Feb 27, 2012

The London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival 2012: A Preview

This will be my third year attending the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and I'm pleased to see that, after a difficult 25th anniversary last year thanks to the arts funding cuts, the festival has re-expanded, up from a week last year to ten days this time round, and boasting a programme jam packed with interesting and vibrant looking films. I can't possibly cover everything I'd like to see in this preview, there really is just too much, so instead here - in alphabetical order by title - are my personal Top 10 priorities, the films I REALLY want to see at the festival. For the full programme, be sure to visit http://www.bfi.org.uk/llgff/. I hope to see a few of you there between movies.

The short descriptions (in blockquotes) and pictures here are drawn from the LLGFF programme.

ABSENT (Marco Berger)
A schoolboy develops a crush on his teacher in this original and unconventional thriller.
Argentina is a real up and comer in terms of world cinema, and for a little while now has been producing a few break out arthouse titles each year, it's also produced a couple of notable filmmakers addressing LGBT issues. This is Berger's second feature to play at LLGFF, and the clip we saw suggests a taut, tense and intimate little thriller with an unobtrusive observed camera style and a pair of strong leading performances.

AMERICAN TRANSLATION (Pascal Arnold / Jean-Marc Barr)
A young woman discovers her boyfriend is a psycho-sexual killer with a fondness for handsome rent boys.
If you see more than a couple of LGBT films you can become very used to seeing a lot of variations on the same coming out / self discovery story (many of them good, but still), so it's nice to hear about something like American Translation, which appears to be shying away from the cliches, combining a relationship narrative between Lizzie Brochere and Pierre Perrier and a thriller about Perrier's activities as a serial killer preying on rent boys. I'm hoping for a smart and challenging film that evokes some of the same discomfort that powered films like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

CIRCUMSTANCE (Maryam Keshavarz)
Two young women fall in love while exploring the sub-cultural underground party scene in Tehran.
It's humbling, and important, that in the political climate in which they live (which has recently seen filmmakers arrested, imprisoned, banned from making movies, and in the case of one actress who dared to show her breast on camera, barred from the country) Iran is continuing to make films that explore things that will be extremely controversial at home. Circumstance has been much talked about since it appeared at Sundance last year (where it won the Audience Award). The trailer we saw paints this as a vibrant and sexy film that nevertheless explores some uncomfortable realities about Iran's conservatism. Hopefully it will live up to the good word that has built around it.

THE GREEN (Paul Marcarelli)
A teacher has his life turned upside down when a student files a sexual allegation against him.
I saw a video recently of a speech given AGAINST legislation in Georgia that would stop LGBT candidates being discriminated against for teaching jobs. Against a background where that sort of thing is still a live issue in the US, and the reality is that even an accusation of sexual abuse can ruin someone's life, a film like The Green appears timely.

Beyond that, and my hope that the film will deal in doubt more than, say, Doubt did, I want to see The Green for its outstanding cast. Jason Butler Harner impressed in Changeling, and I'm a longstanding fan of supporting actresses Julia Ormond (as Harner's lawyer), Illeana Douglas (as his supportive friend) and Karen Young (as the mother of his accuser). If nothing else there should be some really standout performances here.

LOVE FREE OR DIE (Macky Alston)
An intimate portrait of Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay and partnered bishop in Christendom.
The selection of documentaries at LLGFF looks especially strong this year, and this film about gay Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson looks like it will give a real insight into Robinson and, hopefully, into those who opposed his appointment. Taking Robinson as a central subject should also distinguish this treatment of the issue of church acceptance of the LGBT community from that of the recent (and excellent) For the Bible Tells Me So.

A moving autobiographical documentary about a woman's journey to come to terms with her intersex condition.
While it doesn't say so in the title, the LLGFF does screen films addressing all areas of the LGBT community, and this one deals with a young woman and her friends and family coming to terms and dealing with each of their relationships to her intersex status. This promises, as it unfolds through director Phoebe Hart's candid video diary, to be a deeply personal film exploring an issue that still remains almost completely undiscussed in cinema or, really, in public life at all.

OUR FUTURE (Kashou Iizuka)
A pivotal summer in the life of a trans teenager growing up in rural Japan.
I've been falling in love with Japanese cinema for the last couple of years (thanks largely to the films of mad genius Sion Sono), and this semi autobiographical story of a male identifying trans teenager dealing with his parents divorcing and an uncomfortable school life sounds like an intelligent and moving piece of work, providing it's well handled and that the performances convince.

A mother and daughter struggle to accept each other in this funny and poignant all-star family drama.
It's always nice to see, in areas of cinema that are traditionally niche concerns, a film that seems like it might have the ingredients to break out of that ghetto, and certainly this dramedy starring Kathleen Turner as a Christian matriarch whose daughter (Emily Deschanel) announces that she is gay, engaged and pregnant would seem to fit that bill. Hopefully both Turner and Deschanel will be at the top of their games and we'll have a smart, funny, movie here.

A passionate documentary chronicling one of the most controversial cases in recent gay history.
It seems that religion rears an ugly head in this documentary about a young man sent, by his parents, to a ministry that promised to 'cure' his homosexuality. It seems that director Morgan Jon Fox has got interviews from all sides of this story, and hopefully he'll use them to present a less polarised picture than we are used to seeing of these issues.

WISH ME AWAY (Bobbie Berleffi / Beverly Kopf)
Country music star Chely Wright's brave coming out journey is beautifully chronicled in this excellent documentary.
I like some country music, but had only heard of Chely Wright through the news, because, having been an incredibly successful country star she came out in 2010, and that decision, thanks to the conservatism of much of the country base, cost her radio play, record sales and fans. In what looks like another deeply personal documentary this film covers the run up to and aftermath of Wright's decision to come out, largely through her own video diary. The clip we saw was very moving, and this is something I'm eagerly anticipating seeing.

There is so much more that I want to see at the festival, from short film selections to documentaries about musicians; the Bowie like Jobriath (Jobriath AD) and Hole drummer Patty Schemel (Hit So Hard) to features from Iceland (Jitters), Sweden (Kiss Me), Norway (The Mountain) and Thailand (Yes or No?). This looks like a great festival this year and I hope more people who, like me, come from outside the LGBT community, will take a chance on a few of these movies.

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