As the out director of the Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival, Carl Bogner has his finger on the pulse of queer cinema. Thanks to his encyclopedic cinematic knowledge, his impeccable taste and his industry connections, Bogner brings the best to Milwaukee, making the city’s festival one of the nation’s very best of its kind.
For this year’s festival, as for the past 15, Bogner has fashioned a lineup featuring something for everyone – from documentaries to short features to full-length comedies and dramas.
In addition to directing the festival, Bogner is a senior lecturer at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts. I spoke with him about the upcoming Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival, his efforts to help develop the filmmakers of the future – and more.
Gregg Shapiro: Are you a Milwaukee native?
Carl Bogner: Technically. I was born here. My father was a soil conservation engineer for the Department of Agriculture here (in Milwaukee). Before I was two, we moved to suburban Philadelphia and then on to suburban Washington, D.C. I went to high school and college in Virginia (at the University of Virginia, where he received a degree in writing; later, Bogner attended UWM, where he earned a BFA in film).
What do you like best about teaching?
The thinking (laughs). I teach this experimental media class. It’s a real pleasure to get to, on a regular basis, meet forms and artistic ideas that I find pleasurable to engage with. Learning how to communicate them to a new audience allows me opportunities to consider them or new things about them. Teaching is constantly introducing me to new ideas, new histories, new forms and new students. The interaction with students can be stirring. There’s a lot I can learn from … how they engage with these experimental forms. The best thing about teaching is the shared intellectual work that I’m doing with the students. I get to contend with ideas and art forms.
What is involved in the process of selecting film and video titles for the festival?
Because the (administration of the) festival is mostly me, I do have help programming our shorts programs, which in many ways are kind of like their own festival. Each shorts program will contain maybe nine or more short films, and we have three shorts programs. I do have a very able director of shorts programming who works with a committee to review the shorts entries, which are more numerous than what we have (for) the rest of the festival. (In terms of the full-length films), I look to see what is playing elsewhere, using other film festivals as my programming committee, if you will. Throughout the year, looking at things that played at Sundance, Berlin, and (also) at the things showcased at the prominent LGBT film and video festivals, starting with London in March, then Miami and Boston in May, and San Francisco, Los Angeles and Philadelphia in June and July. Probably a lot of the titles I learned about through those festivals but then also there’s stuff that you listen for and look for. This year, I’m thrilled that we’re showing this Philippine film called “Bwakaw.” It played at last year’s New York Film Festival. I keep my ears open to stuff. I read publications and look online, working to keep abreast of what’s out there.
Is Milwaukee or Wisconsin represented in any of this year’s screenings?
I don’t have any set in Wisconsin. We do have some local talent. The film “Valencia: The Movie/S” is sort of our Wisconsin corner. One of the contributing directors to the film, Jill Soloway, went to UW-Madison. One of the actresses playing the lead character of Michelle (Tea) is Shawna Lipton, a Ph.D. candidate in the English department at UWM.
Which films in this year’s lineup especially excite you?
It’s tough, given that my fingerprints are on every feature-length work we are presenting, I don’t have any that I’m not excited about. I did mention the Philippine film “Bwakaw,” which I’m very fond of. I know in part it’s because I’m a dog person – one of those weird people who doesn’t own a dog but throws themselves on other people’s dogs. The film was a very touching and, I think, very funny film, about a man in his 70s who waited until he was in his 60s to come out as gay. He finds himself at the end of his life sort of wondering about the loneliness that he probably helped sustain. His closest relationship is with this stray dog that he befriends. But it’s also a portrait of rural village life in the Philippines, and … a lot of the comedy comes from in way that this cranky old man interacts with people. It’s also something of a tearjerker. Another film I’m excited about, which is also a challenging film, is “Stranger by the Lake,” directed by Alain Guiraudie. At Cannes, it won the Queer Palm. It’s something of an experimental thriller that takes place in one location – a lakeside park where men cruise each other for sex. It has a sort of observational tone. I think it’s a successful film about cruising, in that a lot of it is about waiting and expectations, both thwarted and rewarded. A significant time into the film one of the men witnesses another man committing an act of violence, and the movie gradually become something of a thriller. I found it really fascinating watching this director making the choices he does.
Outside of the film festival, do you have a favorite LGBT doc?
One of my first favorites was “The Times of Harvey Milk.” Another film that’s really important to me is Marlon Riggs’ “Tongues Untied.” It’s a documentary, but it’s also poetry and tribute.
What about a favorite narrative LGBT film?
There’s a film I’ve been thinking a lot about lately but I haven’t seen in a while, a coming-of-age film from Québec directed by Léa Pool called “Set Me Free.” It’s about this girl who runs away from home and discovers her love of film and her love of women as she runs away. It’s a portrait of a young filmmaker.