Film Reviews: Wednesday, June 19, 2003
Q Cinema\r\nJun 19-26. Various locations, FW. $7-50. 817-462-3368.
Something for Everyone

Celebrating five years, Q Cinema re-orients itself for the future.


In its fifth year as Fort Worth’s gay and lesbian film festival, Q Cinema has rebounded from its rather disappointing showing last year. In its organization and choice of cinematic fare, the festival is markedly better, though it won’t match the glitz quotient from its high-water mark in 2001. That year, local audiences got a look at Hedwig and the Angry Inch months before John Cameron Mitchell’s musical played in Fort Worth’s regular theaters, as well as Julie Davis’ comedy All Over the Guy and Léa Pool’s tragedy Lost and Delirious before their runs in Dallas. All three films had major distributors behind them. Hedwig and Lost and Delirious had both played at that year’s Sundance Film Festival.

This year’s Q Cinema, by comparison, has nothing that’s likely to find major distribution except for the already-released Lawless Heart, which has just concluded a two-week run in Dallas. Artistic director Todd Camp and executive director Shawn Moore are about more than marquee names, however — they’ve built their festival into a small Fort Worth institution.

They were the ones who began Q Cinema in 1997 as a monthly series of gay-themed films. In July 1999, it opened officially as a festival, with 10 films screened over four days in downtown Fort Worth. “We wanted someplace where gays and lesbians could go for entertainment other than a bar,” said Moore, who remains the festival’s executive director.

Camp, the artistic director, said the Q took its cue (so to speak) from more established gay film festivals like San Francisco’s Frameline and Los Angeles’ Outfest. “They have such a huge diversity-based culture over there,” he said. “They have to go out and get programming that appeals to every segment of their communities. We have an obligation to do the same.”

This week, Q Cinema will screen 14 feature films and seven different programs of short films over eight days, at locations all over the city. The locations include Four Day Weekend Theater, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the recently refurbished Victory Arts Center, and the Fort Worth Public Library. Moore cited the expense of renting movie theater screens as the reason for the different locations.

Camp admitted he’d rather have the event in one place, but said he sees advantages in spreading the wealth. “I like having screenings at places that are important to the community, like our closing night at Best Friends Club. The Modern has a beautiful facility, and most people don’t know that the library has a great little screening room.”

The Modern will show one of the festival’s best films, Lawless Heart, on Friday and all through the weekend. Tom Hunsinger and Neil Hunter’s English drama uses as its recurring theme the funeral for a gay man named Stuart who has died in a boating accident. In separate storylines that occasionally intersect, we follow Dan (Bill Nighy), whose marriage to Stuart’s sister has gone stale; Tim (Douglas Henshall), a hard-partying long-lost friend who falls in love for the first time when he returns home for Stuart’s rites; and Nick (Tom Hollander), Stuart’s longtime boyfriend who doesn’t know what to do with his grief. The film occasionally dips into tv-movie territory, like the home movie clips of the dead man at the end, but it eschews phony emotional climaxes in favor of low-key realism and a melancholy tone. The English actors, unheralded on these shores, do excellent work, and the filmmakers let their characters go in unexpected directions. Nick and Dan do some embarrassed haggling over Stuart’s unsettled estate, and Tim comes off as an annoying peripheral character in the first two segments but proves to be deeper once we get to know him. The most interesting storyline involves the odd attraction between the slim, citified, repressed Nick and a big-boned, working-class, messed-up straight woman (Sukie Smith) whom he meets by chance at a party. She’s the only person in the film who asks him about Stuart and doesn’t treat his pain as an inconvenience, but he’s guilt-stricken after that same pain leads him to have sex with her. The detailed characterizations make Lawless Heart a worthy entry in the genre of English slice-of-life films.

The festival would have been much better off opening with that than with Denis Langlois’ Danny in the Sky, a French-language Canadian drama about a male model named Danny (Thierry Pépin) who spirals downward into drugs, stripping, and porn. The story structure is meant to reflect the riches-to-rags plot of Boogie Nights. Unfortunately, the more apt comparison here is Showgirls. Viewers who can stand the movie’s pretentious self-importance will find much campy humor in its laughable evocation of a seedy underworld (check the cowboy hats on the strippers) and some choice bits of bad dialogue, or at least badly rendered English subtitles. (“You don’t love me. I could be any model,” and “Mom died for fear of herself!”) Sadly, for all the footage of good-looking guys in various states of undress, there’s no gay sex in the film; Danny is straight, even though he’s frequently mistaken for gay. The only gay character is his dad (Eric Cabana), who hates the world of modeling because Danny’s mother OD’d while working as a model. The family secret comes out when his father visits the strip club where Danny is working and gets a private dance from him in a scene that will make viewers of all genders and persuasions reflexively shudder.

