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This year’s lineup for Reel Affirmations, Washington’s eighth annual gay and lesbian film festival, both validates and controverts the need for a separate forum to showcase the work of gay and lesbian releases. The festival’s films affirm its raison d’être simply because no mainstream exposition would embrace many of these works; but they controvert its purpose by showing that much of the fare this year could hold its own at the Sundance and Toronto festivals.

This year, the festival, which runs until Oct. 25, brings more than 140 feature films, shorts, and documentaries from around the world, 34 of which are reviewed here by Washington City Paper film critics Mark Jenkins, Joel E. Siegel, and Arion Berger. This year’s Reel Affirmations includes the seemingly requisite number of self-indulgent releases that hold fast to queer-ghetto culture (Sex/Life in L.A, I Love Who I Want to Love). But a surprising—and gratifying—number of films move beyond frank solipsism to tell stories that are angrily political (Out at Work, Our Private Idaho), intriguingly personal (The Grace of God, The Time Being), comical (We’re Funny That Way), or heroic (The Human Race).

The festival opened last night with Relax, It’s Just Sex and continues tonight with Homo Heights (7 p.m., Lincoln Theatre, $8), the “Queer Cartoons: Animation Competition” (9 p.m., Lincoln Theatre, $8), and Hard (11 p.m., Lincoln Theatre, $8), none of which were available for preview. For more schedule and ticket information, or to learn of program changes, call the festival hot line at (800) 494-8497.

17 SATURDAY

Gia

Michael Cristofer’s lurid biopic of the glamorous rise and even more glamorous fall of ’70s model Gia Carangi, a self-destructive brunette whose junk habit led to AIDS, an early death, and an unjustified legendary status, was made for HBO and released earlier this year. But it comes to Reel Affirmations in the gauzy guise of “special interest”: lesbian, since Carangi was unabashedly out and about during her short lifetime. Nevertheless, this is a fantasy island for straight guys posing as a cautionary tale. Angelina Jolie plays Carangi with lip-smacking relish—the naughty after-hours photo shoot involving her nude body and a chain-link fence is hot stuff, but no less exploitative than the rest of this high-class peep show. Elizabeth Mitchell plays the long-suffering blond lover who has to live with that most high-maintenance of live-ins—the supermodel/heroin addict. Faye Dunaway looks like a woman caught in a wind tunnel playing the head of the Wilhelmina modeling agency.—Arion Berger

At 1 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, free.

A Man in

Her Life

After she’s nearly raped by her uncle, Filipino schoolteacher Selya flees to the town where her unreliable boyfriend Bobby, a traveling salesman, has told her he’ll be. Bobby’s not to be found, but Selya soon acquires a new job and a new partner; her landlady persuades Selya to marry the school principal, Ramon, while carefully neglecting to tell her what all the local gossips know: that Ramon is gay and involved with a married lover. Frustrated by a sexless marriage, Selya resumes her intimacy with Bobby, who flees when he learns that he’s gotten her pregnant. Ramon turns out to be a wonderful father, but Selya still wants a complete relationship—which leads to another marital crisis. Director Carlos Siguion-Reyna’s film is an entertaining soap opera, but its assault on Filipino mores doesn’t do much damage to established stereotypes: Gay men are sophisticated and gentle, straight men are vicious and irresponsible, and straight women have a fearful sexuality that can be tamed by their better (i.e., maternal) instincts. Ultimately, the film concludes, dignity and virtue will triumph over gossip—which is a remarkably sanguine moral in any culture.—Mark Jenkins

At 3 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $5.

The Real

Ellen Story

More monomaniacal and pompous than Oprah Winfrey and the opening-night ceremony of the Olympics combined, this dead-serious documentary directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato tracks the events leading up to Ellen DeGeneres’ coming out through interviews with Ellen’s writers, ABC executives, Ellen herself, and her inner circle. To hear The Real Ellen Story tell it, all was darkness before the great Yep, and afterward a great piñata of cultural goodies opened up, whereupon our heroine was hounded off the air. Despite the film’s adulatory presentation, it’s hard to watch and forget that Ellen was a 39-year-old woman at the time of her announcement, and that for many of those years, she had indulged in the worst kind of obfuscatory, self-hating, how-about-that-airline-food? humor to garner a dishonest fame. For the first few seasons of her show, a fourth-grader with cataracts could see that DeGeneres was a gay woman nudged into mimicking a Velveeta sitcom version of heterosexuality, but the Ellen character was as much the creator’s fault as that of nervous executives. Marked off by dramatic “dateline” text, the writers sigh about how hard she was to write for, pre-puppy; headlines speculating on the infamous “puppy episode” splash the screen; and everyone involved recounts the hush, the thrill, the triumph, and the sorrow of that momentous occasion. The exasperating tone of The Real Ellen Story is a shame, since the show loosened its corset strings with a vengeance and became the sharpest, most relaxed, and relevant thing on the air for the brief period ABC allowed the outed Ellen to exist. As usual in filmed projects nowadays, Anne Heche is the best thing in it.—Arion Berger

At 5 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $5.

