Milwaukee’s LGBT Film/Video Fest brings complexity to the screen
The Olympia Dukakis-led comedy "Cloudburst" opens a weekend of acclaimed films that are confidently LGBT without limiting themselves to a narrow focus.
For more than 25 years, Milwaukeeans looking for the latest in LGBT and queer cinema have turned to the Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival, sponsored by UWM’s Peck School of the Arts. In a certain sense, this year offers much of the same: 13 feature films and docs and three categories of shorts from across the LGBT spectrum, spread over four days Oct. 18-21.
But in the years UWM lecturer Carl Bogner has been festival director, there is one change he’s noticed: These films aren’t so simple any more.
“I think LGBT film is really maturing over the last few years,” Bogner said. “Many of these films are confidently, unabashedly LGBT in theme, but they’re not just about that.”
One of the films Bogner includes in that more developed category is Mosquita y Mari. In the film, the bookish Yolanda, nicknamed “Mosquita,” begins tutoring her streetwise neighbor Mari, and a powerful relationship blossoms. Bogner said self-definition takes a backseat in the film, which instead focuses on crafting an observational portrait of girlhood and the conflicting familial expectations.
“It doesn’t force the LGBT theme – I don’t think the word “lesbian” is even mentioned in the film – but instead offers a delicate portrait of these girls’ insecurities and the risks they take,” Bogner said. “It’s pitched so well.”
Equally multifaceted is My Brother the Devil, a British film set in London’s Hackney borough, a lower-class neighborhood at the center of massive violence during the 2011 London riots. In it, two Arab brothers must develop their own definitions of masculinity as they are drawn into the local gang culture.
Bogner said he sees this as an especially sophisticated example of gay cinema. One brother’s coming out story is integral to the plot, but it also reinforces the film’s equally important exploration of class struggles. The result is a smart, engaging film he believes could resonate with any audience, not just that of the LGBT community.
But the film Bogner thinks has the best chance of getting picked up by a larger distributor is Cloudburst, about a woman who pulls her partner of 30-odd years from the nursing home her granddaughter’s consigned her to and makes a dash for the Canadian border. Helping its chances is the star power: the women are an extra-fiery Olympia Dukakis and acclaimed Irish actress Brenda Fricker.
Bogner says the plotline initially sounds a little “Lifetime movie,” but it stays far from a maudlin tone – partly thanks to the foul-mouthed-trucker vocabulary of Dukakis’ character but also to the overall balance of the film, which touches on the issues LGBT seniors can face without dwelling upon them. “The film has a very well-articulated funny bone,” he said.
Not every film at the festival is as American- or Anglocentric, though. Bogner said there’s always been an international element to the festival, with four of this year’s films made by or focusing on people from outside the U.S., U.K. or Canada.
Three of those – Call Me Kuchu, Facing Mirrors and The Invisible Men – turn the lens on nations where LGBT rights are nonexistent to a degree almost difficult to comprehend here in the States. Documentary Call Me Kuchu follows the struggle in Uganda, where a proposed bill would make homosexuality a death sentence and LGBT people are constantly under attack, including lead activist David Kato, killed in his home a year into filming. In Facing Mirrors, a feature film from Iran heralded as the nation’s first to feature a transgender main character, a woman illegally driving a taxi picks up Edi, a trans-identifying young woman trying to flee the nation and her wealthy parents, who plan to marry her off before she can transition.
The Invisible Men is particularly compelling to Bogner. The doc portrays three Palestinean gay men, out or forcibly outed, who flee to Israel to escape violence in their homeland. Bogner said he finds the documentary’s format effective – the crew focuses entirely on the men’s current lives, without re-enacted flashbacks or interviews with people they know – and thinks their situation is one with many parallels around the world.
This is the third year the festival has been condensed into a four-day weekend (previous festivals were stretched across a week), and Bogner feels the current format, which also incorporates monthly screenings, is an experiment that’s working well. The short annual festival lets the group select the year’s best offerings to show at once, he said, while monthly screenings let them appeal to the community’s desires in a more flexible fashion, sometimes including films not considered part of the “LGBT canon” if there’s a benefit to viewing them through that lens.
“There’s more freedom with the monthly screenings,” Bogner said. “They allow you to test the boundaries of queer cinema in a way you can’t always with the annual festival.”
That said, Bogner said he and his staff are always keeping an ear to the community, ready to adjust the festival as necessary. “We always try to be responsive to meet our community’s needs,” Bogner said. “The question to always ask is “What is an LGBT film?,” and we want the festival to incorporate as many voices to answer that as we can.”
The Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival runs Thursday, Oct. 18 through Sunday, Oct. 21. Tickets to the opening night show are $15, $10 for students/seniors; tickets to all Union Theatre shows are $9, $7 for students/seniors/UWM community members unless listed as free. A full list of films can be found at the festival’s website, while selected films are listed below.
Cloudburst: Thursday, Oct. 18, 7:30 p.m. at the Oriental Theatre
Synopsis: When longtime partners Stella (Olympia Dukakis) and Dot (Brenda Fricker) are separated after Dot’s granddaughter moves her into a nursing home, Stella busts her out and makes a run for the nearby Maine-Canada border, where they can find safety of distance an matrimony. On the way, they pick up a young male hitchhiker (Ryan Doucette) who inadvertently joins their adventure.
Mosquita y Mari: Saturday, Oct. 20, 7 p.m. at UWM Union Theatre
Synopsis: Yolanda, known as “Mosquita,” and Mari are about as different as two Chicana girls can be: Mosquita is sheltered, shy and bookishly bright; Mari is streetwise, struggling in school and working to keep her undocumented family together. But when Mosquita becomes Mari’s tutor, the girls develop a friendship that changes the way they see themselves and their world.
The Invisible Men: Sunday, Oct. 21, 11 a.m. at UWM Union Theatre
Synopsis: Three Palestinian gay men, all forced to flee their homeland after coming out or being outed, try to find refuge in Israel or escape altogether, in this portrait-focused documentary. In Arabic, Hebrew and English with English subtitles.
My Brother the Devil: Sunday, Oct. 21, 7 p.m. at UWM Union Theatre
Synopsis: Two Arab brothers in a low-income London neighborhood find their relationship tested when the elder Rashid, secret breadwinner as a gang member dealing in drugs, suddenly abandons that lifestyle when his best friend is killed in a knife fight. As he drifts toward a neighborhood artist named Sayyid, his younger brother Mo is pulled into the same gang culture, one which is swiftly turning against Rashid.
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