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“Queers on Film”: LGBT Film Festival at the Creative Alliance

May 29, 2014
Valencia: The Movie/s

Valencia: The Movie/s

May 29-June 1, 2014

When KJ Mohr arrived in Baltimore in January 2011 to run the film program at the Creative Alliance, she was surprised to learn that despite Baltimore’s growing reputation as a center for creative endeavors of all kinds, as well as a vibrant queer community, we did not have queer film festival. Mohr’s second job found her programming for Tampa’s International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. If Baltimore could import Florida’s model of the Grand Prix to Baltimore’s downtown streets with that wild price tag, why not do a little harm reduction and bring their LGBT film festival model instead? And thus in January 2012, Baltimore’s first LGBT Film Festival was born. Mohr says, “There’s a vibrant, smart and engaged queer audience in Baltimore, so it’s a fun group to program for, and it seemed really necessary,” an argument borne out by the support this community has brought to the film festival.

Mohr handed over the reins of this year’s third annual LGBT Film Festival to the Creative Alliance’s Managing Director, Gina Caruso. Caruso returned to Baltimore two years ago after five years with the Honolulu Museum of Art where she helped permanently establish their queer film festival. Caruso has excitedly picked up where Mohr left off and continue the festival into its third year. Without the endowment funds of a large museum, Caruso has had to get creative about how to find the funds to make the festival happen. The Maryland Film Festival has five paid staff members, but for Caruso, curating this year’s festival was another job among many, impossible without the volunteers and individual sponsors whose passion will make it possible. It might seem easier to fold LGBT films in with that larger festival, especially since their lineup regularly features films by and for the LGBT community. For the organizers, though, keeping the festival’s focus on LGBT films is an important part of their social and political goals. Part of what makes the LGBT Film Festival so important is that it brings together an entire community to highlight queer films and filmmakers in a variety of genres that would get lost in a bigger festival.

And indeed this one has the stamp of community organizing all over it. The festival is sponsored by GLCCB, Gay Life, Equality Maryland, and AIDS Action Baltimore. Films were chosen by a committee of Baltimore scholars, artists, and activists with roots in the LGBT community. Individual community members are hosting several films, making the event possible in the first place. The festival will bring out other parts of the community as well. Friday night’s screenings will be preceded by a happy hour in the attached Marquee Lounge where the crowd will be treated to a comedy show featuring local LGBT talent. Friday’s popcorn will be provided by the local art collective Queerstories, who will share a piece of Baltimore’s colorful LGBT history with every serving. Between screenings, visitors are invited to take in resident artist Jeffrey Knox’s current exhibition that incorporates many of themes on display in the films themselves. All of it has the makings of a strong weekend of films, but also one of community building across a wide variety of LGBT constituencies, something a larger film festival would struggle to make happen.

The real focus this weekend, though, will be the films. Caruso brags that in spite of their small budget, “we’ve got the crème de la crème.” Any of the films could find a home in a film festival without a queer focus, and most of them have, garnering festival awards from festivals in Seattle, Tribeca, Chicago, Washington DC, Berlin, New Zealand, to name just a few. It is an impressive line up, and Baltimore’s film buffs are certainly in for a treat. The festival opens Thursday, May 29 and continues through Sunday, June 1. Individual tickets can be purchased for $12, $7 for members, and festival passes are $60, $35 for members. Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling 410-276-1651. All screenings will be held at the Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Avenue.

The Films

Thursday, May 29, 7:30 PM
Ian Harvie Superhero, dir. Liam K. Sullivan, USA, 2012, 75 mins.
This comedy concert film is not obviously an LGBT film, unless you count the gay hunting joke a few minutes in and the part where Margaret Cho produced it. It has all the marks of regular old stand up—making fun of racial stereotypes, religious fundamentalism, differences between the sexes, and parents who just don’t get it. Then the jokes turn to issues of marriage equality, coming out, and sex/gender transitioning, and it’s a different show. Sort of. Harvie’s brilliance is in the easy way he uses comedy to talk about tough issues in incredibly accessible ways. The film highlights his own experiences and makes common comedy ground for people whose experiences are usually the butt—not the ground—of the joke. Produced by Margaret Cho, Ian Harvie Superhero is groundbreaking comedy, precisely because it fails to break new ground, shifting it instead. LGBT viewers will find themselves right at home.