Fag Hag

Destiny Rutt knows she’s fated for big things—today the title of Miss Hope Springs, tomorrow the world. The other pageant contestants are an exotic crew of losers, nuts, and tramps; the favorite, Miss Lola Beaver, in particular, is out to get our Destiny. But when Destiny leads to Scott, an ex-con she first spots dressed as Jesus in a walking ad for the local Christian bookstore/nail salon, the two of them proceed to take the pageant and the town by storm. The script for Fag Hag, a film directed by Damion Dietz, is low-key and often tremendously funny—”Jesús Cristo es más macho!” cries the bookstore owner, setting an exuberant example for Scott. Fueled by resentment, laziness, and self-confidence, these spunky losers have some of the bedraggled cuteness of Waiting for Guffman, and John Waters’ wackiness informs the scenery and subsidiary characters. But the writing and acting are dead-on in the way they portray Scott and Destiny’s conversation as continually derailed by the many things they don’t quite get and are too defiantly breezy to bother about.—Arion Berger

At 11 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $8.

Also screening Oct. 17: the “Lighten Up” humor shorts program (11 a.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $5); Sixth Happiness (7 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $8); and Like It Is (9 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $8).

18 SUNDAY

The Grace

of God

Strikingly original and meticulously executed, Canadian writer-director Gerald L’Ecuyer’s autobiographical (or is it?) collage combines dramatic vignettes, monologues, and anti-illusionist footage of its own creation, linked by images of trains, clocks, and kaleidoscopic mosaics. L’Ecuyer develops his themes—quests for love, purpose, and sanity—in both comic and serious tones, using stylized, dreamlike settings and a haunting chamber-music score. On the basis of a single viewing, it’s difficult to tell how effectively the pieces cohere, but frame by frame, this is spellbinding filmmaking. The accompanying short, Sarah Abbott’s coy, faux-primitive Why I Hate Bees, is a waste of time, even at under five

minutes.—Joel E. Siegel

At 1 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $5.

Sleeping Beauties

In Jamie Babbit’s 15-minute Sleeping Beauties, a mother puts her little one to sleep with a new, improved fairy tale, this one about Princess Charming (Heather, the maternal storyteller played by Radha Mitchell). Heather becomes a makeup artist to dead rock stars to subsume her thwarted attempt to “wake” the fair Cindy, her youthful playmate. While painting the deceased rock goddess Sno-Blo, Heather is stunned by the sight of the grown Cindy, in town to make a splash as a musicians’ manager. This fractured fairy tale is stone gorgeous and often hilarious—at a photo shoot for Sno-Blo’s “live” album, the photographer yells out encouragement such as, “Keep that energy; don’t change!” (“She’s a little puffy, but it’s really working out great,” the manager agrees.) When Heather finds Cindy beautifully lacquered and asleep in her apartment, holding a bitten apple, she tries again to kiss her “awake.” Of course, it’s Heather who needs awakening, into the world of the living—the arms of the very nice, smudgy-eyed photographer’s assistant. The music and sparkling sound effects are perfectly chosen, the photography beautiful and romantic; everything looks glossy and sharp, like licked candy.—Arion Berger

Screens as part of the “Sleeping Beauties and Monsters in the Closet” women’s shorts program at 3 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $5.

Sabor a Mi

Torn-throated Spanish songs lament the pleasures and torments of golden-lit soft-core lust, south-of-the-border style, in this intense, passionate, and pointless piece of erotic fluff. Sabor a Mi, directed by Claudia Margado Escanilla of Canada, is a tale of keyhole longing, in which two neighbors observe each other’s private ecstasies among richly painted, candlelit interiors. The apartments are photographed like churches, which in a way they are—shrines to the exotic possibilities of magical realism as well as feminine ardor. Ravishing, erotic, and not exactly brimming with ideas, Sabor a Mi is a visual treat among the most accomplished at the festival.—Arion Berger

Screens as part of the “Drag Kings and Their Femmes Fatales” women’s shorts program at 5 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $5.

