Wednesday, 20 March 2013

LLGFF 3: Calm before the storm

Filmmakers have flown in from around the world to present their work at the 27th BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. Yesterday I got the chance to interview actors Michael Aloni and Nicholas Jacob (above) from the Out in the Dark, along with the film's director Michael Mayer, before the UK premiere at the festival last night. They all talked openly about the controversial politics and sexuality that infuse the story - although the interview itself won't run until the film's theatrical release in the UK this summer. More festival highlights...

Out in the Dark
dir Michael Mayer; with Nicholas Jacob, Michael Aloni 12/Isr ****
The violent struggle between Israel and Palestine is highlighted in an unusual way in this gentle romantic thriller. As the events get increasingly nasty, the film isn't easy to watch, and we begin to lose hope for a peaceful solution either for the society or the relationship between two young men: Palestinian Nimr (Jacob) and Jewish Roy (Aloni). And both of them have external stresses - including visa issues, parental pressure and the fact that Nimr's brother is a violent rebel leader. What's most impressive here is that director-cowriter Mayer never lets the politics take centre stage, keeping the story tender and personal. The film is beautifully shot, with sensitive performances that reveal complexities within both the characters and situations. So in the end, both the suspense and the romance hold our interest. And keep us emotionally engaged.

She Male Snails
dir Ester Martin Bergsmark; with Ester Martin Bergsmark, Eli Leven 12/Swe ***
This experimental fantasy-documentary is a somewhat indulgent collection of images and scenes that force us to think about ideas of gender and sexuality. Some of this is quite disturbing, while other moments contain hopeful romanticism and tender observations. And even though it's fascinating, it's also meandering and difficult to engage with. At the centre are filmmaker Bergsmarck and his boyfriend Leven, who both identify themselves as "trans", uncomfortable in their gender. Their goal is to find a way to live in the world, so they adopt what looks like an experimental existence. The original title Pojktanten translates as "boy hag-lady", and both men find inspiration in the hermaphrodite nature of snails. It's lushly shot, with a moody electronic score and somnolent, poetic narration. Artfully recreated flashbacks mix with home movies in an openhanded kaleidoscopic structure. All of which makes the film more like a thought-provoking museum piece than an actual feature film.

United in Anger: A History of Act Up
dir Jim Hubbard; with Gregg Bordowitz, Jim Eigo 12/US ****
The key aspect of this documentary is the way it clearly shows that the Aids devastation in America in the 1980s and 90s wasn't due to a viral infection, but rather to government inaction. And it was only stopped by people who tapped into a rage they didn't know they could possibly muster up. While the Oscar-nominated doc How to Survive a Plague (see below) takes a more personal approach to the same events, this fast-paced film centres on the political outrage that sparked a national movement that actually changed the way the government addressed Aids research and treatment. In addition to footage of each pivotal moment of protest, filmmaker Hubbard makes extensive use of archival interviews with activists who didn't survive the epidemic, adding to the urgency of the period. There are perhaps too many faces on-screen, with too much attention paid to methods and events rather than ideas and feelings. But then this is a vital side of the story, and seeing it laid out so clearly is deeply compelling.

How to Survive a Plague
dir David France; with Larry Kramer, Peter Staley 12/US *****
What does a decent society do to help people who hurt themselves? If you're a smoker, overeater or bad driver, there's plenty of help available. But in America, people who had unsafe sex were left to die: for nearly a decade there was no useful medication to treat Aids. This astounding film documents how grass roots organisations Act Up and TAG forced the US government to show some compassion... REVIEW > 

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