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February 29, 2008

Looking from all angles

The nine features in this year’s 10% Cinema cast a wide net

Cleveland--How will it change you?

Will you transition from male to female? Will you get beaten up by a psychopathic real estate developer but be reunited with your boyfriend? Will you chase your sister to Rotterdam and realize that there is love worth having, despite the risk of it ending?

The 32nd Cleveland International Film Festival presents these possibilities and many more during its ten-day run, from March 6 to 16 at Tower City Cinemas.

As usual, one of the high points of the festival will be the 10% Cinema, a collection of LGBT film from around the world. This year’s entries come from Canada, Spain, Israel, Germany, Argentina, France and the United States, as well as shorts from many of these countries along with Norway and the U.K.

Some years there seems to be a theme to the 10% selections. One year, for instance, many were about having children. This year they’re across the board.


Perhaps the most amusing film in the 10% Cinema collection is Boystown, a Spanish film that really begs the question: What was it about living under Franco’s regime that gave the Spaniards such a dark sense of humor? Director Juan Flahn’s film, loosely based on a queer comic from Spain, is one part Almodovar, one part Hitchcock, a tiny bit of Harvey Fierstein and a dash of, “Exactly what was that subtitle supposed to read?”

Rey and Leo, a couple of bears in the up-and-coming gayborhood of Chueca in Madrid, live in one of the few remaining apartment buildings that have yet to be gentrified.

Their elderly neighbor leaves Rey her flat after her unfortunate murder, which brings them into contact with Victor, an unscrupulous developer who is more than happy to, ahem, make a killing in the real estate market.

When he finds out that instead of selling the vacant flat to him, Rey plans to move his aging mother into the apartment, Victor launches a convoluted plan to not only do away with the old bat, but also blame the murder on someone else.

Mom’s no retiring old lily, and the mother-son team of police inspectors may be closer to the truth than Victor would like. That is, if the mother’s various phobias don’t derail the investigation, and the son’s burgeoning sexuality doesn’t completely distract him from the job at hand.

While some of the subtitling work is a little off, there is enough comedy to make up for those minor quibbles. There’s also a fair amount of flesh on display, both between Leo and Ray, and during a climactic (excuse the pun) scene at a bathhouse. All in all, it’s probably the most engaging queer film at the festival.

Boystown will play on Friday and Saturday, March 14 and 15, at 11:45 am and 9:45 pm, respectively.

She’s a Boy I Knew

Now, if there’s something really good for the boys, there should be something really good for the girls, right? And maybe for the boys who become girls. Thankfully, the festival’s programming staff found a couple of great Canadian films that fit the bill.

One would expect good LGBT films from the only country in North America with same-sex marriage, and one is not disappointed.

For the major transgender representation at the festival, Gwen Haworth’s She’s a Boy I Knew is an absolutely top-notch documentary. It follows the life of Haworth, born as Steven, from childhood until the present day. However, instead of just telling her own story, Haworth narrates as she interviews the six people who are closest to her: her mother, father, two sisters, best friend and ex-wife.

With these people doing the talking, Haworth can’t slip into the self-indulgence that mars so many other documentaries. She is the protagonist, not the hero, and she realizes it. She admits that taking hormones made her into a raging, overemotional wreck. She knows when she was mean, or unfair, and she readily acknowledges it.

What is remarkable and heartwarming, though, is listening to her friends and family. Her mother is Catholic, her father is a Mountie from the prairies. Nothing about them indicates “understanding” and “acceptance,” other than the fact that they’re Canadians.

Gwen’s mother is actually quite amusing in the way her head wraps around things. The fact that Gwen is a lesbian is fine, because that means that Steven is still seeing women, despite the outward reality.

Mr. Haworth, meanwhile, is a stoic man, seemingly resigned to the fact that his only son is now another of his daughters. He dabs his eyes with a handkerchief in one shot, chuckles warmly and often in others, but above all, he loves his child unconditionally.

