In 1993, a certain fledgling film festival presented 18 programs of film and video relating to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender experience. Now in its lucky 13th year, the 2005 installment of ImageOut has ballooned to feature 41 film and video programs over 10 days, October 7 to 16, at three majestic theaters, as well as a number of important community outreach programs.
The ImageMaker Award makes its first appearance in 2005, with inaugural honors going to playwright-leading lady extraordinaire Charles Busch. As in years past, a bevy of artists, including director Brian Sloan (WTC View) and actor Daniel Letterle (The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green) will be on hand to introduce the screenings of their work. And then there's the parties...
This year, ImageOut has created a program for those who would otherwise be unable to afford tickets to the festival screenings. As part of the ImageOutreach initiative, donations will subsidize tickets for lower-income people for whom movies are a luxury but who would still benefit from the empowering insight provided by the festival. ImageOutreach also includes the sign language interpretation services offered by ImageOut, as well as the community co-sponsorships for certain films. And for the eighth year, the Youth Project Committee has selected six films that will be free to those under 21. Those films include the German comedy Guys and Balls and the splendid documentaries Left Lane and Gay Sex in the 70s.
The first recipient of ImageOut's ImageMaker Award, designed "to recognize a unique individual's courageous artistic vision and overall contribution to the arts through his or her life and work," is Charles Busch. Last seen at the festival starring in the 2003 ImageOut closer Die, Mommie, Die!, Busch will attend this year's festival in support of The Lady in Question in Charles Busch, a documentary about the award-winning writer, director, actor, and drag mega-star by filmmakers John Catania and Charles Ignacio, who will also be in attendance.
The teenage years are the traditional time for rebellion, although from its infancy, ImageOut came out swinging. Screwball farce, poignant dramas, clever shorts, and thought-provoking documentaries: This year's festival has everything a body could want, and while I wasn't able to get a look at each and every film, I was able to make a very healthy dent in the 2005 lineup. So in honor of ImageOut's 13th birthday, here are 13 highlights of this year's festival... as well as one film that should be avoided.
P.S. If you see any of the dedicated festival volunteers, make sure you stop and thank them. They are a hard-working horde.
The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green
Friday, October 7, Little Theatre,
Opening Night film
Screening guests: stars Daniel Letterle and Diego Serrano
When the title cards inform you that "Ethan is a man unlucky in love," then go on to advise, "Don't feel sorry for him. It's his own damn fault," you should get ready for an irreverent spin through the world of Ethan Green. It's a chaotic place that features a gay-wedding planner mom, a recently uncloseted baseball player, an ex-boyfriend landlord, and a couple that dispenses wisdom in matching muumuus and chapeaux.
Based on Eric Orner's comic strip, The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green basically watches all hell break loose as Ethan (Daniel Letterle) attempts to thwart the sale of the house in which he lives. It's too soon to move in with the boyfriend, so a narcissistic 19-year-old with a big crush on Ethan sets him up with a train wreck of a real estate agent who hasn't made a sale in three years. Misunderstandings, revelations, and hilarity all ensue.
Family Ties' Meredith Baxter plays Ethan's enlightened mother who quotes the late ODB and issues chirpy dinner invitations that include "And bring your new fuck buddy," but Letterle steals the show with his silly and sympathetic performance as a guy who's always trying, even if he's not always succeeding. And when words reading "The End" pop up on the screen, don't believe it.
Gay Sex in the 70s
Saturday, October 8, Little Theatre, 12 p.m.
Free to anyone under 21
Director Joseph Lovett's Gay Sex in the 70s brings together archival footage, engaging interviews, plus a parade of remarkable photographs to document the period in New York City from the 1969 Stonewall Riots to the onset of the AIDS epidemic in 1981. For gay men, it was a time of overwhelming liberation, and NYC became what one photographer calls "a constant cruising opportunity."