Dakan

Billed as the first West African film about gay life, this could have been a simple story in a more accepting place or time: Manga and Sori are in love and want to spend their lives together. But their schoolmates heckle the two young men, and their parents are shocked. Manga’s working-class mother tells him that boys can’t be attracted to other boys—”it never happens,” she asserts—while Sori’s upscale father insists that the relationship will destroy all his plans for his son to become a prosperous businessman. Manga is sent to a traditional healer, and his mother collapses from the strain. When he returns, Manga visits his mother in the hospital, where he meets Oumou, a pretty young white woman adopted as an infant by an African woman; the two become very close, but Oumou doesn’t free Manga’s mind of thoughts of Sori. Although Dakan (“destiny”) is not sexually explicit, the ferocity of the two men’s kisses was enough to make Guinean director Mohamed Camara decide to shoot in secret. Visually, the film is distinguished by deep shadows and extreme closeups, and much of the atmosphere derives from Elhadj Sory Kandia Kouyate’s kora-and-vocal score.—Mark Jenkins

At 7 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $8.

Also screening Oct. 18: “Best of the Fest!” (9 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $8).

19 MONDAY

Surviving Friendly Fire

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This documentary by Todd Nelson tracks a Los Angeles theater project taking advantage of the talents and experiences of a group of gay homeless teens. The kids’ own stories are harrowing enough—one youth compares his childhood to The Color Purple and a hostage experience in one breath—but the play, Friendly Fire, that they created together at Highways, an alternative performance center, benefits also from their passion and inventiveness, and the richness of their previously untapped talent. But the selfish gloss of everything outside the kids’ experiences is condescending. Ian McKellen narrates plummily, giving a puffed-up tone to the film, and theater director Norma Bowles is arty and earnest, so jazzed on the kids’ former misery that her sometimes petulant maternalism carries a suspect whiff. She takes her charges through grueling interviews and improv sessions; it’s never clear how much she cares about helping them recover from “nonsupportive home environments” and how much she’s getting off on making a powerful play with the rawest of ingredients—real, live messed-up kids. Near the end, she indulges in her own me-me-me weeping breakthrough about her own childhood. The performers, however, thrive in an atmosphere of creativity, not the usual pity or cruelty, and the play was not only a catharsis, but a solution to the teens’ homeless and aimless existence.—Arion Berger

At 6 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5.

We’re Funny That Way

Interweaving performance clips and interview footage, this delightful documentary, shot at Canada’s first Gay and Lesbian Comedy Festival in Toronto, showcases 11 comics, all winners. Director David Adkin’s decision to keep cutting between onstage routines and introspective backstage musings prevents us from observing how the artists structure and pace their acts. But the humor consistently scores—especially Maggie Cassella’s cunnilingus bit, Bob Smith’s wry social observations, and HIV-positive Steve Moore’s out-there AIDS humor—and the theorizing about comedy, usually a lethal pursuit, is unexpectedly sensitive and insightful. We’re Funny That Way is particularly impressive for the spectrum of gay comedy personae it presents: Jewish (Jaffe Cohen), poignant (Elvira Kurt), racial (Karen Williams), drag (Christopher Peterson), Midwestern (John McGivern), sly (Scott Capurro), elegant (Kate Clinton), and in-your-fucking-face (Lea DeLaria, who also proves to be quite an accomplished scat singer).

—Joel E. Siegel

At 9 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $8; also screens Friday, Oct. 23, at 9:30 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5.

Also screening Oct. 19: Some Prefer Cake (7 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $8); Rules of the Game (7:30 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5); and Bocage: O Triunfo Do Amor (The Triumph of Love) (9:30 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5).

20 TUESDAY

Sticky Fingers of Time

Hilary Brougher’s clever, cool-looking sci-fi entry is a page-turner from the start. Tucker Harding is the author of ’50s pulp science fiction novels; she lives with a beautiful muse named Ophelia and an equally sinuous Siamese cat. One day, Tucker leaves her New York City apartment for coffee and finds herself no longer in a black-and-white world, but in full color, amid the grime and noise of modern-day New York. Drew is a struggling author at an impasse with her work, who buys an aging copy of the novel Tucker started that morning so long ago. Drew harbors a secret power she doesn’t know she has—like Tucker, the nattily dressed Isaac, and a pair of scary henchmen, she is a “time freak,” able to live out of the linear time sequence but unable to live the same moment twice. The jumble of chronological possibilities piles up, always with wit and style even when the logical thread begins to unravel: Can Drew save Tucker from being assassinated on the sidewalk, as a yellowing newspaper clipping claims? Is Isaac working with or against the bald bruiser and the vampy brunette who haunt the story? And what do the first H-bomb tests have to do with “soul DNA”? Sticky Fingers of Time is long and not always plausible, even within the forgiving boundaries of sci-fi, but, like its deep-thinking heroines, it’s fun, chic, and easy on the eyes.