One sister is more accepting than the other, but the fact that she’s a vegan punk-rock lesbian probably helps.

Also interesting are the interviews with the ex-wife and the best friend.

Steven married Malgosia Rawicz after they had been dating for a couple of years. While he had felt since childhood that he should be a woman, he repressed it, and he and Malgosia stayed together for a couple of years after the transition started, even though their relationship ended on the sexual level.

Malgosia provides a moment of intense honesty, a point at which Haworth could have made herself look better at the cost of the intellectual integrity of the film by removing it. She tells the camera (and Haworth behind it) that she felt betrayed by Steven’s dishonesty, by not telling her about those feelings.

“I showed you the ogre,” Malgosia says of her own innermost feelings.

The best friend, Roari Richardson, was supportive all the way through the transition, but admits that even he got tired of processing emotions and talking about breasts.

The six of them give such a well-rounded, detailed portrait of Haworth that she needn’t even have appeared onscreen, although she does. Home movies from 50 years of the Haworth family show a generational story, one of heart and hearth, as well as one of people learning to accept their loved ones’ decisions and provide for each other on the most basic and emotional of levels.

She’s A Boy I Knew runs at 7 pm on Sunday, March 9, and at 1:45 pm on Tuesday, March 11.

Finn’s Girl

The lesbian entry into the top three is the warm, comedic drama Finn’s Girl, and it’s got everything Sapphic cinema needs. In the first 15 minutes, there’s women in tuxedos, a motorcycle ride, granola and two sets of voluptuous bosoms, none of which has much bearing on the film as a whole.

Finn is a brilliant doctor, specializing in reproductive science. After the breast cancer death of her partner Nancy, she’s forced to run Nancy’s abortion clinic, which has taken her away from her focus on reproductive health. It also eats up so much of her time that Nancy and Finn’s 11year-old daughter Zelly is left to run amok with her friends Max and Eve.

They are a precocious trio. Apparently, they are all exploring their sexuality, although in small ways. Zelly also shoplifts magazines from a gay bookstore on Yonge Street in Toronto, nabs Finn’s weed for the group, and swears like a sailor.

Adding to Finn’s stress are the death threats she gets on a daily basis. Thankfully, the police have her under constant surveillance, but that doesn’t stop one overzealous anti-abortionist from taking a shot at her as she rides off from the clinic on her motorcycle.

One of the officers assigned to the daytime watch is Xavier, a French transplant who has very European ideas about sexuality. When he and his partner Diana are discussing what lesbians do in bed, she tells him, mimicking his accent, “We wait for a strong, handsome French man to join us!”

Yes, Diana is lesbian, and a no-nonsense cop who isn’t attracted to “kamikazes with kids,” or so she claims.

However, as she takes more of a role in protecting Finn and her daughter, emotions grow and the storyline progresses, as it must.

Eventually, Finn is faced with difficult questions. Does she leave the clinic and return to her chosen field? Does she send Zelly to live with her father? Is Zelly’s father really her father?

Co-directors Dominique Cardona and Laurie Colbert do a wonderful job with their talented cast, crafting a film that deals with serious issues in a way that is neither too dark nor too light. North of the border, an 11-year-old with a joint might be a matter of concern, but not the sheer panic it would be on film here. The interplay between the characters holds true throughout the film, with none of the schizophrenia that mars many a queer film. They keep their characters on an even keel, and everything they say and do rings true.

Finn’s Girl is showing on Friday, March 14 at 9:45 pm and Saturday, March 15 at 11:45 am.


The other two 10% Cinema films for which advanced screening copies were available are Vivere and Holding Trevor.

Vivere, a German film, follows Francesca, a 20-year-old taxi driver, as she goes off to Rotterdam on Christmas Eve searching for her sister Antonietta, a 17-year-old who ran off with a band. Along the way, she winds up rescuing Gerlinde, an older woman whose car crashed into a dumpster. Despite taking her to the hospital, Gerlinde winds up back in Francesca’s cab.

