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Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival

The 19th Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival continues Friday through Thursday, November 12 through 18; screenings this week will be at the Village. Advance tickets can be purchased at Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark, between 10 am and 6 pm on weekdays, and between noon and 5 pm on Saturday; same-day tickets at venue box office only. Tickets are $7, $6 for shows before 6, with discount passes available. For more information call 773-293-1447 or the festival hot line at 312-409-4919. Commentary by Fred Camper (FC), Ted Shen (TS), Lawrence Bommer (LB), Lee Gerstein (LG), Jack Helbig (JH), and Adam Langer (AL).

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 12

Rites of Passage

Writer-director Victor Salva cleverly combines two well-worn stories--the homophobic parent coming to grips with a child's sexuality and the dysfunctional family united by an outside threat--as a macho father (Dean Stockwell), his straight son (Robert Glen Keith), and his emotionally wounded gay son (Jason Behr) are pitted against a pair of murderous escaped cons in a remote mountain cabin. In the wrong hands this could have been terribly predictable, but Salva's multidimensional characters remain fascinating even after they've become enmeshed in the conventional thriller plot. Stockwell and Behr are fine as the testosterone-poisoned dad and his gay son, but the film really belongs to James Remar, truly satanic as a ruthless but charismatic convict. (JH) (7:00)

Girls Shorts

A showcase of work by lesbian filmmakers, most of it inept and self-consciously preachy. The standout is Charlotte Gutierrez's video Yardbird, in which a girl innocently describes the two men living next door and the paraphernalia she's found in their trash; without being told, we quickly figure out that they're drag queens. Melissa A. Kern's video Sexual Persuasion (1996) and Samara Halperin's Shari Shapiro's Slumber Party (1998) are sad but amusing commentaries on how images from pop culture have twisted pubescent girls' sexual identities. DeSales's Kalin's Prayer (1998) portrays a lesbian model's infatuation with a butch Manhattan lawyer; though based on a true story, it's hobbled by cliches (men are big bad wolves, women are smitten with power), and its optical effects, though apt at times, create a fair amount of confusion. In One Small Step, by local filmmaker Catherine Crouch, a tomboy who idolizes male icons and yearns to marry the girl next door tries to overcome her parents' disapproval; the film nicely evokes the staid 60s, but its pacing is awkward and some of the scenes look cheesy. Stephanie Wynne's video Gay Black Female (1998) captures some of the bathos and hilarity of dating through personal ads; unfortunately it's anchored by the flimsy premise of a woman getting her comeuppance for falsely claiming to look like pop singer Toni Braxton. Kirsten Kuppenbender's video Lesbianage IV, an incoherent mock trailer for a lesbian thriller, may make you bolt for the exit. (TS) Crouch and Wynne will attend the screening. (9:15)

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 13

Up Yours, Tonto!

Chris Packard, who teaches film and literature at New York University and Parsons School of Design, presents a lecture on homoerotic undertones in the American western. Video clips run the gamut from D.W. Griffith to John Ford to TV series like Bonanza and The Wild Wild West. (1:00)

Creature

Parris Patton's documentary follows a drag queen as he transforms himself into a preoperative transsexual, eventually visiting his parents on their farm in an effort to win their unconditional love. Patton emphasizes Stacey's transformation but includes other interviews with drag queens and prostitutes, repetitiously crosscutting to dad back on the farm. But once Stacey and his boyfriend hit the road to visit Stacey's folks, the film finds its focus. Stacey's mother and grandmother fear for his soul and try to convince him to live a "normal" life, and Patton affords the parents and grandmother some sympathy for their heartfelt emotions rather than demonizing them as one-dimensional proselytizers. Stacey, on the other hand, is a born performer, and one can't help but wonder how many of his dramatic revelations have been created for the camera. (LG) On the same program, Leslie Becker and Sandra Gonzalez's video Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps: We're the Marching Band Your Mother Warned You About. Becker and Gonzalez will attend the screening. (3:00)

