QFest has always struck me as one of the more agreeable film festivals. It’s not huge and doesn’t try to be. It’s a little on the laid-back side and it has an agreeably unassuming attitude. What it has is a disarmingly diverse selection of films—some serious, some playful, all interesting. A lot of these are films you’re not likely to see elsewhere, so don’t miss this opportunity.
I usually get the chance to preview some of the films and this year was no different—only I think I may have seen more than last year. I saw five narrative features: Cloudburst, Tennessee Queer, Let My People Go, My Best Day, and Gayby. I also caught two documentaries—the feature length Vito and the short feature (46 minutes) Mississippi I Am—and a couple of the shorts—Coffee and Pie and Prora. The really good news is that there wasn’t a clunker in the bunch—and all of them were made by folks who own tripods aren’t afraid to use them.
Cloudburst is the opening night film and it should get things off on the right foot—not in the least because it stars Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker as Stella and Dot, a pair of aging lesbians who’ve been together for over 30 years, but are now facing the possibility of separation. Fricker’s uptight and willfully unaware granddaughter (Kristin Booth) tricks her grandmother into committing herself to a nursing home—something the outspoken and extremely salty-tongued Stella has no intention of allowing. Her solution to the situation is simple—she’ll bust Dot out of the nursing home and the pair will flee to Canada and get married. What this basically turns into is a road trip movie, but with unusual characters. It’s not out to reinvent the wheel, but it’s very good at what it is and what it wants to be. What is rather remarkable about the film is that it takes a very serious subject and presents it in terms of farce. In less sensitive hands, this could have been offensive. Here, I think it not only works, but quite possibly delivers its message more powerfully than straight (you should pardon the term) drama would have.
Tennessee Queer lacks the star power of Cloudburst and some of its slick production value. But this is a really likable little movie about changing attitudes in the rural south. The concept is simple. Jason Potts (Christian Walker) is a young gay man living in New York with his partner. He’s put his not particular pleasant youth as a gay man growing up in the small southern town of Smythe, Tennessee—or he thinks he has until he’s called home to be part of a family intervention for his alcoholic brother. It turns out, however, that the interverntion is actually being staged for his benefit—not to “straighten” him out, merely to get him to come back “where he belongs.” This is the last thing Jason wants, so he puts forth what he thinks is a fool-proof scheme to get out of this by proposing a gay pride parade in his home town—something he thinks is certain to be shot down. What he hasn’t reckoned on is that there are people in town who see the parade as a means of identifying closeted teenagers so they can be sent away to be “deprogrammed.” As a result, he finds himself actually putting on the parade. This isn’t what you’d call a subtle film, but it mostly works—thanks in large part to an engaging cast. The size of the budget (or lack thereof) is often apparent, but mostly in terms of the “crowd” scenes. Overall, it’s a good-natured film that’s solidly made and well-acted. My biggest complaint? The spelling on the signs of the people protesting the parade is way too good.
One of the best films I saw was Mikael Buch’s Let My People Go!, a French film that benefits from terrific production design (if towns in Finland really look like the one in the movie, sign me up!), solid direction, and the presence of the great Carmen Maura as the mother of the main character. The plot is incredibly complicated and delightfully so. In essence Ruben (Nicholas Maury) is a young Jewish Frenchman working as a postman and living with his boyfriend Teemu (Jarkko Nieimi) in a small town in Finland. Things change quickly when a man refuses a registered parcel containing nearly 200,000 Euros and insists on giving them to Ruben. Teemu doesn’t believe the story of how he came into the money and promptly kicks Ruben out, sending the broken-hearted young man back to his rather peculiar family in Paris. What happens after that is…well, I think the film should be allowed to reveal that. I’ll just say that the events are charmingly unpredictable even if the outcome probably isn’t (the ending does give Carmen Maura the film’s best line of dialogue). See this one.