—Arion Berger

At 7 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $8.

Finding North

The lead characters meet cute—and again and again—in the first few minutes of director Tanya Wexler’s unromantic comedy about a gay man and a straight woman. Suicidal after the death of his lover Bobby, Travis (John Benjamin Hickey) exemplifies the dignity of gay men; a man-hungry Brooklynite who got fired from her bank-teller job on her 30th birthday, Rhonda (Wendy Makkena) embodies the vulgarity of straight women. Some of the sharp edges of these stereotypes are softened as the story progresses through a strange quest to Texas, where the couple follows Bobby’s last wishes, but Kim Powers’ script never overcomes its sitcom contrivances and

stale attitude.—Mark Jenkins

At 7:30 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5.

East Palace, West Palace

The themes of such Genet books as The Thief’s Journal are transplanted to Beijing in this account of the ambiguous but highly charged relationship between policeman Hu Jun and writer A Lon, one of many gay men who cruise a park near the Forbidden City. After a brief encounter, A Lon begins a clandestine flirtation with Hu Jun, who seems both repulsed and fascinated by his admirer. When the policeman arrests the writer for a second time, he begins an interrogation that becomes more personal than professional. This is the fourth of Zhang (Beijing Bastards) Yuan’s films to be banned in China; the government even lifted the director’s passport so he couldn’t travel overseas to publicize it. Appropriately, then, it’s the Chinese context that makes East Palace, West Palace distinctive; its tale of the oppressed’s lust for his oppressor is familiar fare in 20th-century Western literature and film. Zhang’s earlier work has a gritty faux-documentary feel, and he’s expressed his impatience with the visually lush style of such “fifth-generation” Chinese directors as Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige. Yet this film is quite lovely; its dramatic angles, tasteful compositions, and framed shots offer an elegant contrast to the story’s brutality and squalid locations.—Mark Jenkins

At 9 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $8.

Also screening Oct. 20: Dancing on Pearls(6 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5); and “The Women We Are, The Women We Love” shorts program(9:30 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5).

21 WEDNESDAY

Private Shows

Private Shows has a few tricks up its sleeve. Initially, it appears to be a semi-exploitative, technically primitive video documentary covering a week in the life of Christopher, a Manhattan college student moonlighting as a nude dancer and hustler. The subject’s alternating moods of narcissism and insecurity become more resonant when we learn that he is the filmmaker’s rejected ex-lover. (“You broke my heart,” he sighs, gazing into the lens.) Subsequent revelations force us to re-evaluate Private Shows’ basic premise and our perception of it. Directors Blaine Hopkins and Stephen Winter cannily exploit budgetary limitations to hornswoggle us.—Joel E. Siegel

At 7 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $8.

Don’t Cry

for Me,

Edinburgh

Erez Laufer’s high-spirited documentary records the adventures of an Israeli theater troupe as they prepare for, and perform at, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The actors—three gay and a token straight—spend six weeks polishing their program of comic and dramatic sketches, Words of His Own: An Evening of Gay Israeli Stories, for Scottish audiences. But when they arrive, everything seems jinxed, from crowded living accommodations to an inhospitable performing venue. Following several sparsely attended shows and one for which nobody shows up, the troupe is about to bag it. Then comes an unexpected reversal that allows the film to end on a triumphant note. An entertaining backstage look at the hardships and rewards of traveling players.—Joel E. Siegel

Screens with Bubbeh Lee and Me at 7:30 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5.

Bubbeh Lee and Me

In this 35-minute “video diary,” gay San Franciscan Andy Abrahams Wilson spends Rosh Hashana with his spunky 87-year-old grandmother at her Florida retirement community. In her indomitable feistiness—she spends much of her time demanding supermarket refunds for defective produce—he finds inspiration for asserting his own identity. A sentimental, inconsequential portrait that shrinks from engaging what one would think were essential questions, notably traditional Jewish attitudes toward women and homosexuals.—Joel E. Siegel

Screens following Don’t Cry for Me, Edinburgh (see above).

