Reeling 2003: Chicago International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival | Festival | Chicago Reader

Reeling 2003: Chicago International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival 

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Chicago's 22nd annual lesbian and gay film festival runs Friday through Thursday, November 7 through 13. Unless otherwise noted, screenings are $9 at Landmark's Century Centre, $7 at Chicago Filmmakers, and $6 for matinees at either venue (until 5 PM). Advance tickets can be purchased from 10 to 6 weekdays and noon to 5 Saturday at Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark, or anytime at www.chicagofilmmakers.org; same day tickets are available only at the venue box office 30 minutes prior to the first screening of the day. Discount passes are available; for more information call 773-293-1447 or the festival hotline at 312-458-9117. Films marked with an * are highly recommended.

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 7

* Tipping the Velvet

Based on a novel by Sarah Waters, this winning BBC miniseries is surprisingly forthright in its tale of a young lesbian coming of age on the London music hall stage in the 1890s. Born to a coastal family that runs an oyster restaurant, Nan Astley (Rachael Stirling) falls in love with male impersonator Kitty Butler (Keeley Hawes) and progresses from stage-door Annie to dresser to costar to lover before Kitty betrays her for the security of marriage to their manager. Written by Andrew Davis and directed by Geoffrey Sax, this is a smart and nicely turned out television production with a variety of colorful characters and witty performances by Stirling, Hawes, and Anna Chancellor. Approximately 150 min. (JJ) Parts one and two will be shown, with part three to follow on Sunday, November 9. (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:00)

A World of Love

An Italian drama (2002) about the young manhood of filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. Aurelio Grimaldi directed. In Italian with subtitles. 85 min. (Chicago Filmmakers, 7:00)

Dangerous Living: Coming Out in the Developing World

Two documentaries on the mistreatment of GLBT people. John Scagliotti's hour-long Dangerous Living is a somewhat scattershot assemblage of footage about persecutions that are bigoted responses to the increasing openness of gays in the third world: we see a minister in Zimbabwe advocating castration for homosexuals and hear about how the menace of rape is used against lesbians in Honduras and India. Diana Volbeda's 36-minute Less Than Human focuses on police violence against gays in various locales, including Turkey (where one police commissioner denies that gays are human) and Chicago, where a man was reportedly beaten by eight or nine cops for embracing a man outside a police bar. 98 min. (FC) (Chicago Filmmakers, 8:45)

* You'll Get Over It

Originally broadcast on French TV, director Fabrice Cazeneuve's study of a popular high school student's first tentative steps out of the closet is also a painfully honest examination of the limits of loyalty among friends and family. Vincent is the proverbial kid with a bright future: a great student, star of the swim team, and boyfriend to a smart, attractive female classmate. His seemingly idyllic life is the envy of his classmates until he's outed by a boy he tried to kiss. While Cazeneuve's story is about gay love, it also charts universal truths about adolescent romance and high school politics with great aplomb. In French with subtitles. 90 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Landmark's Century Centre, 9:15)

Supercamp Shorts

Three out of four of these shorts might be termed "hysterical camp." In Kurt Koehler's Superfag, a lavender-clad superhero finds love when he rescues a youth from the set of a video called "Pool Boy Punishment." The blue- and orange-haired queens in Nickolaos Stagias's The Elevator scream and scream again when trapped in an elevator. Especially amusing is Ann Kaneko's mock Hollywood musical, 100% Human Hair (2002), whose ridiculous song-and-dance numbers tell the story of a man and his wig shop. Jonathan E. McNeal's low-key documentary The Rubi Girls undercuts stereotypes with its portrayal of a group of ordinary-looking gay men in Dayton, Ohio, who have a great time raising money for charities with their drag performances. 86 min. (FC) (Chicago Filmmakers, 10:45)

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 8

A Day on the Force

This video documentary has been trimmed from 70 to 55 minutes since it screened this summer as part of "The 72 Hour Feature Project." Reviewing the longer cut, Reader critic Bill Stamets wrote, "Ronit Bezalel (Voices of Cabrini: Remaking Chicago's Public Housing), Laurie Little, and Sree Nallamothu [follow] the Chicago Force, part of the Independent Women's Football League, as it does battle at the Illinois Institute of Technology's De La Salle Field. Yet the team's 55-zip rout of the San Diego Seacatz, caught by a nine-camera crew, is less important than the hearty portraits of the Chicago players. The team spirit is contagious, and the squad's improvisatory style is matched by the video's rough edges." (Chicago Filmmakers, 11:00 am)

