Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival

The 18th Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival runs Friday through Thursday, November 6 through 12, at the Music Box and continues Friday through Thursday, November 13 through 19, at the Village. The November 7 free screening of The Times of Harvey Milk will be at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington. Advance tickets for the festival can be purchased at Chicago Filmmakers, 1543 W. Division, between 10 am and 6 pm on weekdays, and between noon and 5 pm on Saturday; same-day tickets can be purchased at the venue box office starting a half hour before the first show of the day. Tickets are $7, with discount passes available. For more information call 773-384-5533 or the festival hot line at 312-409-4919. Commentary by Jonathan Rosenbaum (JR), Fred Camper (FC), Ted Shen (TS), Lawrence Bommer (LB), Meredith Brody (MB), Carol Burbank (CB), Jack Helbig (JH), Dave Kehr (DK), and Al Milgrom (AM).


Everything Will Be Fine

Angelina Maccarone directed this 1997 German film about two mismatched black lesbians who fall in love, an ambitious workaholic and a slacker who inadvertently lands a job as her housekeeper. Tickets for this benefit screening and opening-night gala are $25. (7:00)


Reno Finds Her Mom

Brassy comedian Karen Reno holds back nothing in this engrossing semidocumentary about her search for the birth mother who abandoned her. Considering its subject, this film by Lydia Dean Pilcher is surprisingly playful, with fantasy sequences that range from comic-book graphics to gritty film noir; Reno gets harebrained advice from fairy godmother Lily Tomlin, while Mary Tyler Moore appears as Reno’s mother, an icy WASP straight out of Ordinary People. The real-life stuff is even more absorbing, especially when Reno confronts the arrogant adoption agency that guards the secret of her origins. Reno’s meeting with her mother proves anticlimactic–the woman refused to be filmed–but the real payoff comes from watching Reno howl with delight at each revelation. In the end she discovers how little her past matters: she can never go home. Reno will attend the screening. (LB) (1:00)

Out of Season

In less skillful hands this might have been Hollywood melodrama–a rootless, 40-something woman (Carol Mondo) leaves New York City to care for a dying uncle in New Jersey and finds love instead–but this beautifully written indie feature avoids the usual cliches. The uncle never rages against the dying of the light or indulges in tearful reminiscences, the niece comes to no heart-stopping epiphanies about her wandering ways, and when she finds love, it’s in the arms of a local waitress. Director Jeanette L. Buck tells a moving, graceful story about three flawed but likable people and how their lives become entwined and enriched. The small cast is excellent; in particular, Mondo’s understated performance highlights the subtlety of Kim McNabb’s quiet, finely hued screenplay. (JH) (3:00)

The Times of Harvey Milk

If this 1984 film were at all right-wing, I’d probably resent it for just those reasons that make it seem such an exceptional piece of documentary filmmaking: its smooth narrative presentation, its superb placement of dramatic climaxes, its way of appearing calm and impartial while artfully leading the audience to a sense of outrage. Milk was the openly gay San Francisco supervisor who was murdered in 1978, along with Mayor George Moscone, by fellow supervisor Dan White. Filmmakers Robert Epstein and Richard Schmiechen employ a classic propaganda technique when they use our sympathy for the man to build sympathy for his movement. The film convinces you that Harvey Milk was a great individual; the more difficult and more important task is to convince the viewer that Milk’s courageous support of minority rights is a great cause. (DK) (Chicago Cultural Center, 3:00)


Gabi, a young lesbian and burglar, has the detachment and survival skills of a street cat; leaving a trail of corpses behind her, she seduces partners in crime by spinning elaborate stories of their future together, then discards them the moment they stop doing what she wants. Spanish director Daniel Calparsoro creates a convincing and amoral underworld held together by greed and pity, its characters dwarfed by the warehouses and desolate docks of a generic city, but Gabi’s hypnotic effect on her companions never makes much sense. Doll-like Najwa Nimri is easy to imagine as a child-woman luring others with the promise of innocent avarice, but the monotonous brutality of the story and cinematography turns the film into a flat character study of a sociopath: Gabi’s sketchy fantasies never seem half as important as her ability to grab handfuls of cash and knock people over the head without remorse. (CB) (5:00)

