Over the course of 10 days, October 5-14, ImageOut: The Rochester LGBT Film & Video Festival will celebrate two decades of bringing to this city the world's finest films about the ever-evolving lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender experience. The 2012 installment consists of 40 programs of features, documentaries, and short films, including the Youth Project Film Series, a selection of flicks free to those under 21, as well as the popular ImageOut There! Series, which this year showcases movies in which the LGBT aspect isn't entirely front and center, but is instead woven into the fabric of the stories.
ImageOut continues to offer programs like the donation-enabled ImageOutreach, which provides senior discounts, sign-language interpreting, and other services to make the festival accessible to everyone. And remember to hit up Visual Studies Workshop Gallery (31 Prince St.) for "Twenty20," the ImageArt exhibition on display through October 20. But first, keep reading for a snapshot of the 2012 festival, then get further information, along with ticket availability and party details, at imageout.org or by calling the festival office at 271-2640.
Happy 20th, ImageOut! Honestly, you don't look a day over 16...
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Hollywood isn't exactly clamoring to cast women of a certain age in meaty lead roles, so give thanks for Thom Fitzgerald's affecting drama "Cloudburst," which pairs the Oscar-winning duo of Olympia Dukakis (1987's "Moonstruck") and Brenda Fricker (1989's "My Left Foot") as a longtime Maine couple dealing with the realities and red tape attendant to growing old. Dukakis' blisteringly foul-mouthed Stella springs into action when Fricker's sweet, patient Dot is railroaded into assisted living by her condescending granddaughter, setting into motion a road-trip movie with the ultimate goal of getting legally married in nearby Nova Scotia.
A fully realized union between two elderly lesbians isn't something often depicted on screen, but the Dukakis-Fricker combo nails it with the playful, testy chemistry of a couple who has made it work for three decades despite their inherent differences. Hitchhiker Ryan Doucette is mostly unnecessary, but as our outsider surrogate he provides an organic way to fill in the background details. And while Stella's abrasiveness often verges on the cartoony, not once do we doubt her risk-it-all devotion to the woman she loves. (Fri, Oct 5, 7 p.m., Little Theatre)
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- Men to Kiss
Berlin has never looked so dazzlingly candy-colored as it does in "Men To Kiss," a frothy romantic comedy about opposites who attract and the vampy hag who tries to come between them. Ernst (co-scripter Frank Christian Marx) is a buttoned-down banker who moves to Berlin and falls for the fabulously free-spirited Tobi (Udo Lutz), whose friends warmly welcome him into their tight-knit circle. Then Ernst's old school chum Uta (Alexandra Starnitzky) shows up, her wicked sense of style telegraphing a whole heap of trouble.
Naturally, Ernst remains oblivious to Uta's machinations as she tries to intimidate Tobi into staying away from Ernst, though Tobi's pals, along with "Mother," rally around him despite their fear of the terrifying Uta. Silly and surreal as it builds, of course, to the rom-com's traditional third-act mad dash — albeit somewhat delayed thanks to the laid-back employees at the flower shop — "Men To Kiss" is a joyful romp with a big, bright heart. (Sat, Oct 6, 1:30 p.m., Little Theatre)
"Music was the thing that made my life palatable," says acclaimed jazz musician Jennifer Leitham as she recounts the tribulations of growing up in what felt like the wrong body. Music was also the thing that brought success to her original incarnation as John Leitham, an in-demand bassist who played with the likes of Mel Torme and Doc Severinsen. And music was the thing that John Leitham was afraid of losing if he were to undergo gender reassignment, but after his marriage ended, it was time for a change.
In Andrea Meyerson's inspiring documentary "I Stand Corrected," the charmingly self-effacing Jennifer Leitham, a born raconteur, takes us through her life both before and after the surgery, a decision she made knowing full well it might harm her career in the macho world of jazz. This makes it tough not to get choked up on Leitham's behalf upon hearing Severinsen's reassuring words to her: "I hired you as a bass player, not as a man or a woman." Or, as one beat-keeping colleague says, "She had it as John, she's got it as Jennifer." (Sat, Oct 6, 2 p.m., Dryden Theatre)
While I don't know if Comparative Sauna Cultures really is a degree program in Finland, it's not like Mikael Buch's "Let My People Go!" is nonfiction filmmaking anyway; this whimsical and slapsticky comedy tells the tale of a young Frenchman (Nicolas Maury) who gains a suitcase stuffed with Euros but loses his cute Finnish boyfriend. So it's back to Paris, where the melancholy Ruben (Nicolas Maury) licks his wounds and tries really hard to tune out the noise of his dysfunctional Jewish family, to no avail.
His dad's having an affair, his sister's married to a Gentile buffoon, his brother seems to have a rage problem, and his meddling mom would prefer Ruben meet a nice Jewish boy... and not the older-lawyer hookup who is now obsessed with Ruben. Ultimately, it's all pretty forgettable, but it's also a lot of fun, featuring a cavalcade of recognizable European character actors like Almodóvar regular Carmen Maura. (Sat, Oct 6, 7 p.m., Little Theatre)
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- Kiss Me
Mia (Ruth Vega Fernandez) is with her fiancé, Tim (Joakim Nätterqvist), at her father's engagement party, and the insecure look that plays upon her face as Tim checks out Frida (Liv Mjönes), her beautiful soon-to-be stepsister, seems unambiguous. It's not until we witness the lingering glances between them — and by "them," I mean Mia and Frida, lest you forget this is ImageOut — that we question exactly what we saw.
