (1 star)
Girlfriend Boyfriend (Saturday, Oct. 13, 2:30 p.m., Egyptian Theatre)
This solid Taiwanese import involves three childhood friends, Mabel (Lunmei Kwai), Liam (Hsiao-chuan Chang), and Sean (Bryan Shu-Hao Chang), who find themselves in the middle of massive political upheaval when their country falls under martial law. Expertly written and directed by Ya-che Yang, the movie is character-driven and thought-provoking, and if it weren't for the relatively melodramatic conclusion it would come close to perfection. (3½ stars)
Turtle Hill, Brooklyn (Saturday, Oct. 13, 4:45 p.m., Egyptian Theatre)
Relatively standard fare about a pair of happy New Yorkers, Mateo (Ricardo Valdez) and Will (Brian W. Seibert), celebrating the latter's 30th birthday with a party when his highly conservative sister arrives unannounced. Thing is, about halfway through the film, director Ryan Gielen, along with his two stars who also wrote the screenplay, manage to turn things a bit on their head, offering up conversational fodder that becomes increasingly interesting as things progress. It doesn't all come together, and the climax leaves something to be desired, but the movie certainly isn't without its merits - the intellectual challenges it presented were ones I was very happy to explore. (2½ stars)
Satan's Angel: Queen of the Fire Tassels (Saturday, Oct. 13, 9:30 p.m., Northwest Film Forum)
A fascinating documentary about Angel Walker, otherwise known as legendary burlesque star Satan's Angel. Following her career from its start during the 1960s to her current status as teacher to a new generation of burlesque stars, director Joshua M. Dragotta manages to weave an involving portrait of a fearless entertainer proud of who she is, where's she's come from, and where she's driven to go to next. Outstanding. (3½ stars)
No Look Pass (Sunday, Oct. 14, 4 p.m., Egyptian Theatre)
Another documentary standout, No Look Pass chronicles the life of Emily 'Etay' Tay, a Burmese immigrant attending Harvard while also trying to become a basketball superstar playing professionally in Europe when she's not attending classes or studying for exams. Director Melissa Johnson presents her story with compassion and energy, making for an invigorating journey almost impossible to fathom or forget. (3 stars)
Call Me Kuchu (Sunday, Oct. 14, 7 p.m., Egyptian Theatre)
This year's Centerpiece Gala presentation is the single best film playing at the festival and arguably one of the best documentaries I've seen in all of 2012. The picture chronicles David Kato, an openly Gay Ugandan man fighting tooth and nail against pending legislation that would make homosexuality punishable by death. Unrelenting, the movie is a remarkable examination of a man and a country seemingly at odds, everything building to a conclusion that's as shocking as it is, ultimately, hopeful. A must-see. (4 stars)
Men to Kiss (Sunday, Oct. 14, 7 p.m., Northwest Film Forum)
Ugh. A substandard German import about a Gay couple visiting a family friend with plans to do their relationship irreparable harm, Men to Kiss is an anemic romantic comedy that goes downhill (and nowhere of interest) very, very fast. (1½ stars)
Mixed Kebab (Sunday, Oct. 14, 9:30 p.m., Egyptian Theatre)
A disappointing Belgian effort about a headstrong young man, Ibrahim (Cem Akkanat), who declines marriage to the lovely Elif (Gamze Tazim) to live with his friend and lover Kevin (Simon Van Buyten) instead, Mixed Kebab starts well and is engagingly acted by its leads, but quickly runs out of steam as it goes along. Worse, the movie can't decide whether it's a comedy or a drama, uneasily waffling between the two for almost all of its relatively brief 98-minute running time. (2 stars)
Facing Mirrors (Monday, Oct. 15, 9:30 p.m., Northwest Film Forum)
This outstanding Iranian import, originally screening during Three Dollar Bill Cinema's Translations Transgender Film Festival, returns, and audiences who missed seeing it the first time around are in for a real treat. A strong drama, the movie paints a picture of a country and a culture most know little about, finding universal themes in its story of outsiders connecting to one another. (3½ stars)
For My Wife... (Tuesday, Oct. 16, 5:45 p.m., Northwest Film Forum, free admission)
A magnificent, if a bit too short, documentary chronicling the tragedy behind the death of celebrated local musician Kate Fleming. Trapped in her basement during a flood, Kate is freed by her spouse of nine years, Charlene Strong, who rushes her to the hospital only to be told she cannot stay at Kate's side unless a blood relative gives permission. Co-directors David Rothmiller and L.D. Thompson do a remarkable job of bringing this story to light, showing how this tragedy affected Strong and led her to work tirelessly to change Washington state law to allow for domestic partners to be at the side of their loved ones and to make decisions on their behalf. Charlene Strong and the directors are scheduled to attend the screening. (3½ stars)
Kiss Me (Thursday, Oct. 18, 9:30 p.m., Northwest Film Forum)
This surprisingly engaging Swedish romantic comedy/drama shouldn't be anywhere as entertaining as it is, writer/director Alexandra-Therese Keining presenting your typical tale of a young woman, Mia (Ruth Vega Fernandez), on the verge of marriage who thanks to a single kiss starts questioning her love for her fiancé as well as her own sexuality. Even though it follows rather familiar terrain, Keining manages to craft a script filled with wit, insight, and humor that kept me continually interested to see what was going to happen next. Coupled with strong performances from leads Fernandez and Liv Mjönes, the resulting movie is an engaging frolic that's difficult to dislike. (3 stars)
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