London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival

James Kleinmann

The London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival gets stronger in quality and range each year, and the twelfth festival is no exception to this trend.The festival opens at the Curzon West End on Thursday March 12, with Thom Fitzgerald’s The Hanging Garden, and closes on Thursady March 26, at the Plaza with The Sticky Fingers of Time. Packed between these two events are more than 180 screenings at the NFT of the latest features, documentaries and shorts in lesbian and gay cinema from around the world.

What is immediately striking when browsing through the festival programme is the sheer variety that is on offer. As well as films which wholeheartedly engage with all elements of homosexuality, there are also the inevitable ‘lesbian/gay at a bus stop’ features in which the presence of a lesbian or gay character leads a film to be immediately pigeon holed. The nature of a festival of this kind does mean that all the films showing are pigeon holed to a certain extent; however, anyone that loves film, regardless of their sexual preferences, will find much to feast on here.

The majority of the programme will inevitably not go on general release in Britain, and so a festival screening may well be your only chance to see something. Being selective is a difficult, but necessary process, and the free comprehensive programme (available form the NFT, as well as many clubs and bars) is extremely helpful for decision making.

The Hanging Garden, which opens the festival, tells the story of Sweet William, a man who returns home after ten years. He left as an obese, depressed, and closeted teenager; he returns as a slim, attractive, and openly gay man. He is forced to take control of both his past and present, when he becomes plagued by the ghost of his former 350lb self. This merging of slice-of-life drama and surrealist fantasy is, perhaps surprisingly, tremendously successful. Oozing style and never lacking in powerful, often uncomfortable atmosphere, The Hanging Garden is one of the most original films for ages. It will provide a startlingly strong opening to the festival.

Perhaps one of the strangest of the main features in terms of plot is Hilary Brougher’s The Sticky Fingers of Time, which will close the LLGFF. In what is probably the first time travel lesbian feature, Tucker, a pulp fiction writer, steps out of her house to buy coffee one day in 1953 to find that she has been mysteriously transported to 1997. Whilst wandering through New York, Tucker comes across Drew, ‘a jaded woman with blossoming self-destructive urges’. Some merits rise from comparisons between the past and future, which is dealt with by Brougher with style and wit. The film cost under $250,000, so there aren’t any big special effects, but the overall feel of the film is not that it is cheap, but that the director is desperate to make something different.

One of the major attractions of Paul Oremland’s Like It Is, is that the major female role of Paula (a pop singer who is struggling to retain recognition) is played by Dani Behr. Her performance is always entertaining, and she certainly has screen presence. If nothing else, she’ll have a useful show reel if she ever wants to audition for Eastenders. The main narrative of the film, though, follows Craig, a 21 year old northern lad who earns his money through illegal boxing matches. He realises that he is gay, but the macho world of Blackpool which he inhabits has prevented him from coming out. One night he meets Matt, Paula’s flatmate and record producer. After a disastrous sexual experience, Craig follows him to London to explore his sexuality, though spends most of his time beating people up.

The major problem with Like It Is, are the unnecessary scenes which mean that the film rarely manages to gain momentum or atmosphere. There are some quite explicit sex scenes, but these are well handled, and unlike many of the other scenes are not there for the sake of it, but actually help in the development of the characters and their relationship. There are a few powerful moments in the film, but unfortunately it’s difficult to have any sympathy for the characters, so one doesn’t really care what happens by the end.

Amongst the documentaries The Silver Screen – Colour Me Lavender presents an entertaining and revelatory history of queer celluloid. More of a rarity, though, is Out of the Past, which traces the emergence of lesbians and gays in the US through the eyes of a teenager from Utah, who founded the gay/straight alliance at her high school in 1996.

Khush in the Movies, is one of the major special events, which will see a panel debate concentrating on sexuality in the biggest film industry in the world, that of India. It is only recently that films such as The Square Circle have begun to openly explore different sexual identities, and previously any comments on sexuality were made through subtle coded imagery.

Other events include a family matinee for gay and lesbian people to bring along their children to. There will also be a special programme on Mother’s Day, including a screening of Mommie Dearest, and people attending on that day are invited to bring along their mothers or even dress up as them. Other archive screenings include Score and Barbarella.

In addition to the eight screenings of experimental films, there are twelve collections of shorts which will play throughout the festival. These range from Letters From Home in which imaginary poetic dialogues on AIDS, death and love are created, to a lesbian mermaid heading for dry land in search of love in Virgin of the Sea.

For screening times, ticket prices and any other information see the festival programme or visit the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival website. Call the NFT Box Office on : 0171 928 3232.


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