Reeling 2000, the 20th Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival, continues Friday through Thursday, November 10 through 16; screenings this week will be at City North 14, Landmark’s Century Centre, and Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark. Advance tickets can be purchased at Chicago Filmmakers 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 only. Tickets are $7.50, $6.50 for shows before 5 pm, with discount passes available. For more information call 773-293-1447 or the festival hot line at 312-409-3191. Films marked with a 4 are highly recommended.


Girl Trouble

Quality seems inversely proportional to length in this collection of shorts. Dominique Zeltzman’s delightful Girl Under the Table managed both to satisfy and to leave me wanting more with its compact three-minute tale of a six-year-old in love with her brother’s girlfriend. Nikki Harmon’s A Little Fierce (1999) loads too many choices into 29 minutes as an African-American teen (Alana Ward) struggles to come out while honoring obligations to family and community–though her fantasy life with her TV idol, the heroic dyke Fierce, is sweet and funny. Shahin Afnan pays homage to early experimental films in the UK short The Visit (1999); its rapid-fire images accompany the sound track’s story without explaining it, though it could do without the mandatory shot of the protagonist gazing soberly at herself while applying lipstick. Ashley, 22 (1999) by Monica Tullia Nolan is a charming if predictable comedy about a boomer smitten with a much younger woman. Other works wear out their welcome: A. Rosser Goodman’s Life’s a Butch spends 14 silent minutes getting to the point of its one joke; the denouement of Jennifer Thuy Lan Phang’s Love, Ltd. (1999) is apparent a mile away; and the wonderful moments in Monique Le Tran’s Georgia (1999), in which a Vietnamese immigrant discovers herself through an affair with a stripper, are outweighed by old-movie tropes about sex workers teaching men the meaning of life. 107 min. (Kelly Kleiman) (Landmark’s Century Centre, 7:00)

In and Out of Bed

These videos on lesbian sex remind us that it comes in all varieties, from exhibitionist to sadomasochistic. The most intriguing is Ladies of the Night, a half-hour fantasy in which a young woman is magically transported to a mansion whose two mistresses tie her up, probe her orifices, and administer light beatings. Directors Maria Beatty and R. Pettet seem to reference Louis Feuillade’s Les vampires and silent films in general with their intertitles, their high-contrast images, and a measured pace that builds real erotic tension. Rosa Lau’s three-minute In the Dark (1999) uses light even more poetically: a lone woman grabs a lightbulb that bleaches her body and swings it in front of her crotch, creating a powerful sexual metaphor. High-contrast imagery turns women’s flesh into light in Leslie Satterfield’s Scar, while a voice-over praises physical imperfection. In Heilman-C’s documentary Self Portrait: Women Loving Women (1998), gorgeous models at an art gallery have sex with each other and reach across the ropes, trying to entice female visitors to join them; it’s presented as performance art, but most of the visitors interviewed seem to think of it as porn. From Canada, Kore Cara (1999) tells a story of two lovers, one of whom has AIDS; director Mia Pendra briefly freezes individual frames, producing a familiar slowed-down look, but her uncontrolled use of the technique does little more than deobjectify the figures. On the same program, Paula Parrish’s Eve and Louanne Ponder’s RRRing RRRing (1999). 88 min. (FC) (Chicago Filmmakers, 7:00)

The Journey of Jared Price

By turns harrowing and appealing, Dustin Lance Black’s digital-video feature follows Jared, a clean-cut, courteous young man, as he arrives in Hollywood from his native Georgia. At a hostel he hooks up with another young transient who kindles his homosexuality, and working for a rich, blind matron he’s seduced by her sleek, libidinous son, who then invites him into a threesome with his boyfriend. Black’s script has elements of soap opera, but he doesn’t boldface them, and rather than make an issue of homosexuality he allows his characters to anguish over their hopes, unfaithfulness, and bad decisions. Corey Spears is sweet and forthright as Jared (though Black never explains why he would forsake his hometown for Hollywood, of all places). Given the low budget and six-day shooting schedule, video was a necessity, but it also lends the story a powerful intimacy and intrusiveness: we’re privy to Jared’s tentative first kisses as well as the sights he records with his own camcorder. 90 min. (TS) (City North 14, 7:00)

Are You Greedy?

Federica Tuzi and Cristina Vuolo directed this 60-minute Italian video documentary whose seven parts examine different issues that affect lesbians around the world. On the same program, Guadalupe Olvera San Miguel’s video documentary And the March Continues (1997, 30 min.), about the lesbian-rights movement in Mexico. (Chicago Filmmakers, 9:00)

Queer as Folk, program one

Episodes one through four of the 1999 British TV series about young gay men in Manchester. The series breaks new ground with its unblinking look at the club scene and its discreetly steamy on-screen sex. The intertwined stories offer a variety of types, from the constantly “shagging” Stuart, who forgets his tricks’ names, to his best friend Vince, who suffers from low self-esteem. The dialogue can be entertainingly catty (during an excursion to a straight pub, one of them marvels, “They’re even talking in sentences which have no punch lines!”) and the characters have some depth, for TV at least. On the other hand, Stuart’s night with gorgeous 15-year-old Nathan seems a rather exploitative way to begin the series, and there are no references to condoms. Despite the title, the queers who are real folk rather than media cliches are consigned to the background. Charles McDougall directed. 140 min. (FC) (Landmark’s Century Centre, 9:00)