The entire story, from Francesca dragging Antonietta away from the band in the beginning to the trio lying in bed, looking at the stars at the end, is told once through from each person’s perspective, showing the differences in how each perceives the events. In Francesca’s eyes, she just honks the horn and Antonietta comes at the beginning. Through Antonietta’s eyes, Francesca physically drags her away from her beau’s arms.

Gerlinde is lesbian, Antonietta is straight, and Francesca is bisexual, yet they all realize that they are trapped on a “moron’s satellite,” while at the same time, they are at home. Together, they find a certain peace that they cannot find apart.

It’s an interesting film, but the Germans seem way to fond of the conceit of repeating a story (Run, Lola, Run, for example).

Vivere shows on March 7 and 8 at 7 pm and 2 pm respectively.

Holding Trevor

Holding Trevor, meanwhile, follows the eponymous protagonist as he tries to distance himself from his junkie friend Darrell, with whom he lost his virginity at 16. His roommate Andie is a sharp-tongued lush, the perfect fruit fly, and his friend Jake has just returned from New York, so he has plenty to keep him occupied.

However, when he re-meets hunky doctor Ephram at a party, his life takes an unexpected turn, and the conflicting pulls of Darrell, Ephram, Jake and Andie threaten to tear him apart.

It’s a fairly light comedy with some darker moments, but one has the feeling it’s been done before. It almost should be retitled as Twink in Coastal City Film Number 452.

Holding Trevor plays on March 8 at 9:45 pm and March 9 at 2:15 pm.

A Four-Letter Word

For Twink in Coastal City Film Number 453, go see A Four-Letter Word. A screener was not available, but the film festival’s synopsis practically screams “typical.”

“Chronicling the stories of four Manhattanites in New York City: Luke, in all his sparkling glory . . . gay cliché or merely lover of fun?”

Quoting the descriptions of the other three characters, Marilyn, Zeke and Peter, seems more trouble than it’s worth. From all appearances, the film should provide some light, frothy fare, but nothing one can sink one’s teeth into.

Check it out at 12 noon on March 11 and 9:45 pm on March 12.

Jerusalem is Proud to Present

An intriguing documentary for which no screener was available is Jerusalem is Proud to Present, a look at the World Pride celebration held in Israel’s capital in 2006.

It’s interesting that a giant party with thousands of queers managed to do what 1,000 years of civilization could not: It united Jews, Christians and Muslims, all in opposition to World Pride.

Admittedly, it was the more extreme wings of the religions that opposed the festival, but they still presented a challenge to Open House, the city’s LGBT center, which was hosting World Pride.

See it at 9:45 pm on March 11 and 12 noon on March 13.


While it doesn’t necessary fill all the criteria to be Twink in Coastal City Film Number 454, Shelter does have many of the elements necessary: Eye candy, coastal city--this one’s in southern California--and it is a film.

However, the main character, Zach, has a bit of a voyage of self-discovery in this one, as opposed to starting out the film as a major queen looking for love, which is the final prerequisite.

Zach is trying to find a way out of his dead-end job and out of supporting his sister and her son. If he could find a way out of his life and into art school, things would be dandy.

He starts hanging out with his friend Shaun’s older brother, who is gay, and the two become closer and closer, and Zach comes to terms with where his life is going.

Shelter shows at 7 pm on March 15 and 2:15 pm on March 16.


The final 10% Cinema feature seems very interesting, and it would have been nice had the distributors provided advanced screeners, as the film deals with a segment of the LGBTQIA community (as the ultra-politically correct like to put it) that is seldom dealt with--the intersexed.

XXY follows Alex, who has an extra X chromosome, which is a condition that afflicts one in about 500 males. While most show no outward signs of the genetic abnormality, some have ambiguous genitalia, while others are full hermaphrodites, like Alex.