And if you go to Let My People Go!, you might want to consider making a double feature out of it by seeing the documentary Vito. I’ll freely admit that I wasn’t 100 percent sold on seeing a documentary about Vito Russo, who is probably best known for the book The Celluloid Closet. This, however, stems entirely from the fact that I’ve always found the book on the messy and shallow side—even while giving it its due as a pioneer work in discussing homosexuality in the cinema. (It’s still a volatile subject—and one that makes more than a few people nervous.) The film, however, isn’t so much about Vito Russo as a film historian as it is a film about Vito Russo as an activist. (The two are not always easy to separate, though, since the book itself and the questions it raised were activist in nature.) This is a compelling and moving work that goes far beyond my preconceived notions of Russo—and it’s very much worth seeing.
Erin Greenwell’s My Best Day is probably the weakest film on the slate. That’s not to say that it’s bad, because it isn’t. I am not, however, quite certain what it wants to be—nor am I convinced that the film itself is. Plus, it’s one of those slightly shaggy, likable, but undistinguised movies that you see at film festivals and almost immediately know this is as far as it will ever go. (If you’ve spent any time at all at film festival screenings you’ll know exactly what I mean.) The most interesting thing about the film is that its gay content is almost tangential and actually relegated to supporting characters. That may sound like a knock, but it isn’t because the approach places the gay characters in a larger context—one where they are just casually accepted (sometimes more so by others than by themselves). The basic idea follows the attempts of Karen (Rachel Style) to connect with her estranged father and sister, neither of whom she’s seen since her parents’ divorce. It’s a sincere movie with a good heart, but the best things about it come in almost fleeting moments. One plus is that it’s accompanied by the clever short film Coffee and Pie.
The closing night film is Jonathan Lisecki’s delightful Gayby. Here is a film that takes delight in playing with—even reveling in—gay movie stereotypes, both subverting them and using them to its advantage. The story is essentially about Jenn (Jenn Harris) and Matt (Matthew Wilkas), a pair of long-time friends, who decide to have a baby. The thing is, of course, that Matt is gay—and not to sure about her desire to conceive this child “the old-fashioned way.” (This may be as much because they once had sex in college as anything else—especially, in light of his statement about his ability to have sex with a woman.) The film is constantly going places you expect, but not in ways you expect—and frequently not quite getting where you think they’re going. Probably the funniest thing about the film is that it doubles the usual trope about the girl with the gay best friend by giving them both such a friend. All in all, it’s ultimately a rom-com (right down to the penultimate reel of gloominess) with a whole lot of twists. It’s fresh. It’s funny and it’s very worth seeing.
For more informtion go to: www.AshevilleQFest.com
Thursday, October 11th: ASHEVILLE QFEST OPENING NIGHT
7:00 pm: CLOUDBURST—93 min
Plus the World Premiere of EASY ABBY – 6 min
9:30 pm: Event—Opening Night Party
Friday, October 12th:
1:00 pm: TENNESSEE QUEER—90 min
2:45 pm: MISSISSIPPI I AM—46 min *
4:20 pm: NAKED AS WE CAME—84 min
7:00 pm: I STAND CORRECTED (SPOTLIGHT SCREENING)—82 min
9:10 pm: KEEP THE LIGHTS ON—101 min
*Bonus Screening for ticket holders of Tennessee Queer or Naked As We Came
Saturday, October 13th:
12:00 pm: MOSQUITA Y MARI – 85 min
w/ short QUEEN OF MY DREAMS—3 Min
2:00 pm: LET MY PEOPLE GO—96 min
4:20 pm: VITO—93 min
7:00 pm: I DO (SPOTLIGHT SCREENING) – 95 min
9:10 pm: I WANT YOUR LOVE – 70 min (ADULT ONLY)
Sunday, October 14th:
12:00 pm: ONE OF THESE THINGS…
Youth oriented short film program: SAM, THE PRINCESS AND THE MAIDEN
SHABBAT DINNER, GREY BETWEEN and PRORA—65 min
2:00 pm: MY BEST DAY (SPOTLIGHT SCREENING)—75 min
w/ short COFFEE AND PIE—15 min
4:20 pm: YOSSI—84 min
7:00 pm: GAYBY (CLOSING NIGHT FILM)—89 min
9:00 pm: Event – Closing Night Party – Awards announced!
Encore Screenings – ALL at 4:00 pm:
Monday, October 15th: I STAND CORRECTED
Tuesday, Oct 16th: CLOUDBURST
Wednesday, Oct 17th: I DO
Thursday, Oct 18th: KEEP THE LIGHTS ON