Fringe and foilage: days 611 — 623

[sic]

It’s still summer—technically—but you wouldn’t know it from looking around. The sky’s greyer, the air is cooler, and the trees are turning all sorts of lovely shades.

We start off late Labour Day evening, as I went on one of my impulsive walks and ended up at the A-Maze-ing Laughter public art thing by English Bay. I’ve shot a few public art pieces in this challenge so far, but never this one. Maybe because it was out of my way? But I walked around the laughing men, noting how the light changed when cars turned from Davie on Denman. Tried to use that but there wasn’t enough traffic late at night… oh well, I didn’t need the extra light anyway.

The first photo of fall foliage marks the end of summer, right? These half-orange leaves up the street had been taunting me for a few days, and I finally gave in on the way to work. Other fallen leaves beckoned, and eventually I started seeing red everywhere.

I’m told film folks call this “the magic hour”: that time when the setting sky tinges everything with just a hint of gold. It looks especially lovely on Vancouver’s silver towers, and the little patch of reflected light in the water is a great bonus. I’d say I was lucky to catch it, but this was just one of about ten photos I shot on Granville Bridge. Luck had nothing to do with it.

Another way I know summer’s over? Indoor volleyball is starting. Whether that’s drop-in at Britannia or with VGVA, no more burning my feet on sand, or slipping on goose poop at David Lam. I’m gonna miss all that, but I’ve also missed indoor 6’s play. So it’s all good.

(Also: Jeebus, my 18th year! They’ve been pretty good years overall.)

Mid-September is Fringe Festival time, and one of the shows I planned to see was a Die Hard parody. Problem, though: I’d never seen the movie! Solution: watch Die Hard with my Fringe-going friend so we’re both ready!

So let’s talk about the Fringe Fest. I saw a total of 9 shows: 4 on Saturday the 8th, 1 on Monday the 10th, 3 on Thursday the 13th, and 1 on Saturday the 15th. In order:

Fake Ghost Tours: a very silly and definitely 100% true peek behind the veil at Granville Island’s supernatural past, complete with stories of horny sailors, man-eating seals, burning bees, tragic crinoline and ghost gentrification. Some parts could have used a little more planning (walking around on narrow streets, and getting in people’s way when we stopped), but even the goofy janky stuff was clearly rehearsed and polished. 2 irreverent thumbs up, and I’m glad it wasn’t raining.

Dyck Spacee: an improv number in the style of an old-timey radio show about a daring detective and his tough-as-nails secretary sidekick… which fell flat. Maybe other performances were better, but in this one they had a lot of trouble keeping up the energy, the narrator (I felt) took too much control of the action, and the other players couldn’t play off each other since they were all facing the audience and their mics. So it seems to me the show’s very format was working against it.

I posted a hashtagged selfie to enter some draw but I felt kind of bad about it.

Die Hard: The Musical-ish: Oh my sweet Eighties, I Eighties loved this Eighties song and dance extravaganza to all things Eighties. A fourth-wall-breaking retelling of the movie’s plot, with the expensive scenes papered over, drizzled with Top 40 hits from the era, it was a delicious feast for the eyes and ears.

Hullaboo and the End of Everything asks “what happens to imaginary friends when their human stops believing in them?” It’s a quirky and affecting piece about growing up, gracefully accepting the inevitability of change, and facing the moral choice to become a monster. Awesome.

I picked Trevor and Margaret mostly because it was playing at XY in my ‘hood. It’s the… interesting tale of an unrepentant abusive asshole, his girlfriend and his father. I liked it? Kinda? Well done, though it was unpleasant to sit through sometimes.

Fun fact: in the director’s notes, Trevor is identified as a gay man, though he’s played by a straight man and doesn’t himself identify as gay (he has a girlfriend / fiancée and sleeping with guys is just “a hobby”). Interesting bit of casting.

Precious Little: I’m a sucker for stories about stories. About language and communication and consciousness and memories and difficult life decisions and oh my god this was so good. Hard to summarise since there were so many interweaving plotlines and layers, but trust me, it was wonderful.

Bonnie & Clyde: The last days of the notorious outlaws, as they reminisce about their lives and we flash forward to their deaths. My friend was bored out of her tree, but I loved the acting, the contrast of gritty reality vs soaring legend, past dreams vs precarious present. Maybe not everybody’s cup of whiskey, but I liked it, and that’s all that matters.