Love = Me3

Picture a porn video without the sex and you’ll have a pretty good notion of this awkward and unfunny relationship comedy about the unlikely menage a trois between a Hispanic man (played by the director, Agustin) and two lesbian lovers (Evly Pacheco and Angelica Ordenez). Agustin charts the difficulties created by the trio’s unspoken expectations as well as their opinionated and uncomprehending friends, who deliver weak humor in the form of monologues spoken directly to the camera. With its bad writing (Agustin again), amateurish acting, and self-absorbed characters, this dud makes the average novela on Telemundo look like high art. 85 min. (Reece Pendleton) (City North 14, 9:15)


Kid Pix

Anthony Bell’s wonderful animated video The Sissy Duckling (1999, 39 min.), created for HBO from a screenplay by Harvey Fierstein, recasts Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling” as the story of a classic sissy: he hates sports, loves theater, and prefers the girl ducklings to the bullying jock ducks. As in the original, the very qualities that make him an outcast later turn out to be hidden strengths. Simple but effective, the video features the voices of Sharon Stone, Melissa Etheridge, Dionne Warwick, and Fierstein as the title character. Much less impressive is Debra Chasnoff’s documentary That’s a Family (35 min.), which offers glimpses of gay parents, adoptive parents, mixed-race families, and single-parent families, suggesting that even the most complicated family units can be founded on love and respect. Though it’s jazzed up with cool effects, the film is weighed down by its own good intentions; it feels like a health-class film for the new millennium. (Jack Helbig) (Landmark’s Century Centre, 11:00 am)

We Are Transgenders

Lulu Ogawa’s fascinating 1998 video documentary depicts a wide cross-section of Japanese transgendered people, from drag queens to FTMs to intersex activists to male transvestites. They tell familiar stories of exclusion and abuse while growing up, discuss the need for safe spaces where they can express their complex identities, and reveal the cost of black-market hormones and the physical pain of sex-reassignment surgery. They talk about the difficulty of finding employment outside drag bars and the problem of marrying in a country where one’s “family registration” can’t be changed to conform to a new gender identity. Ogawa deftly juxtaposes politics and pleasure: the founder of the “Fake Ladies” club for male transvestites talks about the importance of working with other marginalized groups to change Japanese culture, all during a trip to a hot springs spa. Perhaps the most challenging segment deals with a love match between a drag queen and a self-described stone butch, who agreed to marry only if her dyke partner would carry their baby. 78 min. (Laura Stempel) (City North 14, 12:30)

Young and Restless

One of Them (1998), Stewart Main’s stark 46-minute drama about growing up gay in middle-class New Zealand, proves you don’t need a lot of screen time to pack a wallop. The delinquent Lemmy and his sweeter, gentler sidekick, Jamie, flip through fashion magazines, cause trouble, and dream of the day they can escape to London, Paris, or New York. Scripted by Peter Wells from his own short story and shot with finesse by Paul Sullivan, the film contains many haunting images, such as Lemmy’s suicide attempt and the boys’ trashing of a vacation cottage. The other entries in this program of shorts suffer by comparison: Bryan McHenry’s Drawing Girls (1999), about two adolescent friends who discover their divergent sexual interests while drawing superheroes, and Stuart Vauvert’s 1999 Australian short Heather Locklear Chocolate, about a young man whose quest in life is to find the best nail polish, are so sloppily assembled that they seem like student films. The young scapegoat in Richard Fung and Tim McCaskell’s Canadian short School Fag (1998) and the 12-year-old drag prodigy in Stacey Foiles’s whimsical Jake: Today I Become a Man are interesting enough to merit full-length documentaries, but neither of these videos is long enough to do them justice. (Jack Helbig) (Landmark’s Century Centre, 12:30)

The Brian Epstein Story

Produced in 1999 for the BBC series “Arena,” this two-and-a-half-hour video documentary presents an exhaustive and ultimately exhausting portrait of Brian Epstein, the Liverpool department store manager who discovered the Beatles and transformed the British entertainment industry. Director Anthony Wall doesn’t reveal much about Epstein’s homosexuality besides the usual stories of rough-trade adventures gone wrong and the conventional wisdom that he sublimated his romantic longing through “his boys.” But he does capture Epstein’s fine imagination and irresistible enthusiasm, without which the British Invasion would never have happened, and as Marianne Faithfull points out, Epstein’s equation of pop music with art, theater, and fashion helped to shape Swinging London. (Faithfull is by far the wisest and sharpest of Wall’s sources; she even deflates the old chestnut that Epstein was led to the Beatles by a store customer requesting their music, arguing that he saw the band while cruising Liverpool’s clubs by night.) The interview sequences tend to be badly lit and awkwardly shot, and the intriguing collection of photos and archival footage is dragged down by interminable sequences of the more marginal subjects prowling around sites in Liverpool and London. Jude Law provides the voice-over from Epstein’s journals; the talking heads include Gerry Marsden, Billy J. Kramer, George Martin, Peter Brown, Lionel Bart, and a typically scrambled-looking Paul McCartney. (J.R. Jones) (City North 14, 2:00)