AlternaQueer Shorts

Three videos. Bret Berg and Alex Hinton's Queer Youth TV Presents: Queercore (2002) focuses on alternative bands and their fans, with performance footage of Limp Wrist and Gossip. There are some telling moments--cheers follow a singer's announcement that he takes advantage of his stage diving to "grab ass"--but Berg and Hinton's treatment of the scene is frustratingly superficial. In Fenced Out! (2001) low-income kids are banned from a Greenwich Village pier because it's scheduled to become part of a park, although the kids suspect that police are acting on residents' complaints. And Thomas Gustafson's Fairies, made in Chicago, about high school homophobia, is an undigested mix of obvious close-ups (yes, we feel sad when the gay boy is sad) and campy fantasies of love fulfilled. 73 min. (FC) (Chicago Filmmakers, 12:30)

Robin's Hood

Screenwriter Khahtee V. Turner stars as Robin, a young social worker who wants to help her blue-collar Oakland community. When she meets tough, butch Brooklyn (Clody Cates), Robin mistakes her for a drug dealer. Predictably enough, Brooklyn is smitten with Robin, and they wind up having a torrid affair. Later, when Brooklyn confesses to Robin that she's a bank robber, they join forces, redistributing their spoils to the needy. While the dialogue is clunky, the acting uneven, and much of the camerawork amateurish, this modest update of the Robin Hood fable is affable enough. 77 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Landmark's Century Centre, 1:00)

School's Out: The Life of a Gay High School in Texas

The Walt Whitman Community School in Dallas, not yet accredited and struggling with low enrollment, was founded in 1997 as a haven for gay kids fleeing harassment at their previous schools. One of a few institutions of its kind, the school accepts boarders, who are placed with host families. Although weak on context and a bit too much like raw data, Jeremy Simmon's documentary succeeds when the students speak for themselves: their life circumstances have made them precociously self-aware, though that doesn't stop one HIV-positive boy from having unprotected sex in the restroom, provoking a crisis. Also showing: Jan Padgett's Sticks and Stones (2002), an effective antibigotry video for kids. 99 min. (FC) (Chicago Filmmakers, 2:00)

We Know What Boys Like

Eight videos on the varieties of gay desire. Phillip J. Bartell's mockumentary L.T.R. (2002), which follows a young couple from mindless infatuation to a rupture caused by their failure to accept each other's differences, effectively foregrounds relationship cliches of which few seem aware while living through them. Barry Alexander Brown's Straight No Chaser (2002) builds on a contrived premise--a straight man who inherits a gay bar pretends to be gay to avoid hurting the business--but his learning-to-be-gay scenes are quite amusing. And while there's nothing really wrong with Vincent Mtzlplck's A Bear's Story--about plump gay men accepting their bodies and finding love--its artless, feel-good tone makes after-school specials look edgy. 100 min. (FC) (Landmark's Century Centre, 3:00)

Pandemic: Facing AIDS

Rory Kennedy's HBO documentary does a slick job of reporting on AIDS in five different cultures where varying modes of transmission prevail--heterosexual sex in Uganda, prostitution in Thailand and India, dirty needles in Russia, and gay sex in Brazil. Much is familiar here: some families reject their infected members out of shame while others are supportive; some national health systems can't cope with the rising toll of infection (Russia) while others have greatly reduced death rates (Brazil). The film's inappropriately upbeat tone, which extends from pretty tourist images of major cities to Danny Glover's calm narration to a weirdly chipper ending, fails to convey the awfulness of the disease itself beyond a few quick shots of emaciated patients. 113 min. (FC) (Chicago Filmmakers, 4:00)

* Laughing Matters

Andrea Meyerson's hour-long documentary profiles four lesbian stand-up comics. Though they started out in clubs, it's mostly through taboo-breaking cable TV that Marga Gomez, Suzanne Westenhoefer, and Karen Williams earned their measure of fame; Kate Clinton is also known as a pundit and columnist. The elegant, patrician Clinton effortlessly segues from the foibles of Washington to the impact of hot flashes on hot sex, while Gomez's manic approach addresses her body and her Latin roots. Williams's shtick is angry black dyke, but her observations about the stresses of middle-class life will resonate with aging boomers. Blond, doe-eyed, and an erstwhile "successful heterosexual," Westenhoefer has the most in common with Ellen DeGeneres, whose meteoric rise is assessed by her four colleagues. Also on the program: Straight Sex, Mouncey Ferguson III's comedy of errors about a gay and lesbian joint-parenting effort. (Andrea Gronvall) (Landmark's Century Centre, 5:00)