Family Name

Macky Alston’s documentary quest to research his family history is motivated, in part, by his homosexuality. Having exposed his own secret, he decides to investigate why his surname is so widely shared by white and black families in his native North Carolina. He spends three frustrating years untangling the web of forgotten familial connections to discover, as he initially suspected, that his slave-owning forebears caused a genetic link between the families. Recently aired on PBS, Family Name introduces us to some articulate, affecting people and ends with a musical/social gathering that confirms the possibility of racial harmony. But Alston’s 90-minute cine-diary, clearly influenced by Ross McElwee’s Time Indefinite but lacking that filmmaker’s gifts for irony and poetry, would benefit from tighter editing—must we follow him down every blind alley?—and his whiny, self-interrogating narration (“What am I really trying to do?”) becomes grating. Despite the climactic affirmation of brotherhood, one is left wondering whether Alston’s search for roots isn’t really picking at scabs.—Joel E. Siegel

Screens with Uncle and Dance With Me at 9:30 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5.

Also screening Oct. 21: Fourteen in May (9 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $8).

22 THURSDAY

Sunflowers

Every year in the small Philippines town of Pasaquin, there are two festivals honoring Queen Helen, the woman who supposedly led Roman Emperor Constantine to the cross on which Christ was crucified. One, understandably, is staged by the local Catholic church; the other, more popular fest is the responsibility of the Sunflowers, who perform the sacred parade in drag. According to Shawn Hainsworth’s 50-minute video documentary, the members of this group aren’t quite politically correct by contemporary American gay standards: They consider themselves “real girls” and want to date “real men,” not other gays. (They apparently have plenty of takers, because in Philippine villages the virtue of unmarried women is closely guarded.) The Sunflowers are generally accepted, even by the Catholic parish priest and local fishermen, who believe that homosexuality is proscribed by God. As for the mother of a prominent Sunflower who associates his gayness with his having been a “picky eater,” well, maybe it’s true.—Mark Jenkins

At 6 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5.

The Human Race

Bobby Houston’s gripping, superbly photographed and edited documentary about nine HIV-positive men sailing in the Trans Pacific Yacht Race from San Francisco to Hawaii is sure to stir mainstream audiences as well as Reel Affirmations attendees. The first half-hour details how Robert Hudson realizes his dream of entering the TransPac: raising funds, obtaining a boat (albeit one with a jinxed history), choosing a captain, and assembling a game but largely inexperienced crew. Its hull emblazoned with “angels” (the names of lovers and friends lost to AIDS), the rickety Survivor then embarks on its perilous journey. After the initial exhilaration of several smooth days, personal tensions arise, transforming the vessel into a floating, all-male version of MTV’s Real World. With morale and the boat in tatters, Hurricane Dolores looms ahead. Will the Survivor survive to cross the finish line? You’ll find out in this exciting adventure yarn that frames a gallery of profiles in existential courage.—Joel E. Siegel

At 7 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $8.

Out of

Season

In the days before city, not theme, film fests featured movies whose starting budget was $35 million, local filmmaker Jeanette L. Buck’s first effort would have breezed away with at least a heavy Hollywood buzz. As it is, Out of Season is a Reel Affirmations standout, thoughtful, humorous, surprising, and professional, with characters so potently human that the specific configuration the love story takes—in this case woman-to-woman—matters less than the universal application it implies. Micki has a sly smile and a rambler’s itchy feet; she’s come to the precious Victorian preserve of Cape May, N.J., to care for her ailing Uncle Charlie. In a diner full of ambiguous intentions, she spots Roberta, a hash-slinger who has put her own wandering ways behind her in favor of the town’s seaside comforts. With her leather jacket and confident shamble, Micki seems at first like every rebel who ever wandered into a small town to shake it out of sexual stupor, but she’s more complicated than that—”You’ll like my friends,” she teases Roberta, trying to get her to come out for a night with her imported pals—”they’re not like me.” She continually hints that she’s ready to find safety and satisfaction, but it’s Roberta who needs to reconcile what she’s settled for with who she wants to be. Their courtship is part cat-and-mouse game, part role reversal—they keep finding each other, but can’t figure out how it is that they agree on nothing. The beach town in the off-season is a metaphor for the women’s year-round existence, as outsiders who have let their creativity and their will to love languish in the shade of self-protection. The acting and production values are first-rate, and Cape May’s dainty architecture seems dwarfed by the actors’ humor and strength.—Arion Berger

At 9 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $8.

