PlanetOut.com’s Second Queer Short Film Festival
Real Entertaining RealVideosBy Fred Choi
ASSOCIATE ARTS EDITOR
PlanetOut.com’s Second Annual Film Festival
Presented by PlanetOut.com, atomfilm.com, Miller Lite, and Paper Magazine
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 PlanetOut.com’s second annual Online Queer Short Film Festival (PlanetOut.com is a leading Internet media company for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community). Out of almost 200 submissions, 26 finalists have been selected in five categories (drama, comedy, animation, experimental, and documentary). A selected jury will choose a winner from each of the five categories who will receive $1,000, as well as a Grand Prize winner who will receive $10,000. Audience Awards will also be given to films based on the results of online votes throughout the month of June cast at <http://movieawards.planetout.com>.
The 26 movies that are finalists in the competition all run less than 20 minutes, and many are less than 10 minutes long. This year’s films are of higher quality than last year’s solid selections and, with the exception of the documentary category, the short films mentioned below, and a few others, most of the films are disposable and don’t leave a lasting impression. Still, there’s a bit of something for everyone among the films, which feature a wide range of emotions, subjects, ethnicities, and styles, from the high-budget to the minimalist, the savvy to the silly, and the side-splitting to the tear-jerking. All of these films will surely appeal to men/women/straight/queer folk alike.
Unlike last year’s warm, thought-provoking, and artistic shorts, this year’s entries are generally less memorable because they often rely on a single gimmick, replace flashy cinematic tricks for substance, or borrow too heavily from conventional “straight” cinema. The shorts that succeed are the ones that avoid the common traps of queer cinema, such as gratuitous sex or nudity or fixating on the coming out process, and fully incorporate the queer experience without merely substituting queer characters into an otherwise trite story.
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 what others have to say.
By Laleh Soomekh and Porter Gale
The documentary category is definitely the strongest of the five categories of the festival. Each of the five documentaries examines a different subject, and, unlike last year’s festival, which consisted of unoriginal coming-of-age stories, this year’s documentaries feature important and eye-opening stories. Topics include the fight for freedom from harassment for students in California, one officer’s struggle for equality within the Los Angeles Police Department, and one lesbian couple’s unique occupation. The most fascinating documentary, and my pick for overall winner, is XXXY (which consists of interviews with two intersex people). The film points out that 1 in 2000 people is born with genitalia neither completely male nor completely female, and the film examines the pressure the medical community puts on intersex people and their parents to undergo surgery to fit them into a male or a female mold. The film, although at times a little too distant, is effective because it avoids cloying sentimentality and focuses clearly on a specific aspect of its subjects without avoiding other issues. A very close second is Destiny’s Children (by Kevin O’Keefe), which focuses on a gay man in Canada and his 17-year long struggle to adopt children.
Although the documentaries tend to run longer than the other short films, all five are worth seeing.
Animation: Piki and Poko Adventures in StarLand
By Mark Ewert and David Cutler
Piki and Poko Adventures in StarLand easily blows away the other competition (including the fairly entertaining The Rape of Ganymede, by Dustin Woehrmann and Tom Whitman, a short which features a queer reinterpretation of Greek mythology and pokes fun at Disney’s Hercules). For the festival, the short features the first three episodes of the online series (apparently now in its 26th episode). Piki and Poko is by far the most well-designed and addictive of the web cartoons I have seen so far. The cartoon concerns two Japanese school girls, one a cheerleader (Piki) and the other a bookworm (Poko), who have a questionably close friendship, and their superhero adventures. The three episodes are completely captivating for audiences of all ages and orientations, with their outlandish plot twists, bright animation, and dazzling and creative array of characters and situations. The short introduces the main premise of the series, which is for the duo to become “eternal martial arts astrology warriors” and save Starland, which “has been in tune with the celestial dance mix” but has been taken over by an evil being. Highlights from the short include Piki’s gain of “the power skirt” and a scene with the Martha Stewart villain of Starland who tells Piki: “You mustn’t worry so, you’ll get little lines on your forehead,” and points out that in Starland she must follow “manners, not logic.” This is the festival’s only non-documentary must-see.
Drama: Lives of the Pharaohs
By Jonathan Wald
Unlike last year’s generally entertaining finalists, this year’s drama and comedy films are almost all disappointing. The dramas in general tend toward the melodramatic, and although Baby Steps (by Geoffrey Nauffts) features Kathy Bates as a homophobic adoption agency head, the only really well-done drama is Lives of the Pharaohs (by Jonathan Wald). The film revolves around scenes at Passover dinners, and it perceptively traces a Jewish woman’s confusion when a friend from college visits and causes her to question her previously complacent family life. It is beautifully done and moving.
Comedy: Hi I’m Steve
By Robert Kennedy
Although 50 Ways (by Angela Robinson) is quite well-done and Trigger Happy (by Laurie Schmidt) is amusing even despite its reliance on one half-baked joke, Hi I’m Steve by Robert Kennedy gets my vote for the best comedy. The short concerns the familiar world of personals ads, but with an engagingly quirky, off-beat humor and surprise ending.
By Andy Abrahams Wilson
As was generally true with last year’s entries, the experimental films this year merely muddy the waters to make them look deeper. Casualty by Andy Abrahams Wilson is a poetic and interesting film filmed entirely underwater and, according to PlanetOut’s description, “highlights the unraveling of an intimate relationship.” Despite its somewhat trite symbols the film is creative and poetic.