Alexandra-Therese Keining's elegantly rendered "Kiss Me" unfolds as the closeted Mia and the confident, out — but not necessarily unattached — Frida navigate their inconvenient attraction, with all its romantic and familial fallout. The cuckolded parties could stand to have been written with a little more dimension, and the needlessly crowd-pleasing ending threatens to derail the honesty leading up to it. But the immersive imagery is as sexy and seductive as its two subjects. (Sat, Oct 6, 9:15 p.m., Dryden Theatre)
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- Beyond the Walls
Belgian writer-director David Lambert offers up an attention-grabbing debut with "Beyond The Walls," a splendidly acted drama that chronicles the shifting balance of power in an intense relationship. Boyish Paulo (Matila Malliarakis) is partying with his girlfriend when he locks eyes with handsome Albanian bartender Ilir (Guillaume Gouix), and once his lady gets tired of Paulo's indecision, the needy Paulo weasels his way into Ilir's home and bed, despite Ilir's protests. The two musicians make it work, but when Ilir gets into legal trouble, Paulo is set adrift.
Lambert is unafraid to write his characters with genuine, messy flaws; even when we're not especially down with someone's behavior, the honesty found therein prevents us from detaching from them. So many details ring true — cohabiting out of convenience rather than love, drifting to a former flame in times of trouble — and both Malliarakis and Gouix do a smashing job of portraying the organic evolutions of their respective characters. And it may be unprecedented in the history of cinema that someone would pull out an inhaler without his asthma becoming a plot point. (Sun, Oct 7, 3:30 p.m., Little Theatre)
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- Die Standing Up
An infinitely moving story of unconditional devotion and amazing bravery, "Die Standing Up" takes its time in revealing its purpose. First we see archival footage of a young Mexican man entrenched in the Cuban solidarity movement, despite a battle with multiple sclerosis that has left him confined to a wheelchair. Then we're introduced to the similarly afflicted Irina Layevska and her caring wife, Nélida Reyes. We're not spoon-fed the connection, instead coming by the surprising truth through little clues.
The first feature from Mexican journalist Jacaranda Correa takes us into the lives of Layevska and Reyes, witnessing tender moments as Reyes feeds Layevska or massages her head. Despite the occasional (and understandable) breakdown from Layevska, both women appear to be tireless in their crusades for social justice and equal rights, including the right to love and be loved. (Sun, Oct 7, 3:30 p.m., Dryden Theatre)
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The Petunia clan has a strange association with sex. The pushy mom (Christine Lahti) can't get her distant husband (David Rasche) to notice her. Youngest son Adrian (scene-stealer Jimmy Heck) is in the throes of a sex addiction. Eldest son Michael (Eddie Kaye Thomas, "American Pie") just married a crabby young woman (Thora Birch) who may be pregnant with another man's baby. So it's really no wonder that middle son Charlie (the oddly appealing Tobias Segal) has sworn off sex, but when he meets the bookishly attractive George (Michael Urie, "Ugly Betty"), Charlie's rubberband aversion therapy turns his wrist bright-red.
Ash Christian's "Petunia" is another in a long, storied line of films that attempt to mine comedy out of madcap familial strife, and it's mostly successful whenever the anxious Charlie appears on screen, either as sounding board for his screwed-up kin or as one-half (er, one-third) of an unconventional relationship. Unfortunately, the script does the women zero favors, portraying them as shrill and chilly banshees with an appetite for emasculation. (Sun, Oct 7, 6 p.m., Little Theatre)
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- For 80 Days
It really is a small world: housewife Axun (the adorably wrinkly Itziar Aizpuru) is sitting at the hospital with her comatose ex-son-in-law when she realizes that the vivacious woman visiting the man in the next bed is Maite (the striking Mariasun Pagoaga), a childhood friend she hasn't seen in 50 years. Co-created by filmmakers Jon Garaño and José María Goenaga, "For 80 Days" observes as the women rekindle their friendship, the romantic spark that they shared way back when in each of their minds.
Axun's gruff husband is none too pleased with his wife's frequent hospital visits as he sits alone at the table, scowling over his not-yet-materialized dinner. Let him wait: "I like who I am when I'm with you," Axun tells the out Maite, until the naïve Axun learns the truth about Maite's sexual preference. This lovely, quiet drama incorporates bursts of genuine humor and addresses the eternal conundrum of being torn between the rush of the new and the comfort of the old. (Wed, Oct 10, 6:30 p.m., Little Theatre)
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- Keep the Lights On
A scorching, moody drama that chronicles the twists and turns in a 10-year relationship, director Ira Sach's semi-autobiographical "Keep The Lights On" opens in 1998 as documentarian Erik (Thure Lindhardt) hooks up with Paul (Zachary Boothe, recently seen in Todd Solondz's "Dark Horse"), a lawyer he met on a chat line. And despite the bisexual Paul's advice that Erik not get his hopes up, the two embark on a loving affair, weathering life's little roadblocks together until Paul's growing dependency on crack threatens their hard-won happiness.
