Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival, Reviewed
Fall in Austin marks not only a break from summer’s heat but also the beginning of the film festival season – Fantastic Fest, Austin Film Festival and before we know it SXSW. This year marked the 24th annual Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival, better known as aGLIFF. The festival, which ran from September 6 – 11, tackles many social issues from coming out to immigration to AIDS and self respect.
The festival opened with The Lulu Sessions, a documentary written, directed and produced by S. Caspar Wong. The film follows the last fifteen-months of Dr. Louise “Lulu” Nutter’s life, a renowned breast cancer researcher, as she succumbs to the very disease she’s hoping to cure. Lulu is a not your typical scientist. She curses, drinks and smokes with the best of them, a salty character to her core. Yet she is tender and rendered vulnerable by her aggressive disease. The friendship between Caspar and Lulu is an unlikely one begun in Taiwan while Lulu was setting up a research lab and Caspar was studying on scholarship. The film focuses on their nebulous friendship leaving you to wonder, are they more than friends? Caspar states Lulu would like more, but it’s something Caspar herself is not willing to give. The film is shot in a very amateur style, with shaky qualities, but it seems somewhat appropriate given the intimate exploration and bond of the pair’s friendship.
We Were Here directed by David Weissman is the most moving work I’ve seen on the AIDS epidemic of San Francisco during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Following the lives of five individuals all affected by HIV/AIDS, Weissman is able to weave a tale that is both heartbreakingly tragic yet somehow uplifting. San Francisco was a city many gay men and women gravitated toward during the 1970’s in search of better lives and like minded people. It became a city were men especially could live as themselves and openly love or sleep with whomever they chose. This sense of security began to crumble as “gay cancer” slowly emerged within San Francisco’s homosexual community. Sickness and death became almost routine as the medical field struggled to figure out this deadly affliction. We Were Here is a poignant, must-see film.
aGLIFF’s centerpiece film, Mangus!, is a tribute to all things camp. Mangus is a high school student in the small town of River City, Texas with a dream. That dream is to play Jesus in the high school’s production of Jesus Christ Spectacular. After landing the part, tragedy befalls Mangus and his best friends. Bruce (Leslie Jordan) the theater director must tell Mangus that the school board has deemed it “would not be politically correct to have a paralyzed Jesus.” What follows for Mangus is a downward spiral after he moves in with his mother (Jennifer Coolidge) and sister, Jessica Simpson (Heather Matarazzo). Mangus finds his strength to take back the role of Jesus after the real Jesus Christ (John Waters) appears before Mangus at a strip club. While several of the characters reveal their own sexual orientation, including Mangus’ sister, this film isn’t overtly about homosexuality.
Unlike, Mangus!, Going Down in LaLa Land (directed by Caspar Andreas) is without question a film about homosexuality. The story follows Adam (Matthew Ludwinski) as he moves from New York City to Hollywood having finished studying acting. He moves in with his best friend Candy (Allison Lane), also an aspiring actress. Candy convinces Adam to join her gym as it’s a great place to network. Having no success finding an acting job, Adam runs into Nick (Caspar Andreas) from the gym. Nick helps Adam get a job at Jet Set Men, a pornography company. Adam begins to delve deeper into the world of porn thanks to his cracked-out boyfriend Nick. He even becomes an escort for extra cash, which is how he meets John (Michael Medico) a beloved television star. Adam must face his demons – his druggy ex, whether or not to become a porn star and a closeted new love – in order to find himself again.
Short films screened before many of the feature films. GaySharkTank.com is a hilarious film directed by Guy Shalem. A satirical film about online dating, GaySharkTank.com is a series of chat windows, where gay men can go to meet new friends and future lovers. As soon as a new video window pops open, users have the option of liking or disliking whomever they are chatting with. They also have the opportunity to quickly close their sessions, leaving some very bewildered men yelling in disbelief. The range of users – drag queens to released prisoners, men just discovering their homosexual selves to politicians with boy fetishes – GaySharkTank.com is truly a comedy for anyone who has ever gone on a bad date.
Katie Rotondi found inspiration for her film, Free Man, from her volunteer work for the ACLU as a student in New York. Free Man is a harrowing tale, in all of 16 min., of life, death and legal rights. Free Man follows a widower, Michael, who has lost his partner of thirteen years, Charlie. Charlie’s mother refuses to listen to Michael’s instructions regarding Charlie’s funeral wishes. She discovers that he has no legal rights because Charlie did not leave a will. Rotondi’s powerful short looks at how imperative it is for all to have equal rights when it comes to life and death, love and marriage.
My only qualm with aGLIFF 24 had nothing to do with the films, but the way the festival chooses to label each film with “For the Guys”, “For the Gals” and “Ally Friendly”. With a brief synopsis of each film given, I find these labels unnecessary and a bit offensive. Film festivals are about going to see whatever strikes your fancy, in my opinion. Regardless, I’m looking forward to aGLIFF 25.
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