INSIDE OUT 2012 (Toronto) – Festival Wrap-Up (Paolo Kagaoan)

INSIDE OUT 2012 (Toronto)

The 2012 Inside Out Film Festival revealed their award winners during Sunday night at the closing gala party and posting those winners online the Monday morning after. Among them are audience awards, like the Best Documentary Film or Video going to Vito and the Best Short Film or Video to Baldguy. Other award winners are for movies I missed during the festival like She Said Boom!: The Story of Fifth Column, and Margarita.

The TIFF Bell Lightbox has been the home to the festival since last year and it’s nice to see familiar and welcome faces in the lines. The hardest movie I had to get into was the English movie Stud Life and with good cause. The audience was laughing it up as the movie shows the awkward encounters of a complex tomboyish lesbian of colour. Most movies in this year’s roster are about HIV or Scandinavia, the movies about the former belonging to the documentary genre. There are also the overlaps between Hot Docs and Inside Out, as Call Me Kuchu is in both festivals’ selection. Fortunately, that’s not the only topics that this festival has to offer. Sunday May 20th was also a good day, having a triple-bill that made my emotions run from optimism to excitement – don’t worry everyone, I know how to control myself – to visceral shock, not that the latter is a bad thing. There are also many selections portraying or capturing young gay men, which are the opposite of the festival’s demographic. Yet I also wish that there were many people of my generation or younger because those groups aren’t exposed to our diverse stories.

But preaching aside, here is my top five.

Immediate Boarding

Vito

Boy Scandinavia (Specifically A Day in the Country, and Baldguy)

Positive Youth

Bullhead

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INSIDE OUT 2012 (Toronto) – Vito Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

INSIDE OUT 2012 (Toronto)

Vito (2011)

Directed by Jeffrey Schwarz

Being a part of a younger generation I did not know who the subject of the award-winning documentary Vito was, although I am familiar with his work, having seen glimpses of The Celluloid Closet when I still had TCM. The documentary is generous towards neophytes, regurgitating The Celluloid Closet’s major points and arcs in Hollywood’s depiction of homosexuality. My knee-jerk stance on the work is (counter?)reactionary, almost comparing it to ‘newly surfaced evidence’ that historical figures like Abraham Lincoln were gay. In a layman’s reductive terms, not everyone in the history of the world is gay. Sure, the existence of the Hays code, which prohibits ‘profane’ words and actions, especially homosexuality, meant that directors who have worked between 1934 to 1966, many of whom are gay, had to depict queerness on the down low. I might get in trouble for saying this or wording the rest of this paragraph incorrectly, but ‘looking at subliminal messages’ can also devolve into overreading. But he can also be seeing homosexuality as a fleeting act between one person to another as opposed to a declarative commitment. And there’s a valid argument for both perspectives of sexuality without attaching a stigma towards a character as forever being ‘un-straight’ just because he had one encounter. Again, The Celluloid Closet questions viewpoints and depictions of sexuality, making us wonder if there’s a difference between homosexual and homo-social (a fancy word for Scorsesean bromance). Besides, if characters like dowdy maids are conventionally accepted as gay, why can’t two masculine men taking to each other about their ‘special gifts’ be seen similarly? Vito, strategically, also looks at Russo’s gay activism in the cultural front, with his TV show, tours and Celluloid Closet lectures.

Vito also looks at his early life. He starts out with having four gay friends when he was still in New Jersey in the early 1960’s to his sexual awakening later that decade, as New York City expands the number of gay friends and lovers. The big city has also given him access to the movies, watching them as well as showing them to crowds of gay men who have a unique perspective of these movies separate from conventional audiences.

The documentary also shows his political struggle, starting from when he was witnessing the bathhouse raids and suicides of persons within a yet-unformed gay community. He was angry because no one inside the bars or the bathhouses was doing anything about their oppression.

The documentary, with brutal honesty, also shows the schisms and mutations fitting for each letter within the LGBTTQ2S acronym. It then portrays the differences within the community between 1969, when transvestites rioted during Stonewall, and the early 70’s and other short times when politics within the gay scene had become more lax. The documentary exudes Russo’s attitudes when confronting problems both outside and within the community. Russo tells his audiences to be more inclusive towards each other yet be vigilant during intermittent times when gay rights are being challenged, which is still occurring to this day.

