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March 16, 2007

The best of the Ten Percent

The must-see queer films in the Cleveland International Film Festival

When the Cleveland International Film Festival gets going, it’s always a big deal. Thousands of people who seldom go downtown, much less to Tower City, vie with each other for parking spaces and pray that the screening they want to see isn’t sold out.

Those are simple tasks compared to working out a schedule to maximize the number of films one can see, or trying to convince the boss that one has a flu that mysteriously lasts from March 15 to 26, but has no after-effects, other than perhaps tired eyes.

This year’s installment, the 31st annual festival, runs the usual gamut from family-friendly fare to documentaries about people getting plowed by barnyard animals, with divisions like “Local Heroes,”  “World Tour” and “Cinema en Espańol.”

What’s most important to us, however, is the 10% Cinema, a perennial favorite of the festival and glimpse into the latest in queer film.

By some odd vagaries of the film biz, some of the pics are not available to reviewers. In mainstream Hollywood fare, that usually means that it’s some horrible drivel aimed at teenagers. But in the festival, it could mean anything except that it’s drivel.

Only two of the 10% Cinema features lacked screeners this year--Alexis Dos Santos’ Glue and local-girl-done-good Jamie Babbit’s Itty Bitty Titty Committee.

Glue follows Lucas, a bored 15-year-old in Patagonia who, along with his friend Nacho and their new acquaintance Andrea, engage in sexual experimentation while they try to pass the time. [Friday and Sunday, March 16 and 18]

Itty Bitty Titty Committee is Babbit’s second feature film since But I’m a Cheerleader. Anna is a small-breasted woman in a big-breasted world. When she meets a gorgeous activist who tells her to change her mind, not her body, she joins a radical feminist group in a film with Clea DuVall, Daniela Sea, Melanie Lynskey, Melanie Mayron, Jenny Shimizu and others.

Of course, Babbit hasn’t been idle--she directs more TV than one would think possible, but it’s nice to have a feature film of hers at the festival. [Saturday and Sunday, March 17 and 18]

Itty Bitty is unfortunately one of only three female-specific movies, with another five being mostly male-oriented. In a big change from previous years, there is only one documentary: Mike Roth and John Henning’s Saving Marriage.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled in November 2003that barring same-sex couples from marriage was a violation of the state’s constitution. Six months later, gay and lesbian couples got married legally for the first time in the United States.

Immediately, efforts were launched to undo the ruling by amending the Massachusetts constitution. The film chronicles the battle--still ongoing--to safeguard it.

Through interviews with lobbyists, lawmakers, activists and the couples who are the most affected, Roth and Henning follow the first few years of the effort to preserve marriage in Massachusetts.

The screenings are sponsored by Equality Ohio, and a film forum with Mike Roth will be held after the Sunday, March 25 screening of Saving Marriage. [Friday and Sunday, March 23 and 25]

The two remaining “women” films are both love stories, although they are as different as night and day.

Love Sick, a Romanian film by Tudor Giurgiu, follows college students Christina and Alexandra on their whirlwind romance across Bucharest and the countryside.

Alexandra is a country girl who has come to the big city for school, and there she meets and falls in love with Christina, who not only shares her bed, but also her brother Alexander’s.

The entire film sees Christina torn between the two Alexes in her life, although it is a narrative explored through Alexandra’s eyes.

A quiet, at times creepy film with a gripping story, Love Sick has an almost indescribable indie-rock feel to it, and one has big hopes for Giurgiu’s future endeavors. [Friday to Sunday, March 23 to 25]

Ned Farr’s The Gymnast, on the other hand, is American born and bred. It is the tale of Jane Hawkins, whose chance for Olympic gold went bust along with her Achilles’ tendon.

Now 43, she gets lured back into gymnastics when an instructor wants to put together an aerial duet with her and Serena, the Korean adopted daughter of an elderly Jewish couple.

Jane’s marriage is on the rocks--in her husband’s case, use the bartender’s definition of that term--and she finds herself drawn to Serena, discovering that she might be lesbian. Or it might be a way her brain is trying to distract her from those “Oops, I forgot to have babies” moments that are coming more and more frequently.

Compared to Love Sick’s indie-rock feel, The Gymnast seems more simply like an indie flick, one of those gems made totally under Hollywood’s radar. The aerial dances performed by Dreya Weber and Addie Yungmee are incredible to behold, and it’s intriguing to be given this inside look at the performances. [Tuesday and Wednesday, March 20 and 21]

Stewart Wade’s Coffee Date, in comparison to the last two films, is almost insanely typical. It’s an almost generic cute little gay comedy about mistaken identity.

Barry puts a personal ad online for his brother Todd, who hasn’t been dating much since his divorce. Todd’s online meeting with Kelly leads to a date at the coffee shop where he discovers, much to his dismay, that the girl he had so much in common with by e-mail is a guy. Wilson Cruz from My So-Called Life, in fact, giving this movie a 10 for eye candy.

To get revenge on his brother, who has been sleeping on his couch for an undisclosed period of time, Todd and Kelly walk into the apartment after their “date” and head straight to the bedroom, leading Barry to call their mother to tell her that Todd is gay.