The drunken game of William Tell in which William S. Burroughs shot and killed his wife, Joan Vollmer, has long been one of the more sensational tales of the beat generation, and Hollywood was bound to get to it sooner or later. This neatly scripted docudrama, set between 1944 and 1951 and shot on location in Mexico, focuses on Vollmer’s unrealized romance with Lucien Carr (Norman Reedus), the Saint Louis gadabout who connected Burroughs with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. By consigning the literary lions to supporting roles, writer-director Gary Walkow manages to trim the legend back down to the common tragedy of a promising life cut short, yet the film never overcomes its casting of Courtney Love, a blond bombshell with a tabloid past of her own, as Vollmer, a plain, brunette bookworm and alcoholic. It also forfeits its claim to be “entirely factual and based on extensive research” by omitting the couple’s young children, Julie and Billy Jr., from Vollmer’s drunken road trip with Carr and Ginsberg to see the live volcano Paricutin. Ron Livingston is excellent as Ginsberg, the film’s de facto narrator, and Kiefer Sutherland is admirably restrained in the role of Burroughs, the biggest invitation to caricature since Rod Steiger tackled W.C. Fields. With Sam Trammell and Kyle Secor. 90 min. (J.R. Jones) (Landmark’s Century Centre, 2:15)

Lonesome Cowboys

Andy Warhol’s last feature as a director (1967) is one of his campiest, but not one of his best; it features Taylor Mead, Viva, and Joe Dallesandro in a western setting (the film was shot in Arizona), and the superstars lend it whatever life it has. (JR) (Landmark’s Century Centre, 4:00)

Johnny Greyeyes

This family drama from Canada eschews a linear narrative for an effectively jumbled mosaic of locales: Clay is an aspiring rock star living on the grittier side of Toronto; his sister, Johnny, is about to be released from a prison for violent women but doesn’t want to leave her lover, Lana; meanwhile, their mother lives on a drab reservation. Director Jorge Manuel Manzano emigrated from Chile to Canada as a boy; his video meanders occasionally, but its mix of different times and places movingly renders the broken threads of a family torn by abuse and murder. 79 min. (FC) (City North 14, 5:00)

Youth Outloud!

We rarely hear directly from queer youth about their experience of school, so video documentarians Kathy Hines and Becky Burklee make an important contribution to the dialogue simply by compiling interviews from a dozen or so students in the U.S. The kids tell riveting and emotional stories of struggling with their identities, coming out to their families, and trying to cope with the rejection and violence that can follow them through adolescence. For every Danielle, whose mother accepted her trans identity and supported her MTF transition, there’s a Daniel, whose mother initially supported his homosexuality but eventually throws him out because she can’t deal with seeing him stabbed at school and deliberately hit by a car (the coincidence of their names is arresting in itself). Gay and straight teachers try to curb the homophobia that makes school a physical and emotional danger zone, yet a well-meaning guidance counselor also remarks that she can’t imagine anyone wanting to beat up a “queer” student. 46 min. On the same program, the half-hour Canadian short Inside Out Queer Youth, a collection of films produced by teens as part of the Toronto Lesbian and Gay Film Festival’s youth outreach program–including Sarah and Elaina Evans’s “What About Her?,” concering the rejection of queer homeless teens by Toronto’s gay and lesbian community. (Laura Stempel) (Chicago Filmmakers, 5:00)

Two Brides and a Scalpel

Three videos that challenge traditional concepts of sex and gender identity. The most affecting is Laleh Soomekh and Porter Gale’s XXXY (13 min.): two individuals born with features of both genders describe hideous multiple surgeries and identity crises that brought them to the edge of suicide, and implore us to protect infants and young children from these operations. In contrast, Lulu Ogawa’s cheery, lighthearted My Sexuality (40 min.) shows young LGBT Japanese mostly at peace with themselves; one speaks of being attracted to the individual rather than the gender. Two Brides and a Scalpel (55 min.) presents the first legally married same-sex couple in Canada; they married as man and woman, and then came the scalpel. Despite Linda’s enthusiastic “review” of Georgina’s new vagina, images of the still-scarred vulva aren’t the best advertisement for a sex change. Directed by Mark Achbar (Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media). (FC) (Landmark’s Century Centre, 6:15)

The Shape of the Gaze

Twelve films and videos on voyeurism and exhibitionism. From France, Pierre Yves Clouin’s wry, haikulike videos invite us to stare: I’ve Got Mouths All Over (1999) shows his body in a gender-ambiguous manner, the camera’s closeness expressing the same displacement one feels looking at oneself, and in The Final Touch a handheld camera imparts a powerful verisimilitude to the photo of a partially nude man who begins moving. In Nelson Henricks’s Canadian short Handyman (1999) a painter and roofer are observed from an apartment window; the careful framing and selection make them seem erotic enough that the subsequent masturbation scene is superfluous. Other works confront our gaze: In Maia Cybelle Carpenter’s dryly witty The Shape of the Gaze butch women stare assertively at the camera, intercut with tools and machine parts. In Mitsunori Akimoto’s dreamily poetic Japanese short Afterimage a phone conversation about a schoolmate is conveyed in subtitles over images of empty, decrepit rooms, suggesting the impossibility of retrieving the past. Rodrigue Jean’s 1998 Canadian short Call Waiting (based on the same Jean Cocteau play Roberto Rossellini adapted in L’amore) presents only one side of a phone conversation, with unnervingly close shots of the speaker, though it pointlessly cuts away to images seen from a car window. On the same program, Clouin’s Honey Bunny (1999) and Nunette and films by Alain Pelletier, Imelda Picherit, Nina Xoomsai, and Marcus Young. 83 min. (FC) (Chicago Filmmakers, 7:00)

What Madness Made Them?