Doorways, bushes, abandoned buildings, truck beds --- in almost every dark corner of the city there were two guys (at minimum) getting it on. Interviewees fondly recall the anonymous thrills to be had at discos and bathhouses --- except when you realized you were furtively groping a friend --- as well as days and nights on Fire Island, described as "if God's only son had been a homosexual landscaper." All agree, however, the easy action wasn't necessarily about sex but about not being alone.
Then a strange cancer began to surface among gay men, and since many revelers considered condoms to be a wet blanket on all the excitement, the isolated incidences of AIDS became a full-blown epidemic. Gay Sex in the 70s demonstrates how the 12 energizing years beforehand, however, had enabled men who had previously been ostracized and sometimes even institutionalized to come out, and the unifying battle to save dying friends gave them the strength to stay out.
Saturday, October 8, Cinema Theater, 7 p.m.
Filmmaker Nicole Conn and philanthropist Gwen Baba decided to have a baby with a surrogate, and their son Nicholas was born at just 25 weeks, weighing less than a pound. Conn, who had been documenting the whole process, continued to wield the camera as the preemie spent over five months in the hospital while she, along with some very dedicated professionals, worked tirelessly to keep him alive.
Conn and Baba knew early in the pregnancy that there would be problems but had different opinions about whether to soldier on, just the first of the opposing views that would wreak havoc on their relationship. The film begins with a warning that it "contains graphic medical material," and the more squeamish out there, as well as those who can't bear to watch kids in peril, may want to forego this one.
little man will probably cause you to reach one of two conclusions: You'll either marvel at the devotion and resolve of these brave women or fume at the ego and selfishness that force this tiny boy to wake up every day and fight for his life. It's possible you may feel both ways, but in reality, Conn and Baba are neither heroes nor monsters. They're mothers.
Adam & Steve
Saturday, October 8, Little Theatre, 10 p.m.
An ImageOut Spotlight Feature
Craig Chester's (Swoon) filmmaking debut is a slapstick romantic comedy with a massive, generous heart. As if writing and directing weren't enough, Chester also stars as the lovable yet neurotic Adam, a birdwatching guide on the verge of 40 who hits it off with a successful shrink named Steve (Malcolm Gets from Caroline in the City), only to learn that they have met before...
Back in 1987, Adam and gal pal Rhonda (Parker Posey) were hanging around Danceteria in full Goth mode when Adam caught the eye of a Dazzle Dancer. After a couple of bumps Adam went home with the buff golden god, where both men learned that naked flexing plus laxative-laced cocaine equals paralyzing mortification.
The film details the charming evolution of Adam and Steve's relationship as well as the repercussions of Steve's inability to let go of the past. Can they solve their problems with open, honest communication? How about a two-step dance-off, or maybe a tender rendition of "I Must Have Done Something Good" from The Sound of Music?
Chester is a living doll as well as a nifty physical comedian, a trait shared by the actors playing Adam's "kind of cursed" family, including Julie Hagerty (best known for Airplane!) as Adam's chipper mom ("Any boyfriend of Adam's is a boyfriend of mine!"). The enjoyable cast also includes Saturday Night Live's Chris Kattan as Steve's knuckle-dragging yet protective hetero roommate.
And while the film's best line comes courtesy of Rhonda, who complains that "Oprah has made it impossible for me to have a close relationship with anyone besides Oprah," the sweetest line is from Steve: "Happiness is accepting life on life's terms." Or maybe it was Adam who said it --- I can't remember. I do recall, however, the wide smile on my face.
Sunday, October 9, Cinema Theater, 7 p.m.
In Cantonese with English subtitles
Every once in a while our hearts are set aflutter by someone we meet --- not necessarily because of who they are but who they remind us of. The Asian import Butterfly tells the tale of a married teacher whose entanglement with a young musician causes her to reminisce about lost love and question her most important decisions.