The Shape of Things: a tale of art, truth, betrayal and transformation. Beautiful, cruel, infuriating, hurting so good in all my heart’s tender spots, it was all those things, and smarter than me, because I seriously did not see the twist until it was right in front of my face. Great job.

Angels and Aliens: an awkward hookup leads to a universe-controlling game as two roommates process their feelings for each other while competing to shape human destiny. Smart, sweet, funny and wonderfully acted. Many thumbs up.

The 2018 Vancouver Queer Film Festival: days 583 — 596

Moving pictures in pictures

The week after Pride is always kind of weird. My first draft for this post was titled “The in-between time”, because it really is: a few days between big public pageantry and parades, and the more low-key (but no less sincere) pageantry of queer cinema.

BC Day, I finally got my ass off the couch and down to Sunset Beach, where for some reason I decided to walk / crawl down to the end of that little spit of rocks facing Burrard Bridge. I probably looked like a huge twit edging my way cautiously along those rocks, and I probably won’t do it again soon because it really wasn’t that fun, but the view was nice.

You know one thing I love about the West End? All the random little gnome doors and things. This one is on the 1500 block of Nelson Street.

Oh, and the other way this time of year is “in-between”: grass volleyball at David Lam Park is over, and all I have left is the memories of the junk food I had at the nearby DQ.

Thursday, the opening gala! I’ve already blogged about all the feels the show made me feel, so I won’t repeat myself. Summary: all the feels.

Friday, Octavio is Dead!‘s overly shaky cam made me leave halfway through. Too bad, though, because it looked really interesting. I meandered towards the seawall and walked home, snapping a pretty sunset on the way.

Saturday I had to check out the brand-new Burnaby Pride! Not so big now, but I’m sure it’ll grow. And that night I saw Alaska is a Drag, which is actually not a biopic of Alaska Thunderfuck. No, it’s a very enjoyable story of boxing, drag and crazy dreams in a small Alaska fishing town. I felt the resolution came right out of nowhere but it was a fun ride.

Sunday, the Sets on the Beach tournament, which meant summer vball season with VGVA was really and truly over. Which is a bit sad, but it means I get my Sundays back for a little while! I had planned on seeing a couple movies that night, but soon figured that was absolutely not going to happen. Too bad, I really wanted to see The Fruit Machine; Freelancers Anonymous looked good too.

Monday: a double showing of Troublemakers 3.0 (a super-inspirational series of interviews between local LGBTQ+ elders and youth) and 50 Years of Fabulous, the story of San Francisco’s Imperial Council. I went for the history, because though we have our own court system (the Dogwood Monarchist Society) I always saw it as a rather silly and outdated social thing, but I was impressed by the good they’ve done, and still do. Plus I learned a lot about pre-Stonewall queer history! And had to laugh at how the first Empress named herself after Joshua Norton, who also reinvented himself as royalty. Only in San Francisco!

Hey, remember that nice pink sunset from Friday? Say goodbye to all that. The smoke reached us, and a week later and the sky still hasn’t cleared. In fact it’s only gotten worse. I took a break from movies Tuesday—had to pace myself, and nothing really jumped out at me, so that was all right.

After White Rabbit, the Wednesday centrepiece gala, I wandered home and took a shot of Emery Barnes Park. Not my first, but I wasn’t feeling super-inspired, photo-wise, and my head was full of the movie. It was a weird and kooky piece, and apparently very open to interpretation. One saw it as about moving on from trauma, and being present and grateful. Me, I didn’t get the “trauma” part; I saw it more as a tale of alienation and performance, each of us locked in our little worlds reaching out for true connection. When you find it, that’s a real gift. When you connect with yourself, your inspiration and your bliss, that’s a gift too.

Or at least, that’s what I got from it.

Thursday: out at SFU Woodward’s I saw the amazing Saturday Church, a musical featuring queer / trans youth of colour in New York. It’s beautiful and heartwarming with gorgeous song and dance numbers.

Friday at the York Theatre: the first show was a short (1/2 hour-ish) film on the Vancouver Men’s Chorus, followed by a Q&A, but preceded by a great song-and-dance number of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now. Goddamn, that song is catchy. And it was followed by The Coast is Queer, the annual (and always excellent) showcase of local LGBTQ+ filmmakers.

Saturday: a documentary on the Leitis of Tonga. I found it a fascinating look at traditional Pacific Islander third genders, royalty and old social orders, imported Christian homophobia and transphobia, and modern human rights discourse—but still centering the real flesh-and-blood people at the heart of it all. Great stuff, but that’s what I expected from the makers of Kumu Hina. The other show I saw, Malila: The Farewell Flower, was less engaging. I was intrigued by the description of a tragic love story steeped in Buddhist spirituality, but I feel it lost a lot in translation. Oh well, that’ll happen.

