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Hollywood may not know what to do with a gay character and the community may moan about lack of role models on the silver screen, but foreign films and documentaries tell a different story. At the 27th Seattle International Film Festival 2001, so many "films of interest to gays and lesbians" played that I could only see 14 of them before I had to take a break. "Iron Ladies from Thailand," and, "The Closet," should be coming to theaters soon. "Scout's Honor" played on P.O.V. to protests from the Christian Right, and "Out of the Closet" should be showing up on cable sometime in the near future. Watch for the rest of these movies, either to come out eventually (no pun intended) or as rentals.

This isn't exactly a gay film, but it is an extremely funny film about being gay in the workplace. At the director's Q&A after the film, Francis Veber (directed "The Dinner Game," and wrote the screenplay for "La Cage Aux Folles") talked about wanting to make a film about political correctness. The setup is that Daniel Auteuil plays a schlub accountant who is going to be fired from his job. He decides to pretend to be gay so that diversity laws will save his job. Gerard Depardieu plays the homophobic, racist, H.R. director. One of my favorite scenes has Depardieu buying a pink cardigan for Auteuil and having to explain it to his wife when she finds the receipt. What's great about the film. besides the laughs, is that it actually takes a look at workplace issues. As the web of lies starts to unravel, The Closet spins faster and faster into an outright farce. My only complaint was that it ended too soon. The film exposes homophobia with out resorting to it.

The premise of this movie sounds highly unlikely: a volleyball team composed of drag queens, a pre-op transsexual, and one straight man makes its way to the national championships in homophobic Thailand. What makes it interesting is that it's based on a true story. The Iron Ladies took the national title a couple of years back, and are in the running for the Thai Olympic Volleyball team. The characters go through the usual fish out of water routines, similar to "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," but the story is told with enough heart that it overcomes the clichés of the storyline. There are some very funny moments. Even an attempted gay bashing becomes more a barroom brawl out of Gunsmoke than something more serious. Knowing that the film is based on a true story and actually watching it are two different things. At the very end of the movie, during the final credits, you get to see footage from the real-life Iron Ladies and they kick ass. The actors in the film aren't half bad either.

"The Adventures of Felix" was my favorite gay film at the festival. Felix is a sweet guy in a relationship, and he has just been laid off from work. He decides to use his free time to hitchhike across country to see the father he's never met. The heart of the film is really the encounters he has with various people along the way: a young gay man who wants to escape his small town and has a crush on Felix; a sexy railroad worker who just wants to have some fun; a wise elderly woman, etc. In telling the story, the filmmakers show off France's countryside in all its widescreen splendor. In Felix's first stop on his travels, he witnesses a murder. He can't bring himself to go to the police. The filmmakers (directors of "Jeanne and the Perfect Guy") use this theme to show us what conditions are like for mixed-race gay men in France, as well as to bring some extra depth to the story. Felix is a funny, charming film with some wise truths about life.

Two other French films weren't quite so sunny. "A Matter of Taste" deals with a creepy industrialist, Bernard Giraudeau from "Water Drops on Burning Rocks," who hires a young, aimless man to be his personal taster. Over the course of the film Giraudeau molds and psychologically tortures the taster into becoming almost his twin. The movie is never overtly gay, but the homoerotic tension between the two leads is pushed all the way through the film. In "Come Undone," two high school age boys meet at the beach, start spending lots of time together in and out of bed (memorably at one point in the dunes), and eventually learn some truths about life. Both films deal with ambiguity and unresolved conflict. Both films deal with power and struggles for dominance in a relationship. A Matter of Taste is a considerably darker take on how this might play out between two men, but both stories are sexy and compelling.

Speaking of sexy and compelling, the most erotic film I saw at the festival was this first time film from João Pedro Rodrigues of Portugal. "O Fantasma" deals with a country boy, Sergio (played by Ricardo Meneses in his first role), in the big city who takes a job as a garbage collector. He spends a lot of time working out his position/place in a sexual world, including flirting with a female coworker who is sleeping with her boss; stalking a handsome, motorcycle-riding man he meets; and generally working out his sexual frustrations. These scenes are all in well lit, extremely well photographed sequences - at a public pool, in the yard outside his stalking victim's house, and in the back seat of a police car. The film takes a step into the surreal in its last 20 minutes, but the director has taken steps to lead you to this point. In a way, Sergio is just trying to work out who is the alpha male in this new world he's found himself in.