Sachs does an obviously knowledgeable job of portraying New York City as a place where people actually work and play, and even the peripheral characters (watch for Julianne Nicholson from "Boardwalk Empire" and Souleymane Sy Savane, "Goodbye Solo") seem lived in. And as good as Booth is at conveying Paul's desperation, this is Lindhardt's show. The Danish actor delivers a subtle but unmistakably powerhouse performance as the codependent Erik, who doesn't want to face the fact that it's impossible to save another human being without his consent. (Wed, Oct 10, 9 p.m., Little Theatre)
Tough love backfires when Assaf's parents throw him out of the house in the hopes that being gay and a cross-dresser will be cured after a couple nights of couch-surfing. Flash-forward four years: Assaf's father is terminally ill, so Assaf's mother hires a private investigator to find her estranged son. The PI learns that Assaf is now Anna (the gorgeous Hen Yanni), who will pretend to be a private nurse in order to spend a few last moments with her father.
Director Doron Eran's surprisingly moving Israeli drama "Melting Away" essentially glues viewers with the promise of conflict once Anna's identity is revealed to her family, but the journey there is often a little too sudsy, with a generically irritating after-school-special score. Looking deeper, however, you'll find a heartfelt tale of acceptance and rebirth, as Anna's trajectory is paralleled by that of her closeted friend Shimi, whose fear at being rejected by his beloved mother results in a remarkably cathartic scene. (Thu, Oct 11, 6:30 p.m., Little Theatre)
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- Sassy Pants
If you've ever wondered what happened to the Oscar-nominated little kid from "The Sixth Sense," check out Haley Joel Osment as a pierced-lip-havin', Daisy-Dukes-wearin' gay man in writer-director Coley Sohn's "Sassy Pants." But this harmless coming-of-age comedy actually revolves around Bethany (Ashley Rickards), a home-schooled young woman whose control-freak mom (good sport Anna Gunn, "Breaking Bad") refuses to acknowledge that it might be time to loosen her grip.
Osment plays the boyfriend of Bethany's floundering father (the underrated Diedrich Bader, "The Drew Carey Show"), the man to whom aspiring fashion designer Bethany runs when she finally gets out from under the thumb of her smothery mother. Cue miscommunications, misunderstandings, and lessons learned, and enjoy a really excellent cast doing the best they can with one-dimensional characters telling a clichéd but well-meaning story. (Fri, Oct 12, 9 p.m., Hubbell Auditorium)
Sheyesteh Irani, who you may remember from Jafar Panahi's political-allegory-as-soccer-flick "Offside," delivers a strong, nuanced performance as the transgendered Eddie, who forms an unlikely bond with Rana (Ghazal Shakeri), a wife and mother whose unusual family circumstances have put her behind the wheel of a cab. Eddie offers Rana an irresistible amount of cash to take him away from Tehran and his iron-fisted father, and since Eddie is still technically a woman named Adineh, being alone with him in a cab is not against the fundamentalist rules.
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- Men To Kiss
The debut feature from director Negar Azarbeyjani, "Facing Mirrors" develops after Rana freaks out upon learning that Eddie is in the midst of switching genders, Rana's confusion temporarily overriding her humanity. The first Iranian film featuring a transgendered protagonist has a lot of points to make and can get a little preachy at times, and though there's never much doubt how things will play out, this minimalist exercise in tolerance builds to a powerful denouement. (Sat, Oct 13, 4:30 p.m., Dryden Theatre)
Imageout 2012 closes on a sky-high note with writer-director Jonathan Lisecki's first feature, "Gayby," a screwball comedy that puts all the other single-woman-wants-gay-best-friend-to-father-her-baby movies to shame. Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas star as, well, Jenn and Matt, two college friends now in their 30s and living in NYC. Jenn's ticking biological clock sets the busy plot into motion, which finds Jenn and Matt trying to achieve pregnancy "the old-fashioned way." Then Jenn and Matt begin living under the same roof while Jenn's apartment gets painted. Also, they're both still dating their respective preferences.
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"Gayby," which began life as a 2010 short film, often seems like an elaborate excuse to cram whipsmart lines into the mouths of people who know how to deliver them, and that's really all anyone could wish for. Harris (a deft physical comedian, by the way) and Wilkas have an entrenched platonic chemistry that sells the whole conceit, and they're surrounded by a funny, gifted supporting cast, including recognizable actors like Alycia Delmore ("Humpday"), Adam Driver (HBO's "Girls"), and the indie film requirement Alex Karpovsky. The standout is actually Lisecki himself, who nearly walks off with the entire film as Matt's howlingly acerbic friend Nelson, who decides to test the bear waters after depression caused him to gain a few pounds and grow a beard. (Sat, Oct 13, 7:30 p.m., Dryden Theatre)
For a complete schedule of ImageOut film screenings & events, visit imageout.org