Rochester's LGBTQ film festival, ImageOut, is back this week for its 27th year. Running for 11 days, from October 10 through October 20, screenings will be held at both the Little Theatre and the Dryden Theatre. The festival features dozens of screenings that give voice, expression, and three-dimensionality to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. This year ImageOut features more than 40 films, including documentaries, narrative films, and several foreign independent features as well.
We spoke with programming director Mike Gamilla about the curation process. "Thirty-three of these films were directed by female and trans filmmakers, definitely helping broaden the perspective for issues on homophobia, transphobia, immigration, refugees, religion, sexual explorations, teen pregnancy, abortion, mental illness, and, of course, romance," he said. "I am proud of the wide variety of racial and ethnic diversities represented in many of the principal casts, adding more texture to the narratives we are presenting."
ImageOut kicks off Thursday, October 10, from 7 to 10 p.m. with the annual Festival Eve Party at VOLO Osteria and Enoteca. Attendees can pay a $10 cover or get in for free with the purchase of either opening night film ("Vita & Virginia" or "An Almost Ordinary Summer"). Parking is available at the Midtown Garage.
Below, CITY previews some of what we think are this year's can't-miss titles. Visit imageout.org for a full schedule and more information.
Directed by Chayna Button and based on the play by Emmy award-winner Eileen Atkins, the narrative feature "Vita & Virginia" is influenced by both the life of Virginia Woolf (played by Elizabeth Debicki) and her novel "Orlando" -- which was inspired by Woolf's love affair with the gender-fluid writer and socialite Vita Sackville-West (Gemma Arterton). Naturally, it takes place in the Roaring '20s, opening with the printing of Woolf's novel "Jacob's Room." That printing press (The Hogarth Press) was, in actuality, a British publishing house founded in 1917 by Leonard Woolf (Peter Ferdinando), Virginia's husband.
A special perk to this feature is that viewers get to listen to vignettes of the real-life correspondence between Woolf and West, which weave through the plot and serve as a vehicle to move between settings and narration.
Vita is portrayed as a predominantly masculine figure. She struggles with monogamy and deems herself incapable "to create one perfect relationship." She is often seen driving an automobile, even when her husband is with her. She wears pants and short hair and, importantly, the camera focuses on her lustful gazes at Virginia, particularly in the beginning of the film. At times melodramatic and trying too hard to incorporate literary tropes and Romantic themes, "Vita & Virginia" is a well-orchestrated encapsulation of the history of lesbianism, feminism, and polyamory. (Friday, October 11, 6:30 p.m. Little 1.)
In the opening scene of Argentine director Lucio Castro's stunning, award-winning, time-bending feature, "End of the Century," main character Ocho arrives at an Airbnb in Barcelona. After spending several days in solitude, he invites Javi, a man he frequently notices in the neighborhood, upstairs to his apartment.
The film is beautifully and remarkably minimalistic -- for nearly 15 minutes, there is no dialogue as the audience embarks on Ocho's vacation with him and experiences stunning cinematography that pairs both the idiosyncratic architecture and the natural landscapes of Barcelona.
Throughout the course of Ocho and Javi's rendezvous, Castro warps time and space alongside the themes of existential probing. "End of the Century" is an inquiry of Sisyphean stagnancy and a grass-is-always-greener mindset epitomized by Ocho's near-refrain: "I enjoy being alone." What makes the film truly masterfully composed is a plot that incites more questions that it provides answers. There are occasional scenes in the film that are so banal that (if not for the suspense and the vistas) the viewer might ask, "Can we skip this part?"
This question is central for Ocho, who vacillates between relishing his freedom versus the particularly stale moments of a relationship -- the things that never make photo albums -- the daily life stuff that makes us all groan, "Can I skip this part?" These are the moments we miss even with gained independence and reasserting, "I enjoy being alone."
In "End of the Century," we fully realize the symbolism of the contents of a refrigerator, the nostalgia of an old t-shirt, and the subtle joy in a sequence of unremarkable moments that lead us to the memorable. (Saturday, October 12, 9:30 p.m. Dryden. Spanish with English subtitles.)