Raised as a girl, Alex is now being allowed to choose her gender by her parents, who bring in a cosmetic surgeon to go over the options. Alex also develops a friendship with the surgeon’s teenage son, set against the backdrop of their parents’ fears for their children.

XXY has screenings on March 7 at 10 pm and March 10 at 4:45 pm.

Two short programs

10% Cinema is completed by two programs of queer short films, one on March 10 at 7:15 pm and the other on March 13 at 9:45 pm.

For more information about these films, a complete schedule of the over 120 feature films and 100 shorts, or to buy tickets, go to


Wexner series brings three days of new queer cinema

Columbus--The Out at Wex film series will feature three days of exciting new queer cinema next week. An annual festival hosted by the Wexner Center, these films would not find their way to Columbus were it not for the vision of the film and video programmers there.

This second annual festival has the latest and hottest commodities of the queer and indie cinema scene.

Savage Grace

To start with, there will be Savage Grace, Tom Kalin’s latest venture on Thursday, March 6 at 7 p.m.

Kalin, who became on of queer cinema’s most interesting voices with Swoon in 1992, creates a gritty drama in his latest film. Based on a true story, Savage Grace follows the ups and downs of a carpetbagging woman and her gay son.

The Baekeland family, descended from the man who invented the first plastic, are presented here warts and all. Their lives swirl in a mess of murder, Oedipal incest, sexual obsession and other mayhem.

Starring the ever-amazing Julianne Moore, who has made a nice side career of queer films (Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven, Safe) this film will shock and entertain. Also starring Hugh Dancy (who played gay in last year’s Evening) and Stephen Dillane, the film is produced by out producer Christine Vachon who has nurtured some of the best queer cinematic voices of the last two decades.

The most controversial film of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Savage Grace will be introduced at the Wexner screening by Vachon and Kalin.

Water Lilies

On Friday March 7 at 7 p.m., the French film Water Lilies will be preceded by the short No Bikini.

Water Lilies is about young adolescent women coming to terms with coming of age. Set during one summer at a public swimming pool, these girls confront issues of love, romance, and sexual burgeoning.

No Bikini, from Canada, focuses on gender discovery. After the screening, a party will be held at Union Bar and Food, 782 N. High Street, at 10 pm.


All day on March 8 the festival will screen Tearoom by Massillon native William E. Jones. Featured at this spring’s prestigious Whitney Biennial, this film was actually made in 1962. Created from hidden police cameras in a men’s room in Mansfield, Ohio, the film revisits the days when so much of being gay--including sex--was all underground and subversive.

Many men’s lives are still ruined with these undercover sting operations. (More recently, police videotaped a rest stop near Wellsville, Ohio in 2001, arresting 13 men. The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the practice.) The film raises very powerful issues of politics, privacy and the power of societal taboos. Jones will be on hand to sign the companion book he has written to go along with this film.

Before I Forget

Also on March 8 at 3:30 p.m. Jacques Nolot’s Before I Forget will be screened. On John Waters’ top ten film list, Nolot’s work tells the story of aging French hustler Pierre. Played by Nolot, Pierre has been living with HIV for two decades and now must confront issues of aging and mortality.

Lagerfeld Confidential

At 7 p.m. on March 8 a documentary on legendary gay designer Karl Largerfeld will take us into the designer’s mind and studio. Lagerfeld Confidential is a unique look into an even more one-of-a-kind mind and personality.

Itty Bitty Titty Committee

The festival will conclude on March 9 and 9:30 p.m. with Itty Bitty Titty Committee by Jamie Babbit (But I’m a Cheerleader). The film follows the transformation of Anna from a shy, retiring type into a radical dyke guerilla artist.

Catch all these works while you can because most, if not all, are probably not likely to play even at the art house cinemas in Ohio. For tickets and more information visit or call 614-2923535.



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