Flavia thought her future was set --- rewarding career, loving husband, adorable baby. Then she meets the beautiful Yip, and her attraction to the younger woman evokes memories of Flavia's childhood sweetheart. Fifteen years previous, Flavia fell in love with schoolmate Jin, a relationship that would have a profound effect on both parties. Filmmaker Yan Yan Mak juxtaposes the burgeoning connection between Flavia and Yip against the Flavia-Jin liaison, and as we learn how Jin coped with the breakup, we also get an idea of how Flavia's husband might handle the end of his marriage.
Stunning photography and equally stunning women are the highlights of Butterfly, and the film's gauzy eroticism can be credited to what you don't see. I especially appreciated the realistic portrayal of Flavia's decent husband, a man trying to understand the changes in his troubled wife but unwilling to sacrifice his own contentment for the woman he claims to love.
Venus of Mars
Monday, October 10, Little Theatre, 7 p.m.
Some relationships can't weather the gaining of a few pounds, or even a change in hairstyle. How would you react if the person you married announced a desire to switch genders? Venus of Mars, one of the more interesting love stories you're likely to come across, introduces us to Lynette and her spouse Venus, who was once her husband Steve.
Lynette is an English professor, while Venus fronts a Minnesota glam band called All the Pretty Horses. Filmmaker Emily Goldberg films the couple during their everyday life and explores how a marriage could possibly endure what most would consider an utter deal breaker. Lynette identifies money as a bigger stress in their lives than gender, though she's none too happy with the fact that Venus looks better in her clothes than she does.
And Venus confesses that although she would love to go beyond hormones to total sex reassignment, she hasn't out of respect for her straight wife. Up until that point I had been in awe of Lynette's unconditional dedication, but then I began to rethink who might be making the greater sacrifice to sustain a marriage that has recently entered its third unusual yet apparently successful decade.
Based on a True Story
Thursday, October 13, Little Theatre, 5:30 p.m.
That Gay 70s series
In this immensely entertaining documentary, Dutch filmmaker Walter Stokman sets out to learn the truth about John Wojtowicz, the man whose botched 1972 holdup of a Brooklyn bank became the topic of the Sidney Lumet classic Dog Day Afternoon. Wojtowicz needed money to fund his suicidal lover's sex-change operation, and the subsequent crime devolved into a 14-hour hostage situation that left his young accomplice dead.
Interviews with former hostages, police, and especially Wojtowicz's gracious ex-wife Carmen paint a picture of a nice boy from the neighborhood who got in way over his head. Carmen was still married to Wojtowicz when she learned he had also fallen in love with and somehow married Ernie Aaron, a lanky man who lived as a woman. ("What hurted the most," Carmen laments, "is he got married in his Army uniform.")
Once Stokman catches up with Wojtowicz himself, however, he learns that the seemingly friendly ex-con still believes he's in a position to make demands. Wojtowicz wants no less than $18,000 to appear in the film, and Stokman effectively uses what becomes a series of increasingly strange phone calls between filmmaker and subject to illustrate the frustrating delusion of a man who inspired a story in which the truth is "so strange it becomes superfiction."
Friday, October 14, Cinema Theater, 6 p.m.
In French with English subtitles
Loic is a handsome, doe-eyed young man who inspects chocolate by day and cruises online by night. When he's not hooking up with random men he crashes at his friend Marie's flat, though we sense they share more than just a casual past. Stupid Boy watches as Loic begins to understand his place in the world, but not until a tragic event leads to some overdue epiphanies.
Director Lionel Baier shot Stupid Boy on handheld digital video, which adds a sense of immediacy and intimacy to the story. What's odd, however, is that he incorporates himself into the film from time to time as Loic's new friend Lionel... while still behind the camera. This occasional shift in perspective takes some getting used to, but it's a compelling method of storytelling.
