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FILM REVIEW

Online Queer Movie Fest

Its Variety Runs the GAMIT

By Fred Choi
ASSOCIATE ARTS EDITOR

Just in time for National Pride Month and Boston’s Gay Pride Week (which will include the march through Boston this Saturday at noon starting in Copley Square) comes the first Online Queer Short Movie Festival. Out of almost 150 submissions, 25 finalists have been selected in five categories (drama, comedy, animation, experimental, and documentary). A three-person jury will choose a winner from each of the five categories, and each winner will each receive $1,000; in addition, a Grand Prize winner will receive $10,000. Audience awards will also be given to films (available at: http://movieawards.planetout.com) based on the opinions of online voters throughout the month of June.

The twenty-five movies which are finalists in the competition, all of which run less than 20 minutes and many of which are less than 10 minutes long, are simply amazing. The shorts run the gamut of emotions and styles, from the high-budget to the minimalist, the savvy to the silly, the side-splitting to the tear-jerking. Many of the films should be appealing with men/women/straight/queer folk alike.

Although all the shorts are interesting and fun to watch, there are reasons ones prove to be less memorable. Some of them rely on gratuitous sex and nudity (“... lost” (Castle) and “Closer” (Gharavi)). Thankfully only a few avoid this all too common trap in queer cinema. Several, particularly among the documentaries, get so close to being revelatory but continually shy away from delving deeply into the material. Examples of these include “Closer”, “Family” (Foery), “Beyond These Walls” (Wong), and the visually stunning but disappointing “A Seeker”.

A majority of the other experimental films and several of the other comedies and dramas either try so hard to be deep or are so incoherent or unclear that their message is completely lost. Most notable among these is “Forever Bottom!” (Hoang) which features an Asian male bottom having sex in multiple public locations which can be interpreted in two, completely opposite ways -- glorifying or ashamed of the act. This lack of a clear point of view leaves the viewer feeling the piece is simply gimmicky and unfocused.

Below are my picks for the top shorts in each of the five categories. Log in and see if you agree -- half the fun of the film fest is reading others’ comments and seeing what others have to say.

Comedy: “How To Fake An Orgasm” (Dayna McLeod)

This film is so hilarious and refreshing that, while mostly frivolous, it easily gets my pick for the best short of the festival. Dayna McLeod delivers a stunning, spontaneous soliloquy/performance/standup comedy routine which, although minimalistic, is never boring. The “characterization” of the instructress, who is alternately annoyed, cynical, confident, confidential, silly, excited, sexy, and confused, is brilliantly captured in the film’s 10 minutes and is completely engaging.

The humor derives from the instructress’s vivid personality as well as the truth of her comments and her inventive analogies (e.g. at one point she compares orgasming to “doing the wave.”) In addition, the humor is punctuated and heightened by the skillful juxtaposition of matter-of-fact instruction with erotic demonstration, all presented with McLeod’s great timing and natural comic wit. This is a film that I’ve already forced a lot of my friends to watch and easily beats out the other comedies.

Drama: “Jean” (Anthony Fabian)

“In My Secrecy” (Wald), a story concerning a young gay man who is in love with his father, features some amazingly creative and effective cinema, but I’m going to have to give my vote to “Jean”. The piece is beautifully done. The cinematography, editing, music, acting, and direction are all of impressive quality and combine seemingly effortlessly to tell the haunting psychological story of a transgendered woman confronted by the man she once was. This is a compelling, compassionate testimony to the difficulties transgendered people face their entire lives. Although the last scene is rather obscure, it does not prevent the piece from maintaining its mood and leaving a lasting impression.

Documentary: “Constructions” (Kathyrn Xian) “Straightboy Lessons” (Ray Rea)

“Constructions” is a beautiful and stirring account of an artist’s life and her unique work, told with a deep love and a quiet, poignant simplicity.

“Straightboy Lessons” is less stylish but more interesting in that it shows one man’s interpretation of how straight men are expected to behave in a way that is simultaneously touching, unique, humorous, truthful, and sad. The director successfully gives a stirring commentary on society’s need to divide what is masculine and what is feminine, a topic which although relevant to the transgendered community is certainly as relevant to the gay/lesbian/straight/queer communities as well. Although the visuals tend to be rather bland, the reality of the protagonist’s words make it a memorable and moving film.

“Jake: Today I Became A Man” (Foiles), a fascinating exploration of a strong spirit who we see as an infant chanteuse, a chatty adolescent, a member of the Jewish community, an avid fan of Marilyn Monroe, a savvy shopper, a big brother, and a thirteen-year old drag performer, was a close third.

Animation: “Guileless Guile” (Will Lin)

Although “Tit Chat” (Herold) was very well-done and “Cucumber Chronicles, Episode 1” (McHenry) was smart and wonderfully creative, “Guileless” gets my vote for best animation. This is everything an effective short film should be: it is beautifully presented, exists on multiple levels, and is emotion-inducing. Will Lin’s story is nothing more novel than your average episode of “Dawson’s Creek,” simply a woman losing her lover to another man, but its tiny details are what makes it really memorable: the wide eyes and batting eyelashes of the lovers, the masterful animation, the surrealistic naked cowboy, the pause as the woman checks out the naked cowboy’s anatomy, the way the cowboy sticks out his chest to impress the other man, and the effective choice in music. Despite a somewhat abrupt ending, the piece is satisfying and fun.

Experimental: “Me-ba ... I’m Coming: A Travelogue” (Kara Lynch)

By far the most satisfying of the five experimental films, Lynch combines a rich, poetic text with scenes and music from Africa. The film follows a mulatto girl who is caught between being a girl/boy and a white/black and her experience growing up in Africa. Although the sound tends to obscure the narrator’s quiet, melodic voice, listening carefully will reveal the emotions behind her seemingly calm words.

The fest, the first of what will be an annual queer film festival, is presented by PlanetOut.com, a leading Internet media company for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, and IFILM.com, a leading Internet resource for film fans, filmmakers, and film industry professionals.