Closing Night #qflixphilly 2014

qFLIX-logo-h-con-white-300x129QFlix 2014 returned to the Perlman Theater for its awards, farewells, and final film. Festivities continued afterwards at the Sofitel, but sadly without me. I do feel at least a little fested, but QFlixPhilly 2015 can’t come soon enough.

This year only jury awards were given. Not surprisingly, the musical I didn’t see won. What was a surprise is the short by Casper Andreas won its category, and even more surprisingly I agree. Rob Williams, the director of the closing night film was given the festival’s first artistic achievement award which was an all-glass affair that fortunately didn’t tumble to the floor for lack of a podium or extra hands.

A 2015 festival will likely introduce audience awards (Yay, more for me to disagree with!) but perhaps only via electronic ballot. While I would love to be able to schedule electronically, there is a sentimental physicality I’d miss if paper ballots are completely eliminated. If magazine-quality programs and dealing with paper ballots is the difference between having a festival or not, I suppose I’ll get over it. Perhaps that even creates a way for me to contribute to the production of the festival without having to give up the uninterrupted enjoyment of it.

The post-film Q&A took an unexpected turn towards the end as people started directing questions at Thom Cardwell about the state of QFest, its relationship to QFLix, and the future of both. Cardwell was diplomatic and kept it fact-based regarding QFest and TLA which “got” the gay festival in its break-up with what is now PFS. Given how scant those facts are, we were all left wondering what the future of gay film in Philadelphia will be.

REVIEWS

Out To Kill (2/5)

An homage to mystery/thrillers, Out To Kill falls into a few traps common to the genre and to gay indie film–and to the previously-screened A Dark Place. The genre demands a tighter plot and better balance between show and tell (and explain). The cast is all over the place, and most of the dialog throughout the film doesn’t feel natural. This may be a logistical consequence of a nine-day shoot or direction issues given Tiger Orange lead Mark Strano turns in a much less impressive performance here than the other film. There are some nicely quirky moments, and nothing here would stop me from seeing festival-regular Williams’s next film.

A Last Farewell (5/5)

I can’t say I’ve been a huge fan of Casper Andreas’s other works, but this short about a gay widower coming to terms with his husband’s death is a surprising and welcome stretch for Andreas. Made in his home country of Sweden with established local talent helps. This is a serious, tight piece; I wonder if the constraint of the short form gave Andreas the focus some of his full-length features have lacked.

Perhaps like his subjects, Andreas has matured in his art–and in his person! He has been enough of a regular attendee at our festivals that it feels like I’ve watched him grow up over the years, and the years are being kind to him.

His next film, Kiss Me, Kill Me is also in the mystery/thriller genre which this year has proven to be a challenging endeavor. Although portrayed this year as a new direction in gay Indie film, it’s not. I’d suggest looking back at the Stachey films of the mid 2000s for both prior art and inspiration.  Then look further back to 1998 festival favorite of mine, Hard, which apparently I can watch for free through Amazon Prime.  After turning down the lights. And making some popcorn that is.  And getting out the handcuffs!

Day Three #qflixphilly 2014

qFLIX-logo-h-con-white-300x129The third day got off to a late start. My daydream the day before about attending the 10am panel (and catered breakfast) gave way to real dreams and a late morning start. And by late morning on a weekend day I mean 1pm.  By the time I was festival ready, the schedule was against me with a musical and a documentary about a Gay Jesus play. Blech.

It’s an unfortunate fact that fewer venues in a shorter festival makes being a badge-holder a little riskier. I’m still glad I did it that way because I can’t imagine doing the individual ticket thing. Especially on days those “late morning” days I inevitably have during festivals.

One particular problem I have with the festival being back at the Prince is the horrible effect it has on my diet. Since the pantry’s bare, I’ve had a hard time resisting Wendy’s and Five Guys which are both less than a block from the theater.  And now it’s even worse. There is a Popeye’s a few doors down from the Staples on Chestnut. I particularly cannot resist the cinnamon-crusted deep-fried apple pies.  And resist I did not.

REVIEWS

Easy Abbey (2/5)

There are plenty of good moments around the lead character’s romantic antics, but the over-crowded cast and odd bumps of women walking towards/past the camera made for a disconnected experience. — It turns out this is a web series edited into a movie, and what I didn’t like about it–a lack of “movieness”–was never a goal of its original production. This seems to be problematic of the repurposing into feature film format. Short films made into features are completely reshot; is that going to be necessary to transition episodic new media as well?

