The 29th Annual Vancouver Queer Film Festival is back and under the new leadership of co-artistic directors Amber Dawn and Anoushka Ratnarajah it’s got an edgier and more political feel.
Centre of My World (Germany)
As I was watching this fascinating coming of age film I wondered “Is this adapted from a book?”. Thank you Google, yes it is. This often magical, often heart-breaking and sometimes alluring movie by Jacob M Erwa is adapted from a young adult novel written in 1998 by Andreas Steinhofel.
The reason it feels like a book is because it so overly rich in details, jumps back and forth in time and scenario’s feel often heightened but it also is often very compelling.
Phil (Louis Hoffman) has been away for three months and a storm has ripped through his small hamlet in German. Also his twin sister now no longer talks to him and his mother.
What happened while he was away though takes a back seat as he starts up a relationship with an impossibly handsome young athlete in his school.
The fact that we are no longer getting a myriad of coming out stories at the Queer Film Festival speaks to the maturing of film-makers. It is lovely to see young queer people just being accepted as to who they are, although it starts to feel a little too unrealistic as no one at all has an issue.
When the magical elements start getting layered in you start to question where the film is going and when the revelations start getting shared it gets a little like a Readers Digest version of soap opera but it kind of works.
Centre of My World is a beautiful rendered film and a joy to see on the big screen. Just remember t was adapted from a novel for young adults and go enjoy.
The trailer is here.
Free CeCe (USA)
The tragic disregard for the welfare of transgender people and in particular trans women of colour is an unacceptable. The fact that so many are murdered and so many more are incarcerated is tragedy of the greatest magnitude.
CeCe McDonald became a national focal point on this issue when she stab someone with scissors during a altercation on the street. The police not on tried to blame her they kept her in a male prison. The constant abuses she had to endure kept compounding and her supporters outside jail kept growing.
First time feature documentary director Jac Gares with the help of transgender actress Laverne Cox documents the trail and appeals and CeCe life after jail. The first half of this film about an important subject matter starts to lose it’s focus in the second half as the interviews with a continually growing list of experts and allies starts to cloud the direction the documentary is taking. Scenes start to repeat information we have already seen and new issues get added without accumulating in to a resounding conclusion.
The trailer is here.
A rather unpleasant drama by writer and director Travis Matthews who made the notable but also oddly unsatisfying Interior Leather Bar with James Franco. In Discreet he tackles child abduction abuse, You Tube celebrity and shock jockey’s.
Johnny Mars plays Alex and young drifter who discovers that man who held him captive and sexual abused him is still alive although suffering a neurological disorder. Alex has two obsessions that colour his already warped world view. A soothing You Tube star that extolls the virtues of mediation with everyday banality and a radio host in the style of Alex Jones who shout out danger and terror around every corner.
There are people who are tragically screwed up by child abuse and it is an important subject matter but Mr. Matthews meditative and alternately frustrating vague and increasingly ugly take on it is disappointing.
The trailer in here.
The Geopolitics Of Queer (Various)
A collection of 5 short films the include three documentaries about being queer in countries like Pakistan, India, Cambodia and Rwanda was a mixed bag of insight with a little bit of repetition.
Sisak from India and directed by Faraz Arif Ansari is a heartbreaking story of two men from different walks of life who notice each other on a commuter train. Their furtive glances sometimes through tear filled eyes is their only communication in this silent film. Although you do wonder how they keep ending up in the same car each time they meet on the train the two actors are layered and open hearted. Here is the tailer.
Poshida: Hidden LGBT Pakistan – directed by Faizan Fiaz focuses on several people across the queer spectrum and the challenges they face living in a very religious country. She also looks at it from a class structure. One transgender person is a huge TV star of a comedy talk show while another makes a living cleaning toilets. She also focuses on a lesbian Pakistani comedian Fawsai Mirza from Canada who brings her somewhat controversial one-woman show on a multi-city tour. Fascinating glimpse into dignity in the face of oppression. Here is the trailer.
The Streets Are Ours: Two Lives Cross in Karachi – directed by Michele Fiordalsio features one of the last interviews Sabeen Mahmud gave before being brutally gun downed in her car. She was a dedicated activist on several humanist issues and her murder was keenly felt by progressives in Pakistan. She is interview by Fawsai Mirza and here is one of the first small problems with the program. The film is 16 minutes of a longer film and we get some of the same footage that we just saw in the previous short, namely when 20 women walked out of Ms. Mirza one woman show. Certainly a revealing and dramatic moment but did we need to see it twice in 30 minutes? Still a great short film about a great activist. I could not find a trailer for this film.
She is directed by Ndimbira Claudine and is a short film about a lesbian fashion photographer in Rwanda. It is a eye opening look into a images we often don’t get to see in Canada. of course there are fashionistas in other countries but we often picture them through a European lens. The main protagonist does something shady in order to capture some time with a model she is crushing on and it was refreshing to see. I could not find a trailer but here is the whole film.