Things then get really out of control when just about everyone but Todd and Kelly believes that he is a shirtlifter. Todd even goes as far as sleeping with Kelly to find out if maybe he’s in denial.

Meanwhile, when Barry realizes that he is the one who is gay, their mother (Sally Kirkland) refuses to believe him, thinking he is simply jealous of the attention being lavished on Todd.

It’s difficult to determine whether the presence of comedian Jason Stuart as Todd’s coworker Clayton makes this film more or less trite and hackneyed, and Debbie Gibson’s unremarked-upon appearance in the film is just strange. Had Todd told Kelly, who was wearing an “Electric Youth Live” sweatshirt, that he had a coworker who looked like Deborah Gibson, her casting would have been at least a source of amusement, instead of something to find out when the ending credits were running.

A harmless film, but if the schedule gets tight, it can be missed. [Saturday and Sunday, March 24 and 25]

East Side Story is a little better, but still a bit lackluster.

Carlos Portugal’s film is a fluffy tale of the culture clash between Mexicans in East Los Angeles and the gay men moving into the neighborhood because of rising property values.

Caught in between the two camps is Diego, a gay Mexican-American living with his grandmother and dating a closeted real estate agent. When the agent breaks it off and starts dating Diego’s aunt, he decides it’s time to move to Phoenix, where he can get away from the family restaurant and start working towards opening his own haute cuisine establishment.

Unfortunately, he falls for one of his new neighbors, Wesley, whose boyfriend Nicholas is so flamingly racist that he is nothing more than a caricature.

If this story sounds familiar it’s because last year’s Quinceańera had a very similar plot. It was also a grittier, more emotionally impacting film.

Which is not to say East Side Story isn’t a cute movie, or is not enjoyable. It is both of those things, it just seems a little too . . . light, for lack of a better word.

Members of the Cleveland LGBT Center can get a discounted admission to the two screenings of East Side Story with their Pride Card. If purchasing tickets online or by phone, enter the code “LGBT” for the discount, then show your card when you pick up the tickets. [Friday and Saturday, March 23 and 24]

Every year, the Cleveland International Film Festival’s 10% Cinema has a film that just strikes a chord--it’s edgy, funny, or just a rollicking good yarn. Let’s call it the “Nine Dead Gay Guys Award,” after the film in 2003’s festival that made it all worthwhile. (It just edged out 2005’s Eating Out and the 2006 film Race You to the Bottom.)

This year, however, there is a tie for the 9DGG Award: Russell P. Marleau’s The Curiosity of Chance and Q. Allen Brocka’s Boy Culture.

The Curiosity of Chance is a 1980s John Hughes high school film gone slightly astray. A comedy with some of the stereotypes of the genre (dumb jock, soulful jock, scary girl, oddball kid, overly strict administrator), the film centers around Chance Marquis, a foppish transfer student just starting at Brickland International High School.

An artistic soul, Chance is, of course, immediately targeted by the school bully, the captain of the soccer team. He develops a crush on his next-door neighbor, another soccer player who is also very into music, and gathers around him his core of weirdos (tough girl and oddball guy).

However, Chance’s amateur appearance at a drag club blows up in his face when the soccer captain’s girlfriend gets hold of one of the photos, and seemingly nothing will enable Chance to peacefully attend school again. Unless, of course, the Battle of the High School Bands has some impact . . .

There is exactly one thing wrong with this film: the dumb jock. He is incredibly annoying, but that makes watching him get his comeuppance even more gratifying. The cast is great, the humor is broad but not as much as Another Gay Movie. At heart, it’s a serious coming of age story couched in a slightly slapstick comedy. [Thursday and Friday, March 22 and 23]

Q. Allen Brocka’s Boy Culture, on the other hand, is not so easily described. It’s funny, it’s sexy, it’s clever, and it’s got Darryl Stephens of Noah’s Arc, so it wins the “Oh my gosh, look at that hunk of man” award hands down.

Derek Magyar plays X, a high-priced hustler with an elite clientele. He has two roommates, Joey and Andrew (Stephens). Joey has no visible source of income and pays no rent, while Andrew is a clerk at a video store. However, X needs them to hide his income from the IRS.

X takes on a new client, Gregory, who wants to wait to have sex until X desires him as much as he desires X. The two discuss their lives, working through their emotional issues, one of which is that X is in love with Andrew but cannot admit it. He cannot leave himself vulnerable.

However, as Andrew later points out, he can only push him away so many times before Andrew stops trying, and at that point, a visit from Gregory dropping all his own deceptions might not even help.

Had Queer as Folk’s American version been done as well as this film, it would be considered a television classic by people who aren’t gay. It’s sexy without being smutty, clever without being smug, and the cast makes a great ensemble. Brocka, the director of Eating Out, should be proud. [Friday and Saturday, March 16 and 17]

Of course, there will also be the popular 10% Shorts program, almost two hours of queer short films from the U.S. and Spain this year. Showings are on Saturday, March 17 and Thursday, March 22.

For more information, go to or call 866-8653456 (865FILM).



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