Finding North

A deepening friendship between opposites unexpectedly thrown together has been a Hollywood formula at least as far back as It Happened One Night; director Tanya Wexler and screenwriter Kim Powers add a 90s twist, creating an unlikely romance between a kooky working-class woman and a dignified gay yuppie recovering from the death of his lover. The gay-straight device allows for some clever jokes about mistaken sexuality, gender roles, and the singles scene, but it also dissipates much of the sexual tension. The story becomes interesting only in the second half, when the couple travels from New York to a desolate Texas town on a scavenger hunt that the man’s lover designed as a way of revealing his past. Wexler, a former Chicagoan and the niece of cinematographer Haskell Wexler, approaches the story with the earnestness of a recent film school grad (which she is); switching between the two leads in the narrative, she simply crosscuts as if splicing different films. She’s at her best overseeing the fine ensemble; it’s no small feat jerking tears from the moment of silent grief shared by the man and his lover’s aunt. (TS) (7:00)

Like It Is

There’s nothing particularly daring or earth-shattering in this English feature by Paul Oremland, about the stormy relationship between a handsome, commitment-shy record producer (Ian Rose) and a doe-eyed boxer (Steve Ball) trying to fight his way out of the slums of Blackpool. Robert Gray’s screenplay is packed with showbiz stereotypes–the unscrupulous Svengali, the temperamental diva on her way down, the no-talent group being groomed as the next big thing–and the producer’s dilemma, choosing between love and professional success as manager of his own club, could be the biggest cliche of all. But Rose and Bell are quite compelling–the latter is particularly good as the confused and closeted young man unable to decide between boxing and a man he’s terrified of loving–and Roger Daltry is a scream as the ruthless, appearance-obsessed head of a record company. (JH) (9:15)


John Huckert’s taut police thriller received some press when two LA film labs, Deluxe Hollywood and Technicolor, refused to print it because it featured “men kissing” and “guys together.” It does include an extended sex scene between the two main characters, a closeted police detective and the rough-hewn drifter who’s secretly cutting a swath through the gay community, but it’s hardly graphic and nothing compared to the film’s steadily escalating violence. Of course, Hollywood has always preferred killing to kissing. More disturbing is the way Huckert and cinematographer John Matkowsky twist the conventions of a worn-out genre to reveal the depth of homophobia surrounding the cop: tracking a killer who specializes in young gay men, he has as much to fear from his gay-bashing colleagues as from the psycho roaming the streets. Huckert, making his feature debut, is able to evoke the formulas of the genre even as he deconstructs it. (JH) (11:30)


The Human Race

Diagnosed with HIV in 1991, Robert Hudson wanted to prove that people with AIDS can live vigorous, adventurous lives thanks to recent advances in treatment, so he borrowed a sloop–the Survivor–assembled a crew of men living with HIV, and put them through the Transpacific Yacht Race, a 2,200-mile journey from California to Hawaii. Bobby Houston’s documentary follows Hudson as he raises funds, builds a crew of weekend sailors and rank amateurs (including Houston), and competes in the race; the film is both a tightly edited sea adventure and a moving testament to the strength of the human spirit. From time to time Houston slips into soporific travelogue, especially when things calm down on deck, but he keeps these moments to a minimum, filling most of the quieter moments with moving portraits of the crewmen. (JH) (1:00)

Shock Treatment

This evening of short, darkly comic horror films, curated by Birgit Scheuch, is meant to avenge “decades of horror films with heinous homosexual perpetrators and drag queen exploitation.” In the ghoulishly funny Clancy’s Kitchen (1997), a closeted TV chef finds his life, career, and sham wedding engagement endangered when his live-in boyfriend kills an intruder. The chef’s solution may be predictable–at least to anyone who’s seen Sweeney Todd–but director Duncan Roy’s tight, witty script keeps us guessing to the very end. Eric Marciano’s satiric Narrowcast (1996), about a TV show that mocks troubled homosexuals by filming them as they talk to their shrinks, is a rough, intentionally schlocky film, with a flawed sound track and flat acting right out of an old John Waters film, yet Marciano gets in some sharp digs at psychiatrists, cable programmers, and staged “reality” shows. On the same program, Harry Victor’s Lycanthrophobia and Paul Sbrizzi’s It Dwells in Mirrors. (JH) (3:00)