Red Rain

Laura Plotkin's 1998 video documents the life of boxer Gina "Boom Boom" Guidi. Skillfully intercutting diverse voices with Guidi's, Plotkin captures the woman's energy and emotional strength: the oldest child of a single mom, Guidi had to raise three younger brothers and recover from drug and alcohol abuse to become the thoroughly grounded person we see in the film. Though she's openly lesbian, she argues that her sexuality has nothing to do with her being a boxer, and while she's mature enough to ignore a homophobic slur from a magazine publisher, she's clearly hurt by it. Her vulnerability is visible in the ring too, her face registering fear and hesitation as well as aggressiveness. (FC) On the same program: Lisa Ganser's Stalking Mike Hawke, Irene Gustafson's Velvets, and, from Germany, Sylke Rene Meyer's La Petite Mort (1998). Gustafson will attend the screening. (5:00)

A Luv Tale

Two fashion industry professionals find each other by the process of elimination in this sincere and elegant romance by writer-director Sidra Smith. The beautiful Candice Montgomery (Michelle Richards), editor of Meridian magazine, discards her feckless boyfriend of 12 years after meeting the equally luscious Taylor James (Gina Ravera), a young photojournalist who wants to shoot something nobler than supermodels. Taylor's controlling friend Aklia (tart-tongued Lana Moorer) doesn't approve of the May-December romance, but as Smith suggests, love speaks louder than a sassy girlfriend. Unfortunately a cliff-hanging plot twist mars this otherwise delightful film. (LB) On the same program, Sheryl Lee Ralph's video Secrets (1998) and Stephanie Wynne's If She Only Knew. Smith and Wynne will attend the screening. (7:00)

The Joys of Smoking

Low-budget production values, inexperienced actors, and unimaginative camera work sink this pseudodocumentary relationship comedy about seven self-absorbed San Franciscans searching for romantic fulfillment. Director Nick Katsapetses intercuts static dialogue scenes (usually arguments) with confessional monologues ostensibly delivered for one character's film school project. At times the film seems to mock its shallow, whining characters, yet its own cynicism about relationships feels unearned, and the petulant dialogue often sounds like a rant delivered after a bad date ("A healthy relationship is an oxymoron," declares one character). All things considered, this is a fairly excruciating 90 minutes. (AL) On the same program, Boyfriends (1998), a UK video by Simon Horton. (9:15)

The Jaguar Trailer Reel

A video compilation of trailers for 70s gay porn films made by Jaguar Entertainment. An opening title tells us these were "the first all-male films with a real story line," and the trailers sometimes suggest the narrative setups for the sex, which is also included. But mostly they're fragments--as one narrator puts it, "You have to see the film to see who is fucking who." Among the highlights are The Bare Devils (guess what these bikers aren't wearing), and Sudden Rawhide (guess what these cowboys aren't wearing). The voice-overs can be absurdly serious (trumpeting "a graphic realism unrivaled by the European masters"), but more often they're tongue-in-cheek (referring to "the meat of our story"). For this program, anyway, you'll probably know in advance whether or not you're going to like it. (FC) Producers Brian King and Ted Sawicki will give an introduction and answer questions. (11:30)

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 14

Sadness

See Critic's Choice. (1:00)

The Most Unknowable Thing

Lesbian documentarian Mary Patierno began videotaping her brother David in 1989, intending to chronicle his life as a gay man living with AIDS. But in 1991, while acknowledging that he was still more attracted to men, David married his female chiropractor (who previously had been married to a man and to a woman) and became stepfather to her two children. By beginning with the marriage and only later going back to 1989, Patierno's video validates the union as an authentic aspect of her brother's life, calling into question rigid concepts of sexual identity. Unfortunately David's health wasn't as malleable as his sexual options, and after an even more shocking turn of events the video ends with a moving funeral scene--but not before Patierno captures a bit of David's love of life. (FC) Patierno will attend the screening. On the same program: Stephen Patrick Foery's video Family (1998). (3:00)