Boys Coming Together

A program of short films about gay male sex and romance. 99 min. (Chicago Filmmakers, 6:30)

Dyke Delicious Shorts

The best of these seven videos is the shortest: Tucker C. Doherty's bouncy Repodyke is a witty four-minute blend of drama, mock infomercial, and music video (with a song by the Jane Waynes) in which a lesbian repo crew recovers a client's vacuum cleaner from her obnoxious ex-girlfriend. Conversely, the weakest is the longest: Laura Jean Cronin's Leave It! (2002, 28 min.) is a trite, rambling story of a romance that begins in a canine obedience class. The other five would seem quite at home on network TV were it not for their lesbian content. The best of these is Lee Friedlander's Give or Take an Inch (2002), which tells its story about a lesbian's hostility to her sister's impending sex-change operation ("I just want things to be normal") with subtly destabilizing camera movements and editing rhythms. 99 min. (FC) (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:00)

Hooked

The talking-head format of Todd Ahlberg's 60-minute video documentary about gay cruising online is unoriginal, but most of the heads are worth a listen as they offer varying explanations for why gay men are turning to the Internet for sex in increasing numbers. Some say they're motivated by loneliness and the desire for a human connection, even though cruising for anonymous sex seems like an activity that would increase rather than diminish their sense of isolation. It's interesting to observe the contrast between the baby boomers' reserved endorsements of the Web and the unqualified enthusiasm of the younger men who grew up with it. Also on the program: Clare Charles Cornell and Rodney Buxton's Hole, Jeremy Drummond's The Storage Room, Wayne Yung's 1000 Cumshots, and Kerioakie's Phineas Slipped. 102 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Chicago Filmmakers, 8:30)

The Event

Intelligent, moving, but annoyingly self-satisfied, this AIDS drama by director Thom Fitzgerald focuses on the complicated relationship between a dying young man who wants to be euthanized (Don McKellar) and his tough but loving mother (Olympia Dukakis in a fine performance). McKellar sends himself off with a big party, but it's quickly uncovered by a mean little assistant DA (Parker Posey) who wants to bust the counselor/caregiver (Brent Carver) who pulled the plug. Fitzgerald's sardonic humor overreaches occasionally, as does his pathos, but the two balance each other nicely most of the time; less impressive is his lopsided moral inquiry on the subject of euthanasia, which deploys Posey as a petty, legalistic straw man. 110 min. (JJ) (Landmark's Century Centre, 9:00)

The Undergrad

Chicago filmmaker Michele Mahoney reworks The Graduate (1967), inverting Elizabethan practice by casting women in every role. The result is fairly clever (the hero is tempted by a corporate career not in plastics but in latex), though finally thin and underdeveloped. The film poses questions about gender and power while echoing the original's critiques of marriage, religion, and social conformity. Mahoney has a sharp eye for expressive Chicago locations and a sharp ear for music, both of which help her to transcend her technical limitations. 40 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (Landmark's Century Centre, 11:00)

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 9

Close to Leo

When young Leo tells his family that he is HIV positive, they decide to keep it from his 12-year-old brother, Marcel. Marcel intuits something's wrong anyway, and we share his anguish as he tries to get everyone to be honest. Director Christoph Honore employs tight, almost claustrophobic framing to great effect, getting us inside the family dynamic. The hitch is that this French family is so physically affectionate that it is hard not to read an incestuous subtext into their actions--the two brothers, for example, seek emotional comfort by sleeping in the same bed, curled around each other. Perhaps Honore had nothing untoward in mind, but it's difficult to get past it. In French with subtitles. 90 min. (Hank Sartin) (Landmark's Century Centre, noon)

I Exist: Voices From the Lesbian and Gay Middle Eastern Community in the U.S.