Women get even in this international program of short videos. Alex Hinton spoofs the power of consumerism in The Perfect Shade (1999), as two shoppers tussle over a lipstick. Anne Golden’s Canadian short Big Girl Town is a spaghetti western in which the chocaholic ladies of the title burg clash with the women of Thin Girl Town. From Germany, Ewjenia Tsanana’s Waters of Horror smartly spoofs the documentary format with its tale of synchronized swimmers who thwart fascist spies. Tejal Shah and Anuj Vaidya’s Chingari Chumma satirizes the macho cliches of Bollywood movies as a male slave is forced to act out the heroine’s sadomasochistic fantasies. In Lisa Ginsburg’s heavy-handed Override a sexually harassed secretary gets revenge on her bastard boss, and in Marina Colby’s The Lesbian Avengers Go to Washington (1999) lesbian activists carry out Michael Moore-style ambushes on Capitol Hill homophobes. On the same program, Amanda Raine’s Women in Black (1998), Kim Beecroft’s On Goldie Pond (1999), and Michelle Groskopf’s Women in Prison. 108 min. (Lawrence Bommer) (City North 14, 7:00)

The Journey of Jared Price

See listing for Friday, November 10. (Landmark’s Century Centre, 8:15)

In and Out of Bed

See listing for Friday, November 10. (Chicago Filmmakers, 9:00)

Queer as Folk, program one

See listing for Friday, November 10. (City North 14, 9:00)

Do You Like to Watch?

Short videos from Germany, Canada, and the U.S. 91 min. (Landmark’s Century Centre, 10:00)


Hope Eternal

This program of shorts dealing with the AIDS epidemic seems to prove Plato’s assertion that death is the beginning of all philosophy. The sublime documentary Hope Is the Thing With Feathers (1999) focuses on poet and painter Beau Riley, whose heart opened as he nursed his dying lover. The result was an outpouring of verse and watercolors, which director Andy Abrahams weaves into Riley’s reminiscences to create a deeply moving tone poem. In the cautionary video Soft Smoke: AIDS in the Rural West, Jennie Franks reveals how deeply AIDS has penetrated the backwaters of America, whose people still refuse to believe they could fall prey to this “city folks” illness. Filmed with skill and sensitivity by Franks and Dean Rolley, the video provides a glimpse into rural life that rarely makes it onto the local news. Jay Corcoran’s Undetectable: The New Face of AIDS may look like a TV news segment with its flat, glossy camera work, but Corcoran explodes the media myth that drug cocktails arrest the development of AIDS, demonstrating that for every happy story there’s another that ends in sorrow: in one a housewife who contracted HIV from her philandering husband weeps uncontrollably upon learning that her protease-inhibitor therapy has failed. 81 min. (Jack Helbig) (Landmark’s Century Centre, 11:00 am)


This rather stolid 150-minute British TV documentary, written by John Lyttle and directed by David Jeffcock, offers a limited though sometimes illuminating chronicle of gay theater over the last 100 years, focusing almost entirely on white male writers whose plays reflected and shaped attitudes and laws governing homosexuality. The first part examines the subterfuges of Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward, Terence Rattigan, and William Inge, who dressed their critiques of moral convention in heterosexual drag; the second notes the increasing openness of such writers as Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, and Joe Orton; the final portion examines debates over sexual politics in the era of gay liberation and AIDS, as expressed by Harvey Fierstein, Martin Sherman, Larry Kramer, William Hoffman, and Tony Kushner. Lyttle and Jeffcock acknowledge the controversial Tea and Sympathy and The Boys in the Band as theatrical landmarks (though they err in saying the latter played on Broadway), but the documentary neglects lesbian-themed theater, artists of color, musicals like Cabaret and La Cage aux Folles, and, strangely, any mention of Charles Ludlam or Terrence McNally. The talking heads include commentators (Quentin Crisp, John Lahr, John Clum, Nicholas de Jongh) and artists (Albee, Kushner, Hoffman, Kramer, Mart Crowley, Lanford Wilson, Paul Rudnick, Robert Patrick, Doric Wilson, and English director Neil Bartlett, whose inept gender-bending Twelfth Night at the Goodman still lingers painfully in the memory); interspersed are enacted scenes from classic plays, including Orton’s still-hilarious What the Butler Saw, John van Druten’s 1950 Broadway hit Bell, Book and Candle (whose comic treatment of 20th-century witches resonates as a metaphor for hidden homosexuality), and Mae West’s pioneering camp comedy The Drag. Quoth one tough transvestite in West’s attitude-packed script: “When I walk up Tenth Avenue you can just smell the meat sizzlin’ in Hell’s Kitchen.” Why can’t they write dialogue like that today? (Albert Williams) (City North 14, noon)

. . . But I Was a Girl: The Story of Freida Belinfante

By the late 1930s the half-Jewish butch dyke Freida Belinfante was a successful cellist and the first woman in the Netherlands to conduct her own orchestra, but when World War II interrupted her career she joined the resistance, forging documents so that others could escape the Nazis. After the war she settled in southern California and found another orchestra, though her conducting career was stymied again by professional jealousies and homophobia. This 1998 Dutch documentary by Toni Boumans profiles the brilliant and charming Belinfante through a mix of archival material and interviews with the subject, her sister, her colleagues, and her last lover, who says she bounced back from every defeat until her death from cancer in 1995. In one interview Belinfante notes that the war destroyed her optimism about humanity, but the film documents a rich and ultimately happy life (69 min). On the same program, another biography from the Netherlands: Bart Van Esch’s You Can’t Go Home Again (1998, 55 min.), about Klaus Mann, the son of novelist Thomas Mann. An openly bisexual writer who spent World War II in Amsterdam, Klaus suffered from depression, marginalization, and drug addiction; he attempted suicide several times and died in his early 40s, though his famous father was too busy doing a reading for Swedish radio to attend his son’s funeral. (Laura Stempel) (Landmark’s Century Centre, 1:00)