Between shows I went out for a walk in Gastown.

And the closing gala: The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a movie about fundie Xian gay therapy that still managed to be pretty funny. Didn’t think they’d manage it, but here we are. I think they must have toned down the real psychological torture somewhat, though what we saw was still very nasty. Quibble: I would have liked to see the main characters do more than run away—that place needed to burn! Still, I’ll take what I can get.

Summary of my VQFF experience

(hey, haven’t done one of these in a while!)

Number of shows seen: 11.5. Not a bad number, though!

Favourite feature film: 1985. With very close runners-up Saturday Church (which won the OutTV Go People’s Choice Award) and 50 Years of Fabulous.

Favourite short film: Pass the Salt and Colors (winner of the Gerry Brunet Memorial Award for best short). Oh, and The Pigeon.

Shows I would have liked to see but didn’t: Oh boy, there’s a lot!

  • Octavio is Dead! on the first Friday— I saw half of it, so I guess that counts? Would like to see the rest.
  • The Fruit Machine on Sunday — I already knew some of the story, but it never hurts to brush up. Unfortunately I realised I’d have no energy after Sets on the Beach
  • Freelancers Anonymous also on Sunday, looked like a fun time
  • A Moment in the Reeds looked sexy and I heard good things about it later, but I gave myself a night off Tuesday
  • The Coast is Genderqueer — I really wanted to support this new show, but there was no way I could see both this and the Friday night shows I had planned
  • Indigiqueer Shorts From Turtle Island — I really was tempted, but I wanted to see Leitis in Waiting (which I enjoyed) and Malila: The Farewell Flower (which I didn’t enjoy so much).

Vancouver Queer Film Festival review: 1985

We know the story

I wasn’t planning to write reviews this year—too much going on, at work and elsewhere—but I’ve gotten my heart ripped out by the opening gala film and it is not letting go of me. I need to get it out of my head somehow, so here we go. The only review this year!

1985 is a simple and familiar story. If you haven’t lived it, then you know someone who has, or you’ve read about it. I realise it will probably best resonate with queers of a certain age, but 1985 was not that long ago, and though the height of AIDS paranoia is behind us, we still deal with Christian homophobia, fire-and-brimstone preachers on the radio, and Madonna’s latest tour. We still deal with shame and silence. Besides, aren’t the 80s all the rage these days? I half-expected Andrew to be fighting the Demogorgon or something.

Bottom line: we know this story. Its simplicity and familiarity is what makes it beautiful and heartbreaking to me. Director / screenwriter Yen Tan paints a picture with elegantly minimal storytelling, and I’m there. We’ve got a simple cast of characters: Adrian who escaped his small Texas town for the big gay city lights of New York; Andrew, his drama-class-loving little brother; salt-of-the-Earth Christian working-class parents who have no real clue how to relate to their children anymore; Carly, his hip, prickly bitch of a best friend who also managed to escape but only to Dallas, and with whom he hasn’t spoken since he left.

So Adrian is home for Christmas after three years away. Everything’s nice and Jesusy. The mom is sweet, the dad is a blue collar man’s man but nice enough. They ask about his job at the ad agency (it’s going great! in fact, he just got a promotion!); he offhandedly mentions some recurring bouts of stomach flu; they bring up Carly, who they still hope he’ll marry someday; Andrew confides to him about going to Madonna’s Virgin Tour concert, about their parents ripping down his Bryan Adams poster, and how local churches recently burned a bunch of pop and rock records.

We know this story.

We know this story and we already know the secrets everyone’s not telling and the silence is only making things worse. When Adrian and Carly reconnect by going to a gay bar (her idea) and her trying to jump his bones (he’s not yet out to her) and then calling him out on not calling or writing or anything, all he can say is that he wanted to make a fresh start in New York. Carly is pissed at this non-answer and kicks him out, leaving all his secrets still unsaid.

Sidenote: I both love and hate how much I related to Adrian in this scene. Though I was fortunate to grow up in not-small not-Texas Ottawa with a supportive family, I was acutely aware of the disconnect between the gay and straight worlds, and I knew in only one of those worlds could I find myself and be myself. And that was the nineties, how much worse would it have been a decade before? I also understand the urge to move far away, start over and never look back. Sad to say, I’m also not the best at staying in touch with old friends.

