Qfest | 03.15-16.09

film_qfest_sm.jpgWhile none of the films sink to the level of offensiveness seen in Another Gay Movie and Another Gay Sequel, that alone isn’t much of a compliment.







As society’s values toward homosexuality shifts, the state of queer cinema faces a similar modification. It’s hard to call the direction queer cinema is headed an "advancement," though it has certainly moved away from meager coming-out tales. St. Louis’ own QFest, which per their website uses "the art of contemporary gay cinema to spotlight the diversity and inherent complexities of living an alternative lifestyle in today’s society," begins its second annual run March 15-18 at the Tivoli Theatre, offering 11 feature films as well as a program of 11 shorts. Although the selection boasts entries from eight different countries and spans the genre spectrum (from romantic comedies to teen melodramas), it’s hard to imagine that these are the best that queer filmmakers have to offer, especially coming on the heels of some truly sophisticated, and sexually mature, offerings from Hollywood the previous year. None of the films playing at this year’s QFest come close to matching the cinematic vision of Milk, the moral complexity of Doubt, the refreshing queerness of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, or even the charm of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. And while none sink to the level of offensiveness seen in Another Gay Movie and Another Gay Sequel, that alone isn’t much of a compliment.

Over 10 years after the heyday of the New Queer Cinema movement, a tug-of-war has arisen in gay cinema between the struggle toward equality between sexual orientations and the general thesis of queer theory. While both appear to be aiming for the same goal in a fluidity between sexual preferences, queer theory rejects the labeling of such terms, while the other side accepts these boundaries in its attempt to "even the playing field." Seeing Proposition 8 pass in California this past election makes the issue more pressing, even though the essential question dates back further to the distinction between art and commerce. Would Milk have changed the results of the election had it been released a month earlier? Is showing people that gays are just like everyone else a good thing? And if so, is the best way to show this through the transposition of homosexuals in the place of familiar heterosexual roles? These questions aren’t easy (or even possible in the case of Milk) to answer, but there’s something alarming in the fact that nearly all of the films at this year’s QFest have more in common with "heterosexual cinema" (if there is such a thing) than any of the landmark queer films that have come before them.

It’s surprising then that one of the better offerings this year would be the most accessible film of the bunch, Breakfast with Scot (3/18, 7 p.m.). Starring Tom Cavanagh (from the TV show Ed) and Ben Shenkman (Angels in America, Personal Velocity) as a happy, semi-closeted gay couple whose lives are quickly changed when they’re forced to take care of their very effeminate, 11-year-old nephew (Noah Bernett), Breakfast with Scot struts down the terribly familiar path of films where adults learn valuable lessons from sassy children. What Breakfast with Scot has that most of the other films lack is narrative focus and, as much as it pains me to say, technical efficiency.

If gay adoption is something that interests you, there’s also the made-for-French-TV film The New World (3/17, 7:15 p.m.) which, like Breakfast with Scot, has a closeted athlete in the main role. Being generally affable, however, doesn’t save Shamim Sarif’s I Can’t Think Straight (3/15, 5 p.m.) from its own clumsiness. In the grand tradition of British films about second-generation immigrants defying the strict wishes of their parents, I Can’t Think Straight centers on the illicit romance between a self-righteous Palestinian woman engaged to be married to a man (Lisa Ray) and the timid Muslim girl who’s dating her best friend (Sheetal Sheth). The film flirts with bigger issues, not least of which the state of Israel, but is ultimately too satisfied with its lighthearted nature to say anything new.

Making the first repeat showing in QFest’s two years is writer/director Casper Andreas, whose film A Four-Letter Word screened last year. His latest Between Love and Goodbye (3/16, 7 p.m.) examines the decay of a once loving relationship between "musician" Kyle (Simon Miller) and French acting student Marcel (Justin Tensen), who secured a visa for living in the United States by marrying their lesbian friend Sarah (Jane Elliott). The wedge between the lovers gets lodged deeper when Kyle’s transsexual prostitute sister April (Rob Harmon) crashes their happy home. Think House of Sand and Fog by way of Revolutionary Road, minus anything that made people like either of those films. Andreas avoids all of the modern tragedy of House of Sand and Fog by constantly placing the blame for the couple’s demise on April, whose hideousness gets progressively worse when she returns to being a boy midway through the film. He also fails to paint any of the characters as compelling human beings as opposed to callous, backstabbing children, and further cheapens the film with a woefully sappy ending. Just take Sharon Tate’s advice from Valley of the Dolls, "I wouldn’t pay attention to that. You know how bitchy fags can be!"

Equally embarrassing, though less infuriating and a lot more unintentionally funny, are Watercolors (3/18, 9:30 p.m.) and Schoolboy Crush (3/17, 9:30 p.m.), two over-the-top potboilers about the dangers of teenage gay sex. Watercolors, with its cheesy dialogue, terrible acting, and ludicrous Zalman King sex scenes, finds a successful artist reminiscing about his first love with a problem-child high school swimmer; look for diving champion Greg Louganis and a slumming Karen Black in small roles. Schoolboy Crush, inspired by a series of gay Japanese comics, is relentlessly silly, and perhaps that’s the point. The Spanish farce Chef’s Special (3/15, 7 p.m.) doesn’t fare much better, despite starring two Pedro Almodóvar regulars, Javier Cámara and Lola Dueñas.

Though it’s almost fatally scarred by its ugly camerawork and amateurish acting, Roger S. Omeus, Jr.’s Finding Me (3/15, 9:30 p.m.) overcomes its shortcomings when it reveals itself to be one of the most thoughtful films at this year’s QFest. Omeus, Jr. makes his intentions explicitly clear when the film’s central character Faybien (RayMartell Moore) finds common ground with his intimidatingly secure suitor Lonnie (Derrick L. Briggs) in their love for the film love jones, which over 10 years later is still the best film about smart, black young adults. Its aim is high, and though Omeus, Jr. could have narrowed his scope, Finding Me is at least admirable in its pursuits.

Wranger: Anatomy of an Icon (3/16, 9:30 p.m.) may not say anything new about the porn industry, but like Inside Deep Throat, it’s an entertaining look at X-rated films through the eyes of porn star Jack Wrangler. The other two non-fiction films at QFest this year are A Jihad for Love (3/15, 2:45 p.m.), which examines the relationship between Islam and homosexuality, and For My Wife (3/15, 1 p.m.), about Charlene Strong who helped pass Washington’s Domestic Partnership Registration Bill.

On QFest’s closing night, film critic David Noble Dandridge will host a seminar entitled "What Happened to New Queer Cinema?" at 5 p.m. In the April 2005 issue of The Advocate, wherein Adam B. Vary questionably declared the coming of the "new new queer cinema," B. Ruby Rich, the influential writer who coined the term "New Queer Cinema," and John Cameron Mitchell, the writer/director of Shortbus and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, expressed their own shared laments of the state of gay cinema better than I could: "A lot of audiences for the new queer cinema were not there because they were so excited about the aesthetic breakthrough. They were there because it was the only place they could find gay content. It’s a fickle audience, and if they can find it somewhere else and it goes down easy like classic Coke, they’ll take it. I want them to be pushed," Rich stated. In response to the successes of middle to lowbrow films like Eating Out and Latter Days, Mitchell remarked, "To me, whenever you assume that because you’re gay you’re going to like this, it’s condescending." One can’t help but assume they too would be disappointed with the line-up of this year’s QFest. | Joe Bowman


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