A Boy Named Sue

Julie Wyman’s 57-minute video documentary follows a female-to-male sex change over the course of six years. On the same program, Judye Barros’s 1999 video documentary Such a Good Guy (20 min.), about a gay black man in Brazil who immigrates to London. (City North 14, 3:00)

Mistaken Identity

Back Story (1999), a short by John Scott Matthews, isn’t about mistaken identity at all; charming, moving, and mildly campy, it lovingly parodies Hollywood musicals and hard-bitten showbiz stories with its portrait of a fictional drag queen. In Betty Anderson a Japanese-American detective investigates a mysterious murder-suicide attempt while her own private life falls apart; video maker Mako Kamitsuna labels her beautifully shot police procedural a work in progress, which explains the sometimes incoherent plot. Bill Basquin’s nine-minute short The Ride records a day in the life of a butch cabdriver, while Armande Raine’s UK film The Grass Is Greener (1999) provides some quick laughs when a lesbian and a drag queen find themselves paired off as blind dates for a weekend getaway. 92 min. (Jack Helbig) (Landmark’s Century Centre, 3:15)

Summer in My Veins

Nish Saran’s 1999 video (41 min.) documents a cross-country trip with his Indian relatives the summer after he graduated from Harvard, during which he plans to tell his mother that he’s gay. His mother and aunts discuss the marginal status of homosexuals in India, an aunt clowns lubriciously with a banana, and Saran loses his nerve on the first attempt. When he finally reveals his secret, he’s behind the camera, and his long take of his mother’s reaction is disturbingly exploitative. On the same program, the video documentary Sexual Exiles (1999, 31 min.). Irene Sosa interviews foreign-born homosexuals about bigotry abroad: some feared for their safety overseas, and one has spent a lifetime apart from his family to avoid telling them the truth. It’s a compelling subject, but unfortunately Sosa concentrates on familiar stories of gay people learning to accept themselves, and her clumsy attempts to open up the talking-heads format (cutting away to a church when someone says “Catholic”) don’t help. (FC) (City North 14, 4:45)

BE–Dirty, Sinful Me

Be is both the Norwegian verb “to pray” and the initials of Bjorn Erik Andersen, a gay teenager who disappeared and presumably committed suicide in October 1992. This 50-minute Norwegian video documentary by Trond Winterkjaer and Jan Dalchow excerpts his diary, tracing his painful and ultimately unsuccessful struggle to reconcile his sexuality and his Christianity in a church that’s become increasingly fundamentalist. A prominent minister affiliated with Exodus International blames “the gay movement’s lies” for the suffering caused by his “love the sinner, hate the sin” rhetoric (in the video’s most squirm-inducing moment he glorifies institutionalized heterosexuality by celebrating his own 20th wedding anniversary). Woven among the interviews with Andersen’s parents, sister, best friend, and parish priest are profiles of gay men who’ve survived the spiritual struggle that defeated Andersen by constructing alternatives that permit them to practice Christianity; one of them neatly encapsulates the film’s conflict as he apostrophizes the traditional ministry: “There’s a wall between me and God. The wall is you; get out of the way so that I can see God.” On the same program, Julie Akeret’s Looking for Common Ground (1999, 29 min.), an optimistic video about an initiative to make a western Massachusetts high school safe for LGBT students. (Laura Stempel) (Chicago Filmmakers, 5:00)

Boy Trouble

The best and most thoughtful entry in this international anthology of shorts is Caught by Chicago filmmaker Christopher Gotschall, in which a photographer falls in love with a med student who’s already spoken for and both men have to face the consequences of their affair. Inconstant Moon (1999) by Frank Laurents chronicles a tipsy game of cat and mouse on the streets of West Hollywood between a genteel gay man and the grungy hustler who leads him on; their protracted tease of a conversation reveals a streak of S-M, not that we care by the end. The Puerto Rican protagonist in Abel Castro’s crude video Behind the Walls (1999) spies on her cousin and his boyfriend through a peephole in her bedroom, and luckily for her the cousin discovers the hole in time to save her from date rape. In Ron L. Jones’s video Day for Night two street punks talk about revenge, only to realize their mutual attraction; one punk’s fantasy of suburban domesticity is both poignant and campily surreal. Mamet-like dialogue drives P.J. Raval’s 100% Cotton, in which a couple breaks up over the disputed ownership of a pair of briefs, and Allen Posten’s stupid Coming Out Blues sets a gay triangle in colonial America. On the same program, shorts by Glenn Gaylord, David O’Brien, and Carl Weichert. 114 min. (TS) (Landmark’s Century Centre, 5:00)


The intertwined plots of this intriguing digital video function more as a nicely balanced, well-acted set of character studies. The main story, which director Esther Bell acknowledges is autobiographical, commences in 1988 when 17-year-old Teri (Nika Feldman) visits the gay father who left her in infancy for reasons she’s never understood. But Bell gives almost equal weight to Teri’s family and friends in South Carolina, the zine she brings to New York to sell (Skid Marks), the drug-fueled music scene she quickly plunges into, and her father’s troubled relationship with his longtime lover (convincingly played by Fred Schneider of the B-52s). Despite some rough edges, the film is frequently amusing, bringing out the absurdities and contradictions of its various milieus. 90 min. (FC) (City North 14, 7:00)