Come Christmas morning, Adrian’s gifts are lavish. A nice jacket for dad, a pretty cashmere shirt for mom, a big shopping spree at the local music store for Andrew, and a week at a Hawaii resort for the rest of the family. Not him, though, he’ll be too busy with his new responsibilities, but he wants everybody to have fun!

Secrets come out one by one. It turns out Adrian’s father knows pretty much everything—wanting to find out what his son was up to, he called up his job and then went to visit his neighbourhood. So now he knows that Adrian was fired from the ad agency, and saw him with his arms around another man. However—big stoic Texas man that he is—he wouldn’t even have said anything if Adrian hadn’t chanced on him drinking alone in the backyard. He was ready to take this secret to his grave, and makes Adrian swear never to tell his mother.

Adrian later reconciles with Carly and tells her everything. He can barely make ends meet since getting fired for being gay, he has AIDS, already buried several friends, doesn’t expect to see another Christmas and just wanted to see everybody one last time. In spite of his protestations that she wouldn’t be able to handle it, Carly promises to be there for him no matter what.

And his mother? It’s not clear what clues she picked up, but she seems equally on the ball. While dropping Adrian off at the airport, she gently tells him he can tell her… when he’s ready. Adrian briefly breaks down, but does not tell her anything.

The ending montage is accompanied by a voiceover of Adrian recording a message for Andrew. I don’t remember the details, but it’s a message of encouragement and hope: that he may grow up to feel different, but if he stays true to himself and nurtures his gifts, he’ll be okay.

So… some thoughts:

The movie is shot in black-and-white (the description specifying that it’s B&W 16mm); I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that stylistic choice. It’s how old-school home movies are shot, right? And this is nothing if not an intimate family movie. My first impression was that it heightened the disconnect between that era and this one; and, maybe it was part of the minimalist storytelling, trimming down some extraneous details to make the audience focus on the action and dialogue.

It only struck me later that at no point in the film do we see any of the main characters actually utter the words “gay” or “AIDS”. All the big revelations are done offscreen, between scene cuts. Even now they all keep dancing around each other, never telling the full truth. It’s okay, though. We already know.

And the big question: is this a hopeful film? It certainly doesn’t look like one on paper, but the more I think about it, the more I believe it’s full of hope shining through the darkness. All these secrets are just coming out, all these connections growing. But is it too late?

Adrian will die. We know his story, we know how it ends. Or do we? His story isn’t over yet: the ending montage shows him back in a New York club surrounded by friends, dancing and kissing a guy. Maybe he’ll be among those who make it. But even if he isn’t, we know he’s already made a difference. There are other stories just beginning, another queer generation just being born. We can’t change the past. But it’s never too late to change the future.

My 2018 Queer Film Fest schedule

Thursday August 9

It’s the opening gala, so there’s only one movie. A poignant drama set in the height of the AIDS crisis? Yep, I’ll take it.

Final choice: 1985

Friday August 10

1985 is playing again at SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts that night, so let’s look at International Village. A creepy-weird family drama and a creepy-weird story of stalking and obsession? Yeah, why not.

Final choice: Octavio is Dead! and The Year I Lost My Mind.

Saturday August 11

I have other plans that night, so no movies. *sadface*

Sunday August 12

EITHER a documentary about Canada’s not-very-long-ago gay witch hunt which I’ll probably miss because of volleyball, a dramedy about dreams and drag in small-town Alaska, and an all-women’s comedy about crappy jobs and tech startups (International Village),

OR a showcase of Indigenous music on the theme of family, and local story tellers talking about their creative roots and inspirations (SFU GoldCorp).

The GoldCorp shows may be happening too soon anyway, so let’s go for International Village!

Final choice: The Fruit Machine, Alaska is a Drag, and Freelancers Anonymous

Monday August 13

EITHER two movies about avant-garde queer art scenes in NY and LA,

OR a showcase of local LGBTQ2S+ filmmakers and activists, and a documentary on San Francisco’s Imperial Council.

Hmm… I think I’m in the mood for some uplifting present and inspirational history.

Final choice: Troublemakers 3.0 and 50 Years of Fabulous.

Tuesday August 14

EITHER two erotic gay romance movies,

OR a two-part documentary on two young West Bengali girls who committed suicide, their past and never-to-happen future.

Final choice: tentatively, Al Berto and A Moment in the Reeds.

Wednesday August 15

EITHER the centrepiece gala, a romantic lesbian dramedy with themes of art, activism and racism,

OR another showing of A Moment in the Reeds followed by a documentary on a Black trans Brazilian singer.