China Dolls

“The same racial stereotype of passivity and compliance that makes the Asian woman desirable in the West makes the Asian man marginal,” says one interviewee in Australian Tony Ayres’ intelligent, entertaining documentary about growing up gay and Chinese in bluntly macho Australia. These men have a struggle to face: accepting themselves though their existence “at the bottom of the sexual hierarchy” is fraught and complex; every talking head is ferociously smart about his own experience. None of the men saw themselves reflected in the world they hoped to enter during their own coming-out process, and many of them went from paternal “acceptance” when closeted among Caucasians—one man says, “My Caucasian friends said they didn’t think of me as Chinese. I took it as a compliment”—to being out, active, and racially shunned on the gay scene. Some feel that they’re “bananas,” some “potatoes” (Asian men who desire white lovers); and even when admired by “rice queens” they get the dehumanizing end of the stick. Even Caucasian men attracted to Asians see their lovers as nothing but Asian, and if they covet this quality while others denigrate it, the same blindness is at work. Between the interviews are telling or outrageous images from “yellow peril” silent movies, stereotypes of macho gay sexuality, and Asian drag queens at

the dressing table. China Dolls is a seamless collage of introspection and

contradiction.—Arion Berger

Screens as part of the “Yellow Fever” Asian shorts program at 9:30 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5.

Also screening Oct. 22: Treyf (7:30 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5).

23 FRIDAY

I Love Who I Want to Love

Norwegian Trond Winterjaer’s entry-level documentary about adolescents coming out to their parents and peers might prove edifying for viewers who have never known a gay person or watched a gay-themed movie. For everybody else, it’s 55 minutes of old news: insecurity conquered by self-affirmation, jabber about committed same-sex relationships, gay-pride gatherings, dancing drag queens, etc. The only original touch is the ungrammatically translated title.

—Joel E. Siegel

Screens with School Fag and Just Out of Reach at 6 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5.

Steam

Like Antonioni’s films, Ferzan Ozpetek’s Italian-Turkish-Spanish co-production makes its points obliquely, emphasizing atmosphere over narrative. Francesco, a young, handsome architect with a thriving career and a bitter marriage to the equally ambitious Marta, travels to Istanbul to sell a property left to him by his expatriate aunt. When the sale is delayed, he moves in with a Turkish family and, like his deceased relative, falls captive to the city’s liberating spell. The property turns out to be a shuttered male bathhouse, which Francesco decides to restore with the help of Mehmet, his host’s son. Marta’s unexpected arrival instigates a series of self-awakenings and inadvertently precipitates an excessively contrived melodramatic climax. Deliberately but hypnotically paced and handsomely photographed, Steam is a triumph of mise en scène, in which a returned glance or a hand touching a shoulder packs more palpable erotic punch than graphic lovemaking. (In Italian and Turkish with English subtitles.)—Joel E. Siegel

At 7 p.m at the Lincoln Theatre, $8.

Also screening Oct. 23: the “Lucky Dykes: The Butch Mystique” shorts program (7:30 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $8); Sneak Preview! (9 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $8); We’re Funny That Way with Goodnight I Love You (9:30 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5); “French Kisses: Euro Shorts” (11 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $8); and It’s in the Water (11 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5).

24 SATURDAY

The Time Being

Sebastian is trying to put his life back together after the death of his lover. Through journal entries and home-movie flashbacks, the film takes us through the life and death they shared—Sebastian served out the last of Michael’s morphine and can hardly live with that knowledge. Canadian Kenneth Sherman’s film is framed as a shrink session in which Sebastian confesses to his assistance and recalls in torment the infidelity that drove this disastrous wedge between him and Michael. Sherman does nothing terribly innovative with this story, but it has an intimate, intense feel that makes the painful situation particularly troubling and sad.—Arion Berger

Screens as part of the “proTEASERS!” AIDS-oriented shorts program at 11 a.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $5.

Once Again

Beautifully photographed in oceanic blue light, this simple and moving short observes a solitary man as he looks at a photo album. Outside it is raining, and in his head memories play in black and white—beach romps, snowplay, and lovemaking. Chuck Smith’s film takes only as long as the song “Stranger” lasts; the still photos, without sentimentality, tell all of the enigmatic story this man wants us to know.—Arion Berger

Screens as part of the “proTEASERS!” AIDS-oriented shorts program at 11 a.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $5.

Surrender Dorothy

This pitch-black comedy, a sensation on the film-fest circuit that’s unlikely ever to break into commercial release, is a different sort of transgender exploration. Disgruntled, dislikable busboy Trevor fetishizes women but is afraid to actually approach one; Lahn effortlessly picks up girls at the laundromat but has an even more demanding lust for heroin. (Trevor indulges, too, but just casually.) When Lahn is thrown out of the apartment he shares with a drug dealer, he moves in with Trevor, who decides to take maximum advantage of the unemployed junkie’s need for shelter and smack. With a woman’s wardrobe and makeup, Trevor transforms Lahn into “Dorothy,” the name of one of the unattainable waitresses at work. Soon, Lahn stumbles on his captor’s new reading material and realizes that Trevor has more than cosmetic changes in mind for his new boarder. Brutal yet playful, writer-director Kevin DiNovis’ well-made film resolves—with a musical giggle—that all desire is a bad joke at human expense. The need for drugs makes men excruciatingly vulnerable, but so does the craving for sex.