Women Behind Bars

Carol Leigh’s video Blind Eye to Justice (1998, 34 min.) documents mistreatment of women prisoners in California, including denial of medical services, abuse by guards, and Kafkaesque parole hearings. With its dynamic mix of interviews, narration (by 60s icon Angela Davis), printed titles, and drawings of incidents that went unrecorded, it provides convincing evidence for one activist’s charge that a facility is “not a prison, but a concentration camp.” Sonja de Vries and Rhonda Collins’s sympathetic video Out: The Making of a Revolutionary (59 min.) tells the story of political activist Laura Whitehorn, who spent 14 years in prison for detonating a bomb in Washington, D.C. An impassioned speaker, Whitehorn eloquently describes how her lesbianism made her feel excluded from “any recognized group,” eventually connecting her to “other people who were despised by the system.” Radicalized in the 60s, she lived in Chicago briefly, met Fred Hampton, and later participated in a series of bombings directed at “U.S. imperialism.” Collins and de Vries accept her claims too easily (she blames the sexism of white males for alienating women from the antiwar movement, when some of the most notorious sexist remarks came from black leaders), and one has to wonder about their labeling of serial bombers as “political prisoners.” (FC) (Chicago Filmmakers, 7:00)

Eban and Charley

Eban, a former high school soccer coach, reluctantly falls for Charley, a schoolboy half his age, after returning to his hometown on the Oregon coast. James Bolton’s debut feature, shot on digital video with handheld cameras, shows how a friendship can blossom despite age differences: Eban and Charley’s tender relationship is more puppy love than pedophilia as they play guitar, read poetry, and bathe together. Their idyll is threatened by exposure–as it turns out, Eban lost his coaching job after sleeping with a minor–and one of the film’s most poignant moments comes when he and his father discuss his compulsive attraction to young boys. Judy Irola’s probing cinematography enhances the directness and intimacy of that scene and the rest of the film as well. 88 min. (TS) (Landmark’s Century Centre, 7:15)

Queer as Folk, program two

Episodes five through eight of the 1999 British TV series about young gay men in Manchester. These clubgoers always seem to be talking on cell phones, which provide a metaphor for their rootlessness, but the characters also grow more nuanced. Fifteen-year-old Nathan, disappointed that 29-year-old Stuart has treated him as just another one-nighter, begins sleeping around but also comes to see through his old lover’s self-absorption. Vince finds a real boyfriend but is so down on himself that he’s afraid no one can really love him. In the series’ best scene Nathan spots a schoolmate at a gay club, nervously takes the microphone, and makes a speech that shames him for bullying “sensitive” boys; as a result, Vince comes out at work. If this all sounds a bit soapy, that’s because it is–for all its queerness this is still a visually bland, mainstream show. Sarah Harding directed. 140 min. (FC) (City North 14, 8:45)

Sex Becomes Her

Mike Aho’s 70-minute documentary about drag queen and porn director ChiChi LaRue (nee Larry Paciotti) is the kind of movie a gay film festival should champion: it’s intelligent, forthright, campy, and perverse enough to prove that not all of us want to assimilate into bourgeois respectability. Aho marches into the world of gay bathhouses, sex clubs, and skin flicks with unapologetic glee, capturing his subject seemingly without pretense; those around her may puff themselves up to absurd effect (one LA stoner carries on about his international success as a runway model), but LaRue remains endearingly candid throughout, claiming no talent above a taste for kink and a willingness to dream up bad dialogue. This is by-the-numbers filmmaking, but it finds great humor in its subject (the montage of LaRue waiting for her actors to get hard is particularly killing) and records rich human characters in a world typically denounced for its dehumanization. All this and lots of naked men–what’s not to love? (Justin Hayford) (Landmark’s Century Centre, 9:00)


Get Your Stuff

A pleasant if lightweight comedy about a wealthy gay couple in Beverly Hills (Cameron Watson and Anthony Meindl) who decide to become temporary foster parents while waiting to adopt a baby and wind up with two precocious half brothers who’ve been bouncing around the foster-care system for most of their lives. T.J. (Grady Hutt), an angry, foulmouthed adolescent, and Brian (Blayn Barbosa), a sensitive eight-year-old, turn the house upside down and put the couple’s relationship to the test. The predictable material is made palatable by good performances, especially from Hutt and Kimberly Scott, the boys’ overburdened but persistent caseworker. Max Mitchell wrote and directed this serviceable entertainment (1999), whose relentlessly upbeat tone and heartwarming conclusion fail to lift it above standard TV fare. 95 min. (Reece Pendleton) (Landmark’s Century Centre, 7:00)