The screening was followed with a Q&A with Jeffrey Schwarz, when he revealed that his next project involves a documentary about Divine, the voluptuous transvestite who has starred in John Waters’ movies. I’ve never been more excited for a documentary until now.

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INSIDE OUT 2012 (Toronto) – Jobriath A.D. Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

INSIDE OUT 2012 (Toronto)

Jobriath A.D. (2011)

Directed by Kieran Turner

First of all, it’s pronounced Joh-BRAI-ath.

What separates Jobriath A.D., about the first gay non-rock star Jobriath, from most documentaries is the animation used within it. Being created by four different animators, they all have a coherently colourful aesthetic. And unlike animation in other documentaries, which is often used for infographics, these segments attempt a narrative purpose. But it might also be one of the movie’s weak spots, as they just repeat the points within the other parts of the movie.

The documentary sets up this joyful mood, starting where many contemporary gay movies begin – the late 1960’s, the gay movement being a residual from that decade’s sexual revolution. Jobriath, who played Woof in the first regional productions of Hair, outshines the musical’s major characters through his vocal energy. After the musical’s last performance in LA the cast has relatively gone their separate ways, Jobriath beginning to write his first album. The movie’s talking heads belong to two groups. The majority have been around during the music’s composition and recording, affirming the optimism they have for this talent. A minority were the people from newer generations who have discovered his music, telling the camera of the music’s uniqueness and influential value. The music was operatic but it fit within rock music and its cousin, glam rock. Jobriath was willing to make the transition, even outdoing the subgenre’s stars like David Bowie. He and his manager Jerry Brandt plan to outdo Bowie by playing on the homosexuality angle. That’s before realizing how much they’ve miscalculated.

NOW Magazine’s Benjamin Boles describes Jobriath as the pre-Internet Lana del Rey, both acts being hyped up before seeing them perform. There are other parallels among Jobriath and other real or fictional musicians. I suspect that he might have influenced This Is Spinal Tap and Hedwig and the Angry Inch’s flamboyant shoestring theatricality. The same hype was built around Gabbo and 50 Cent, if either had failed. All these examples were objects of mockery, which Jobriath was in his time, but the movie rightfully turns this backlash against him as a tragic phenomenon that destroys his life.

Brandt might have been the person who helped ruin Jobriath, and he’s also one of the movie’s talking heads. Another of the movie’s problems is that it lets Brandt hijack it the first time he appears on screen. But at least Keiran Turner’s documentary is comprehensive, showing Jobriath’s life and the people in it before, during and surprisingly after Jobriath slipped in and out of his multiple personas.

‘Rock-umentaries’ are all about immersing the audience in the musician’s work and convincing them to buy and download and whatever. To do that it shows footage with him in the studio doing what he does best – o hai Richard Gere in the background – as well as Jake Shears, Stephen Merritt and the lead singers from Okkervil River and Def Leppard lauding him. But despite showing these things it never fully gets me to that level, and there are many possible reasons for that. Either because there’s something I can’t articulate within the movie’s presentation that hinders it. That Jobriath’s music is too esoteric for his own good, a quality oft-repeated by the movie’s talking heads. Or that I’m not into rock or The Scissor Sisters or The Magnetic Fields at the moment. But I did Youtube one of Jobriath’s videos so I might just be getting there slowly, like a steep tower that he mounts, unable to reach his zenith when he was still alive.

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INSIDE OUT 2012 (Toronto) – You are Not Alone (Du Er Ikke Alene) Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

INSIDE OUT 2012 (Toronto)

You are Not Alone (1978)

Directed by Lasse Neilsen and Ernst Johansen

There were two schools of thought within the handful who saw the Danish classic movie You Are Not Alone, made in the 1970’s and portraying adolescent males in a boarding school. There was a group of people who liked it despite of some flaws and there was another who thought that its depiction of adolescent sexuality was ‘a bit inappropriate’. Because of my Catholic guilt and my contemporary views on sexuality – which complement each other on strange instances such as this – I belong to the latter.

It’s difficult to defend this movie or to determine whether it’s worth defending. Should I leave it and say that it’s a time capsule, a relic of 1970’s Danish culture, a manifestation of a general divide and a freedom that I can never be a part of? The ‘worst’ actions it depicts are long shots of two adolescents hugging in the shower and another scene where the main ‘couple’, the younger half of whom is the headmaster’s son, make out.

