Who’s out there? And where do they fit inside the swirling yin-yang continuum? If you really want to know where flaming meets flattop meets “can chromosomes be wrong?,” visit Reel Pride Michigan 2003, the GLBT film festival, beginning Jan. 24 at the Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak. For eight days, Reel Pride, in association with the Triangle Foundation, will exploit the ability of film to empower the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and allied communities through the exploration and celebration of alternative sexualities.
No matter what orientation you bud from, tapping into and identifying with screen heroes of any and all sexual persuasions promotes understanding and, ultimately, a sense of camaraderie instead of alienation, all the way around. Alongside special guests and events, these 28 films of all sensibilities and sizes recognize similarities in struggles, whether using tough subjects or light touches.
The selection of short films traverses a spectrum of poignant laughs and laments: from the “Ooops, who did I sleep with this time?” gay-boy party exploits of Stag, to the wacky Hollywood, lesbian, sexy sit-comedy, The Complex. There’s the taboo-probing Forbidden Fruit focusing on women loving women in African society, and the profound-turned-artistic in Tawfik Abu Wael’s Diary of a Male Whore, a Palestinian film that wields its sexual identity as a metaphor for war, searing your senses like grinding metal sparks in a mere 15 minutes.
When it comes to Reel Pride’s full-length features, you might just split a back seam during Stefan Ruzowitzky’s All the Queen’s Men (pictured), a fun-führer flick that embraces queer filmmaking in all senses of the word. It stars Matt LeBlanc (of “Friends” fame) as the manly “special agent almost” O’Rourke, and one of HBO’s favorite transvestites, Eddie Izzard as Parker, a Marlene-imitating poofter assigned to transform a platoon of World War II soldiers into frock-wearing fraus to infiltrate and capture the war-winning Enigma device. Although Parker claims that — like a lot of men — his military stint was “just a phase,” he’s blackmailed by the Brits to re-enlist. It isn’t long before the “I’m not wearing a dress!” protesting O’Rourke learns to smile, saunter and cross his legs like a true trans-femme fatale. It’s amazing how well Nazis fit in next to men in drag.
The festival opener, The Trip, follows Alan and Tommy (in an 11-year relationship, battling sexual-identity denial, military dads and Anita Bryant) riding the road trip of gay life — make sure to catch the after-party with Trip director Miles Swain, and actors Larry Sullivan and Steve Brown. Join in the search for sexual tolerance amid myriad oppressive forces in I Exist: Voices from the Lesbian and Gay Middle Eastern Community. Or maybe you’d like to explore San Francisco’s notorious Palace Theatre entertainers The Cockettes, hippie women, children and most especially sequined and feathered gay men who brought the world shows like Tinsel Tarts in a Hot Coma.
Other films chronicle countercultural groundbreaking subjects like Daddy and Papa (gay men deciding to raise children) and Georgie Girl (George turned Georgina Beyer, raised as a New Zealand farm boy, and now the world’s first transsexual to hold a national office). Finishing off the festival is Radical Harmonies, a documentary on the emergence and strength of women’s music from the ’70s to now. In 1975, men (and the idea that playing music would fry women’s eggs) ruled the music industry. The birth of Olivia Records finally gave a voice to songs written by women for women. From Cris Williamson to Ani DiFranco, the ideologies and safe spaces created by women’s music are now more than ever breaking into mainstream music.
Reel Pride is out to expand horizons, every which way, on a continuing mission to open-up a “free to choose” path, clear of ignorance, false beliefs and prejudice, and to broadcast and make blossom the realization that even in film, this really isn’t just a straight man’s world.
Reel Pride, Michigan’s GLBT Film Festival (eight days, 16 screenings, 28 films) runs Jan. 24-31 at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). For information and a complete film schedule, visit reelpridemichigan.com or call 313-537-3323.Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org