Where do I Belong directed by Vanna Ham is a look at the difficulties of living as a transgender person in Cambodia and once again it is heartbreaking and is certainly a call to action but I also had a small problem with the programming of this series. Certainly each story, each individual deserves a just life and deserves to be heard. Each of the three documentaries is an important story that warrants attention but when it came down to themes it starting to become numbing. Each of the docs repeated the same issues so as collection of films it became hard to invest more energy into them and that in turn made me feel guilty. So this was a challenging film program in that regard. I hope it returns next year but with more varied story angles included in the viewpoints. Here is the full film.
I Dream in Another Language (Mexico)
An exquisite tale of regret and romance. The backdrop for brothers Ernesto (director) and Carlos Contreras (writer) in unique. Martin (Fernado Alvarez Rebeil) is a linguist who has travelled small village in Mexico to try to record the language of Zikril. There are only three people who still speak it and they are all very old and two of them have not spoken to each other in over 50 years.
The power of fear and anger to render people in capability of reaching out is painfully realized as Isauro (Jose Manuel Poncelis) can only speak Zikril. To see his eyes gently light up when he hears an old folk song in his native tongue is one of the tenderest moments I have seen on film.
The stoic confusion and anger of his former freind Evaristo (Eligio Melendez) is dangerously unpredictable and the writers make the story take some very unexpected turns as it moves into it’s third act.
To truly capture the privacy of speaking a foreign language there are no sub-titles when any of the characters speak Zikril (a made up language and culture btw, done so out of respect of other dying languages). Other Spanish people on camera can’t understand what is being said and neither can we.
A powerfully moving film about spiritual magic, language and the in ability to speak about real feelings. It builds in an unhurried way but the journey and the final destination sticks with you.
It is one of my favourite opening films at the festival ever.
You can watch the trailer here.
Phoon and Yuke are an two men raising their adopted son Butr. Their lives are fun and playful and then when one of the kids starts to tease him it is long before a social worker pays a visit.
Director Palatpol Mingpornpichit treat the subject matter tenderly and it is beautifully shot. You genuinely get the feeling of powerful love between the two men and their son. He weaves into his script some commentary about Thailand’s politics especially around same sex marriage.
The film sometimes veers into a bit of a soap opera and gets overly sentimental but we don’t see a lot of films about LGBT parents and their kids.
Also seeing the sights and sounds of Thailand was lovely.
The trailer is here.
Body Electric (Corpo Elétrico) (Brazil)
Elias (Kelner Macêdo) is adrift. At 23 years old he has a job in garment factory and pleasant out look on life and love. Tries to hook up with new lovers while being friends with old ones. He is a pleasant and sexy man without many plans for the future.
First time director Marcelo Caetano takes a warm and non-judgemental look at Elias and his friends and offers an insight into life of the working poor of modern Brazil. It is a gentle take on a young man without a plan so it does meander rather than drive. If that is the journey you want to take and a world you want to explore there are some nice sights to behold.
The spanish trailer is here.
The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin (USA)
A queer icon Armistead Maupin is someone who I have heard about but I am just young enough and don’t read enough I missed his main culture impact. Thankfully director Jennifer Kroot was able to have have access to his life and as well as past television interviews. She also assembles a array of celebrities to speak to his work and it’s significance; Sir Ian McKellen, Margaret Cho, Laura Linney etc.
While I was captivated by the depth and power of his work as a writer I was more astonished by his breaking free from his racist up bringing. The testament that one can overcome anything just by being true to themselves makes this man and this film resonate. It is not just a look at a witty and charming queer culture hero. Mr. Maupin also inspires one take stock of their own choices in life.
A fun and fascinating film that helps fill in the details of our living queer history.
The trailer is here.
Dream Boat (Germany)
The men who go gay cruises do seem to come from a similar socio-economic background and as one of the people we meet in the film remarks, many have the same type of body and facial hair. Director Tristan Ferland Milewski follows various passengers from different countries (many of them immigrants from other places).
We eavesdrop on conversations and get on-camera confessionals while they attend various theme parties (Leather Night, White Party, Drag Night, Day Glo). The trip is one of discovery as they reveal their insecurities and fears about aging, loss and loneliness while some also celebrate their victories in regards to health and relationships.
The film is beautifully shot and the men are often very candid. I was confused but the lack of drug culture that i assumed would be prevalent at this kind of party event but maybe I mis-judged. I also found it a little hard to sympathize when some of gorgeous young man complained their lot in life but again maybe that’s on me.
It’s a casual and warm documentary that makes you wish you were there (but maybe without the angst). Some of the outfits that the other passengers wear are simply brilliant.
Here is the trailer.
David C Jones