Women take an unprecedented level of presence at this year’s Damn! These Heels. Two documentaries focus on musicians and their efforts to overcome numerous barriers while several character-based narratives highlight highly empowered women. Finally, one of the best documentaries about transgendered individuals ever produced is on the 2012 slate of 11 feature-length and one short film.
The following summarizes the six remaining films for D!TH:
Jack and Diane (U.S., 2012, 110 mins., directed and written by Bradley Rust Gray) – Friday, July 13, 11 p.m.
Perfect late-night, brain-candy fantasy fare comes in this New York City story of two female teenagers with sharply different personalities whose relationship has more than a few rocky bumps, not the least of which is werewolf tendencies in one of the women. Featuring music by Múm with Kylie Minogue, the film was an official selection at Tribeca. Transformation is a favorite theme for Gray, who also did ‘Salt’ in 2003 about a young woman who becomes a seal.
Trans (U.S., 2012, 92 mins., directed by Chris Arnold) – Saturday, July 14, 10:30 a.m.
While the film puts a good deal of emphasis on the transgender story of a Navy flight surgeon (Dr. Christine McGinn), it provides other accounts that demonstrate the enormous complexities of individuals coming to terms with their true sexual identity. The other most prominent story is about Danann, a seven-year-old child born as a male but who knew at the age of 2 that she is a girl.
The remaining stories – representing all of the positive and negative aspects of experience – focus on individuals of all ages and backgrounds including a college student, an older middle-class white couple, workers in the sex industry, and others from different racial backgrounds.
This is an outstanding documentary for the D!TH festival, distinguished for its realistic and uncensored chronicles. No surprise that this film won best documentary at the Torino GLBT Film Festival.
Wish Me Away (U.S., 2011, 96 mins., directed by Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf) – Saturday, July 14, 12:30 p.m.
With ‘Trans,’ this film makes for a blockbuster double-documentary highlight of this year’s D!TH. Matching its counterpart for candor, ‘Wish Me Away’ follows the coming out process for country music star Chely Wright, complete with clips from her private video diaries as well as interviews with Nashville music colleagues, friends, and family members.
Wright’s experience encountered significant emotionally challenging hurdles, especially with her mother (who is divorced) who refused to accept the news and thus shuts off any meaningful participation in the film that would shed light on their relationship. Likewise, while viewers see Wright’s minister as being affirming and respectful, there could be more context about whether others in his religious denomination are as willing to accept the circumstances of Wright’s coming out process. In various interviews since her announcement, Wright has talked about some of the impact her career has endured as a result of being the first prominent gay country musician to come out publicly. Her album sales have fallen off precipitously since the 2010 announcement and several country-music venues have hesitated to book her for fear that there might be some disruptive fan protests.
Meanwhile, her father is unmistakable in his support, as shown in a clip from their appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s show.
The film is one of the most mature treatments about a prominent entertainer’s coming out process. It is as much an affirmation of faith and loyalty to one’s formative values and ethics as it is to one’s sexual identity.
Honors include grand jury prize for best documentary feature at the Los Angeles Film Festival, outstanding documentary feature at San Francisco LGBT Festival, and awards from at least nine other festivals.
Cloudburst (U.S./Canada, 2011, 93 mins., directed by Thom Fitzgerald) – Saturday, July 14, 3 p.m.
The quickest description of this film is a geriatric twist on ‘Thelma and Louise.’ Only this time, it’s Stella and Dot, an aging couple who escape from a nursing home in Maine and drive to Nova Scotia on a quest to be married legally. While the narrative outlines a familiar road-trip film, ‘Cloudburst’ is better than average for the expectations of this genre.
Directed by Canadian filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald, whose 1997 debut of ‘The Hanging Garden’ was widely praised for its character portrayals, ‘Cloudburst’ respects the audience’s intelligence with characters who appear to be quite pleasant – and even innocent or naïve – on the surface but also are quite cunning and sophisticated in their inner selves.
The cast is strong throughout with Olympia Dukakis, Brenda Fricker, Kristin Booth, and Ryan Doucette among the top names. The film already has tabbed at least 14 awards, including best feature and audience honors at Frameline36, San Francisco’s LGBT Film Fest.
Stud Life (U.K., 2012, 93 mins., directed by Campbell Ex) – Saturday, July, 14, 5 p.m.
The starting premise for this film is exciting, almost in the same way Hilary Swank’s performance as Brandon Teena electrified ‘Boys Don’t Cry.’ In ‘Stud Life,’ viewers have JJ, a black ‘butch dyke’ or ‘stud lesbian,’ who works as a wedding photographer with her best friend (Seb), a gender-queer male.
However, the film ends up being more than a bit contrived, as the director appears to struggle in capturing the same queer dynamic in performances that propelled Swank to her Academy Award nod as best actress.
Hit So Hard (U.S., 2011, 103 mins., directed by P David Ebersole) – Saturday, July 14, 9 p.m.
The final documentary on this year’s D!TH does not show the technical excellence which definex ‘Trans’ and ‘Wish Me Away’ but Ebersole makes up for it in rich troves of content, that includes seldom-seen home movie clips of Kurt Cobain in the early 1990s.
The star of this highly informative rock documentary is Patty Schemel, drummer in Courtney Love’s band ‘Hole,’ who was almost wholly consumed by her addiction to drugs and alcohol.
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