Just where do you draw the line between I’m gay and I’m human? Ha! That’s a trick question, because of course there’s no such line. Unfortunately, the queer film genre sometimes gives I’m gay precedence over plot, character development and film quality. In other words, as with any festival of specialty films, you run the risk of watching some real stinkers just because they fit the bill. But I’m pleased to say this year’s Reel Pride Michigan GLBT Film Festival is a risk well taken, and the quality of the films improves every year.
Running Jan. 16-23 at the Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, the “largest film festival of any genre held in Michigan,” as the organizers claim, will show more than 40 films, from shorts to feature lengths, exploring the fun to dangerous angles of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender culture and lifestyle.
It’s one not to miss, with work from well-seasoned filmmakers like Spanish director Eloy de la Iglesia, who’s been directing since 1966. His feature film Bulgarian Lovers (Spanish and Bulgarian with subtitles) transcends sexual preference with a little bit of imagination, penetration, a few leather satchels and a whole lot of style when a Spanish gentleman falls for a tall, dark Bulgarian mystery. No matter what you date, it’s easy to empathize with a guy who does something he feels he shouldn’t because danger (a la film noir) is a turn-on.
As far as fun goes, the festival opens with Merci Docteur Rey, a Merchant/Ivory French production written and directed by a New Yorker, with a winding wacky plot that could have been the closet love child of Woody Allen and Blake Edwards. Some of the short films include mock instructional teen flicks, such as: Masturbation: Putting the Fun into Self-Loving; Gaydar — where the metal detector takes a backseat to man-meets-man; and Gay Propaganda — 20 minutes of queer takes on scenes from famous and heretofore-considered-hetero films.
The festival’s documentaries mark a sharp turn from genre entertainment to necessary for survival. Turning a bad virus into a positive metaphor is a dangerous trick. The Gift examines the strange mutation of HIV perception in a day and age when anonymous online chat rooms are the new gay bars, and talking about HIV status is still a social no-no. A series of interviews shows that the tables have turned. As the homosexual male community appears to be in collective denial over the horrors of AIDS, HIV-negative men find themselves excluded from a now glamorized condom-free Positive lifestyle, disturbingly referred to as “the gift.” Using illness as a social stepping-stone, there’s an immediate “get your ya-yas out” payoff, and then a long-term payment plan, if you manage to live long term. The Gift ponders how the gay community can address this potentially devastating trend.
To people whose coming-out choices may strain family relations, these documentaries, and the film festival as a whole, create a sense of family and community, as audience members and filmmakers can find strength by sharing fears. Dangerous Living: Coming Out in the Developing World is a very human search for acceptance and peace with self, whatever that self may be, inside a primarily hostile heterosexual world. The need for freedom is as universal as the need to breathe. Although Western society allows homosexuals to have a public identity and a visible culture, though there is still ample discrimination and danger, going east is another story entirely. That’s where Dangerous Living steps in. This film affords a valuable look at various stages of coming out in developing countries of the world, from self-discovery to public ridicule and oppression to social acceptance.
Oh, and listen up, girls — and I mean girls in the greatest possible gender-stretching way! Reel Pride is giving you a chance to live Holly Golightly’s dream come true. On Jan. 18th, you can have brunch with the bling bling inside Tiffany and Co. in Troy’s Somerset Collection. Afterward, you can watch food for the eyes with a screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, featuring everyone’s favorite powder room fashion-sprite, Audrey Hepburn (an ironic choice given that the book, written by Truman Capote, featured a male love interest who was gay. He was transformed into a hetero player for the movie.)
Who knows, maybe there’ll come a time when gay and lesbian lifestyles are so integrated into mainstream arts and entertainment that there’ll be less and less need for specialized sex-genre festivals. It is no mistake that as acceptance of gay communities increases, along with confidence within the communities, so too does the caliber of gay film. With Academy-recognized films like Boys Don’t Cry, Mulholland Drive and Far From Heaven (directed by openly gay Todd Haynes), it looks like we’re well on our way to probing alternative preferences with a wide public eye.
So, to get right down to it, do you have to be gay, transgendered, lesbian or bi to get something out of Reel Pride? From what I’ve seen, you just have to be human.Anita Schmaltz is a frequent contributor to Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org