This 2002 video documentary details the frightening bigotry experienced by gay and lesbian Middle Eastern Americans. Directors Peter Barbosa and Garrett Lenoir tightly orchestrate diverse voices to describe a culture in which the family is "a web where every action affects everyone." The pressure to choose between their antigay families and their true selves drives some of the subjects to the brink of suicide; the parents suffer too, as demonstrated by a mother who starts smoking when she learns her daughter is gay. (FC) Also on the program: Mother/Country, about a lesbian filmmaker returning to her native Iran. 78 min. (Chicago Filmmakers, 1:30)

* On the Down Low

Tadeo Garcia's impressive low-budget 2002 debut begins somewhat unpromisingly as a standard riff on gang violence, then gains unexpectedly in poignancy, depth, and complexity. Two south-side Chicago gang members, Isaac and Angel (Tony Sancho and Michael Cortez, both excellent), are carrying on a furtive sexual relationship, which is further complicated when Angel's earlier affiliation with a rival gang is exposed. Christopher R. Buzek's burnished cinematography makes inventive use of Little Village locations; Garcia excels at using offbeat rhythms to establish a palpable tension. In English and subtitled Spanish. 90 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (Landmark's Century Centre, 1:30)

* All About My Father

The most astonishing thing in this Norwegian film (2002), which was named best documentary at last year's Berlin film festival, isn't the fact that the filmmaker's dad--Esben Benestad, a respected surgeon--has for decades enjoyed an alternate persona called Esther Pirelli, celebrity cross-dresser and trans-rights activist. What's really amazing is the calm that director Even Benestad, his sister, and their stepmother exhibit in the face of challenges posed by Esben/Esther to their family unity and personal equanimity. The film raises intriguing questions about divided loyalties and integrated personality but loses momentum as Esben realizes Even doesn't share his agenda. In Norwegian with subtitles. 75 min. (Andrea Gronvall) Also on the program: Trish Garner's short Inside. (Chicago Filmmakers, 3:30)

* Tipping the Velvet

See listing for Friday, November 7. Only part three will be shown; a trio of short animated films bring the total running time to 72 minutes. (Landmark's Century Centre, 3:30)

* Almost There

From Greece by way of Israel comes a bittersweet travel diary by filmmakers and life partners Joelle Alexis and Sigal Yehuda. Three years after first passing each other in the corridors of a Tel Aviv film school, the women met in a bar and clicked. Their union was tested, however, by their tradition-minded families and the rigors of Israeli life. Frustrated and unhappy, they moved to the Greek island Mykonos. Two years later they came across the tapes of their migration and the soul-searching that accompanied it. The time lapse between when the tapes were shot and their current interpretation of the footage, plus ongoing strains with their Israeli and Belgian families, contribute to a sense of emotional distance despite the intimate subject matter. In Hebrew with subtitles. Also on the program: Gabriele Anastasio's Italian shorts Giulia and Paolo & Francesco, both morbid comedic riffs on triangles comprised of a gay man, his bi lover, and the bisexual's absent female consort. 87 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (Chicago Filmmakers, 5:15)

Kevin's Room: Part 2

This Chicago-made video centers on a support group for gay men of color; the six members discuss barebacking, fidelity, bisexuality, etc. This is the second installment in a series, funded in part by the Chicago Department of Health, intended to promote HIV awareness. The educational agenda results in some stiff moments ("But why should I get an HIV test?" "Well, let me tell you four good reasons..."), but the talented actors do a good job of selling the material and codirectors Sharon Zurek and Lora Branch strike a nice balance between didacticism and drama. By the cliff-hanger ending I cared enough to want to know what happened next. 60 min. (Hank Sartin) (Landmark's Century Centre, 5:15)

Alma Mater

Hans Canosa's heavy-handed 2002 drama, set at Harvard in the autumn of 1963, features Will Lyman as an emotionally repressed English professor who engages in a secret affair with a male teaching assistant while his long-suffering wife pleads for greater intimacy. After she mistakenly concludes that he's sleeping with a female student, the wife finds refuge in her obsession with Jackie Kennedy, getting a complete makeover in the first lady's image, to everyone's horror. Various subplots involve student romance and a Jewish kid's attempt to crack an exclusive fraternity, but long before the denouement arrived (on the day JFK is murdered, no less), I kept wishing that John Waters had presided over this hunk of ripe cheese. 79 min. (Reece Pendleton) (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:00)

