The London Lesbian and Gay Film festival recently celebrated its 19th year. The festival is a milestone fortnight of cinema focusing on queer related angles, and exceeded expectations set by previous years. In addition to the features themselves the festival included Q&As with cast and crew along side club nights, surprise screenings and even a mass wedding.
The festival opened with the enjoyable Prey for Rock and Roll , Alex Steyermark's filmic adaptation of the musical by singer/songwriter Cheri Lovedog. Gina Gershon stars as Jacki, an aspiring rock star in LA set to turn forty, faced with the very real possibility that she might never make it. Gershon's look in the film recalls her role in the Wackowski film Bound , but what initially seems to be Corky: The Later Years swiftly evolves into an involving drama about Jacki and her band mates (who include Lori Petty from Tank Girl as lead guitarist Faith). Jacki is a fantastically cool protagonist: watching the combination of world weary cynicism and a genuine, unspoiled altruism in her make-up blackened eyes, it is virtually impossible not to cheer for her as she deals with a series of harrowing events and emerges triumphant.
Grande Ecole , Robert Salis' film about the complex relationships of a group of young men and women studying at an elitist business school, displayed all the elements of a classic French film. Paul, a Foucault-reading idealist, starts to experience feelings of sexual attraction for his conformist room mate Louis-Arnault. Unsure of what he is feeling and unable to express himself, he instead embarks on an affair with young Arab painter, Mecir. The plot is further complicated - both emotionally and intellectually - by Paul's girlfriend, Agnes, who realises Paul is in love with Louis-Arnault and rather extraordinarily chooses to view it as a golden opportunity to assert the supremacy of her love for him. In tackling issues of class, sexuality and race, Salis makes some astute and scathing observations, but the emotional impetus of Grande Ecole becomes a little lost in the resultant quagmire of emotions.
One of the festival's centrepiece films, A Touch of Pink , saw London based Alim (Jim Mistry) suddenly having to deal with the arrival of his Muslim mother Nuru (Sue Matthew) visiting from Canada . Nuru wants Alim to marry - should he tell her about the fact that he is gay with a loving boyfriend? His imaginary friend Cary Grant (an eerie performance from Kyle MacLachlan) is on hand to offer plenty of bad advice. Light and frothy with little going on beneath the basic feel-good message, A Touch of Pink is very much like a queer(er) version of the Hollywood flick The Guru which also starred Mistry - indeed, it rather seems as though he is doing penance for the stereotypical gay jokes that marked out this other film.
An expected surprise came in the form of Michael Mayers' A Home at the End of the World , which charts the relationship between Bobby (Colin Farrell) and Jonathon (Dallas Roberts) from growing up through the seventies and eighties. Based on the novel by Michael Cunningham (who also wrote The Hours ), this film was released last November but petered out before many people had the chance to see it - which is a pity because it is a rather touching experience. Beginning with Bobby's relationship with his brother, setting the precedent for his care free attitude to life, the story sees Bobby coming to live with Jonathon after the deaths of his own family, where he opens the eyes of Jonathon's closed-in mum (Sissy Spacek). Later on Bobby goes to live with Jonathon in New York , and the two of them form a love triangle with Jonathon's excitable and witty flatmate Clare (Robin Wright Penn). But is the relationship too unconventional to stand the test of time, not to mention the birth of a child? Rather like an updated Beaches , the film builds towards a moving, if soap opera-ish conclusion.
A curious choice for the LLGFF was to include Catherine Breillat's An Anatomy of Hell , a deeply esoteric film about (surprise-surprise for those familiar with her work) femininity. As with all her films it's hard not to leave the theatre feeling offended, but the strangeness of the screening itself comes more from the fact that Breillat's film chooses to regard homosexuality - represented by rampantly sexually active men at a techno club - as nothing more than rejection of women from a patriarchally driven culture: this being instead of as an ethnic identity in its own right - the very thing one imagines would be taken as given at a queer oriented festival. Breillat's film, based on her book Pornocratie , contains a string of scenes in which a woman is watched by a 'gay' man. Conclusions about the two sexes are drawn from the interaction. As per usual, symbolism abounds and the decoding of the various scenes provides the viewer with an interesting past time. However, although not a long film, owing to the style of complete (and quite acceptable given the subject matter) negation of character or drama, it does seem that the essential concept could have been as effectively rendered had Breillat reduced her running time by two-thirds.
The D Word , Cherian Dabis' New York lesbian sitcom, which pays homage to existing LA sitcom The L Word , proved to be a riotously funny and camp affair. A lesbian couple discuss having a baby and interview candidates for the father; a butch hairdresser proves farcically irresistible to the ladies; a successful athlete wonders how to bed a cheerleader without creating a media frenzy; and meanwhile a heterosexual couple's sex life is put on hold due to the girl's constant diarrhoea and yeast infections - or could it be that she's a D..? Deftly scripted, acted and seamlessly sewn together despite the clear budget restraints, The D Word is a fantastic achievement, both risqué and imaginative - reminiscent of the British comedy Metrosexuality . Meanwhile Lesbian Pop Idol which preceded The D Word , proved to be rather less entertaining, though not for want of effort. Snatches of comedy vox pops suggest that the actual event itself might have been quite a laugh. But as a short film/documentary Lesbian Pop Idol offered no real insight into the character or dreams of any of the contestants, meaning there was very little tension in the final round of the competition - please guys, just Pop Idol was bad enough!
The much anticipated Andrew and Jeremy Get Married was an endearing documentary about the approaching marriage of two mature gay men.
Finally, The Nomi Song a rather more extravagant and experimental documentary, proved to be heartrendingly sad and brilliant account of a little known star of the New York music scene back in the 70s. Klaus Nomi was a thin, pale German man who seemed to all who met him to be from out of space; hence his alien race, 'the Nomis'. His visual style reflected this concept and he had an amazing falsetto voice: his music combined opera with rock, and was influential to the likes of David Bowie and Morrissey. Tragically he fell victim to AIDS and died in 1983, before enough people could sample his sonorous music. Brilliantly combining sci-fi footage, standard documentary, one to one interviews and live recordings of his performances, The Nomi Song presents a vivid, affecting portrait of a singular, lonely talent struck down virtually on the eve of his making it.
The London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival this year was a stunning success with 25,000 people attending screenings. This reviewer certainly regrets not being able to watch more of the fabulous selection of films. Next year will be much anticipated.