The O Boys: Parties, Porn and Politics

In 1990 a group of gay men called "the O Boys," unhappy with the sex scene in LA and eager to have fun, started a series of orgies; the membership evolved into a group with a social and political message--as one participant phrases it, "You came for the sex and you got educated." Condom use is enforced, and not everyone is admitted, though the members differ on whether admission is based on youth and good looks or on "attitude." Allan Gassman, a founding member, directed this video, which includes his on-screen narration, clips of himself and others appearing on talk shows such as Donahue, and footage of a number of orgies. Gassman also intersperses material about gay-rights struggles from other times and places; the larger context is welcome, but his structuring of the material is a bit muddled and image quality is sometimes poor. Still, this lively piece makes the positive argument that safe sex can also be hot. (FC) On the same program, two videos: Marc Siegel's Such Candor and Nguyen Tan Hoang's Forever Bottom! (5:00)

An Angel's Revenge

Ayse, a Hamburg prostitute, unexpectedly inherits a sausage stand on an isolated North Sea island from a customer who died when she kissed him. Upon her arrival she's greeted by Charlotte, whose dialogue is heavy with biblical verse and who decides Ayse is an angel of the apocalypse. Together they renovate the stand, but their new menu (including fried cauliflower) doesn't appeal to the islanders, and soon Ayse is turning tricks again, until some complicated plot twists challenge Charlotte's beliefs and unite the two women as lovers in Ayse's Hamburg bordello. Angelina Maccarone directed this nutty, convoluted German video; her almost baroque combinations of light and dark seem meaninglessly decorative. (FC) On the same program: Ewjenia Tsanana's video Up High (1997). (7:00)

The Experiment

Gordon Hall's 1973 gay porn film is known for having more of a plot than many others made around the same time, but little more than 20 minutes have passed before the "experiment" planned by two rural teenagers reaches the nudity phase. The writing and acting won't turn any heads (is it the script, or are these kids supposed to be a little slow?), and the most visually inventive scene, a fantasy of clothed rock climbing, is hardly great art. Yet the film does make some attempt to link the sex with the characters' feelings: Gary Lee's first encounter with someone other than his friend falls flat because his partner "does make a difference." Porn connoisseurs will definitely want to have a look. Originally released on film by Jaguar Entertainment, this is now available only on video; all existing prints are damaged, and there are no plans to make new ones. (FC) (9:00)

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 15

Transforming Identities

Videos about women in various transgendered phases. Ivan E. Coyote's gentle Transmission (1998) suggests the identity issues at stake for each of its trans characters by focusing on his body image as seen in a mirror. In Elise Hurwitz and Christopher Lee's documentary Trappings of Transhood (1997), women of various races talk about their lives, some identifying with straight men, others with gay men; one mentions his "self-destructive" youth, reminding us that for many people gender can be a life-or-death issue. In Stephanie Wynne's If She Only Knew, an office comedy set in an African-American company, a straight receptionist harbors a crush on a delivery "boy" who turns out to be a lesbian; the acting and videography are occasionally clunky, but Wynne's tilted camera, strange rhythmic pauses, and other eccentricities give it an intriguing style. In Ray Rea's mildly amusing Straightboy Lessons, a trans woman hears a male friend list his rules for being a man. (FC) Wynne and Rea will attend the screening. (7:00)

Got 2B There

Jose Torrealba directed this film about an informal all-night gay party circuit that spans more than 50 cities in 11 countries. Scenes of writhing bare-chested bodies are intercut with diverse commentary from promoters, partygoers, writers, and activists. Defended as "empowering" events that constitute the "coming together of the tribe," the parties are also criticized for encouraging drug use and unsafe sex and for reinforcing a buff standard of beauty; many are AIDS benefits, but one interviewee questions how much money actually goes to the cause. The party footage captures the hypnotic rhythms of the music, lights, and dance without ever really capturing the "ecstatic" state some describe, but the gatherings clearly offer positive reinforcement to a community ravaged by prejudice and disease. (FC) To be shown by video projection; there are no existing film prints. A discussion with Torrealba, party promoters, and others will follow the screening. (9:00)