Paradise Bent

Heather Croall’s 51-minute video documentary investigates the phenomenon of Somoan “fa’afafines,” effeminate men who often wear drag and perform household chores. Called the “third gender” for their embodiment of both sexes, fa’afafines may be mocked but have always been accepted. Anthropologists speculate on why this class of men have existed in Samoa (“a helping hand to the family,” says one) and why their numbers have grown since the introduction of Christianity on the island. One fa’afafine insists that they’re not homosexual because they have sex only with “straight” men and not with one another; such minor revelations make this ethnographic study fascinating in spite of its shoddy videography. On the same program, Mei-Juin Chen’s video The Worlds of Mei Lanfang (56 min.) recounts the life and career of the celebrated Peking Opera star Mei Lanfang, known for his uncanny portrayals of women. Descended from a long line of such performers, Mei was the toast of Beijing and Shanghai from the teens to the 1940s, and his headline-making visits to New York and Hollywood won him the rapt attention of no less than Sergei Eisenstein. A Chinese patriot, he later became a communist and performed for Mao; Mei’s son and the singers who’ve inherited his roles insist that he was straight (contrary to the film Farewell My Concubine, which is loosely based on his life). Chen’s video ends with an unsatisfying coda that connects Mei to modern cross-dressers, but its revealing archival materials outweigh such artlessness. (TS) (City North 14, 7:00)

101 Rent Boys

Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato interviewed 101 male hustlers in LA, and their gritty 78-minute video documentary addresses such topics as “Turn-ons,” “Watersports,” “Drugs,” and “Dreams.” The opening titles argue that these guys are just like “normal people,” but the footage makes a different case: several were molested as children, some are homeless, and many are on drugs (as one of them says, “to deal with the fact that you’re now using intimacy as a commodity”). Others say they’re not ashamed, that they simply enjoy sex a lot, and many object to being characterized as dirty or degraded. But when offered three minutes to say anything, most are silent; one demonstrates auto-fellatio positions, and another eventually says, “Hi, mom!” (FC) (Landmark’s Century Centre, 9:00)

Eban and Charley

See listing for Sunday, November 12. (City North 14, 9:15)


Animation Confabulation

Bryan McHenry’s Cucumber Chronicles genially deconstructs a gay personals ad in ten short segments, each of which analyzes a different portion of the ad (“straight acting,” “no fats, fems, or druggies”) with spoken commentary and animation of images (faces, a cucumber) appropriated from the Internet. Michelangelo’s David crops up perhaps too often, and the video’s questioning of such terms as “gay” and “male” is hardly groundbreaking. But its lively good humor also has a personal authenticity, and McHenry even concludes with his E-mail address and the information that he’s “currently unattached.” Most of the program’s other video animations are similarly lighthearted: Allison Sweeney’s Cow Bra shows a cow bothered by its bouncing udder as it jumps rope and the udder-bra that solves its problem. The Rape of Ganymede by Tom Whitman and Dustin Woehrmann offers an amusing, campy view of Olympus: Athena is a “diesel dyke,” and a surprisingly muscular Ganymede explains that his father’s sending him to fight in the Trojan war was “something about being more butch.” In Carol Langlois’ earthy, rough-edged Canadian short Autour de Lily (1998) a man’s lily slips from his shirt to the crotch of a nearby man, leading him on. Among the more serious efforts are Wil Linn’s Admission to Strangers (1998), whose supple use of lines and gray tones creates a sense of dreamy figures adrift in a slippery void, and Alma Sophia’s One, a creation myth in which the many, including the different genders, emerge from a pre-big-bang unity. On the same program, Lin’s Guileless Guile and videos by Q. Allan Brocka, Colleen Cruise, Rita Küng, J.J. Sedelmaier, and Kelly Spivey. 80 min. (FC) (Landmark’s Century Centre, 7:00)

Annie Complex

The cleverest thing about this 26-minute video is its title, which suggests both a complex analysis of Little Orphan Annie and the phenomenon of wanting to be the little urchin–having an “Annie complex.” But the video itself, by local artists Stacy Goldate and K.J. Mohr, seems less complex than confused. A lovely documentary about women’s attitudes toward the character (one woman observes, “What was that? These are orphans! They are poor! They are not cheerful!”) is combined with two weak silent narratives, one about auditions for the role and the other about two prospective Annies who battle their way to friendship and love (in costume). Having drag queens run the audition seems gratuitous, though the directors probably intended to make some point about the femininity of helpless children and male stage mothers. The piece about the costumed little girls–described in the filmmakers’ synopsis as “a good old-fashioned narrative of pre-out baby dyke rivalry turned sweet”–doesn’t seem to connect with the film as a whole. The screening will be followed by an evening of karaoke singing at Star Gaze, 5419 N. Clark, for those who won’t be able to sleep without belting out “Tomorrow.” (Kelly Kleiman) (Chicago Filmmakers, 7:00)

The Gay Games

Ran Kotzer directed this Israeli video documentary (1999, 55 min.) about the 1998 Gay Games in Amsterdam. Much of its success comes from rhythm: it skillfully melds images with diverse movements to produce a whole that seems like one continuous dance. The video begins with an overweight Israeli swimmer who has AIDS, and the unspoken contrast with the “straight” Olympics is nearly awe inspiring: the athletes see competition as only one aspect of their lives and freely express physical affection during the event, which includes parades through town with plenty of drag. On the same program, Beth Pielert’s Kiss My Cleats (1998, 17 min.), about women soccer players attending the same games; the interviews are interesting, but the speakers seem much less natural and the video is dominated by a relentless techno beat. 72 min. (FC) (City North 14, 7:00)