Radical Harmonies

Dee Mosbacher's 2002 documentary video traces the 30-year political, sexual, and cultural evolution of "women's music," framing it with the feminist and civil rights movements. Although visually and formally plain, the work is enlivened by expressive performances from Holly Near, Ronnie Gilbert, and Sweet Honey in the Rock that showcase the liberating power of the music. The interview subjects offer somewhat quixotic takes on various racial, sexual, and class issues, but the absence of dissident or outside perspectives makes for a narrow ideological field. 92 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (Chicago Filmmakers, 7:15)

Blind Spot

James Franco (Spider-Man, City by the Sea) stars as a naive college student investigating the mysterious disappearance of his male lover, who's apparently ripped off some valuable mob property. Accompanied by the lover's shady business partner (Mark Patrick Gleason) and newly uncovered girlfriend (Shawn Montgomery), Franco hits the road to find him before some badass mobsters do. Aided by Maximo Munzi's fine cinematography, writer-director Stephan Woloszczuk achieves a unique visual style while making nice use of the desert settings. Sadly, none of these virtues can mask the movie's hopelessly silly narrative or paper-thin characters. 91 min. (Reece Pendleton) (Landmark's Century Centre, 9:00)

Queers in Uniform

Charley Lang's video documentary Gay Cops: Pride Behind the Badge looks at the difficulties gay and lesbian cops face in coming out. The subject matter largely compensates for the bland visuals; especially interesting are the reminiscences of some of the veteran officers, who risked their jobs and, in some instances, their lives when coming out several decades ago. In The Brother We Keep (2002), by Chicagoan Keith L. Ransfer, a young African-American soldier getting ready to ship out to Kosovo grapples with the revelation that his best friend is gay. Maria Clara's Life on Christopher Street (2002) examines the subcultures found in New York's legendary gay area, and Franco Galoso's Foxhole (2002) is a tender valentine to a couple of ex-soldiers who fell in love in Vietnam more than 30 years ago. 86 min. (Joshua Katzman) (Chicago Filmmakers, 9:15)

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 10

Gone, but Not Forgotten

An amateurish gay love story in which a hunky amnesiac falls for the hunky forest ranger who saved his life. The amnesiac must learn who he is, the ranger must come to terms with his troubled past, and the audience must endure a lot of bad dialogue badly delivered. The script never rises above the level of Harlequin romance mush, and the actors lumber through their emotional paces like gym-toned bulls in a china shop. Director Michael D. Akers seems to have been learning on the job; many scenes look like botched rehearsals. 94 min. (Hank Sartin) (Landmark's Century Centre, 6:00)

No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon

Joan E. Biren's video documentary (2002) chronicles the lives of pioneering gay rights activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, who cofounded the first national lesbian organization, the Daughters of Bilitis, in 1955. Biren is strong on history and social context, setting the duo's accomplishments against a background of discrimination that extended into the mainstream of the feminist movement and deftly evoking the underground lesbian bar culture of the 50s and 60s, whose insularity the couple fought. Unfortunately the video's pliant, uncritical tone spills over into hero worship; the absence of critical or even ambivalent voices results in a limited, somewhat coercive portrait. Also screening: Bertha Alyce (2001), Gay Block's riveting account of her contentious relationship with her mother, revealed through her extraordinary photographs. 79 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (Chicago Filmmakers, 7:00)

Sex, Politics & Cocktails

Julien Hernandez's funky but shallow 55-minute video feature grafts anxious romantic comedy a la Annie Hall to the hip narcissism of Sex and the City. Hernandez plays a Cuban-American filmmaker who immerses himself in West Hollywood gay culture in preparation for making a documentary about gay relationships. The result is TV flavored, less a narrative than a haphazard succession of vignettes populated by crude stereotypes instead of credible characters. David Karlberg's clay animation short Clay Pride: Being Gay in America (2001), also on the program, delivers a great deal more imagination and wit. Phillip J. Bartel's L.T.R. (2002) brings the total running time to 75 minutes. (Patrick Z. McGavin) (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:45)

Miss Manju Truck Driver

An Indian documentary about a lesbian truck driver, directed by Sherma Dastur. Also on the program: Butch Mystique. 87 min. (Chicago Filmmakers, 8:45)

Totally Sexy Loser Jason Schafer wrote and directed this comedy about a handsome but fickle gay man. Also screening: Little Gold Cowboy, a short by Michael Reihana. 87 min. (Landmark's Century Centre, 9:30)

