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March 10, 2006


This year's theme:
Good movies

Cleveland festival's Ten Percent Cinema has many gems

Cleveland--After 30 years, you would think that the Cleveland International Film Festival would run out of movies to play.

Obviously, that statement was made in jest. Behind it, however, lies a valid point: If it seems that the festival’s Ten Percent Cinema seems to fall into a theme each year, wouldn’t they eventually run out of themes?

A few years ago the theme seemed to be same-sex couples having children, either through adoption or assisted fertilization. Sometimes, all the films seem to deal with religion or transgender themes.

This year, the common thread among the films is a more basic one.

They’re all really good.

Admittedly, this reporter (to use a Brenda Starr reference) hasn’t seen them all. Not all films in the Ten Percent Cinema had screeners available, and others have restrictions placed on reviews of them by the distributors, such as capsule reviews only, or any review that comes out must run again when the film is given wider release. Those movies get mentioned, but not a full review.

At first glance, however, even those are fascinating films.

Five films, however, had no restrictions, and so an entire weekend was given to movie-watching. In vaguely alphabetical order, here they are.

Blood, Sweat and Glitter is a documentary about the transgressive drag venue Trannyshack in San Francisco. The odds are you won’t find anyone lip-syncing to Taylor Dayne, Madonna, Cher or any of the other traditional drag acts at Trannyshack.

More likely, there would be what could best be described as performance art clad in some of the trappings of “safer” drag performances.

After an introduction to the venue and some of its ingénues, the film segues into the Miss Trannyshack competition, the preparations for the contest and the actual night of the event, when things don’t necessarily go as smoothly as the queens would hope.

Diva Dan, Syphillis Diller, Anna Conda, Veda De Voe and Kiddie present five different views of the festivities and of drag itself. Diva Dan and Syphillis Diller put on extravagant shows, while Anna Conda gives the audience social satire. Veda De Voe’s entry is more traditional, while Kiddie’s act is a heart-wrenchingly intense performance piece.

Who will win? Will the also-rans decide to run again? Watch the movie to find out. It’s witty, touching, and begs the question, why not here?

Go West, directed by Ahmed Imamovic, is a tragic love story set against the backdrop of the ethnic wars in the former Yugoslavia.

Kenan, a cellist and Muslim, and his lover Milan, a Serb, escape Sarajevo to Milan’s home town. Along the way, Serbian soldiers board their train and remove a few suspected Muslims, demanding to see their penises. If they are circumcised, they are Muslims and they are shot.

In a panicked moment of brilliance, Milan dresses Kenan as a woman, and thus is born his wife, Milena. While Milan’s father and best friend know of the charade, the rest of the town is kept in the dark.

Milan gets drafted to fight in the war as Kenan is left behind, befriended only by the town witch, whose son was sired by a man from the now-destroyed neighboring Muslim town.

As happens in war, things go to hell in a hand-basket and, as the time for Kenan and Milan’s escape to the Netherlands approaches, disaster strikes, scarring the survivors forever.

A fairly dark film about a very dark chapter in European history, Go West doesn’t really leave one basking in a heart-felt glow. Audiences will leave the theater either sad or angry at the waste of life that continues to this day, at the insanity of hatred on such a grand scale.

John Baumgartner’s Hard Pill, on the other hand, deals almost exclusively with self-hatred.

Tim is a miserable gay man. He’s more of a homebody by nature, and is head over heels in love with 1) his straight best friend and 2) the presumably straight new guy at work.

As Tim’s 33rd birthday arrives, he drops a bombshell: he signed up for clinical trials of a pill that will make gay men straight.

Of course, his gay male friends aren’t happy, but his straight female friend is--until he comes out of therapy ostensibly straight, but only has sex with her once.

Tim discovers that being attracted to women doesn’t necessarily make him a happier person. In fact, the pill might have adverse affects that he never expected.

While the political implications of a cure for homosexuality may be hard to swallow, Hard Pill is not, and is a shining example of independent filmmaking. Nobody in the film, however, asks the really obvious question: If there is a pill to make gay men straight, doesn’t that mean that there is also a chemical way to turn straight men gay?

The next film fits the category of the “One film per year that left-of-center sensibilities really dig.” In previous years, fare like Nine Dead Gay Guys and Eating Out filled that slot; this year, it’s Race You to the Bottom.

It stars Cole Williams, the son of songwriter and actor Paul Williams, and Amber Benson, who played lesbian witch Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. One needn’t really say any more but I will, just to explain how off-kilter this road movie is.