In the documentary "Circus of Books," Rachel Mason interviews her parents Karen and Barry Mason about the story of their bookstore and porn shop, Circus of Books. Over the course of the film, the audience learns about the seeming conventional family who actively support the gay community by making hardcore, gay, and adult materials available in a climate that finds them obscene.
Rachel Mason constructs a narrative that often involves a few unexpected revelations. Yes, the film opens with a family that strives to balance a conventional home life all while creating a space for a less-accepted lifestyles. Likewise, we learn about Karen Mason's background as a reporter covering smut raids, criminal justice, and obscenity laws. But a raw and devastating side of political activism takes shape: do we only support a movement and a community from afar?
The story reminds us of the progress the LGBTQ community has made by reminding us of its tumultuous history. Throughout the film several activists are interviewed, including Alexi Romanoff, who describes himself as "one of the last people alive from the demonstration at the Black Cat," the bar that was infamously raided by police on New Year's Eve in 1966 and sparked one of the largest demonstrations at the time (two-and-a-half years before Stonewall). At the time, Romanoff says, same sex couples who were kissing could be arrested, even charged with a felony, and too-often, it cost LGBTQ people their jobs and their homes. "Circus of Books," for men like Romanoff, was a place that granted freedom and a passive resistance, one that fostered an assertion of one's identity. (Sunday, October 13, 3:15 p.m. Little 1.)
Argentine director and screenwriter Marco Berger's latest feature, "The Blonde One," masterfully focuses on the importance of simplicity, sound, and gestural communication. In fact, the economical use of dialogue makes this film exceptionally moving. The characters are pensive and primarily communicate through observation and body language (though there is a plot, and it develops quickly). This is especially the case for Gabriel (or Gabo, played by Gaston Re), the blond, whose lines are often monosyllabic due to his shy and highly perceptive nature. Gabo rents a room with his coworker Juan (Alfonso Baron), which catalyzes their intimate relationship.
"The Blonde One" brings forward the question of longevity in closeted homosexual relationships (especially those that exist in predominately masculine cultures), where one partner wants to appear, to quote the film, "normal" to the rest of the world.
Re's limited script perhaps effectively encourages empathy for his character's situation -- having so few lines brings merit to his acting -- we see his pain very plainly on his face and hear it clearly in his silences, which requires convincing acting. Berger implements very little ambient sound, with the exception of an occasional piano score, making the audience aware of settings: the living room TV, the train on the tracks outside, and the sounds of machinery where the Gabo and Juan work. Scenes are intentionally paced, creating suspense, and reveling in the script's own, well-crafted foreplay.
The closing lines of the film are memorable as Gabo, who rarely initiates a conversation, makes a bold confession. (Friday, October 18, 7:45 p.m. Little 1. Spanish with English subtitles.)
The documentary "Gay Chorus Deep South" takes viewers through the four states that the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus tours in an effort to normalize homosexuality and gender-fluidity all through song, dance, and comedy. Their performances remind us that serotonin is, in fact, in our guts as much as our brains -- viewers will find themselves letting out belly laughs as well as tearing up at the gut wrenching, long repressed testimonies.
Featuring more than 300 singers led by Gay Chorus Conductor Tim Seelig, the film reveals how the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus copes in the Deep South. Grief and joy are such permeating themes in the film, if not only because one knows that to heal, one must find traces of hope and gratitude, no matter how scarce.
For those planning to see Gay Chorus Deep South, plan on embarking on a truly cathartic experience and witnessing the kind of brotherhood and kinship that comes from being collectively outcasted. As part of this catharsis, the audience will get to see and hear the choir sing, "You Have More Friends Than You Know," a number that reminds us that loneliness is ubiquitous and touches everyone. And because it connects us in this way, we have to be patient with our neighbors, loved ones, and ourselves. For marginalized people, the song is a comforting beacon of hope. The fact that the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus brings it to the Deep South means that LGBTQ in the area folks can feel this comfort and catharsis. (Saturday, October 19, 11 a.m. Dryden.)