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 16

My Femme Divine

This video by Karen Everett is a work of real emotional authenticity, combining autobiography with an exploration of lesbian butch and femme identities. Raised as a Mormon, Everett gradually came out as a lesbian and discovered her identity as a "butch bottom"; in this "therapeutic" video she addresses the camera, telling her story and interweaving texts from Jung and the Book of Mormon, footage of a "Drag Kings" contest, and lesbian group discussions about identity issues. The different elements combine to subtly probe the nuances of lesbian roles, relating concepts of male and female to butch and femme; Everett suggests that stories like hers must be seen in a larger social context. At times, however, the images seem to illustrate too simply the words or songs on the sound track. (FC) On the same program, three videos: Purse by Kelly Dolak and Liss Platt, Lurve Me Now by Pin Pin Tan, and Goodbye to Love (1997) by Terry Finn and Shane Smith. Tan will attend the screening. (7:00)

In the Flesh

Ed Corbin gives a sturdy, appealing performance as a cop torn between love and duty in this 1997 film about the growing attraction between an undercover detective and a young gay hustler. The uneven script, by director Ben Taylor, turns into a murder mystery when one of the boy's johns is killed, but the crime story functions less as a whodunit than as a test of the men's trust in each other. Dane Ritter, as the object of the cop's affection, is somewhat wooden, but Corbin's intensity and ambivalence enhance this refreshing portrait of a gay relationship sustained more by emotion than by sexual desire. Also sympathetically depicted is the gay-bar milieu, where loneliness drives the cash transactions between men and boys. (TS) Taylor will attend the screening. On the same program, two videos: Charles Duchesne's Volt Detect-o-Mo (1998) and Marilyn Bull's Tinky Tricks. (9:00)

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 17

The Other Side

His AIDS treatment failing, Alejandro plans to travel from Mexico City to the U.S. and get into an experimental program, but he's denied a visa and resolves to emigrate illegally. His friends are supportive, but his lover Beto is angry at their coming separation. This video by C.A. Griffith reminds us that Mexico lacks the resources to fight AIDS and draws a sensitive portrait of the characters' interconnected feelings by abruptly cutting from one locale to another as the principals think about each other. Unlike many issue films, this one embraces all the personal dimensions: tender love scenes between Alejandro and Beto add an erotic and human dimension to the multithemed narrative. (FC) (7:00)

Two Seconds

Manon Briand's hip, energetic 1998 Canadian comedy revels in the idiosyncrasies of the bike messenger subculture, as wide-eyed Laurie (Charlotte Laurier) is initiated into the fold after being fired from a downhill racing team because of her age. Some of the subplots (Laurie's friendship with a grumpy Italian who's retired from racing, her torment at the hands of a competing messenger) seem exaggerated and simplistic. But the film succeeds as light comedy--despite a few philosophical discussions about the mutability of time--and Pascal Auclair steals every scene he's in as the self-proclaimed king of the messengers. (AL) (9:00)

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 18

Outtakes

A young director, shooting a feature about an "anorexic ghost" who haunts the patients of a mental hospital, is forced to rewrite the script when her investors call for "more grisly murders" and "Siamese twins." In part a satire of the low-budget film industry (there's a funny montage of bad-actress auditions), this video by Karen Klopfenstein and Katherine Brooks also examines the instability of sexual identity: at one point the director claims to be straight, but she has sex mostly with women, in dark, fuzzy scenes whose intercutting destabilizes the space. These scenes also underline another theme, the difficulty of finding love in a world swamped by superficial images. Using music and handheld camera, Klopfenstein and Brooks maintain a lively if irregular pace that's appropriate to their multiple ideas. (FC) On the same program, Pump, a short film by Abigail Severance, who, with Klopfenstein, and Brooks, will attend the screening. (7:00)

Love Reinvented

See Critic's Choice. (9:30)

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