Strong narrative dramas highlight 9th annual Damn! These Heels: LGBT Film Festival for Utah Film Center0 Comments Published by les July 2nd, 2012 in Film, Salt Lake City, SLC.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part preview of the 9th annual Damn! These Hells: LGBT Film Festival. Six films are previewed in today’s cover article and the remainder tomorrow. For more information, see here.
Courageous narratives that emphasize humanistic perspectives and a trio of documentaries that variously upend entrenched perceptions about transgendered individuals and sexism in music industries highlight the ninth annual Damn! These Heels: LGBT Film Festival, which runs Friday, July 13, through Sunday, July 15.
There are notable changes to this year’s event, organized by the Utah Film Center, which has seen attendance figures quadrupled over three festivals. D!TH’s new venue, for example, is the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in downtown Salt Lake City.
The most significant development arises in the 11 films and one short curated by Levi Elder, communications director for the UFC, that reflect, in part, the sociopolitical and sociocultural realities of a nation and a world that is gradually yet inevitably becoming more mature and affirming about the complexities of sexual identity. Unlike last year’s festival that emphasized a lighter touch in content and cinematic artistry and a 2010 slate of strong political artistic statements, many of this year’s films carve out a dramatic narrative path that propel themes of interest to all types of film fans.
Eight of the 11 feature-length films have garnered an impressive aggregate of festival awards. Six nations are represented in the offerings and one short ‘Even Handed,’ (photo) comes from the impressive youth filmmaker corps at the local Spy Hop Productions enterprise and which has earned several prominent awards.
In fact, the Spy Hop short is the only film that has been previously shown in Utah. All of this year’s feature-length films will have their Utah premieres at D!TH.
Individual tickets are $6 and can be purchased online here. A limited number of all-access passes will be offered for $25, and include access to Opening Night celebrations and all festival film screenings. There were only a handful of all-access passes remaining as of press time.
Sponsors include B.W. Bastian Foundation, Dancing Llama Foundation and the Weinholtz Family Foundation as well as Utah Pride Center, Human Rights Campaign – Utah, KRCL 90.9 FM, City Weekly, Media One, SLUG Magazine and TheGayHotSpot.com.
OPENING SCREENING – Friday, July 13, 7 p.m.
Gayby (U.S., 2012, 89 mins., directed and written by Jonathan Lisecki)
D!TH starts on a light-hearted note that is more stylized than substantive in this film which was expanded from a much sharper 12-minute short that gained much attention in its 2010 release. However, excellent performances by lead actors Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas save this film from lapsing completely into shopworn clichés.
This is a much better version of the Will & Grace TV series franchise, as the characters decide to have a child together as nature intended the process. Among the awards credits are honors from the Asland Film Festival and Boston Independent Film Festival.
Even Handed (U.S., 2011, 6 mins., directed by Samantha Highsmith and Gabriella Huggins)
This piece has earned at least five festival awards, including one for social action at last month’s Westport Youth Film Festival in Connecticut. This film was produced as part of a project coordinated with KUED-TV’s program, ‘Navigating Freedom: A Utah Youth Perspective.’ Four Spy Hop shorts were presented on air in 2011.
This film revolves around the story of an Ogden High School student (Highsmith) who walks into class with a notebook that has the iconic blue-and-yellow Human Rights Commission sticker on it, which raises the curious question from a male classmate about its significance. When Highsmith explains it signifies support for gay rights, the classmates ask if she is lesbian.
Highsmith says no to which the classmate responded, ‘Why do you care?’ That question sets up the film.
CENTERPIECE SCREENING – Saturday, July 14, 7 p.m.
Joshua Tree, 1951 (U.S./France, 2012, 93 mins., directed by Matthew Mishory)
This film is not notable for its content that verges all too frequently on the most pejorative stereotypes of pretentious art films. However, its visual impact makes one forget the film’s flimsy, sparse narrative. Michael Pessah’s cinematography incorporated vintage lenses for the black-and-white scenes, which were shot on color film, and then stripped of the color in the transfer to put a glossy Hollywood veneer on the final edit.
James Preston’s portrayal of James Dean is mostly forgettable, as is the story focusing on the young actor’s days before his rapid rise to stardom and the vigorously contested questions of his bisexuality.
Perhaps the most interesting narrative element is the unabashed, unsanitized portrayal of homosexual liaisons during the 1950s. We leave the film’s viewing with virtually no new insight about Dean whose iconic mystery matches if not surpasses Marilyn Monroe’s. Meanwhile, Pessah’s cinematography is poetry of technique powerful enough to keep the viewer distracted from the film’s most unsuccessful moments of narrative.
SUNDAY SPOTLIGHT – Sunday, June 15, Noon
In The Family (U.S., 2011, 169 mins., directed and written by Patrick Wang)
Although this film starts out at a worrisome adagio pace, it grows slowly into an immensely satisfying treatment that sends out the rightly assuring notes about same-sex couples who dream about raising children. Set in Tennessee, the story revolves around a custody battle for a six-year-old boy, whose life is happily centered on his two dads. When his natural father dies in an accident, the boy is content to remain with his surviving dad, despite his aunt’s intent to exercise her rights as the boy’s guardian.
The film’s strength is hugely attributed to Wang, who produced, directed, wrote, and plays the lead character. So exquisitely understated, Wang infuses the film with a creative vision that is completely stripped of ego and replaced with an authentic spiritual sense of identity.
With four awards to its name from film festivals in San Diego and San Francisco, the film also was nominated as best first feature for the Independent Spirit Awards.
SUNDAY SPOTLIGHT – Sunday, July 15, 4:45 p.m.
Facing Mirrors (Aynehaye Rooberoo) (Iran/Germany (Farsi with English subtitles), 102 mins., directed by Negar Azarbayjani)
Iranian films are among the most successful character-driven dramas, such as Maryam Keshavarz’s ‘Circumstance,’ which was screened at last year’s D!TH. In ‘Facing Mirrors,’ Rana is working as a taxi driver to satisfy a debt that has landed her husband in prison. One of her fares is a woman who resists her father’s attempt to arrange her marriage and wants to leave Iran so she can have transsexual surgery.
The friendship between the two individuals grows in a narrative treatment that has become the hallmark of many Iranian films where the desire for genuine compassion and a pure sense of personal acceptance transcends political and ideological preaching. This is the first Iranian film to have a major transgendered character and it is among the best examples ever produced from any nation.
The film took the best film jury award at the Montreal World Film Festival and the jury award for outstanding first feature at Frameline36: San Francisco LGBT Film Fest.
CLOSING NIGHT – Sunday, July 15, 7 p.m.
North Sea Texas (Noordzee, Texas) (Belgium (Dutch with English subtitles), 93 mins., directed by Bavo Defurne)
Defurne is well known for many of the world’s best short films with LGBT themes and his first feature-length film is excellent in every regard. Set in the 1970s, this coming-of-age story follows a gay teenager who loves his childhood friend. At the same time, his mother takes up with one of her numerous lovers, leaving the boy to make the transition to adulthood on his own. However, his friend’s family welcomes him to their home.
The boy’s world in the film – based on Andre Sollie’s novel ‘This Is Everlasting’ – is hardly foreign to any gay teenager who is at one moment depressingly set back in his emotions and then in the next exhilarated by the hope and promise of love. Picked up by Strand Releasing, the film won honors at the Rome Cinema Festival.
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