A Portion of a Lady

Marco Chiandetti says he wanted to avoid the “melancholic” quality of many drag-queen films, and his 75-minute UK video on Destiny Angel, Evita Clittorina, and Juana La Cubana mostly succeeds. The subjects are so playful and casual that their transformations seem more like kids playing dress up than adults remaking their identities, and they address the handheld camera as spontaneously as they do each other, which turns the documentarian into a participant and reminds us that they’re always on stage. Their live performances are fascinating for their rough edges and eccentricities, yet the question of why they cross-dress remains a mystery. On the same program: Kelly Hughes’s three-minute music video Please Don’t Hate Me (Because I’m Beautiful), featuring the low-budget, no-glitz singer Hellen Bedd, and Jean-Pierre Krief’s engaging documentary Contacts Nan Goldin (13 min.), in which photographer Nan Goldin uses her own images, including early photographs of her drag-queen friends, to narrate her life. 91 min. (FC) (City North 14, 9:00)

Queer as Folk, program two

See listing for Sunday, November 12. (Landmark’s Century Centre, 9:00)


The Einstein of Sex

Rosa von Praunheim’s 1999 biopic sets out to link German sex researcher Magnus Hirschfeld with the struggle for gay rights, but it’s more coherent and less blatantly polemical than some of his earlier films. Fascinated with sex at an early age, Hirschfeld began to question the notion of abnormal behavior while attending medical school in the 1890s; he spent much of his career debunking unscientific views of homosexuality and campaigning to decriminalize sodomy, though according to von Praunheim’s empathic interpretation of his private life, he repressed his own homosexuality until late middle age, when he began to fall for young men. The filmmaker mines Hirschfeld’s obsession for irony and pathos, winking at his collection of phallic talismans, his debates with a gay author who condemned effeminate men, and the time he took a police commissioner to witness a transvestite ball. Von Praunheim is amused by Hirschfeld’s eccentricities, but ultimately he’s more concerned with the Nazis’ antigay, anti-Semitic hysteria. 98 min. (TS) (City North 14, 7:00)


Robert J. Siegel directed this sweet, low-key movie set in Myrtle Beach, about a shy but perceptive teenager named Frankie (Lauren Ambrose) who, along with her older brother, manages the family restaurant during the summer tourist season. She and her flirtatious best friend (Jennifer Dundas Lowe) spend their evenings guy watching and prowling for dates, but their relationship is threatened by the arrival of a seductive waitress, who instigates Frankie’s sexual awakening. There’s nothing exceptional about this coming-of-age story. But it’s presented in such a nicely understated manner, and Ambrose turns in such a good lead performance, that it rises several notches above most of today’s teen movies. 98 min. (Reece Pendleton) (Landmark’s Century Centre, 7:00)

Blood Laughs

A mix of gross-out camp and inspired parody, this collection of very independent horror and sci-fi shorts has more studs than duds. Paula Goldberg’s The Blair Princess Project (1999) turns the cult film into an equally hysterical portrait of Jewish Valley girls trying to reach a friend’s wedding in the Malibu hills (with tied twigs forming a Star of David). Dracula XXI is Paul Raila’s hilarious depiction of a “straight” young vampire who learns from a newly “out” God that he’s been hanging around the wrong coffins; the acting is surgically swift. In Tyler Polhemus’s color-mad, wonderfully wacky Mmm! Smells Like Christmas (1999) a porn-craving young man’s encounter with a giant French cockroach becomes a waking wet dream, and Bob Poirier’s wickedly funny Traditional Family Vampires features a vampire clan that masquerades as Christian missionaries. The duds: Alex Hinton’s I Woke Up (1999), Timothy Spanos’s Nicholas Dickmuncher (from Australia), Anthony Fabian’s Jean (from the UK), and John Carr’s The Fragile Skin (also from the UK), a hideously and pointlessly violent lesbian version of The Amityville Horror. 99 min. (Lawrence Bommer) (Landmark’s Century Centre, 9:00)

Queer as Folk, program three

Fans of Queer as Folk, the 1999 British TV series about a group of young gay men in Manchester, are the most likely audience for this recent follow-up, Queer as Folk 2. Will best friends Stuart and Vince finally become a couple? Their feelings change so often that after a while I didn’t much care, and other plotlines stretch plausibility (Stuart foils his eight-year-old nephew’s attempt to blackmail him by finally coming out to his own parents). There are some fine moments of characters responding to bigotry, but director Menhaj Huda’s arty effects near the end seem as contrived as the script. 100 min. (FC) (City North 14, 9:00)


The Einstein of Sex

See listing for Wednesday, November 15. (City North 14, 7:00)


See listing for Wednesday, November 8. (Landmark’s Century Centre, 7:00)


Robert Altman managed to parody the already cartoonish world of high fashion in Ready to Wear, but this 1999 comedy written by Jill Kopelman and Caroline Doyle delivers only tired cliches, superficial jabs, and Hallmark sentimentality, tarting them up with queer histrionics and passing off the results as gay cinema. Bland, good-hearted Jocelyn (Dominique Swain), an intern at Skirt magazine, is belittled and abused by the self-important fashion elite and develops a debilitating crush on the magazine’s bland, good-hearted art director, the token heterosexual male. Director Michael Lange tries to spice up the affair with fashion-celeb cameos (Kenneth Cole, Tommy Hilfiger, Diane von Furstenburg), but it’s window dressing on a hastily constructed story. Still, with comic talent like Joan Rivers and Peggy Lipton, the film often comes perilously close to being funny. 90 min. (Justin Hayford) On the same program, Devil Doll (1999), a one-minute short by Jarl Olsen. (City North 14, 9:00)

Queer as Folk, program three

See listing for Wednesday, November 15. (Landmark’s Century Centre, 9:00)