2011 LGBT Films to Watch Out For

by Robert Nesti

EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor

Monday April 11, 2011

Another rite of Spring throughout the country are the upcoming festivals dedicated to LGBT films. Between now and the end of the year, there will be major ones in cities from Boston and Miami to Seattle and LA. The process for finding the films begins a year ahead as programmers visit the major festivals (Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Sundance and Berlin) in search of titles that they can bring to their cities. It often isn't an easy process: some films lack distributors, while others may have distributors that want to bypass the gay film fest circuit altogether and bring their films to a theatrical release.

A growing trend with LGBT films (and indie films in general) is to release the films in limited release concurrent with Pay Per View showings on cable providers (such as Comcast OnDemand). The DVD release usually follows in a few months. This development has made films (such as Gregg Araki's Kaboom! and Xavier Dolan's Heartbeats) available to millions of viewers who likely can't get to the theaters or choose to watch the films at home.

The volume of LGBT films being made has increased exponentially in the past few years, but a disturbing counter-trend is how few of those films actually get theatrical release. EDGE will be exploring the issue of the how and why of this phenomenon in upcoming weeks. For now, here is a list of titles that may be seen at a LGBT film festival near you.

Note: this is the first of two parts.

Beginners

There’s considerable acting talent to be found in Beginners, Mark Mill’s feature about a 75-year old man (Christopher Plummer) who comes out of the closet, much to the surprise of his son (Ewan McGregor). Mills tells the story largely as a flashback as MacGregor, grieving upon the death of his father, recalls his tumultuous last years. At the same time, he ’s developing a relationship with equally damaged French actress (Melanie Laurent). Peppered between his happier memories are more troubling ones of his childhood, when he realized his parents were drifting apart. "Touching, heartfelt, melancholy and suffused with a gentle humanity (pick your soulful cliché), with his sophomore drama, "Beginners," filmmaker Mike Mills demonstrates once more that he’s acutely attuned to the bittersweet and funny frequency broadcast from the pain of love and life," wrote a critic from IndieWire.com. "(And) in Beginners he masterfully demonstrates a generous and thoughtful perspective on emotional suffering, creating a piece that’s as formally marvelous as it is sweeping and humanistic." A hit at Toronto and the recent SWSX Festival in Austin, the film is scheduled for a commercial release in June.

The Broken Tower

Okay, he may have not been a sensation at the Oscars, but this is still James Franco’s year. What’s next for the ambitious college student/artist/actor is his debut as a director in a film biography of the poet Hart Crane in which he also stars. The film is adaptation of Paul L Mariani’s novel about Crane’s last days, The Broken Tower. The title comes from the last poem Crane wrote before jumping off a steamship and killing himself at the age of 32 in 1932. When he jumped, he supposedly said "Goodbye, everyone!" This marks the second time Franco will be playing a gay poet (he played Allen Ginsberg in last year’s Howl) and the third time he’s playing a gay character (he was Harvey Milk’s boyfriend in Milk). The fourth if his early biopic of James Dean is included. Franco has said he had an interest in Crane before reading Mariani’s book, but it wasn’t until he read it did he realize that he wanted to play him. Franco talked about his feelings about Crane and turning his life into a movie recently in an interview on

Carol Channing :: Larger Than Life

There’s obviously something wrong with the programmers of the Tribeca Film Festival - why aren’t they listing this documentary about Carol Channing with its other LGBT films? We’re talking Carol Channing here. And who better to direct it than Dori Bernstein, who directed Show Business, the terrific backstage look at the making of musical hits (Wicked) and flops (Taboo). "If there ever was a secret recipe for crafting entertainment in its purest and truest form, Dori Berinstein most likely has it...," write program annotators Ashley Havey and Caroline Tran. "(Bernstein) is back with another inspiring story-and she couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate subject or captured one more affectionately...  Footage from the archives-television appearances, song and dance numbers, and stage performances-show Carol at her best (not that there is a "worst"). Without batting a false eyelash, she effortlessly charms audience after audience with her hilarity, relentless energy, and unique beauty, reminding us that before Barbra or Marilyn, there was Carol. Perhaps the most brilliant thing about Bernstein’s bubbly biopic is that you don’t need to love Broadway or even theater itself to love or to be mesmerized by Carol. Theatrics aside, Larger Than Life proves that Carol Channing-as a person-is very much worth knowing about."

Circumstance

Winner of the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Circumstance, a first effort by writer/director Maryam Keshavarz, tells the story of sexual freedom and repression in contemporary Iran. Wealthy Atafeh and middle-class Shireen, teenage girls living in Tehran, begin to explore their sexuality to the chagrin of their families. Trouble comes in the form of Atafeh’s older brother, an imprisoned crack addict who turns to religion when released from jail. Feeling his sister’s relationship is morally wrong, he sets out to destroy it. Keshavarz, an Iranian-American, shot this film in Lebanon for obvious reasons and (according to James Greenberg’s review in the Hollywood Reporter) pushed the envelope with authorities in that country. "Circumstance is an amazingly accomplished and complex first feature from Iranian-American writer-director Maryam Keshavarz, wrote Greenberg... "Drawing on some of her own experiences, she has created an insider’s look at a world few of us will ever get to see. The political, sexual and religious labyrinth of Iran today feels at once contemporary and utterly foreign. Told with a modern rhythm and propulsive soundtrack, it’s a compelling story that should attract both a young and older audience of culturally curious moviegoers."