It’d be a mistake to think that the other movies at this year’s festival are as bad as Danny in the Sky, although John Lincoln III’s Issues 101 comes close, with its horrendous acting and bargain-basement production values. A similar technical ineptitude also bedevils Savage Roses, John Tucker’s film about a Puerto Rican lesbian gangbanger in the Bronx, but it has some substance to it. The lead performance by Misha Gonzales, the locations, and dialogue are all authentic, but the film is sunk by overlong scenes and the utter conventionality of the story — if the main character were changed to a man, the movie would be entirely indistinguishable from thousands of other gangster movies.

Better still is Damion Dietz’ updating of the Peter Pan story, Neverland, which was screened in Fort Worth last March. Dietz’ take on the story, which is set at a run-down amusement park, is uncommonly rigorous — it works both as a fable and on straightforwardly realistic terms as well — and he’s not afraid to explore the darker implications of Peter’s refusal to accept adult responsibility and Captain Hook’s obsession with his own lost youth and beauty. It’s also well cast — Rick Sparks is particularly good at playing Peter both as a magical being and a petulant, overgrown kid. It’s too bad that Melany Bell as Wendy can’t match him, but the movie stands tall as a valuable meditation on narcissism and immaturity.

If this is all too heavy, the shorts offer some comic relief, especially The Ten Rules, which stars its screenwriter Michelle Paradise as a woman who navigates a lesbian party while occasionally turning to the camera to lay out precepts of lesbian dating. (“Old girlfriends never leave. They become best friends.”) The material may be less than fresh, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless because of Paradise — an attractive and naturally funny performer, and director Lee Friedlander, who changes up visual strategies frequently to keep the energy flowing. (At one point, the main character uses a telestrator to link current girlfriends to exes, looks at the resulting drawing, and says, “Georgia O’Keeffe would be proud.”) Its assured style and accomplished cast of L.A. actresses make The Ten Rules the most polished of the festival’s shorts.

The films that Fort Worth Weekly didn’t get a chance to screen before press time include some fascinating entries. Of Men and Gods and Santeros Carlos are documentaries whose subjects try to reconcile their homosexuality with their religious beliefs in voodoo and santería. The festival will also preview David Stovall’s Blue Saloon, a gay-themed fiction film made in Fort Worth that is still being completed. And Georgia Ragsdale’s Wave Babes, a surfing movie inspired by Blue Crush, is slated to play at next month’s Outfest after it plays here.

Perhaps none of these indies has a profile to attract the interest of Entertainment Weekly, but the ones that do are beyond the festival’s current financial means.

“I didn’t start the festival to make money,” Camp said. “Nobody in the film festival world starts out to make money. But I didn’t start out to lose lots of money, either.” He also points out that Q Cinema is at a disadvantage playing in the summer, when the dominance of Hollywood blockbusters might make a major theater chain more reluctant to bump a mainstream movie in order to free up a screen for the festival.

Still, Camp remains sanguine about the festival’s future prospects. “In recent years, I’ve just come to realize that we’re not going to be Frameline or Outfest or even OutTakes Dallas. Our festival and our community are what they are. We’ll never have a circuit party attached to our festival [like Outfest does]. We’re not going to be a buyers’ market. We’re not going to have studios coming here shopping for product. And that’s fine. As long as we keep showing films that I think have artistic merit and that we wouldn’t get to see otherwise, then I’m happy, and I think our viewers are happy.” Which isn’t to say that he’s given up on improving Q Cinema; he looks toward the possibility of future grant money. “Most organizations that give grants don’t look at you until you’ve been around for five years,” he said. “They want establishment.”

The festival’s organizers realize that even beyond its artistic issues, the event serves as a focal point. “Here in Fort Worth, we’re so spread out,” said Moore. “We used to have Fort Worth Formal [an annual New Year’s party for the gay community], but now that that’s gone, the film festival is the only event that offers something to everyone. We try to pick films that impact everyone, and people watch and learn about the other groups.” Camp added that he has learned much by programming for lesbians, older gays, parents of gay kids, and the transgendered community. “I meet all these different people, and I see that there’s nothing gay-specific for all of them to attend. That’s something we’ve always tried to provide.”

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