Actors will tell you that more than half of acting is reacting, and neither Natacha Koutchoumov as the loyal Marie nor Pierre Chatagny as the misguided Loic make any false moves under the camera's unflinching stare. But the most terrifying part was the notion that some kid moping at his job might mean sub-par chocolate could find its way to store shelves. Don't I already have enough to worry about?
Saturday, October 15, Dryden Theatre, 12 p.m.
Fighting For Our Rights series
Screening guest: director-producer Samantha Farinella
Free for anyone under 21
The right-wing organization Concerned Women of America named activist poet Alix Olson one of the 10 most dangerous women in the country. Olson refers to herself as a "lesbian feminist atheist socialist." After seeing Samantha Farinella's inspiring documentary Left Lane, it's also safe to describe Olson as a smart, charismatic, and gifted artist whose stage presence brings to mind a stand-up comedian at a revival meeting orating in the cadence of Ani Difranco.
Left Lane chronicles a year on the road with Olson as filmed by Farinella, Olson's tour manager. The camera follows her from festival to festival as she unleashes her words on wildly appreciative audiences and watches while she drives, does her laundry, and collaborates on the musical accompaniment provided by the talented women who occasionally join her on stage. We also get to meet Olson's nurturing family, in particular her beloved grandma, a firecracker named Dottie who is proud of Olson's choices.
And while I've never been able to form an opinion on spoken word --- it seems humble yet arrogant, intimate yet impersonal --- I was terribly impressed by the passionate and informed Olson. She's doing what she can about injustice in this country, even if her weapon of choice is slightly unconventional: "Instead of taking your anger to your fist, you take it to your pen and create a piece of art."
Saturday, October 15, Dryden Theatre, 7 p.m.
In French with English subtitles
French sex farce is nearly a genre unto itself, with plots convoluted enough to make Rube Goldberg wonder, "How'd they do that?" The key is not letting the execution overshadow the heart, and filmmakers Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau are able to find the balance between complexity and compassion in the rollicking romp Cote d'Azur.
Marc and his impossibly hot wife Beatrix are unwinding at their gobsmacking summer home on the French Riviera with beautiful daughter Laura and beautifuler son Charly. Laura splits for Portugal with a biker, and Charly's friend Martin arrives for a visit. Beatrix tries to convince her husband that Charly and Martin are a couple, but Marc's in denial thanks to hang-ups of his own. He also doesn't realize his wife's unctuous boyfriend is lurking about and slurping down the Mediterranean's entire supply of aphrodisiacs.
Then the local plumber (played by Jean-Marc Barr, a Lars Von Trier regular and the sexiest bald man this side of Ed Harris) gets in on the action, which you're welcome to interpret any way you wish. And the finale is pure fromage --- a giddy capper to time spent with a fun-loving bunch that does a whole lot of masturbating.
Saturday, October 15, Dryden Theatre, 9:30 p.m.
They say that comedy is tougher than drama, but in the touching Loggerheads, Bonnie Hunt serves notice that it's all cake for her. In one of a trio of stories set in three different North Carolina locations, she plays a woman still tormented by a long-ago decision to give her baby up for adoption. The title refers to both the turtles that return to the beach to lay their eggs as well as the point at which various characters in the film find themselves.
Forty-something Grace (Hunt) resides with her mother (Michael Learned, The Waltons) in Asheville, and the two women remain at odds over the child Grace never got to know. Beth (Tess Harper) lives in Eden and worries about the son who left home after coming out to her and his minister father. And in Kure Beach, hotel owner George (Michael Kelly) befriends a young man named Mark (Kip Pardue) who has traveled there to observe the turtles while avoiding thoughts of his troubled past and bleak future.
The deftly edited film has its way with time, though all becomes clear as the threads of the ostensibly unrelated stories slowly weave together. And in his first feature, writer-director Tim Kirkman refrains from the obvious emotional money shots to make his subtle points about family and tolerance.
Saturday, October 15, Cinema Theater, 7 p.m.