Gigola

Set in the underworld of Paris in 1963, Laure Charpentier’s film chronicles the exploits of Gigola, a beautiful young lesbian who exploits men and women with equal abandon. Pursued by a wealthy older woman, Gigola (played by Lou Doillon) instead finds herself embroiled with an Italian gangster-pimp and one of his charges, a prostitute Gigola buys out of his servitude. She also is at odds with her mother, who wants to sell of the family’s home to pay off her father’s gambling debts. When it recently screened at London’s the 25th London Lesbian and Gay film festival, a blogger from the guardian.uk.com called it an "extraordinary lesbian crime melodrama." He continued: "Gigola has some highbrow credentials... but it really is a fantastically naughty, silly and enjoyable film: uncompromisingly camp in its seriousness and high passion, and one of the very few movies that could be called "pulp" cinema. It’s steamy, saucy, racy and suffused with the feeling of wickedness you might get from drinking spirits before lunch or smoking in church."?

Harvest

The winner of a prestigious Teddy Award at the recent Berlin Film Festival, this drama concerns a young man working as an apprentice at an agricultural complex outside of Berlin. He’s a loner, until he meets a new apprentice, with whom he develops an intimate relationship. The question then becomes, how comfortable are they in being open about it? "Set in Germany’s rural Brandenburg region, this feature debut by Budapest-born filmmaker Benjamin Cantu allows its fictional love story to develop against a documentary backdrop, which gives the pic a realistic edge as well as a dash of working-class humor," wrote Variety in reviewing the film from Berlin.

Jack and Diane

There have been lesbian vampire movies, but a lesbian werewolf movie? And one featuring Kylie Minogue? Such is Jack and Diane, which has the added attraction of up-and-coming stars Juno Temple and Riley Keough as the title characters. Here’s a description of the film from its website: "Jack and Diane, two teenage girls, meet in New York City and spend the night kissing ferociously. Diane’s charming innocence quickly begins to open Jack’s tough skinned heart. But, when Jack discovers that Diane is leaving the country in a week she tries to push her away. Diane must struggle to keep their love alive while hiding the secret that her newly awakened sexual desire is giving her werewolf-like visions." According to the New York Post, Minogue plays a "heavily tattooed lesbian."

KickOff

This British comedy concerns an ultra-gay football team who are scheduled to play the most macho team in their league. "What happens when the hardest team in the Sunday Soccer league comes up against a gay team (pun intended) and finds they’ve finally met their match?" wrote the film’s director Rikki Beadle-Blair wrote in describing the film. "Watch and wince as fledging referee Elton Glixton struggles to control this testosterone tsunami as rude-boy meets bum-boy in this outrageous new comedy set in the crazy gung-ho world of 5-a-side footie." Asked why he made the film Beadle-Blair answered, "That’s simple. My family is football mad so I wanted to do something that they could watch. I really wanted to approach that whole thing of "...where are all the gay sportsmen?"

Loose Cannons

Turkish-born Ferzan Özpetek looks at gay life in his adopted country of Italy in this sentimental and funny domestic drama set in the city of Lecce, the capital of Puglia in the conservative southern end of Italy’s boot. The plot pivots on what happens when Tommaso (Riccardo Scamarcio) returns home from Rome to tell his family that he’s gay. But as he’s about to confess, his older brother (and heir to the family’s pasta making factory) announces that he’s gay and is thrown out of the house by his angry father, who promptly collapses with a heart attack. With no one to run the company, Tommaso is asked to stay on. Reluctantly he does, only to find himself pressured into staying for good. The film offers a snapshot of how gays are being assimilated, albeit more slowly, in Italy. Özpetek balances the more dramatic moments with laugh-out loud comedy, such as when Tommaso’s gay friends drop in from Rome. "Loose Cannons is one of those pictures (like La Cage aux Folles and others that followed it) aimed at middle-class audiences, in which being gay is presented as quite normal and homophobia as something old-fashioned conventional folk must get over," observed the critic in the guardian.co.uk.

Three (Drei)

Tom Tykwer turned heads with Run, Lola, Run, his thrilling action piece that was as much a meditation on the nature of time and death. Later he received numerous brickbats for his adaptation of the novel Perfume (one of the most underrated films of the past decade). He returns to more naturalistic turf (and to his native Germany) with Three IDrei), the story of a Berlin married couple Hanna, (Sophie Rois) and Simon (Sebastian Schipper) separately meet and fall for Adam (Devid Striesow. This past week the film won three Teddy Awards (Germany’s Oscar), one for Tykwer for Best Director and one for actress Rois, and one for film editing. ""It’s obvious that this film is full of romantic moments because the three actors fall in love with each other. So the fact that it became a comedy was just a coincidence," Tykwer said at a news conference during the Venice Film Festival last summer. The film’s unconventional ménage isn’t meant "to sell a new idea or a new institution," the director said. "It’s not about deciding how we should be or in which way we (as a society) should be moving."

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].

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