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 11

* Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin

An eye-opening documentary by Nancy Kates and Bennett Singer about the most sophisticated and charismatic of the civil rights leaders, enhanced by insights about why he became the most neglected. A onetime singer in Josh White's quartet, the Carolinians, a communist between 1938 and '41, and a conscientious objector imprisoned during World War II, Rustin (1912-'87) helped to school Martin Luther King in pacifism--and persuaded him at an early stage not to own guns. Ultimately Rustin was driven to the margins of the movement for being outspokenly gay and for refusing (on tactical grounds) to oppose the war in Vietnam. Without overemphasizing either of these factors, this intelligently balanced account offers a complex and nuanced portrait of a complex and nuanced individual. 84 min. (JR) (Landmark's Century Centre, 6:00)

THIS Obedience

Reverend Anita C. Hill made national headlines a few years ago when she became the first lesbian minister in a committed relationship to be ordained by a Lutheran church. This moving 2000 documentary by Jamie A. Lee and Dawn Mikkelson explores the fallout from her congregation's momentous decision, which defied the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's prohibition against ordaining noncelibate gay and lesbian clergy. The narrative begins on the day Hill was ordained and builds suspense as she travels to the ELCA's national assembly to ask that the ban be overturned. Her story is undeniably inspiring, though this would have been more enlightening had the filmmakers interviewed some of the people within the wider church who opposed changing the rules. 87 min. (Reece Pendleton) (Chicago Filmmakers, 7:00)

Goldfish Memory

This Irish romantic comedy by director Liz Gill, who has apprenticed with Martin Scorsese, Todd Haynes, and Barry Levinson, seems more attuned to Hugh Grant vehicles than to the work of her edgier mentors. Roughly a dozen characters roam trendy Dublin locales searching for love, but (supposedly like goldfish) they have short memories and learn little from experience. The repetitive behavior and recycled pickup lines add rhythm but no bounce, and the premise of gay, straight and bi couples continuously going back to the same well for companionship seems hackneyed. There are some funny and touching moments, helped along by attractive players, handsome scenery, and a few well-timed edits, but the film is a predictable gloss of other movies, down to its ham-fisted lift from The Graduate. 85 min. (Andrea Gronvall) (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:45)

India Pink

The longest and most affecting of these four videos from India, The Pink Mirror (2002, in Hindi with subtitles), is the story of a drag queen who lives with her older "mom." The younger queen brings home an Englishman to be her "personal boy"; the older one hires a muscular driver after whom all three lust. Abjuring the artifice of drag dramas, director Sridhar Rangayan allows his characters to care for each other, using backlighting or a close-up of a tear to underline their feelings. The other drama on the program, Salil R. Aluvila's The Incomplete (2002, in Malayalam with subtitles), concerns a love affair between two rural men, coerced sex in a military setting, and possibly a suicide; while its use of image as emotional metaphor is effective, the storytelling is confusingly elliptical. 76 min. (FC) (Chicago Filmmakers, 8:45)

Eden's Curve

I'm sorry to say that Anne Misawa's direction of her actors didn't allow me to believe in Hart Monroe and Jerry Meadors's story about a hunky, innocent freshman at a ritzy Virginia college juggling relationships with his troubled roommate, the roommate's girlfriend, and his handsome poetry professor. The problem isn't so much the plot as the labored performance style, though the crude dialogue didn't help. A striking camera style and the blurry, leafy textures of the setting provide some visual distraction. 93 min. (JR) (Landmark's Century Centre, 9:20)

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 12

The Gift

An important documentary on an underreported subject: the subculture of gay men who purposely try to contract HIV or to infect others, and the psychology that motivates them. Some say they're "weary" of condoms, some feel the "virus has become eroticized," some seek camaraderie among the seropositive. Director Louise Hogarth shows us Web sites promoting "conversion parties" and a dungeon where such orgies take place but devotes more attention to slick video effects than to illustrating the horrors that overtake the infected when the new drugs stop working. Neither does she call "bug chasing" by its proper name--mass suicide. 62 min. (FC) A panel discussion will follow the screening. (Landmark's Century Centre, 6:00)

