Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, May 29, 2001

Louise Fletcher, best known for her portrayal of Nurse
Ratched in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," plays
Grace Cornwell, shown singing in "Big Eden's" 4th
of July picnic scene.

A healing dawn

Gay and lesbian film moves
past the shadow of AIDS

By Scott Vogel

Time was, not long ago, when gay and lesbian cinema was made by and for a largely urban audience, or more specifically an audience of New Yorkers and Los Angelenos. There was much to admire in these films, but also much that must have seemed superfluous to audiences in Atlanta, Dallas, and yes, Honolulu. All the urban jungle talk of postage-stamp-sized apartments and actor-slash-waiters and feelings of anonymity and entrapment within a ghettoized subculture -- for a time, gay movies seemed convinced that gay life was something confined to a few blocks of real estate on both coasts of the mainland.

The long shadow of AIDS shrouded many of these films, the disease running rampant through screenplays even as it decimated the population at large. The AIDS story replaced the coming-out story as the favorite narrative trope, and gay movies turned tragic, though sometimes tacking on a bit of hope at the end. Understandably, gay and lesbian filmmakers spent a generation preoccupied with AIDS and the urban jungle, in the process creating a canon of works that historians of the 20th century's later decades will likely use for generations to come.

Eric Schweig as Pike Dexter and Arye Gross
as Henry Hart heat up the dance floor in another
scene from the film.

It wouldn't be fair to speak of the present period as one of post-AIDS gay cinema, for the AIDS crisis is far from over. Still, if this year's Adam Baran Honolulu Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (named for a video editor who died of the disease) is any indication, a new era is clearly beginning to dawn. Showcasing seven feature films and many more short subjects over four days, starting Thursday, the festival alights on locales as far afield as Hong Kong, New Guinea, Quebec and Missoula, and embraces topics as diverse as small-town love, cannibalism, martial arts and life on the streets.

You know times have changed when a group of Montana gay men is seen gathering around the piano for a chorus of "Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" (in "Big Eden," showing Saturday night) or when a Kansas trailer park is the home of a German gender-bender whose rock band performs in theme restaurants throughout the Midwest ("Hedwig and the Angry Inch," Thursday).

The festival opens Thursday with "Hedwig
and the Angry Inch."

Tales combining drag, camp and hustling are ever-present ("Lost at the Pershing Point Hotel") along with the requisite titillation documentary ("101 Rent Boys"), but there are also complex tales of lesbian love ("Lost and Delirious," set in an elegant boarding school) and portraits of a new kind of American family ("Our House: A Very Real Documentary About Kids of Gay and Lesbian Parents"). Still, according to the festival's executive director, Jon Bryant, this year's selection of films is not indicative of any anti-New York/LA bias.

"It was pretty much an accident," he said. "We try to have a good balance between men's films and women's films, and I think we have that this year." Another criterion of the festival's selection committee was the realistic depiction of contemporary gay life. "I think a lot of times people enjoy seeing a movie where everyone isn't stunningly beautiful," said Bryant, speaking in particular of the pastoral folk of "Big Eden," set in Montana. "The guys (in that film) seemed more like your average kind of guy, instead of everyone being buff and having washboard abs, like in West Hollywood."

Eric Schweig plays Pike Dexter, owner of
Dexter's general store, in "Big Eden."

In Thomas Bezucha's love story, the only film from this year's festival available for advance screening, Henry (Arye Gross) leaves New York for Montana when his grandfather falls ill, only to find his passion reignited by a former paramour from his high school days (Tim DeKay) who has now gone on to marriage, children and divorce. Against an impossibly scenic backdrop, the pair try to sort out their feelings for each other while each attempts to make peace with the choices he has made. And while the film's production values are strictly indie and the acting is far from Oscar-caliber, the story -- a lavender-tinged "Northern Exposure" episode -- is sweet and surprisingly appealing.

The festival's opening night attraction, "Hedwig," is a film version of John Cameron Mitchell's surprise Off Broadway hit of a few seasons back, the "angry inch" of the title referring to what remains after Hedwig undergoes a botched sex-change operation. A true survivor, the punk-leaning Hedwig forms a glam-rock band, a decision that brings her both an instant boyfriend and subsequent misery.

If the scenario sounds like a recipe for tasteless absurdity, that's because you haven't seen Mitchell as the "internationally ignored" Hedwig or heard Stephen Trask's wonderful score. This dynamic duo and their bizarrely delightful creation became the toast of the New York theater world during their musical's long run at the Jane Street Theater. This is clearly the not-to-be-missed film of the festival.

If there's any common thread in this year's movies, it's the nonchalance with which characters accept their homosexuality and sometimes compartmentalize it. Sexuality informs their lives but often takes a backseat to the everyday struggles of raising a family, or perhaps tending to a sick relative, not to mention being a gang lord or fronting a glam-rock band.

The gay community's various factions often disagree on whether this transformation is either a fine or disappointing development. But one thing's for certain, a more inclusive, variegated gay cinema is definitely upon us. And one that deserves more than a gay audience.

Film fest details

What: Adam Baran Honolulu Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
When: Various times, Thursday through Sunday
Where: Honolulu Academy of Arts Theater, 900 S. Beretania St.
Cost: $6, except for opening night ($15)
Call: 941-0424 Ext. 18. For schedule and synopses, visit the festival's Web site, at

The schedule


>> 5:30 p.m.: Opening reception with 7:30 p.m. screening of "Hedwig and the Angry Itch"; $15.


>> 6 p.m.: "Bobby Roger" (17 minutes), and "Rent Boys."

>> 8 p.m.: "The Deal" (10 minutes), and "Lost and Delirious."


>> 4 p.m.: Mixed plate of film shorts: "The Man in the Irony Mask"; "Constructions," an elegy to Oahu artist Samantha

Maeshiro; "Confidence"; "Coming to Terms"; "Blue Horizon"; "Override"; and "Dykes and Their Dogs."

>> 6 p.m.: "Portland Street Blues."

>> 8 p.m.: "Big Eden"


>> 2 p.m.: "That's A Family" and "Our House: A Very Real Documentary about Kids of Gay and Lesbian Parents"; free.

>> 4 p.m.: "Keep the River on your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale"

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