Honey, I Sent the Men to the Moon

Filmed in Barcelona with English-speaking actors, this frantic screwball comedy is subtitled in Spanish–the first of many oddities. WonderNapKing, a female-run manufacturer of sanitary napkins, experiences a worldwide sales slump as menstrual periods are shortened by stress and gender discrimination. CEO Rosa Bosch (Marta Balletbo-Coll) decides that men, the source of all women’s problems, must be destroyed; she adds gamma radiation to a new toothpaste, and overnight all men vanish and reappear on the moon, where they’re kept in perpetual quarantine. Back on earth, crime and corruption plummet, and cocaine queen Colombia White forces a CIA agent to retrieve the men so they can reinstate war, drug addiction, and other economic stimulants. This overplotted story gets sillier by the reel, its thuddingly predictable put-down of male idiocy recalling everything from Lysistrata to Pedro Almodovar to the Kids in the Hall. But despite the simplistic satire and perfunctory ending, this is enjoyable fluff, energized by the players’ mugging and histrionics. It’s probably best seen high–which is undoubtedly how it was conceived. Directed by Balletbo-Coll and Simeon Curego. (LB) (5:00)

Angel on My Shoulder

Cult actress Gwen Welles had a dazzling debut at 19 as the vulnerable aspiring country singer forced to strip for an unappreciative audience in Robert Altman’s Nashville. In the years that followed, she led a glamorous life of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll but never fulfilled the promise of her debut. She became friends with director Donna Deitch after acting in her film Desert Hearts. When Welles was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer at 42, Deitch agreed to make a film about the end of her life. Welles is amazingly touching and inspirational as she unflinchingly examines her physical deterioration and reactions to her eventual death, though her vanity–she refuses a possibly lifesaving colostomy operation because it might disfigure her–pop spirituality, and overwhelming narcissism make her annoying and exasperating. This movie should move anybody interested in the issues that surround love and friendship and the mystery and cruelty of death. (MB) (7:00)

Sixth Happiness

Firdaus Kanga, an Anglo-Indian writer who’s been confined to a wheelchair since childhood, plays a fictionalized version of himself in this coming-of-age story about a lovably eccentric Parsi family in Bombay coping valiantly and comically with the son’s congenital bone disease. But casting the 37-year-old Kanga as a character who ages from 8 to 18 invites disbelief, a postmodern strategy that clashes with director Waris Hussein’s literalness and lack of irony. Kanga’s script, adapted from his autobiographical novel, is riddled with transparent plot devices and cliched signposts of homosexuality, yet this 1997 British film still fascinates, not least because its mostly Indian crew has faithfully re-created the bustling Bombay of the 60s as well as the insularity of its Muslim subculture. (TS) (9:15)


Steam–The Turkish Bath

Interior designer Francesco (Alessandro Gassman, son of Vittorio) has a thriving business in Rome, but one day he receives a letter from the Turkish embassy that his aunt has died and left him some property in Istanbul. He decides to travel to Turkey and oversee the disposition of the estate, leaving his wife behind–their marriage is on the rocks anyway. Once in Istanbul, he’s surprised to discover that the property is actually a large traditional Turkish bath, one of the few still in operation. It stirs up fond memories of his aunt, and as he warms to the bath’s custodian and his exuberant wife and family, he decides to remain in Turkey and restore the bath. It’s around this time that his unfaithful wife, now repentant, shows up. This is Turkish director Ferzan Ozpetek’s first feature, and it has taken several major festival prizes. The Istanbul color is also a plus. (AM) (7:00)

Sex/Life in L.A.

Jochen Hick directed this German documentary about the male erotica industry in Los Angeles, profiling various models, porn stars, performance artists, and beefcake merchants. (9:15)


The Sticky Fingers of Time

Director Hilary Brougher combines the sexy languor of film noir with a tongue-in-cheek SF sensibility in this film about Tucker, a mystery writer who becomes unstuck in time after she witnesses the first test of the atomic bomb. She and Drew, a suicidally depressed would-be writer from the 90s, learn the dangers and frustrations of time travel and the potential for self-invention through desire as they make seemingly random leaps from decade to decade, encountering a wilderness populated by “time freaks” who could be friends or enemies. Though complicated, the plot has an interesting payoff, the slow burn of an understated but surprisingly erotic love story that crisscrosses 40 years. There’s also a very queer sensibility to the film: Brougher uses a subtle camp aesthetic to explore illusory appearances, and with exquisite detail and a spare wit the costumes and cinematography cite fashion and film conventions to establish the decade of any given scene. Seeded with playful references to 50s SF and even Alice in Wonderland, the film cleverly imagines a time line cluttered with what might have been, impossibilities and inevitabilities that are never what they seem. (CB) (7:00)