Affinity (4/5)

This Philly-produced short played before Easy Abbey and is a great example of why I love short film, but I can’t go into details because it depends on its deftly-handled twist. Scored local points for a scene at my beloved Race Street Pier Park.

Tiger Orange (5/5)

Despite some warning signs, Tiger Orange turned out to be an excellent old-school indie film about two estranged gay brothers reconciling.  One warning sign, a porn star in the cast, turned out to be one of the films best assets. Frankie Valenti (aka Johnny Hazzard) does bear his “assets” a few times, but also turns in a believable performance that may have benefited from a few similarities between him and his character. This is a well-constructed, understated film that kept my attention and kept me interested in its characters.

Age of Consent (2/5)

This documentary is a bit about The Hoist in London and a bit about LGBT rights in the UK. It had some interesting facts and some interesting men doing some interesting things, but overall it floundered. One thing that didn’t work is the pornographic sequences filmed in the club playing beneath a Queens-English accented discussion of 500 years of British laws around buggery and immoral houses. Probably it’s bigger problem is a lack of narration. While many of the interviews are good, the tend to ramble and could have been edited down with some minimal narration to summarize and contextualize.

Day Two #qflixphilly 2014

qFLIX-logo-h-con-white-300x129It was a good-and-bad kind of day.

GOOD: Enjoying dinner and dessert outside More Than Just Ice Cream with a festival friend.

BAD: Chris Christie emerging from More Than Just Ice Cream while we’re eating.  Details are sketchy, but he was meeting with some Philly politico.  I hope the meeting when badly for both of them. If I were better connected, I’d have called ahead and had him greeted at the Delaware with a little Bridge Backup of his own.

BAD: I missed the showing of F(l)ag Football.  My dream of perfect attendance, even in this shortened festival, has been dashed.

GOOD: I got to talk about Jira and Spring and Hibernate and work/geek stuff with my festival friend while having a waffle covered in scoops of chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, and chocolate banana ice creams.

REVIEWS

Pride (4/5)

A comedic retelling of the strange bedfellows alliance formed in the mid eighties between striking Welsh minors and London gay activists has lots going for it: pacing, performances, writing, even the balance of comedy and drama to heighten both–AND a brief appearance by Russell Tovey and his adorable ears.. There are a few moments where it feels after-school special, but that’s forgivable.

The Dark Place (1/5)

The crime/mystery format is a particularly unforgiving place for a plot lacking coherence or characters behaving believably or that telegraphs its punches; The Dark Place struggles with these things and more.  Non-metaphorical punches are a good example of this; the actors just can’t sell it when they’re “hitting” each other. Some interesting angles never get played, like building a convincing sense that the lead is slipping into insanity and may be hallucinating events or actually perpetrating them.

Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda (4/5)

After his love letter to Gay Israel last year, Michael Lucas returned with a new documentary that’s more of a nastygram. Interviews with LGBT activists in Russia or who have fled Russia are uniformly good, but Lucas, king of a gay porn empire, interviewing Vitaly Milonav, the author of the gay propaganda law, borders on surreal.

Lucas attended and was as interesting and even grimmer in the Q&A afterwards. The film’s subjects were by no means all rainbows and unicorns, but to Lucas’s credit he documented what may be the small fantasies people in such dire straits must tell themselves without commenting against it. His closing thoughts included that gays in Russia are getting a breather right now while Russian turns it’s Petty Hate Machine on Ukraine and that gay Russians are as caught up as any other Russian in the nationalist, anti-West frenzy that Putin’s engineered.

Saugatuck Cures (2/5)

A weak third act and lighting problems hamstring this comedy that otherwise had interesting characters and heart.  I almost have a reason to watch glee in the adorable Max Alder who attended the screening. It might have done a little better if it had followed something less, well, Russian.

Day One #qflixphilly 2014

qFLIX-logo-h-con-white-300x129I was glad to return to the Prince Theater for the first full day of films. Aside from being ridiculously close to my home, I’ve always like the theater layout. It was also a great place for opening and closing since it is a full stage and not just a film theater; having opening and closing at the theaters formerly known as Ritz East always felt awkward for that reason. There were only a few of the typical first-day snafus: projectionists getting used to format switches, getting people out of one show for the next to start, audio volume issues, etc.

To sum it up, this still feels like “the” film festival despite being scaled down. It’s certainly more convenient, not racing around town, but the lack of choice makes using the badge to its fullest harder. One way I’ve compenstated for this is not reading any blurbs or watching any trailers. Until Sunday when there are some scheduling conflicts, it’s really just about showing up and seeing what’s what.