To be fair, there are also manifestations of heterosexuality within the children in this movie. Some of the students have filled their walls with pictures of naked women and neck around with the young women who do the cooking for the school (all of this makes this movie’s boarding school the worst that I’ve seen in a movie so far). But scenes portraying the latter are shrouded in darkness while the scenes between the boys are depicted under fluorescent or natural lighting. The movie doesn’t use the word ‘gay’, although the gay characters acknowledge that they like boys and that that’s ok.

I do have to recognize that the movie presents those ‘affectionate’ scenes as plausible scenarios, and this is coming from someone who has gone through some bases in middle school and high school. It’s not as if it’s the first time I’m watching relationships like this on film, having seen Lindsay Anderson’s If a few years back. Neither are children asexual beings until they reach an arbitrary age of consent – that’s a world that we adults see as ideal. I’ve read writers who have condemned mostly Hollywood movies from hiding the truth, but why is it that it makes me feel uncomfortable seeing it? Are some truths off-limits in cinema?

The movie doesn’t just focus on the relationships between the boys and some girls, since there are headmasters, teachers, parents and townies within this movie. I’m not fully confident about the intentionality of how we should sympathize with these minor characters. They get the townies right, who are effectively despicable as right-wing hicks who bully our protagonist Bo and almost crucify him for protesting a classmate’s expulsion and call him a ‘communist’. That’s not the same case with the boarding school’s staff. However, I couldn’t believe the lax teacher. The headmaster is stern but not cartoonishly so and I actually thought that the children acted entitled against him when both parties were clashing. Yet I have a feeling that he’s being presented as the villain. I don’t care if this movie makes me feel old, there are just a lot of things within it that I couldn’t agree with.

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INSIDE OUT 2012 (Toronto) – Stud Life (Paolo Kagaoan)

INSIDE OUT 2012 (Toronto)

Stud Life

Directed by Campbell X

Stud Life isn’t a misnomer if you know your way around the esoteric and complicated slang of its setting. In London, ‘stud’ is a colloquial term a butchy lesbian, and both concepts aren’t mutually exclusive, by the way. And it also seems that it is applicable to masculine lesbians of colour who wear their pants low like boys in the hood do, just like the movie’s protagonist JJ. She takes professional pictures of newlywed couples – gay, straight, trans, whatever – who seem to have married out of convenience. She also lives and shares a bed with her assistant, a white femmy quasi-hipster named Seb, both characters living comfortably and platonically together since they can’t yet find their ideal partners of the same sex. Well, Seb has a drug dealer named Smack Jack, a daintier version of Seb yearning for a love that Seb doesn’t want to return.

JJ’s loneliness won’t last long, as she, Seb and Jack enter a sequence with one of the most forgivably lowest production values I’ve ever seen in a shoestring movie. All decked out in club wear, they stand in front of what I swear looks like a storefront if not a friend’s brownstone townhouse. But they hire a tall guy with a suit and a Bluetooth earpiece and make it look like a club. Inside the club, with a whopping head count of twenty-ish patrons, is a woman named Elle who catches JJ’s eye. They meet again in another one of her wedding gigs, where they actually establish contact and arrange to go on one of many dates to come.

Being the secretive yet friskier of the two, Elle becomes a person JJ loves yet secretly fears. In this vein, can Elle stand as a character of her own or is she just a projection of JJ’s trepidations about ‘mainstream’ lesbian sexuality? If they were a straight couple and if this movie was watched by more people, some audiences would cry out that Elle’s characterization is sexist. The movie, however, gets away with this because it’s a woman writing another woman, which makes me wonder whether it’s always a male gaze when we’re looking at a woman on screen.

Anyway, JJ and Elle’s relationship is a starting point on JJ’s open discussions on being a lesbian. JJ posts videos on Myspace asking her invisible audience about how homosexuality complicated one’s expression of love towards another, whether in the bedroom or otherwise. And this movie does follow the rom-com formula of meetcute-love-separation-reunion, but there are enough permutations and observations of human behaviour in between those steps that prove the movie’s specificity.

There’s also the East End slang that reminds me of TV shows like Bromwell High and movies like Attack the Block. It doesn’t matter if JJ and Seb get gay bashed in their hood, they still love and represent it. They know that they’re still welcomed by others in the community through themselves, their friends, lovers and some neighbours. Without regionally tokenizing the characters, the movie presents a much-needed voice that queer audiences need to hear.

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