Gay/Lesbian Film Festival

Ah, November air is crisp, the leaves have fallen, the family is putting weird pressure on you about Thanksgiving?and, of course, everyone is standing in line for the 14th Chicago Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival.

11/12/1998 - 11/20/94

Hank Sartin, Windy City Times November 10, 1994
br/> Ah, November air is crisp, the leaves have fallen, the family is putting weird pressure on you about Thanksgiving?and, of course, everyone is standing in line for the 14th Chicago Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival.

As has been the case in the past the festival has a remarkable array of movies to choose from. Unlike the more dissipated chaos of the International Film Festival, the LesbiGay Fest has a built-in focus that makes it work as a social document as well as social event.

But Hank, you retort, how am I to figure out what to see? There are dozens of movies and all the blurbs in the program sound intriguing. I might as well stay home and watch the Fox line-up. Well, once again I have put together a preview to guide you through the first six days of the festival. After arduous labors, and at great personal cost, I present to you some notes of the festival from the high to the low to the end of the show.

Rocking the Cradle: A program of short films about lesbian and gay parenting that runs the gamut from poetic to PBS. Sea of Time is a short but remarkably powerful film about life and death as filmmaker Cheri Gaulke attempts to become pregnant while a close friend is dying of AIDS. For those who know anything about British documentary, Florence and Robin is a classic example of what American culture looks like through a British filter. The film follows a lesbian couple through the process of artificial insemination. Sometimes the information provided is simplistic or unnecessary but the Skin: A pair of films that explore the uses and abuses of homosexuality in popular culture. For A Darker Side of Black, Isaac Julien has done his homework on raggae and gansta rap. At times, you wish he had just spent more time on one or the other, and often the information is pitched not so much to gays and lesbians as it is to a wider audience. Still if you haven?t been keeping up wit the alternative press debates on homophobia in music, then this is a good place to start. Jurgen Bruing?s Be Careful What Kind of Skin You Pull Back looks at the recent rise of the skinhead as a gay understating from erotically charged footage of skinheads fighting and more. The film goes on to question the link between skinheads and Nazism, forcing us to ask ourselves when a pop culture image is finally Queer Stories: A collection of lesbian erotic shorts with one uncategorizable selection (Description of a Struggle) thrown in. This could be labeled the official SM erotica program, with a chance to see very different ways that SM can be imagined. Stellium in Capricorn shows the rough side of things, lovingly depicting bondage and body piercing with a gritty edge. By contrast The Elegant Spanking make the mistress/servant girl relationship into the most aesthetic, poetic thing imaginable. Golden showers never looked so arty. Julie Zando?s Uh Oh! Recasts The Story of O as a lesbian love story. The program is as are all shorts collections, hit and miss, but if you are into this sort of thing, its worth a look.

Sis: The Perry Watkins Story: Watkins is unfairly overlooked in the history of the gays in the military saga. While pretty young white boys got all the attention in the media, Watkins an African American who served in the military for 15 years as openly gay man was virtually ignored though he played a crucial role. His is the case that was successfully argued before the United States Supreme Court.

Sacred Lies Civil Truths: It?s unclear for whom exactly this documentary is intended. It gives an informative account of the New Religious Right?s initiatives in Colorado and Oregon. However for most of us this should be familiar ground, and I felt like showing it to my college freshmen class rather than my lesbian and gay friends. On the same program Our House: Lesbians and Gays in the Hood explores the often troubled relation between sexual and ethnic identity, asking, like several other films on the festival ?How can you be African American and gay??
Lesbian Avengers: Unavailable for preview, this film documents the work of the Lesbian Avengers, whose radical street theater/demonstrations challenges many sacred cows. On the same program Tim Miller: Loud and Queer will make you wish dear old Tim with his gay reinterpretation of the men?s movement and his ?all the world is performance art? philosophy, would take a vacation.

Remembrance of Things Fast: British director John Maybury uses the latest video technology to create a hallucinatory world in which bodies float and spin through computer-generated landscapes. Not for those who like things like plot and romantic interest but if you are interested in the direction of experimental video, Maybury?s use of repetition and variation and his bizarre use of actors is a road map of where the technology seems to be taking us.

Bernice Abbott: A View of the Twentieth Century: A straightforward documentary about one of the most important figures in the history of photography. Another moment where you will wonder about its place in this festival but interesting nonetheless. On the same program, Daughters of Dykes, a fresh little film about a group of friends who all have lesbian mothers. They talk about their own relationship to sexuality. Lively and engaging.

Complicated Flesh: A program of shorts that unfortunately falls more on the side of the misses than the hits. Fell starts out looking like a commercial and just when you think that is clever enough, director Frankie Franchini smartly raises the stakes. Without Saying Goodbye is not bad, and Los Dos Jorges is visually pretty, but for the most part the work is disappointing, self-indulgent and too into its own hipness.

A History of Gay Sexuality: A mixed bag of short films about sexuality. On the plus side there is the clever and pleasurable My New Roommate, which has a gay man explaining the steps of a gay pickup to his roommate director Ariella Pahlke. The lyrical Summer 1993 might as well have been called ?I had a cute boyfriend last summer? but is certainly pretty to look at, and I found myself taken in, in spite of resenting director of Robert Beck?s good fortune in boyfriends? Steve Reinke?s Dreamwork meditates on the sexual interpretations of dreams. What if you manifestly dream about sex? A good selection,, and worth the time for the few standouts.

Straight for the Money: Though I haven?t seen this documentary about sex workers it sounds like it could be a pretty interesting look at lesbians and bisexuals who make a living working through men?s sexual problems. For those who care.

Boys From Brazil: Informative but a bit on the plodding side, this documentary focuses on the lives of three transvestite prostitues in Rio de Janeiro. All three have interesting stories to tell. Also on the same program is Out In Africa, in which the na‹vet‚ of filmmakers Johnny Symons is made up for by the insights of his five interviewees. Notably, though, Symons never makes clear who is from Zimbabwe and who is from South Africa a distinction one feels might be important.?

Fred Camper, Chicago Reader November 11, 1994

?Despite its self-deprecating camp and convoluted plot, there is an appealing honesty to Bruce LaBruce's Super 8 1/2. The director plays Bruce, an over-the-hill porn star trying to restart his flagging career, in part by acting in a documentary about him by an up-and-coming lesbian filmmaker. We see footage from his porno loops and scenes from the film in progress and hear comments on Bruce's own "unfinished" epic, "Super 8 1/2." The title's two obvious references are to Fellini's famous film about his problems making a film and to the low-budget medium of Super-8. But a third meaning is supplied by a woman who suggests that it's Bruce's own overoptimistic view of his own endowment. In the explicit sex scenes, LaBruce moves beyond narcissism to its opposite. As one "critic" suggests in a pretentious voice-over analysis of one of the porn films, Bruce's performances acknowledge the camera, and his self-consciousness suggests a kind of emptiness that works against any sex appeal he might have. The way the film constantly turns back on itself, with its films-within-films and comments on them, leaves the viewer without any firm ground, suggesting the void behind self-absorption. Bruce's agonized cries, heard after the final credits, perhaps acknowledge the terror of that void.