David C. Jones reviews Queer Film Festival fare – part one
The Vancouver Queer Film Festival is at once massive and very, very small. On one hand, it’s the largest queer arts event in Western Canada and the second largest film festival in Vancouver; this year’s festival kicks off on August 15 and includes more than 100 narrative and documentary feature-length and short films from 27 countries. Those are massive numbers – but at the same time, the festival presents numerous opportunities for small moments of contemplation and intimacy. These quiet moments are largely contained in the films themselves, which together and separately demonstrate the undeniable fact that queer stories are vast and diverse and complicated and brimming with humanity. And these stories, while queer, are for everyone to witness, to ponder, and to enjoy.
With those kinds of numbers, it stands to reason that you might need a bit of help planning out your Vancouver Queer Film Festival journey – and David C. Jones is here to help. Jones is a filmmaker, comedian, event host, activist, actor, and teacher – and he’s also one of the biggest fans of the Vancouver Queer Film Festival. Ever. Over the last few weeks, Jones has watched many of the films that will be screening at this year’s Vancouver Queer Film Festival, and this article marks the first of his festival review collections. For festival tickets and schedule information, visit http://www.queerfilmfestival.ca. –Ed.
Note: these reviews contain mild spoilers.
Song Lang (2018, USA)
Directed by Leon Le
Set in 1980s Saigon, this story – about creativity and love that is unrequited – is exquisitely shot and reveals a world that many may not have seen before. A brutal debt collector, played by Lien Binh Phat, is sent to collect a debt from an opera company. There he meets a young actor, played by someone credited only as Isaac, and their eyes lock.
Just like most Western operas, this movie contains a lot of melodrama. Although heartfelt and beautifully realized, the languid pace, mixing with the heavy foreshadowing, makes the film challenging. Since the debt collector is portrayed as heterosexual, the film is more about awakening his softer creative side rather than finding a romantic or sexual relationship.
Early on in the film, the director of the opera tells the young actor that he needs to experience love and loss so he can become a better actor. That tells you everything that is going to happen in his friendship with the debt collector.
Although I personally love seeing queer film, I’m not a big fan of characters staring off into the middle-distance lost in thought as they ponder their life challenges. Both actors are so sullen and stoic that it robs them of any vitality that would make us really care about what happens to them.
However, the cinematography and the music are wonderfully realized, and it is clear the director (who also co-wrote it) really loves the story and the people in it. I just wish it was interesting or engaging.
Gay Chorus Deep South (2018 USA)
Directed by David Charles Rodrigues
This is a wonderful documentary filled with glorious music and personal stories that brought a tear to my eye.
When Donald Trump was elected president, and right wing hate and religious freedom laws began to flourish, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus decided to hit the road. They booked a tour into some of the most anti-gay states, trying to fight hate with love and creativity.
It turns out more than a couple of the members of the choir have connections to some of the states they will visit. So when the road trip is underway, we get to meet people like Jimmy who hasn’t spoken to his father in six years, Ashle who is in the middle of transitioning MTF, and a choir conductor, Tim, who was pushed out of his church when he came out.
The movie weaves its way down a winding road, with various stops – some more profound then others – but when the men start sing, either alone or with the mixed gender gospel choir that accompanies them, it is a wondrous wall of music that lifts your soul and gives you hope.
That is what the tour was about and that is what they accomplished.
Tell It to The Bees (2018, USA)
Directed by Annabel Jankel
Set in 1952, this lesbian romance takes place in a small Scottish village where a young man named Charlie is having a tough time at school because his father has recently left his mother. The bullies pick on him, and when a kindly doctor attends his bruises, a friendship forms.
The doctor is played by Anna Paquin and it is quite interesting seeing this child star all grown up. The doctor has enough trouble in the village because she’s a woman but there are also rumours swirling around because of an incident that happened when she was a young woman. As one young man explains to Charlie, “She’s a dirty dyke.”
Charlie’s mother (Holliday Grainger) is at first wary of the doctor but soon she finds she is romantically interested in her.
This movie is based on a novel of the “Harlequin Romance” variety, and it appears they had a fairly decent budget to bring it to life including some CG effects involving swarming bees.
There are some problems with the script: character motivations like that of the ex-husband seem a little random based on what the plot needs, and some dramatic moments don’t payoff (including one involving the beehives). It’s one of those romantic stories that’s more concerned with being mawkish and maudlin rather than logically constructing an engaging narrative.
However, if you want a romantic period lesbian drama featuring beautiful women kissing passionately, you will likely get a lot out of this film.
Mr. Leather (2019, Brazil)
Directed by Daniel Nolasco
This is a documentary that shows a side of the queer community that some treat with contempt and others with curiosity: the leather and BDSM world of gay men.
The setting is the second edition of the Mr. Leather contest in Brazil. We get to meet the four contestants and watch them do radio interviews and show off their wardrobes. We also learn about a little bit of controversy what happened with the first Mr. Leather contest.
The director has some cheeky fun when the film starts off and the whole thing is kept together with an engaging musical soundtrack. There are some genuinely witty moments like when one of the contestants takes a cellphone call from his mother while standing in the middle of a sling room.
We also get to see a rather graphic (although not hardcore pornography) power exchange between two men.
Although the documentary loses its focus at times (and misses out on a very powerful ending to the actual contest), and although more could’ve been done to help distinguish the men from each other, it is nonetheless a fascinating look into a forbidden world – and you won’t believe how many boots one of the contestants has!
Pictured above: a still from Mr. Leather