—Mark Jenkins

Screens with Arrow Shot at 1 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $5.

Arrow Shot

In Mike Dolan’s delightfully loose-limbed romp, a bunch of hard-ass guys give in to their feminine sides without so much as an “Oopsy!” The quartet is first seen drinking, boxing, and pissing in the woods; it’s only an “arrow shot” to the drag races in Niagara Falls, so they pile into the pickup and proceed northward, with a stop in Manhattan. No foursome this stupid and macho can be everything it seems—they while away their time in NYC arm-wrestling and propositioning females. When one of them wanders off, he returns with his hair “perma-bonded” and a newly skillful way with a joint; another tries on lipstick “to see how it feels,” and it’s off to the drag races as each succumbs to the joys of cosmetics, sunhats, and a festive matching boa. The tone is so light and larky you can hardly believe what you’re watching: “I’m not gay or nuthin’,” one guy claims while the others protest the lipstick, “but they look pretty good!” Arrow Shot is almost anti-proselytizing in making a winning case for doing what comes naturally.

—Arion Berger

Screens following Surrender Dorothy (see above).

Lone Star Hate

British director Paul Yule reconstructs the murder of 23-year-old gay Texan Nicholas Ray West in this functional documentary. Two of the killers had already been sentenced when Yule’s crew arrived in East Tyler, Texas, so the filmmakers tried to derive some tension from the potential fate of the third alleged accomplice, who everyone seems to agree was the least culpable in the crime. This strategy doesn’t really work, and neither do the repeated impressionistic shots of the gravel-pit landscape where West was slain. Yule offers tangential looks at Texans’ mania for football and cheerleading, enthusiasm for guns, and bellicose Christianity, all of which surely have significant geek appeal back in Britain. These sociological musings would be more telling if the Texans hadn’t done their duty in the West case. Despite widespread homophobia, however, the local authorities seem to have promptly brought the murderers (one of them an avowed bisexual) to justice, making the movie’s implied indictment of Lone Star culture really beside

the point.—Mark Jenkins

Screens with Lycanthrophobia at 5 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $5.

Lycanthrophobia

Not the smoothest entry, but Harry Victor’s taut little allegory, which plays on straight paranoia as if gays were literally monsters in the bedroom closet, makes its point with economy and verve. A guy walks into a bar, is told it’s full of werewolves, and suddenly doesn’t know who has what urges, how these urges will affect him, and if he himself is part of the monstrous underworld. What kind of bar is

this, anyway?—Arion Berger

Screens following Lone Star Hate (see above) and Sex/Life in L.A. (see below).

Our Private Idaho

In Boise, Idaho, 1994, a referendum was proposed that would have threatened virtually every right to privacy of the Idaho citizen. It would have banned any discussion of homosexuality in schools, books, and other materials—presumably at the discretion of the Idaho Citizens’ Alliance—and it would have insisted that employers ask potential employees their sexual orientation and hire according to the company’s tolerance level. Scary rightists make their hateful case; scrappy gay activists beg to differ. The initiative supporters suppurate with hate and evil—the shit-kicker who compulsively barks “queerdog, that dog hates queers” at his understandably frantic animal; the ponytailed weirdo who tries to outchant the activists’ speeches. The fight to suppress this initiative is inspiring, and Claire Muller and Daniel Gallagher’s documentary is well-made, but it’s hell on the viewer—looking at children holding a banner calling for gay genocide makes it hard to keep a lid on rage.—Arion Berger

Screens with Out at Work and The New Facts of Life at 7 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5.

Out at Work

In their moving documentary about workplace discrimination, filmmakers Kelly Anderson and Tami Gold focus on three victims of injustice: a Georgia lesbian fired by the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain, an abusively treated gay electrician at Detroit’s Chrysler Corp., and a gay librarian in the New York Public Library system denied health-care benefits for his HIV-infected partner. Although the intercutting of the trio of stories leads to some structural longueurs, Out at Work’s sensitive double vision of its subjects as individuals and exemplars of oppression inspiringly demonstrates the efficacy of activism.

—Joel E. Siegel

Screens following Our Private Idaho

(see above).

Sex/Life in L.A.