Fighting For Our Rights series
In Malayalam with English subtitles
When Rajan asks for Kiran's help in wooing her best friend Delilah, he doesn't realize that the words used in the love letters she writes for him contain her own secret feelings. And when Delilah professes an attraction to the letter writer, Kiran feels empowered enough to declare her love. But there's no automatic happily-ever-after for lesbians in rural India.
First-time director Ligy J. Pullappally takes what is known to be a taboo subject in her home country and handles it with grace and command. The Journey doesn't contain any overt sexuality, and the stirring images help suggest the harsh beauty of a sometimes stifling culture where tradition and honor take precedence over personal happiness.
The former Chicago attorney returned to Kerala, the southern Indian village of her birth, to make the film after learning of true-life tales involving young women ending their lives after being outted. That's not to say The Journey is a downer --- it's ultimately an affirming view of love and acceptance... if not by others, than at least by yourself.
Sunday, October 16, Dryden Theatre, 7 p.m.
Closing Night film, followed by gala reception
Filmmaker Gregg Araki has been at it a long time, and movies like The Living End, Doom Generation, and Splendor suggest that he's got the skills to make a truly great film one of these days. Unfortunately, Mysterious Skin isn't that film, though it does have its redeeming qualities: Most notably the riveting lead work of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (the kid from Third Rock from the Sun) and Brady Corbet as two Midwestern teenagers whose shared childhood agony has led them in opposite directions.
Laid-back Neil (Gordon-Levitt) lives with his mom (Elisabeth Shue) and kicks around with friends during the downtime from his self-employment, hustling older men at the park. Brian (Corbet) is an introvert who believes that he was abducted by aliens as a child now that some fuzzy memories have begun to surface. Neil and Brian once played on the same baseball team but haven't had any contact since that fateful summer, and as Brian's recollection becomes clearer he feels the need to reconnect with Neil.
The fact that I had no idea in which direction the story would go is further evidence of Araki's talent as a filmmaker. His visuals are dependably eye-popping, and he usually gets decent performances from all of his actors. But Araki's fondness for the outlandish leads me to think he doesn't actually care, which in turn makes it difficult for me to do so. And I really want to.
And The After-School Special Award Goes To...
Wednesday, October 12, Little Theatre, 9:30 p.m.
Fighting For Our Rights series
Festival selections are rarely seen beyond the film festival circuit, and I generally tend to cut these low-budget labors of love greater slack than I would a mainstream release. I also have faith that festival programmers know what their audience wants or needs to see. Having said that, I'm reluctant to have to say this: Hate Crime is an irresponsible, repellent piece of filmmaking that should insult and anger anyone who sees it, be they gay, non-gay, Christian, non-Christian, teachers, chefs, accountants, pirates....
Hate Crime begins as the story of Robbie and Trey, a Texas couple trying to agree on the details of their upcoming commitment ceremony. All is well until a Bible-thumping homophobe moves in next door and witnesses a kiss between his new neighbors. Tensions escalate until the titular offense, and the rest of the film is a fairly pedestrian whodunit, complete with apathetic cops and intricately planned revenge.
Artistically speaking, the characters are no more than offensive stereotypes, the plot twists are visible from space, and the screenplay has all the subtlety of an after-school special projected onto a charging rhino. I certainly understand the viewpoint that the filmmakers were trying to convey, but sending the ultimate message that two appalling wrongs make a right is absolutely reckless. Hate crimes are bad enough, but vigilante "justice" also has no place in civilized society.
All films are at the Little Theatre (240 East Avenue) unless noted otherwise. Other venues are the Dryden Theatre in the George Eastman House, 900 East Avenue, and the Cinema Theater, 957 South Clinton Avenue.