Filmwise it was a rough start with a strong comeback.

REVIEWS

Bruno and Earlene Go To Vegas (1/5)

Except for some competent cinematography, everything about this film felt forced and stilted. Despite two adorable Scots and the use of the word “Chimera”, I couldn’t concentrate on the film or find it believable. It really punts on its climax with a fade-out and no explanation of how the stand-off led to the final scene. This is a case of cargo cult filmmaking: it saw and copied the form of Thelma and Louise without ever really understanding why it was a good movie and what made it work.

Four Moons (4/5)

I had my doubts about going to see a “sneak preview” film from Mexico, but it looks like gay cinema is evolving in our neighbor to the South. This isn’t a glacially placed story of woe with lots of close-ups of eyes. It’s a cosmopolitan telling of four coming-out and coming-to-terms stories. A few absurdly sexy characters helps. What hurts is a few too many twists in one of the threads.  Regardless, as both a film in itself and as a milestone in leaving behind the gay-as-tragedy for coming-out tales, it’s  a very worthwhile film. Let’s see what comes out of Mexico in a few years when they reach their post-gay phase.

Ten Year Plan (4/5)

From a festival-regular director, this is a well made and well acted rom-com centering around a concept I’m at least jokingly familiar with: the pact to marry if neither of two people find themselves in a serious relationship. Perhaps its greatest strength is how little and how central “gay” is. Clearly most of the situations only come up in the gay context, but the fact that the leads are gay (at least one of the actors isn’t according to him) is never an issue.  Perhaps not overly ambitious but definitely enjoyable to watch.

Power Erotic (3/5)

We always must have one on-the-edge-of-porn documentary regardless of what we call the festival. It’s a competent piece that doesn’t completely mire down in titulation about masculinity, dominance, and the fetishizing of those things. It’s weakness is in its experts, I think. There are some real sciency-type questions to ask, particularly from a evolutionary biology perspective, that don’t get asked for lack of the academic heft. Then again, it’s probably hard to get ivy-league talent to agree to be spliced between spanking, wrestling, and verbal domination scenes.

 

Opening Night #QFLIXPhilly 2014

4fa1b38a928fb.preview-620The successor to QFest, the festival formerly known as the Philadelphia Independent Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (PIGLFF), opened last night at the Perlman Theater with the film Such Good People. Two weeks ago I expected Philadelphia wouldn’t have a gay film festival this year. According to producer Thom Cardwell, that was true just two months ago.  Will this seedling flourish in the ruin of the economic forest fire that’s decimated film festivals across the country?

Instead of two weeks of films on multiple screens, this will be a long weekend of films at primarily one screen, the Prince Theater. It’s roughly a tenth of the films and even fewer screenings since feature-length films show only once. One festival attendee looking on the bright side said he’s always felt overwhelmed by the magazine-sized program. I didn’t need to break out spreadsheets and algorithms this year: the schedule fits on a single bi-fold pamphlet.

Cardwell called this new festival a labor of love before introducing the opening night film, and it was also largely an act of charity with films even waiving their rental fees. Two months isn’t much time to throw an event like this, and it’s not much time to raise money and sign up sponsors. The results have been a little disorganized; the website was mostly placeholders until very recently, and the social media presence is minimal. I must keep reminding myself that this is not PIGLFF 20.

Since this is a new festival, there is room for it to grow in directions that the established brand perhaps could not.  There is a New Media track for instance, although it seems to be competing with the film line-up rather than being integrated into it. There are new faces among the old (a few of which were conspicuously absent last night) which may address concerns the previous festival organizers had about audience age skewing older and older. qFLIX can grow into something unique if it can maintain its own identity and not try to live up to the pride (or perhaps hubris) of its predecessor’s claim to being the third largest gay film festival in the nation.

REVIEWS

Given films only show once, I won’t be tweet-reviewing my reviews this year.  Instead, I hope to make daily posts that include short reviews of films seen and events attended that day.  Opening night only had one film as usual, and I did not attend the also-usual opening night party which was held at Tavern On Camac.

Such Nice People (2/5) — This farce/caper film just didn’t make me laugh. The gags, some mildly amusing on their own, feel forced into the framework of the film’s plot. Some scenes just didn’t work at all, especially the ransom drop-off, because characters need to act in mostly-believable and mostly-consistent ways even in comedies. Another thing hobbling this film is never taking its serious plot elements seriously enough; successful comedies like this can skillfully weave serious and slapstick moments to heighten both.  In general and in film, I prefer Ruthless People to Such Nice People.