German filmmaker Jochen Hick hung out with a bunch of Southern California gay sex workers (porno stars, hustlers, models, photographers, S&M performance artists) and came up with this shallow, mildly prurient Mondo Los Angeles. Hick functions as a willing publicist for most of these men, failing to probe beneath their patently manufactured professional façades. The saga of the only interviewee who reveals anything negative about himself—a fast-lane porno actor who got strung out on drugs before seeing the light—is as clichéd as the brainless ramblings of a materialistic, bottle-blond rent boy. Hick’s most articulate subjects are Cole Tucker, a butch, colorfully tattooed, HIV-positive porno performer who exposes some surprising trade secrets, and Madonna survivor Tony Ward, who offers some sensible observations about fame before jacking off to climax in a bathtub. Sex/Life In L.A. doesn’t cheat on the naughty bits. There are enough snippets of hard-core porno to provide a few cheap thrills and enough S&M (suspension from steel hooks, scrotum incision, vomiting) to turn any delicate stomach. But viewers hoping for more than titillation are advised to look

elsewhere.—Joel E. Siegel

With shorts Lycanthrophobia, Close To, and Late at Night at 11 p.m at the Lincoln Theatre, $8.

The

Marquesa:

Portrait of a Dominatrix

“Safe, sane, and consensual.” Yeah, yeah, get to the good stuff. The Marquesa asks the audience to “look for the tenderness” between herself and her submissives, but for anyone interested in watching an expert dominatrix at work, Canadian Karen Young’s documentary leaves no “scene” or taste a mystery. Bondage, constriction, contortion, suffocation, “blood sports,” suffocating—it’s all there, under bright lighting and in real time. The Marquesa, who looks like a fanged Madeleine Stowe after a starvation diet, controls not just her clients, like the laughing girl who gets her nipple rings tugged on, but the film itself: She is allowed to yammer on about trust and negotiations and transcendence, and the filmmakers never go outside of the perky, hygenic dungeon for another opinion. She plays punishing daddy to a pretty boy; fists another client; tortures another mistress’ slave with hot wax, binding, and flogging. But despite the useful inside look at S&M as defined by its practitioners, there’s something sad and foolish in watching grownups work so hard at play, and transcendence seems like just a word to the nonparticipant watching a person bound tightly in plastic wrap being licked all over by the intelligent Marquesa. “It’s pretty much pure emotion,” she stipulates. With a hell of a lot of expensive gadgets.

—Arion Berger

With shorts Pierce Me, Shoot Me Angel, Fistful, and Inversion at 11 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5.

Also screening Oct. 24: the “proTEASERS!” AIDS-oriented shorts program (11 a.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $5); the “Women Speaking Out” shorts program (1 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5); the “Outspoken” shorts program (3 p.m at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5); Therese and Isabelle (3 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $5); Desi Is Looking for a New Girl (5 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5); the “School Girl Crushes and Cafe Romances” shorts program (7 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $8); the “The Return of Badass Supermamas” shorts program (9 p.m. at the JCC Goldman Theater, $5); and “Boys Shorts” (9 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $8).

25 SUNDAY

Gods and Monsters

Riffing on Christopher Bram’s biography of gay Hollywood director James Whale, who’s best known for Frankenstein, writer-director Bill Condon imagines the final days in Whale’s life. Hunky new gardener Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser) finds himself helping Whale’s longtime housekeeper Hanna (Lynn Redgrave) take care of the cantankerous filmmaker (Ian McKellen), who contemplates suicide even as he imagines new ways to make longtime (sexual and cinematic) rival George Cukor jealous. The film, which takes its title from Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein, flashes back to the director’s impoverished English childhood and his World War I experiences, and plays with notions of Whale as something of a mad scientist himself. At their most baroque, such sequences resemble a less audacious version of Alain Resnais’ Providence, but the film is best when concentrating on the elder Whale, living in refined torment amid bright, comfortable surroundings. Fraser (equipped with a haircut that suggests the monster’s square head) is fine, and Redgrave hasn’t had so much fun on screen in years. Still, McKellen’s Whale carries the film, shifting from anger at his ruined career to nostalgia for the wide-open Hollywood of the ’30s—and from attempting to charm the unsophisticated Boone to trying (successfully) to shock him. Perhaps the most memorable scene is the meeting between a mocking Whale and an embarrassed Princess Margaret. Bram will answer questions after the screening.—Mark Jenkins

At 7 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $15 film only; $35 for film and reception.

Also screening Oct. 25: “Boys Shorts” (11 a.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $5); Pasajes (1 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $5); the “Straight Boys & Their Boy Toys” shorts program (3 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $5); and Honey, I Sent the Men to the Moon (5 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre, $5).CP