More than a few gay-related films have made it to Washington’s commercial screens in recent years, and indeed one of the highlights of this year’s “Reel Affirmations: DC’s Third Annual Celebration of Gay and Lesbian Films” is Black Lizard, which had a commercial run at the Key. But the fest makes room for plenty that’s less likely to play—shorts, documentaries, experiments—even in the city’s noncommercial venues (like the Hirshhorn, which has shown another of this year’s entries, Silverlake Life: The View From Here). That it’s been successful in finding an audience for such fare is demonstrated by the fest’s move this year from the Biograph to the larger Embassy Theater.
The fest includes 11 days of films, many of them not available for preview. Here are brief reviews of the ones that were:
The opening night film is A Simple Matter of Justice (Oct. 14, 8:30 p.m.), a quick-cut, 55-minute version of the April 1993 March on Washington by local director Joan E. Brien. The musical fanfares and video wipes sometimes make this look like TV sports, but the comments of many of the speakers and marchers are stirring.
I’ll Love You Forever…Tonight (Oct. 15, 9 p.m.) is a nicely dyspeptic tale of five attractive young gay men who spend the weekend in Palm Springs. They try to have fun, but underlying tensions (and too much alcohol) make a mess of both innocent and more Machiavellian intentions. Shot in black-and-white by director Edgar Michael Bravo, this fails to pull off its incestuous-childhood-sexual-abuse-flashback subplot, but is otherwise convincing.
A collection of shorts, “Wild Girls” (Oct. 16, noon) includes L Is for the Way You Look, a disjointed discussion of lesbian identity that’s mostly about the gossip precipitated by a sighting of Dolly Parton and Fran Leibowitz at a performance by comedian Reno.
Another program of shorts, “Boys Will Be Boys” (Oct. 16, 2 p.m.; Oct. 17, 7 p.m.) includes Letter of Introduction, a fleeting, inconclusive comment on duplicitous personal-ad meeting strategies.
A charming (and fiercely color coordinated) psychosexual dance between a jewel thief/kidnapper (a Kabuki-tradition female impersonator) and “Japan’s No. 1 Detective,” Black Lizard (Oct. 16, 10 p.m.) is a heady mix of ’50s noir, ’60s pop, and near-timeless camp, and features an appearance by screenwriter Yukio Mishima.
“Out! The Best of British TV” (Oct. 17, 3 p.m.) features three shorts, including Pratibha Parmar’s stylish Double the Trouble, Twice the Fun, which is both comic and angry about the struggles for acceptance of the (as one song puts it) “crippled and queer.”
Named after an early Australian governor’s strategy for dealing with homosexuals, Feed Them to the Cannibals (Oct. 17, 9 p.m.) is an exuberant look at Sydney’s gay Mardi Gras, “the largest party in the Southern Hemisphere.” The documentary includes the token right-wing hand-wringer, but the level of apparent acceptance of the event is as remarkable as its free-wheeling energy and creativity.
“Women in Shorts” (Oct. 19, 7 p.m.; Oct. 23, 4 p.m.) includes The Standard of Living, an arch retelling of a Dorothy Parker short story, and Jeanne & Hauviette, a bucolic, sun-dappled account of Joan of Arc’s last idyll with her lover before cutting off her hair and heading off to save France. The latter features a roll in the (literal) hay and some nude nuzzling, but hardly qualifies as burn-at-the-stake material.
In “Boys Life (Men’s Shorts II)” (Oct. 19, 9 p.m.; Oct. 23, 2 p.m.) are Faeriefilm, which cleverly illustrates its voice-over testimonies about being Radical Faeries with animated images of winged, black-leather-wearing sprites, and Deaf Heaven, a slickly made AIDS parable that takes the opposite strategy from Silverlake Life, setting the controls for full uplift: While watching his lover die, a HIV-negative man meets a stereotypical Holocaust survivor who tells them they’re both supposed to be “witnesses” to their respective tragedies. Some may find this comforting, but it’s also corny.
Overreaching but frequently beguiling, Mark D’Auria’s Smoke (Oct. 21, 10 p.m.) wraps its simple story (a lonely bathroom attendant tries, without success, to repeat his encounter with a married cop) in veils of Catholic imagery and fever-dream hallucination. This is not for the narrative-minded, but the director’s ravishing visuals achieve their own lyrical logic.
Tom Joslin’s home-movie account of his own death from AIDS (finished by Peter Friedman), Silverlake Life: The View From Here (Oct. 24, 1 p.m.) is both poignant and confrontational. This chronicle punishes, but also enlightens, on its path to the inevitable shot of Joslin’s emaciated corpse.
Last Call at Maud’s (Oct. 24, 7:45 p.m.) closes the fest by charting 23 years in the history of San Francisco’s lesbian community through the rise and fall of a once-popular bar. It was once “better than home,” explains one woman, but by 1989 the Haight-Ashbury joint was ignored by younger lesbians and visited less frequently by older ones, many now limiting their drinking. Paris Poirier’s documentary encompasses everything from Stonewall and Harvey Milk’s murder to historical footnotes: For example, Maud’s had male bartenders when it opened in 1966, because it was then illegal for women to pour drinks in California commercial establishments.