Secondary High

The opening of this parody of high school and high school movies (directed by Pat Mills, Emily Halfon, and Hazel Bell-Koski) balances a pretty color scheme (reflective of bourgeois ideals) with telling versions of the standard archetypes (popular girl, closeted jock, etc). Things go astray with a dreary plotline about an affair between a student and her history teacher, but pick up a bit in the final party scene, at which a dyke band called Six Healthy Fists makes its debut. At its best, the video urges kids to be themselves (as in coming out of the closet) and proposes some ways of talking back to bullies ("Jasmine, the cardboard part of the tampon is the applicator--you're not supposed to leave it in"). 91 min. (FC) (Chicago Filmmakers, 7:00)

Bulgarian Lovers

This atmospheric thriller has a bit of everything: uranium smuggling, tango dancing, fancy camera tricks, and lots of male nudity. Daniel, a rich gay Spaniard, gets entangled with Kyril, a Bulgarian immigrant on the make, who trades sex for forged immigration papers and some start-up cash for a shady business venture. Daniel knows he's getting into murky waters, but sexual obsession pulls him on. Knowing his audience, director Eloy de la Iglesia punctuates the story with regular doses of sex. All in all it's pretty lurid, but it delivers what it promises. In Spanish with subtitles. 95 min. (Hank Sartin) (Landmark's Century Centre, 7:15)

* I Like Dyke Shorts

Inventive, quirky, and often humorous, these 15 lesbian-themed videos comprise one of the festival's best programs. Breasts dance to music in a variety of rhythms in Ingrid Wilhite's deliciously ridiculous Hooter Polka, which is enhanced with a surprise ending of equally delightful "outtakes." The sexiness of Gail Mentlik and Anne Borden's autoerotic Rub (2002) comes from the rapid, rhythmic intercutting of different views, some out of focus, mirroring the shifts of attention during arousal. And Tess Ernst's The Drive North, a chronicle of her trip from North Carolina to Massachusetts with her best friend, avoids the self-indulgence of much youthful autobiographical work by mixing live action, stills, line drawings, and a tone of self-effacement (Tess never blames her friend for their fights) to capture the tentativeness of a young woman on the brink of adulthood leaving home for the first time. 115 min. (FC) (Chicago Filmmakers, 9:00)

Yossi & Jagger

Stuck in a desolate military outpost on the Israeli-Lebanese border, a motley assortment of Israeli army reservists try to make the best of a bleak situation by goofing off from their awful chores and flirting with two visiting female soldiers. Meanwhile the company's humorless commander (Ohad Knoller) struggles to sustain morale and engages in a furtive and deepening relationship with one of his male charges (Yehuda Levi). Despite the mostly static setting, director Eytan Fox keeps this surprisingly lively, gracefully balancing the various story lines and making good use of an excellent ensemble cast. In Hebrew with subtitles. Also showing: Jack Feldstein's Three Months With Pook. 104 min. (Reece Pendleton) (Landmark's Century Centre, 9:15)

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 13

Kiki and Tiger

Alain Gsponer directed this short but compelling German feature about a Serbian immigrant (Lenn Kudrjawizki) and his unrequited love for an illegal Albanian refugee from Kosovo (Stipe Erceg). Their friendship is threatened by the Serbian's brutal father, who despises Albanians, and by the refugee's growing fondness for a local girl, while the mounting violence in faraway Kosovo extends its grip over all their lives. This feels like it's in serious need of a third act, but it's still an engaging and accomplished drama from a promising new director. In German with subtitles. (Reece Pendleton) Also on the program, two shorts: Nina and Night Trade. 78 min. (Landmark's Century Centre, 6:30)

* Blue Citrus Hearts

This low-budget digital video about a Memphis high school kid struggling with his attraction to a male classmate isn't always well staged, but its languid rhythms and the incontestable authority of its nonprofessional actors pulled me in like an undertow. Director Morgan Jon Fox heightens the sense of adolescent alienation by making most of the adults in the story seem not just callous but emotionally ill--particularly the hero's mother, who steals change from his pockets while doing the laundry, and his father, whose own conflicted sexuality finds expression in crushed beer cans. The indie-rock score is judiciously and powerfully employed throughout, and though Fox's stylized use of color and text gets to be a bit much, his story never lets go. With Joshua Peter Laurenzi, Paul Foster, Alex Booth, Mark Pergolizzi, Lee Ann Roberts, and Emily Fry. 115 min. (JJ) (Landmark's Century Centre, 8:00)

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