On a lighter note, " Borstal Boy" and "Gaudi Afternoon" are slight, but enjoyable movies with some nice eye candy. In Borstal Boy, set in 1940s England, the eye candy is supplied by the leads: an IRA soldier and the Royal Navy sailor in love with him.

Gaudi Afternoon, easily the better film, supplies its eye candy with sumptuous photography of some of Antonio Gaudi's finer architectural monuments as background to almost every scene. This cute mystery story (based on the book by Seattle author Barbara Wilson) has a dream cast of Judy Davis, Marcia Gay Harden, Lili Taylor, and Juliette Lewis. Ms. Davis is particularly neurotic in this showy role as Cassandra, the translating sleuth. What more could you ask for?

I also saw a few documentaries with gay themes. "Scout's Honor" was compelling viewing but really needed input from the Boy Scouts of America to give a complete picture (they declined to be interviewed for the film).

"Webcam Boys," was a bit sexy and kind of fun, but it was produced by the employer of all the Webcam Boys interviewed for the film, so it felt a bit like a long infomercial for cyber porn. Not a bad thing if that's what you're into, but I felt like a nice therapy session after might be called for. Several audience members asked ANT, one of the producers, whether he would be opening up some sites in Seattle soon, and whether they could audition. You can imagine what a stand-up comedian like ANT did with an opening like that.

And finally, I saw "Out of the Closet, Off the Screen: The William Haines Story," as a double-feature with one of William Haines late films from 1930, "Way Out West." Out of the Closet is brought to you by the people who made "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," and was produced on contract for a cable channel. The cable channel asked for reenactments (a.k.a. the kiss of death in a documentary) and only allowed the filmmakers 44 minutes running time. The filmmakers were also only able to secure rights to show a clip from one film.

The documentary is based on "Wisecracker," by William Mann and follows the book fairly well with slight simplifications throughout to make the running time work. Ultimately, the documentary is unsatisfying.

However, it was great to get a chance to see one of William Haines movies afterwards. It wasn't a great film, but you could see some of his appeal to audiences (William Haines was the biggest male box office star for three years running in the late 20s - he's the star who told Louis B. Mayer, when asked to give up his boyfriend for publicity's sake, that he would give up his boyfriend as soon as Mayer gave up his wife). This is a fascinating chapter in gay Hollywood, so despite its flaws, it's still worth a look.

"Princesa" is about a Brazilian pre-op transsexual who makes a living on the streets of Rome. The director shot scenes of actual streetwalkers interacting with clients on the street for some gritty reality, and then shot a fairytale story around it. Luckily, the fairytale has some twists unlike "Pretty Woman," so you know the movie is going in a different direction fairly early on. Unfortunately, the print they had at the festival had a dialogue track that was five seconds off from the actions onscreen. Despite the sound problems, the movie was strong enough to keep me interested.

In years past, there have been fewer festival features and more shorts, but I will gladly trade feature length gay films with the shorter format. It proves that gay filmmakers are getting better funding and more of it. That said, the gay shorts program was great this year. "Soda Pop" dealt with a youthful crush. "Audit" featured Alexis Arquette and Sally Kirkland as an IRS auditor and his receptionist confronting a former lover and his wife. "In Search of Mike" featured some great drag and remembrances of a mother with colorful phrases. But the audience favorites seemed to be "Jeffrey's Hollywood Screen Trick" (Billy dolls, Tyson dolls, Carlos dolls. animated at a White Party together - this actually played earlier in the year at Seattle's Little Theater with "The Wolves of Kromer"), "Tom Clay Jesus" (a funny sad story about two men and memory), and my personal fave, "Boychick," a rapping Jewish adolescent in love with a boy in his class. The musical fantasy numbers were hysterical.

Kevin Fansler, Pacific Northwest Correspondent.

The Bent Lens: A World Guide to Gay & Lesbian Film

The Bent Lens: A World Guide to Gay & Lesbian Film

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