QFest 2008 Preview

Coming of age, coming to self-awareness, and coming out are central themes among the feature films screening at the inaugural QFest, a gay film festival to be held March 12-16 in St. Louis.




Coming of age, coming to self-awareness, and coming out are central themes among the feature films screening at the inaugural QFest, a gay film festival to be held March 12-16 in St. Louis. But don’t worry about being overwhelmed with life lessons: the serious themes are incorporated within well-crafted and entertaining films which are fun and sexy, leading to a fair amount of just plain coming as well. The festival also features a program of short films and a documentary which makes the personal political and the political personal as it presents the struggle for gay marriage in Massachusetts.

QFest is organized by the Out & Urban committee of Metropolis St. Louis, Cinema St. Louis, and the Lesbian Gay Bi Transgender Community Center of Metropolitan St. Louis. The opening-night shorts program will be held at the Mad Art Gallery (2727 S. 12th St. in Soulard) while the remaining performances will be screened at the Winifred Moore Auditorium of Webster University (470 East Lockwood in Webster Groves). In addition, QFest is sponsoring a series of free workshops on Saturday March 15 in room 123 of the Sverdrup Building of Webster University (8300 Big Bend Boulevard in Webster Groves). Further information is available from the QFest website http://www.stlqfest.org/.

The shorts program (Mad Art Gallery, 3/12, 7:30 pm) will be hosted by the formidable punk-rock musician and filmmaker Lisa Ganser, founder of the Flaming Film Fest and self-proclaimed international heartbreaker. The program was not finalized at press time but will include films by Ganser (including a documentary about the transgendered musician Zach, formerly Kate McNulty, and a sneak preview of her upcoming feature about the band The Pussy Pirates) and Stephanie Wynn. The only short available for preview was If She Only Knew, a 30-minute short by Wynn that offers a distinctive take on a familiar subject, the workplace romance. Everyone in the office is buzzing about Frankie, the delivery boy who is romancing Zaire, a traditionally girly girl receptionist. But something seems not quite right: could it be that the delivery boy is not exactly what he appears to be?

Shelter (Webster, 3/13, 7:30 pm), the first feature film produced by the gay cable network Here!, offers a coming-of-age story in which sexual orientation is only one among several issues the protagonist must resolve. Zach (Trevor Wright) lives on the wrong side of the tracks in a California beachside community with his invalid father, single-mom sister, and her son. As the most responsible adult in the household, he’s put his dreams of art school on hold to care for his nephew and is trying to live the life expected of him, with a girlfriend and a dead-end job, neither of which are going well. An encounter with fellow surfer Shaun (Brad Rowe) causes Zach to question both his sexual preference and his limited expectations for the future. Complex characterizations by Wright and Rowe and outstanding cinematography by Joseph White make this film particularly worth checking out.

Nina’s Heavenly Delights (Webster, 3/14, 7 pm), recently screened at the Saint Louis International Film Festival, offers high production values while telling a conventional tale with several moderately unexpected twists. Set among the Indian community of Glasgow (twist #1), the story involves prodigal daughter Nina (Shelley Conn) returning home for her father’s funeral then sticking around to save the family business. In the process, she discovers family secrets (her father was a gambler who lost half ownership of the business, twist #2), falls in love with the hated interloper (Laura Fraser), who conveniently happens to be female (twist #3), and is encouraged from beyond the grave by her dear departed father (who speaks only in clichés-sorry but that doesn’t count as a twist). Cultural melding is further explored in the world of dance: Nina’s little sister is a champion Highland dancer (twist #4) and her friend and drag performer Bobby (Ronny Jhutti) incorporates a Bollywood flavor into his routines (twist #5).

A Four Letter Word (Webster, 3/14, 9:30 pm) is the most polished of the QFest offerings. Something of a followup to director Caspar Andreas’s 2004 Slutty Summer, it explores gay life in New York primarily through the eyes of Luke (Jesse Archer, who co-wrote the screenplay), who is so busy trying to sparkle that he’s made himself into the perfect gay cliché. Luke’s ruling philosophy, "a libido is a terrible thing to waste," is threatened by a new feeling aroused by the darkly handsome Stephen (Charlie David, a.k.a. Toby from Dante’s Cove). Development of that four-letter feeling (which starts with "l" and rhymes with "dove") is threatened by the possibility that Stephen is not telling the whole truth, or any of the truth, about himself. A Four Letter Word also features strong secondary characters and several complementary subplots (an interracial male couple confront their differences as they try to live together; a bride-to-be battles alcoholism, prenuptial anxieties, and questions about her sexual preference), a witty script and high-def cinematography with outstanding use of Manhattan locations.

Saving Marriage (Webster, 3/15, 6 pm), is one of several recent documentaries examining the controversies surrounding what seems (to me at least) to be a simple proposition: allowing same-sex couples the same marital rights currently enjoyed by opposite-sex couples. It’s a creditable if largely traditional effort by first-time directors John Henning and Mike Roth that alternates between talking heads and documentary footage of the efforts (beginning in 2001) to win and then protect same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. Saving Marriage makes the complex political process relevant at the personal level as it present the stories of a variety of people involved in the struggle, some of which had no previous experience with or interest in politics. Henning and Roth incorporate a range of viewpoints, from gay marriage activist Amy Hunt ("They don’t object to gay marriage. They object to gay human beings.") to Kris Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute ("Same-sex marriage degrades the value of my marriage. It says that my uniqueness as a man, and as a husband and as a father, is irrelevant."). (Huh?) Saving Marriage admirably leavens the policy discussions with soundbites that are both entertaining and to the point, as in this sample captured from a demonstration:

"It’s against God’s will."

"Why, did he speak to you?"


"It’s not immoral if it’s not a choice. I know a lot of ex-homosexuals."

"I know a lot of ex-straight guys too."

The Gymnast (Webster, 3/15, 8 pm), which also recently screened at the Saint Louis International Film Festival, presents a nice cross-generational and interracial romance while giving more than an eyeful to admirers of muscular women. Middle-aged Jane (real-life aerialist Dreya Weber, who also co-produced) feels that her interrupted gymnastics career and inability to conceive have left her "a withered husk," a feeling only augmented by her unsupportive and self-centered husband. She’s roused from her professional and personal doldrums through work on a Cirque de Soleil-type aerial act, partnering Serena (professional dancer Addie Yungmee), a young Asian lesbian afraid to tell her adoptive parents about her sexual orientation. No points for guessing that the two women are soon falling into each other’s arms (and beds), but the stunning cinematography by Marco Fargnoli is sufficient to offset the schmaltzy and predictable plot.

Itty Bitty Titty Committee (Webster, 3/16, 6 and 8 pm) was not available for preview so the following information comes from press materials. Anna, a teenage receptionist at a plastic surgery clinic, suffers from that particular disdain reserved for A-cup girls living in a C-cup world. It doesn’t help that she was recently rejected from college, broke up with her girlfriend, or that her family is preoccupied with preparations for her sister’s wedding. Into this sad state of affair comes Sadie, member of a radical feminist organization known as the CIA (Clits in Action). Anna joins up and is transformed, eventually becoming the most extreme among the radical band of sisters. Itty Bitty Titty Committee was directed by Jamie Babbit, who made her feature film debut with But I’m a Cheerleader (1999) and has directed many episodes of popular television shows including The L World, Ugly Betty and The Gilmore Girls. Babbit cites the Guerilla Girls, riot girl music, PETA and Lizzie Borden’s film Born in Flames as influences on Itty Bitty Titty Committee. | Sarah Boslaugh

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