Williams plays Nathan, a gay man who writes for a travel magazine. He’s also having an affair with Maggie (Benson), whose boyfriend doesn’t really satisfy her sexually, although in almost every other way they have a great relationship.

Nathan gets his editor to send him on a trip to the Napa Valley wineries, and he takes Maggie. However, along the way, he also gives a straight friend of theirs a hand job and tries to get Maggie to procure a waiter for him in a moment reminiscent of Suddenly Last Summer.

As Maggie’s need for emotional attachment and Nathan’s immaturity head towards each other on a precipitous collision course, their friendship is stretched to the breaking point, and the people who emerge at the end of the film are very different from those the audience is introduced to at the beginning.

Director Russell Brown constructed a stunning film, filled with lush scenery and surprisingly mature performances from young actors.

Finally, there is Unveiled, the tale of an Iranian lesbian who flees her homeland after being arrested for her “sinful lifestyle.”

When Fariba arrives in Germany, however, the secrecy to which she has become accustomed bites her in the ass. She tells the German authorities that she is escaping political persecution, and they try to send her back.

Opportunity knocks, however, when another asylum-seeker kills himself after discovering that the Iranian authorities have executed his brother in his place. She assumes his identity and finds work in a sauerkraut factory, eventually falling in love with a woman there.

When Fariba reveals herself to Anne, she finds the German woman more receptive than she could have hoped. The rest of the people around them, however, are not as happy to find out that the young man they called “Ayatollah” is really a woman.

Echoing the events in Boys Don’t Cry, Angelina Maccarone’s film has a more hopeful ending, although hardly a happy one. The film is intense, and again illustrates the dangers of being queer in a repressive regime.

Those are, of course, just five of the 13 films in the Ten Percent Cinema this year, not including the 10% Shorts program.

20 Centimeters, a Spanish film dealing with a narcoleptic transgender prostitute trying to save up for gender reassignment surgery, reads like My Own Tranny Idaho. When Marieta meets a man who loves literally every inch of her, she faces the choice of accepting true love or fulfilling her lifelong dream.

Documentary The Aggressives would have easily made the cut for a full review, had the distributor allowed it. It follows a group of young African American lesbians, all of whom display different degrees of masculinity, over the course of five years.

Kirk Marcolina and Larry Grimaldi’s Camp Out would be a groundbreaking film in any city that didn’t house the headquarters of the United Church of Christ. After all, in Cleveland it’s relatively easy to forget that not all churches are accepting of LGBT youth.

Camp Out revolves around Bay Lake Camp in Minnesota, a Christian camp for LGBT teens, one in which their sexuality and religion is reconciled instead of being placed in conflict.

“You shouldn’t have to throw away religion or deny your sexuality or sexual identity,” says Pastor Jay, as those things “are a piece of what we’re all meant to be.”

The German film Guys and Balls on paper seems like a redux of Iron Butterflies or any of the Thai “gay team kicks ass” films of the last few years, with a wee twist.

Ecki, goalkeeper for his local soccer team, gets booted after missing an easy block. Since he had drunkenly kissed one of his teammates, they attribute his failure to homosexuality. Angered, he makes a bet: he can put together an all-gay team that will beat his former mates at their own game. The problem comes in finding the players and strengthening the team in time to have his revenge.

British entry Gypo also seems like an intense and likable film. Taking three viewpoints, the movie tells of a Czech family moving into a suburban neighborhood. Their daughter and the daughter of their British neighbors become friends as both families undergo dramatic changes.

Another British film, When I’m 64, tells of finding love later in life, a topic seldom broached in gay male cinema, although slightly more common in lesbian films. Jim, a retired teacher, and Ray, a cabbie, feel an immediate attraction, but Ray’s children and Jim’s terminally ill father present some bumps in the road to love.

Amnon Buchbinder’s Whole New Thing stars Daniel MacIvor, the creative force behind the Da Da Kamera theater troupe, as the teacher of 13-year old Emerson, who is the subject of bullying at school beacuse his classmates can’t decide if he’s gay or just plain weird.

Finally, Zero Degrees of Separation looks at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of mixed same-sex couples who find their relationships as threatened as their lives by the continuing conflict between their peoples.

On top of those films, seven short subjects make up this year’s 10% Shorts program.

The festival begins Thrusday, March 16 and ends Sunday, March 26. For a full schedule of films, more information or to buy tickets to the screenings, which will once again be held at Tower City Cinemas on Public Square, go to or call 866-8653456.


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