Sunday, November 25, 2007


(Montreal’s 20th Annual LGBT Film Festival)

A few years back, a short film I directed was screened at the Image+Nation film festival as part of the “Local Heroes” series. It was a fantastic honour and also incredibly surreal. I had been attending the festival for years at that point and I suddenly found myself changing roles from the spectator to the guy standing in front of the screen at the Parisian theatre, introducing the film that was about to run. I knew even then that being a part of this festival meant my film would be seen by a gracious and appreciative audience. Flash forward to a few years later; I have not even been to the festival since CANOEING (my film) screened. The following year, I was already heavily into establishing Black Sheep Reviews and I just couldn’t find time for the festival. So when I went back this year, I experienced a bizarre déjà vu like sensation. It was a Saturday night and I was alone – ordinarily not an exciting combination. It wasn’t long before my apprehension about being the only single guy in the room disappeared entirely though. It was impossible to feel alone when a nearly packed room full of men surrounded me. The best part about it – everyone there was gay (or at the very least, gay-friendly) and there to indulge their love of the cinema. With that strong a commonality filling the room, it no longer even mattered that the movie wasn’t any good.

A gay cinephile is subjected to straight imagery and storyline most of the time they sit down to a movie. So when nothing but gay-themed films are amassed to be screened in succession throughout a queer film festival, the need to see characters that breathe the same air we do is as high as Amy Winehouse in the morning. The danger one runs into in festivals such as these is that, with perhaps limited films to choose from during the selection process, the risk of rushing to a mediocre film is much greater. Only here, even mediocre is better than nothing at all. That said, sub-par is still just that. Enter THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GREY – the first of three films I caught at this year’s festival and certainly not an encouraging sign of what was to come. Oscar Wilde’s literary classic has been cinematically attempted before but this time it has been modernized as well. Orphan turned millionaire, Dorian (David Gallagher) is in the prime of his life. If it weren’t enough that he was rich, he’s also got a baby face that gets the attention of everyone who sees him. He could have anyone he wants but he makes it very clear that he could never sleep with another man - that is, until he does so later that evening. Gallagher is way out his league here as a classical contemplation on obsession with youth; ironically, he lacks maturity to make his actions believable. Meanwhile, director Duncan Roy also fails as he adapts the tale to expose the current climate within the global gay community where youth is equated with perfection and the unattainable. Relying on unnecessary split screen tricks and flashes of highlighted dialogue spread across the screen to prove his point (I particularly enjoyed the one where the word, “AIDS” was cut in to tell the audience that one character was suffering from the disease as if we couldn’t have known from the horrifically tacky makeup on his face), he lacks the confidence in his own direction to convince us that he believes the lesson he’s teaching. The whole thing spirals into a mess of horrible acting and predictability that begs for an end to come quickly. By the way, it doesn’t come quick enough.

From recontextualizing for modern times to actual progression comes BREAKFAST WITH SCOT (that isn’t a typo),the first gay-themed film to be fully endorsed by the National Hockey League. Director Laurie Lynd presents this Canadian film with as many American cinema conventions as possible. This is a bright, sitcom style picture in the same vein as TRICK or MAMBO ITALIANO. It can be very endearing and it can be very funny (thanks mostly to 12-year-old Noah Bennett as Scot) but it fails when it tries to be more than it is. Scot’s mother has just died and he finds himself placed with his mom’s ex-boyfriend’s brother, Sam (Ben Shenkman) and his lover, Ed (Tom Cavanagh). Ed is in sports news and lives a closeted life so when an effeminate child enters his life unwanted, he takes it upon himself to steer the child in a more masculine direction. I do agree that Scot needed a lesson or two about being aware of how his behavior could incite others to taunt, tease or even hurt him but Ed’s coaching taught the boy shame. As if shame weren’t enough for his future therapist to have to work on, Scot also has a horrible example of love between men to learn from. Ed and Sam are one of the most loveless gay couples I have ever seen in a gay film. They act more like roommates who barely like each other. They rarely look at each other and never consult each other on how to deal with Scot. Ed even goes so far as to call Scot Sam’s problem as it is his brother’s responsibility after all. This is clearly meant to define the relationship between Ed and Scot but it shows Ed as entirely disrespectful of his partner and just all around selfish and despicable. Ultimately, I learned that the only place flame(r)s have in hockey is in Calgary. (Get it? Flamers? Calgary Flames? C’mon … it’s a gay hockey joke!)

The centerpiece film of the festival was French director, André Téchiné’s LES TEMOINS (THE WITNESSES). As a centerpiece, it certainly embodied the space with its depth and honesty. It begins with the birth of many a new thing. A new novel is being written; a new baby is being born; and a new move to Paris is the beginning of the end for Manu (Johan Libéreau). At 20, Manu has come to Paris to start what he believes will be a long and exciting life. He makes friends almost as quickly as he drops his pants for strangers in a park. Amongst these friends are Adrien (Michel Blanc), an older gentleman who is instantly taken by his boyish grin, Sarah (Emmanuelle Béart), a writer and friend of Adrien’s who is always wearing a different shade of yellow, and Mehdi (Sami Bouajila), a police officer and Sarah’s husband. Along with Manu’s sister (Julie Depardieu), this group will play witness to the first reported cases of H.I.V and A.I.D.S. but not before they get to enjoy themselves and the simple pleasures life offers them. Téchiné splits his film into three acts. In the first, boat rides are taken, picnics are had and affairs inevitably happen. There are moments of joy and moments of drama, all of which become utterly meaningless by the time the second act commences and A.I.D.S becomes everything. Being new and frightening, the disease drives some into isolation and blurs the lines between fear and feeling, leaving some wanting to reach out, unsure of what might happen if they do. By presenting the onset of A.I.D.S. so directly, Téchiné not only tells the story of those who first witnessed the horrors of the disease but also forces the audience to witness these same horrors in a day when many feel the disease to be no longer a threat. And so he leaves us with an important message - we must turn back to witness again what is still ongoing.

Attending Image+Nation this year was eye opening. Not only was it inspiring to see such high attendance and an exciting schedule but at 20 years old, the festival is just the right age to understand its own identity while remaining open to new cultural movements. Organizers Charlie Boudreau and Katharine Setzer are still in line with what their audience loves after many years and they make sure to present diverse films that are both playful and pensive. (By the way, there are plenty of films for girls and those in between genders as well – I just didn’t catch any for this article.) On a more personal note, the Image+Nation reminded me of a community I once belonged to and showed me that I could go back at any time.

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