Friday, May 30, 7:30 PM
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Arven Chen, Taiwan, 2013, 106 mins
In Mandarin, with English Subtitles
This film joins a long list of queer films that deal with the struggles of coming out into families, communities, and cultures that would rather you stay in, but then tell these hard stories with such humor and good cheer that it almost makes you want to have to tell your wife that rather than have a second baby, you’re gay, especially if the soundtrack’s going to be this good. Sure to draw comparisons to Ang Lee’s 1993 gay classic, The Wedding Banquet, Chen’s film is lighthearted, funny, and sweeter than the candy colors lending this film a Wes Anderson-like surrealism.

Friday, May 30, 9:45 PM
Valencia: The Movie/s, USA, 2013, 105 mins.
Michelle Tea’s 2000 novel Valencia is on every Queer Girl of a Certain Age’s bookshelf. Her characters led the sex and drug-filled San Francisco Mission District lives we all fantasized about living, partly because we didn’t have to actually live it. This collaborative film brings together twenty queer filmmakers who take turns bringing part of this memoir to life. And yes, that means so many different casts, upping our chances of seeing ourselves or that girl we were crushed out on in the 1990s in the background of at least one scene. The movie feels like a love story to a generation of queer girls who loved each other in spite of everything. And no, it’s not hard to follow along—every Michelle Tea is donning those cat eye glasses.

Saturday, May 31, 4:00 PM
Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, Nicholas Wrathall, USA 2013, 89 mins.
Festival Director Gina Caruso is most excited about bringing this documentary to Baltimore, so much so that she, along with Charles Freeman, are personally sponsoring the screening. Her mom even timed her cross-country road trip to bring her through to see it. Why? Because he is, as one interviewer in the opening credits of the films says, “simply the most interesting man in the world.” Vidal was an essayist, playwright, and novelist. He ran for public office twice and was an avid public intellectual. He never adopted the label of either homosexual or heterosexual, instead arguing “everyone is bisexual,” himself included. With this rich material, Wrathall produces a fast-paced documentary that fleshes out this character into a man you’d definitely want to join for dinner.

Saturday, May 31, 7:30 PM
Free Fall, Stephen Lacant, Germany, 2013, 100mins.
In German, with English Subtitles
Lancant’s film takes subject matter similar to Chen’s—Marc is married with a baby on the way, and then he meets fellow policeman Kay- and adds some serious German sturm und drang to it. The movie is set at a police academy where all the men are dressed in the same dark t-shirts as they run around the same track for no reason and smoke cigarettes in hallways after dark. There’s also the joy of falling in love, highlighted in playful, effortless scenes that contrast smartly with the heavy truth that sometimes being yourself means losing parts of yourself, too.

Sunday, June 1, 4:00 PM
Fire In The Blood, Dylan Mohan Grey, India, 2013, 87 mins.
This documentary is a chilling account of the near lack of access to retroviral drugs in developing countries. The movie gives devastating numbers—life expectancies of 27 in some countries, millions dead across Africa—millions—in just this new century, and single pills that cost five cents in Thailand, but $30 in South Africa, all so big pharma can maximize its phenomenal profit, made more so since only 1.5 cents of every dollar made goes back into the research used to justify those high prices. The striking visuals drive home the point that in this world, some lives matter more than others, and others don’t seem to count at all. This movie tells an even bleaker—and more necessary—story about the AIDS crisis in the Third World than the one you think you know, and it hints uncomfortably at the ways U.S. AIDS activists have in some ways traded those lives for their own. Breaking from the recent spate of hagiographical films about LGBT AIDS activism in the United States, this film shows how much still needs to be done, a fact that should come as no surprise to those who know that Baltimore has the 6th highest rate of new HIV diagnoses of any metropolitan area in the United States, and Maryland ranks 7th for any state or territory. Those rates are highest in communities of color, a fact that this documentary would suggest is no mistake.