Friday, October 7
The Favor, 7 p.m. $12-$15 (ticket includes party)
The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green, 9:30 p.m., $12-$15 (ticket includes party), with guests Daniel Letterle and Diego Serrano, SOLD OUT
Saturday, October 8
Gay Sex in the 70s, 12 p.m., $5-$6, free under 21
Women in Love, 2 p.m., $5-$6
The Ski Trip, 4 p.m., $5-$6, with guest Maurice Jamal
The Lady in Question in Charles Busch, 7 p.m., $8-$9, with guest Charles Busch
little man, Cinema Theater, 7 p.m., $8-$9
Floored by Love, Cinema Theater, 9:30 p.m., $8-$9
Adam & Steve, 10 p.m., $10-$11, SOLD OUT
Sunday, October 9
Flower City Flicks, shorts program, 12 p.m., $5-$6
Keep Not Silent, 2:30 p.m. $5-$6, free for under 21
Inadvertently Innocent, shorts program, 4:30 p.m., $5-$6, free under 21
WTC View, 7 p.m., $8-$9, with guests Brian Sloan and Nick Potenzieri
Butterfly, Cinema Theater, 7 p.m., $8-$9
A Year Without Love, 9:30 p.m., $8-$9
Show Me, Cinema Theater, 9:30 p.m., $8-$9
Monday, October 10
I Look Up to the Sky Now, 5:15 p.m., $5-$6, free under 21
Venus of Mars, 7 p.m., $8-$9
Cycles of Porn, 9:30 p.m., $8-$9, 18+ only
Tuesday, October 11
100% Woman, 5:30 p.m., $5-$6
Guys and Balls, Dryden Theatre, 5:30 p.m., $5-$6, free under 21 Reel World Dykes, shorts program, 7:30 p.m., $8-$9
Saturday Night at the Baths, Dryden Theatre, 8 p.m., $8-$9, followed by panel discussion
The D Word, 9:45 p.m., $8-$9
Wednesday, October 12
When I'm 64, 5:30 p.m., $5-$6
The Aggressives, 7:30 p.m., $8-$9
Hate Crime, 9:30 p.m., $8-$9
Thursday, October 13
Based on a True Story, 5:30 p.m., $5-$6
Desperate Homos, shorts program, 7:30 p.m., $8-$9
Summer Storm, 9:30 p.m., $8-$9
Friday, October 14
Stupid Boy, Cinema Theater, 6 p.m., $8-$9
Beautiful Women, Cinema Theater, 8 p.m., $8-$9
Three Dancing Slaves, 10 p.m., $8-$9
Saturday, October 15
Left Lane, Dryden Theatre, 12 p.m., $5-$6, free under 21, with guest Samantha Farinella
That Man: Peter Berlin, Dryden Theatre, 2:30 p.m., $5-$6, with guest Charles Lum
Unveiled, Dryden Theatre, 4:30 p.m., $10-$11
Cote d'Azur, Dryden Theatre, 7 p.m., $8-$9
The Journey, Cinema Theater, 7 p.m., $8-$9
Loggerheads, Dryden Theatre, 9:30 p.m., $8-$9
Saving Face, Cinema Theater, 9:30 p.m., $8-$9
Sunday, October 16
Mysterious Skin, Dryden Theatre, 7 p.m., $25-$30 (ticket includes closing night gala)
Rush tickets for sold-out programs may be available at the box office just before show time. For more information on the festival including ticket availability and prices, contact the ImageOut office, 271-2640, www.imageout.org.
With all the buzz of the ImageOut film festival to distract you, you may not have noticed another part of the festivities.
ImageArt and ImagePoetry (the poetry reading was held in September) offer two additional forms of expression to complement the film and video festival. But festival-goers often have to seek them out --- they're not as well known as their older, flashier sibling. David Hoffend, chair of ImageArt 2005, says that in the past it's been hard to find an appropriate venue for the show. They needed a place where the doors would be open to the public during regular hours and the work wouldn't be censored. This year, the artists have found a happy home at Rochester Art Supply.
See the exhibit in its entirety through October 16 at 150 West Main Street. Hours are Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Information: www.imageout.org