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London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival highlights
Time Out previews the highlights – and the opening night dud – at this year‘s London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
It says something when the opening night film at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival is a romantic comedy in which the romance is heterosexual and the gay character exists mainly as a source of comedy.
‘Love and Other Disasters’ is one of those chick flicks where the gay best friend is allowed the vaguest hint of a love life, but the main focus is on the neurotic girl-woman and her bungled attempts to get it together with the film’s real object of desire (in this case, a Latin hunk who is – hilariously! – mistaken for gay, but is of course reassuringly heterosexual). It’s also very knowing, packed with film references and people saying things like, ‘If this was a film…’ And as knowing, self-referential chick flicks go, it’s pretty poor. When I say that the best performance comes from Catherine Tate, I don’t mean it as a compliment.
Why this was chosen as the opening night gala, bugger only knows. But here are a few clues. The film was made by Alek Keshishian, who made ‘In Bed With Madonna’ all those years ago. It features lots of famous faces in small supporting roles, everyone from Dawn French to Orlando Bloom. And it was made in 2006, which means it’s taken two years to find a distributor.
Rest assured, there are many far better films on offer. ‘Breakfast with Scot’ is the story of a gay couple who suddenly find themselves caring for a young boy who shows signs of becoming a flaming queen. In the course of the story, one of the surrogate dads is forced to confront his own internalised homophobia. But there’s nothing earnest about the film. In fact, it’s everything ‘Love and Other Disasters’ tries to be but isn’t – fresh, funny and full of winning performances, especially from Noah Bernett as the young Scot.
Another highlight is ‘Save Me’, which follows party boy Mark as he’s enrolled in a hospice for gay men seeking a ‘cure’ for homosexuality. In America, the biggest ‘ex-gay’ programme is run by a Christian organisation called Exodus. Here it’s called Genesis. And the great thing about the film is that the Christian do-gooders aren’t simply portrayed as bigots. As the founder of Genesis House recovery centre, Judith Light gives a sympathetic portrayal of a woman acting, not out of hatred, but through a mixture of guilt and misplaced maternal affection. It’s a stunning performance, and one that lifts this film way above the usual gay festival fare. In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that ‘Save Me’ is up there with ‘Brokeback Mountain’ as one of the most powerful gay dramas of recent years.
Religion is also the theme of the centrepiece screening, ‘A Jihad For Love’, though as the name suggests, this time the focus is on Islam. Parvez Sharma’s timely documentary crosses three continents in search of the truth about Islam and what it means to be gay or lesbian and Muslim. Predictably, there are some harrowing stories. In South Africa, callers to a phone-in programme call for gay Muslims to be burned alive, thrown off cliffs or have their arses cut off. In Egypt, 52 men are arrested and brutalised by police before being thrown into prison. After leaving prison, one man flees to Paris where he struggles to overcome his internalised homophobia and build a new life for himself.
But there are some encouraging tales too – the Egyptian woman who takes her girlfriend home to meet her devout Muslim mother, or the South African social workers who challenge hardline interpretations of the Koran. Ultimately the film seeks to reclaim the term ‘jihad’, taking it away
from the holy war-mongers and back to its original meaning of ‘religious struggle’.
Other documentaries worth a look include ‘The Godfather of Disco’ and ‘Ten More Good Years’. The first tells the story of the late Mel Cheren, one of the key figures in house music and a committed activist who helped establish Gay Men’s Health Crisis. The second looks at the lives of lesbian and gay seniors, and the challenges faced by people who often grow old alone and isolated, and in some cases go back into the closet for their own protection. It’s a sobering film, and one that says far more about our lives than some silly romcom.
The 22nd London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival runs from Mar 27 until April 10.
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