Final choice: the centrepiece show, White Rabbit.

Thursday August 16

EITHER a documentary on Jennifer Laude, a Filipina trans woman killed by a US Marine in 2014, and what looks like a musical about queer / trans youth in New York,

OR a retrospective on dyke cinema followed by a repeat of White Rabbit.

I mean, no point in repeating myself, right?

Final choice: Call Her Ganda and Saturday Church.

Friday August 17

EITHER a brand new showcase of trans, genderqueer and nonbinary stories, then a series of shorts centring trans women, then a lesbian romantic comedy (SFU GoldCorp)

OR a history of the Vancouver Men’s Chorus (yay!) followed The Coast Is Queer (York Theatre).

Now, I never miss The Coast Is Queer, so unfortunately I’ll have to miss The Coast is Genderqueer. Boo.

Final choice: We Are The Vancouver Men’s Chorus and The Coast Is Queer.

Saturday August 18

EITHER a documentary on the genderfluid Leitis of Tonga; the award-winning and atmospheric story of an Armenian trans man; and a gay Buddhist love story,

OR a showcase of Indigiqueer shorts and a look at life and love in Toronto’s indigenous communities.

For some reason I’m drawn to the moody, spiritual Buddhist love story. Also, the first documentary is done by the same people behind Kumu Hina, which I very much enjoyed.

Final choice: tentatively, Leitis in Waiting, Apricot Groves and Malila: The Farewell Flower.

Sunday August 19

Just the Closing Gala, which is absolutely not a happy-happy feel-good story.

Final choice: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

My 2017 Queer Film Festival schedule

It’s that time of year again! Let’s see what’s out there…

Thursday August 10

The opening gala, so there’s only one choice. It looks wonderful, though: dying indigenous languages, magical realism, and what looks like a deep meditation on cultures and communication? Yes please. Oh, and apparently there’s a long-lost love story between two guys, which makes this a queer film.

Final choice: I Dream In Another Language / SueƱo en otro idioma

Friday August 11

Either gay horror and murder mysteries, or touching lesbian personal dramas. Hmm… Yeah, let’s go for the horror. When will I get another chance to see a zombie apocalypse in a bathhouse?

Final choice: B&B and DTF: Down To Fright

Saturday August 12

I’ve got plans that night, but I could catch an early show, one of the lesbian dramas I missed Friday. Don’t know if I’ll have time, that would cut into my Taiji. But we’ll see.

Final choice (maybe): Signature Move

Sunday August 13

At first I hadn’t planned anything for Sunday. Maybe because nothing really caught my eye, or I just wanted to pace myself… but I do have choices. Seems to be a lot of biographies and documentaries. Half focused on North America (and one just on Vancouver), half international. As interesting as some of these international stories are, I’m in the mood for something local.

Final choice: Troublemakers 2.0

Monday August 14

Either a look at LGBT communities and what anchors them, or a lot of weird sexy gay dramas. I’m feeling the former more.

Final choice: Stay Gold, March Forward and Jewel’s Catch One

Tuesday August 15

Either two sexy gay love stories, or a double-bill of Indigenous femme stories. I had settled on the early sexy gay love show (again, pacing myself)… but now I’m not so sure. Though now I’m thinking I may want to take in some queer First Nations culture.

Final choice (tentative): Center Of My World / Die Mitte der Welt

Wednesday August 16

The centrepiece gala, a documentary on the incarceration and aftermath of Black trans woman CeCe McDonald.

Final choice: Free CeCe!

Thursday August 17

Either a lot of short stories exploring intersectional queer identities, or a couple of bittersweet lesbian love stories. Originally I didn’t put down anything for Thursday. Do I have other plans? I don’t even remember. But either way, I think I’ll pass on the lesbian drama.

Final choice: The Migrant Mixtape

Friday August 18

Okay, you all know I’ll seeing The Coast Is Queer, right? And hey, the late show in that theatre is a biopic of one of the leaders of the Stonewall rebellion.

Final choice: The Coast Is Queer and The Death & Life of Marsha P. Johnson

Saturday August 19

I’ve got plans that night too! But, I think I’ll catch an early-early show, which would have been the late show on Thursday. It’s too bad, I really enjoyed Kumu Hina a couple years ago when it was just a short film, and would have liked to see the feature-length version.

Final choice: Taxi Stories

Sunday August 20

There’s only the ending gala to see. Fortunately it looks fun!

Final choice: Handsome Devil