East Palace, West Palace

In a Beijing park one night, a gay writer is arrested by the policeman he has a crush on, prompting a long, ambiguous battle of wills and a series of psychological games. Director Zhang Yuan (Mama, Beijing Bastards, Sons), a mainland Chinese independent, is heterosexual but seems to have read Genet: this 1996 feature reaches for a mise en scene more theatrical than one finds in his earlier documentaries and semidocumentaries. The results are more querulous than clearly focused, though the edginess may keep one interested. The title, incidentally, is a gay joke referring to the public toilets located east and west of the Forbidden Palace. (JR) (9:15)


International Girls’ Shorts

Sambal Belacan in San Francisco (1997), directed by Madeleine Lim, is a portrait of three lesbians from Singapore who wrestle with their sexual and cultural identity after emigrating to the U.S. Faery Godmothers (1997), by British filmmaker Debs McCann, follows a young Irish lesbian as she journeys to London. Jamie Babbit’s Sleeping Beauties is about a young funeral parlor makeup artist in southern California. On the same program: Amal Bedjaoui’s French short Shoot Me Angel (1993) and Shamiran Samano’s East. (7:00)

International Boys’ Shorts

Of the four films available for preview, Joel Moffett’s My Body (1997) is the best: Charlie, a closeted gay man, wakes after a sexual encounter to find himself with an exaggerated hard-on and a dead clone of himself, caused by the rare disease “Sexually Repressed Shedding Disorder.” Played at a fever pitch, this wild parody of self-loathing and self-denial is sometimes excessive but also genuinely appropriate to its subject: the insanity of living in the closet when the world is already half mad. Charles Bracewell’s syrupy Siren (1996), in which a young soldier on a pier mourns a dead friend who suddenly appears as a nude siren, is more effective as erotica than as a meditation on loss. In Carl Pfirman’s Boy Next Door a brother and sister each have a crush on their frequently bare-chested new neighbor; their sibling rivalry is amusing, but the ending is trite. Simon Chung’s Stanley Beloved follows the friendship of two Hong Kong teens, only one of whom seems to be gay; slow and moody, it never quite comes together. On the same program, Mrs. Craddock’s Complaint (1997) by Tony Ayres. (FC) (9:15)


Amor de hombre

Like the shallow hit My Best Friend’s Wedding, this lighthearted 1997 Spanish comedy depicts a warm friendship between a gay man and a lonely straight woman, yet unlike the other film it does so without erasing the man’s sexuality. If anything Ramon is too obsessed with sex, living as he does in a fantasy version of Madrid populated by willing studmuffins. Esperanza’s Madrid, on the other hand, is an emotional desert; she’s all but given up on finding the right man and spends her time hanging around with Ramon’s crowd. Anyone hoping for action will be frustrated by the film’s lazy pace, but writer-directors Yolanda Garcia Serrano and Juan Luis Iborra have crafted a warm, compassionate, and witty story of two mild eccentrics and the comfortable world they build for themselves and their friends. (JH) (7:00)

Relax . . . It’s Just Sex

A strong cast redeems P.J. Castellaneta’s contrived, soapy portrait of all-confessing friends. The converging story lines involve a young woman (Jennifer Tilly) who’s hungry to bear a child despite the fact that her boyfriend wants out, a gay playwright (Mitchell Anderson) who rapes the basher who tried to kill him, two God-fearing studs, a lesbian couple who can’t settle on their sexuality, and an HIV-positive man whose artist-lover spouts loony theories about AIDS. Trying to cover the sexual waterfront, the film touches on trust, commitment, and the virtues of single bliss versus mutual admiration, yet there are worse cinematic crimes than trying to tell too much. Castellaneta, who also wrote the screenplay, has a feel for the quirks and contradictions of his demographically needy characters, assigning them a contagious tolerance as well as the obligatory love, valor, and compassion, and while they can be exasperatingly smug and breezy, one ends up believing that they need each other. (LB) (9:15)

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Paseyes film still.