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Film fest starts early for 10%
Cleveland--While 31st annual Cleveland International Film Festival officially began a week ago on March 15, the whirlwind of the event began for the LGBT community two days earlier at the monthly meeting of Plexus, northeast Ohio’s LGBT chamber of commerce.
Associate director Patrick Shepherd and artistic director Bill Guentzler spoke to those gathered about the festival, giving out ticket vouchers to each attendee and giving away festival passes as door prizes.
The event was at the Great Lakes Science Center. Organizers took advantage of the Omnimax theater, letting Guentzler and Shepherd show two reels of previews for films at the festival, drawing gasps and laughter from the audience.
The first weekend of the festival saw screenings of the queer-oriented 10% Shorts program, Boy Culture, Glue and Itty Bitty Titty Committee, all part of the Ten Percent Cinema collection of offerings.
Derek Magyar, star of Boy Culture, and Jamie Babbit, a Shaker Heights native and director of Itty Bitty Titty Committee, both attended the festival.
Babbit’s offering tells the story of Hannah, a young woman considering breast implants to supplement her sweater-stuffing. When she meets Sadie, the leader of a radical feminist group, she thinks again and embarks on a journey of self-discovery, all set to riot grrrl music.
“In many ways, the making of the film was its own feminist micro group trying to change the world,” Babbit told festival-goers. “And that’s what the movie is about, so there were many parallels.”
“This film certainly has the humor and politics that I love to combine,” she said. That certainly held true for her debut feature, But I’m a Cheerleader, which gave a caustic, comedic glance in the direction of “ex-gay” therapy.
“Bands like Sleater-Kinney, Heavens to Betsy, Bikini Kill, Hole and, now, Le Tigre helped shape me as a feminist,” she concluded. “And I wanted to make the cinematic equivalent of this awesome music.”
Another 10% Cinema film that will have the directors present is Saving Marriage by John Henning and Mike Roth. Playing on March 23 and 25, the final showing will be followed by a Film Forum with the directors.
Saving Marriage deals with the battle of activists in Massachusetts to defend the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling mandating same-sex marriage in the state from attempts to pass a constitutional amendment that would, in effect, overturn the court’s decision.
While there have been fights over marriage ban amendments in many states and others have seen courtroom clashes over the issue, Massachusetts’ situation is unique, Roth says.
“There is a huge difference between Massachusetts and every other state that has fought anti-gay marriage constitutional amendments,” he noted. “While other states, including Ohio, passed constitutional amendments to snuff any possible court decision in the future, the highest court in Massachusetts had already decided that gay people could not be denied the right to marry.”
“That meant that when the Massachusetts legislature began to debate an anti-gay marriage amendment there, they were literally debating whether to take a right away from their fellow citizens that had already been granted,” he concluded. “Because the amendment process in Massachusetts is quite lengthy, the court’s decision went into effect before any amendment could be passed. This meant that gay and lesbian couples throughout the state could get a marriage license that was just as legally valid as their straight counterparts, and we have not been able to do that in any other state.”
It was, Roth notes, a glorious new day for same-sex couples, and the right wing’s foretelling of doom and gloom never came to pass.
“Contrary to the predictions of some vocal conservatives, the day after gay marriage became legal, the sun still rose, the world did not come to an end, and life continued quite normally for most people in the state,” he joked. “But for gay people, the change was profound.”
“Certainly, many couples who married had had commitment ceremonies in the past. Many had the loving support of their friends and family, many had already been together for decades,” he continued. “But couple after couple we talked to spoke of how surprised they were at how different it felt once they signed that piece of paper. Finally, society had recognized what they already knew: that their relationship was just as valid as everyone else’s.”
“And for gay people not looking to get married, the change was just as profound,” he noted. “Seventeen-year-old Sam Zegas says something in the film that I could never say better, so I’ll just quote him.”
“All around you, you see straight culture. You see people who are middle-aged and have families, and I’m thinking, ‘I’m gay and I have no idea what it looks like when I’m 40 years old,’ and that’s kind of a scary thought. Gay marriage has really changed that for me, because there’s a picture now,” Zegas says in the film. “There’s a label. And now I can look forward and see there’s a legitimate future for me and this is what it looks like.”
As for whether the anti-gays will ultimately pass a constitutional amendment, Roth believes same-sex marriage will come to the masses.
“If you look at the history of marriage, it’s a constantly evolving institution. In biblical times, it was common for a man to be married to multiple wives. It wasn’t that long ago that wives were considered to be property of their husbands,” he stated. “My grandparents probably married just as much for economic reasons as they did for love. And my parents have watched 50 percent of their peers end their lifetime commitments in divorce.”
“Gay marriage is just the next step in that evolution. It’s coming and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. I think even the ‘traditional’ marriage folks know that, although they’ll never admit it publicly,” Roth said. “For them, it’s just a question of how long they can delay the inevitable and how much money they can raise at the expense of gay people.”
“Anyway,” he concluded, “I never understood their argument that gay marriage would weaken the institution of marriage. What institution gets weaker when more people want to join it?”
The Sunday, March 25 showing of Saving Marriage will be at 1:45 pm at the Tower City Cinemas, followed by a discussion with the filmmakers.
Tickets can be purchased for CIFF films on their website, www.clevelandfilm.org, or by phone at 866-8653456 (865FILM). Use the code GPC for a $1 discount on tickets.
Tickets are also available at the CIFF box office in the lobby of Tower City Cinemas.
Photo: Tim Safranek