Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival reflects global diversity

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Aging lesbian partners make a humorous and touching break for the Canadian border. A stirring documentary chronicles one group’s struggle against the AIDS epidemic. Gay men and transgenders fight for survival in three different homosexual-intolerant countries.

And that’s just for starters.

Thirteen feature films and 21 shorts from 11 countries will comprise the 2012 Milwaukee LGBT Film and Video Festival, presented by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts Department of Film. The “2nd annual 25th anniversary edition” of the festival runs from Oct. 18 to Oct. 21, with an opening night showing of Thom Fitzgerald’s “Cloudburst,” starring Olympia Dukakis (see interview page 18) and Brenda Fricker at the Oriental Theatre, 2230 N. Farwell St. All other screenings will be held at the UWM Union Theatre, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd.

The festival’s film choice has long served as a barometer for the changing way LGBT groups have viewed themselves — and have been viewed by society. Consequently, the nature of LGBT cinema has changed over the decades, and many of the films no longer bear the burden of having to take a social, political or at least explanatory stance, according to festival director Carl Bogner, a lecturer in the Peck School’s film department. 

These changes, coupled with the rise of independent filmmaking, have allowed  filmmakers greater freedom to be more expressive and less didactic. The new environment also has fostered the emergence of films from countries historically intolerant to LGBT people, helping to broaden the nature and content of the festival,” Bogner says. “In many ways, we see more of a ‘mainstreaming’ of LGBT films, and I am not talking only about U.S. film production. That is to say, LGBT film – the public, most prominent face of it – is more commercially savvy than one would have imagined two decades ago, when there were tendencies toward a more transgressive edge.”

The scope of LGBT films has broadened to embrace more subtle and evocative storytelling, Bogner says. “Mosquita y Mari,” writer-director Aurora Guerrero’s 2011 film, successfully explores the loving friendship that grows between two young Chicanas without being burdened by the need to make an LGBT statement.

“Is the word ‘lesbian’ even mentioned in the film? I can’t recall and it doesn’t need to be, so sensitive and alert is the filmmaking,” says Bogner. “Understanding the feelings of these two girls will be easy for any moviegoer.”

“Mosquita y Mari” screens Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. at the UWM Union Theatre. Guerrero will be on hand to introduce her work.

Filmmaker Sally El Hosani’s “My Brother the Devil,” which screens Oct. 21 at 7 p.m., is another film that explores the boundaries of sexual orientation within a greater social context. Set in London’s Hackney section, the U.K. film chronicles the challenges facing a family of Egyptian immigrants living at the edge of a growing gang culture. The questions that emerge about role models, masculinity and other social issues helped the film win the Outstanding International Feature award at last year’s Outfest.

“The film is a consideration of masculinity, and within that consideration, values and boundaries are tested when gay identity becomes a part of the mix,” Bogner says. “It echoes and expands on concerns about identity, family and community that you will find in other films in the festival.”

Other films run the gamut of LGBT issues, including Jim Hubbard’s 2012 documentary “United in Anger: A History of ACT UP”; “Facing Mirrors,” a 2011 film and the first from Iran to feature a transgender character in the lead role; “Call Me Kuchu,” a 2012 documentary about being gay (“kuchu”) in Uganda, a country that criminalizes homosexuality; and 1985’s “Sparkle’s Tavern,” the last film of notorious gay underground U.S. filmmaker Curt McDowell.

Past LGBT film festivals have attracted “thousands” of viewers each, Bogner says. He expects the trend to continue this year, despite the busy fall arts season.

“The festival has a very loyal audience, with a lot of generous support from across the community,” Bogner says. “They also are culturally savvy consumers and I hope this year’s selection of film appeals to them.”

In addition to this month’s festival, the Peck School of the Arts will continue to offer special monthly screenings of LGBT films. The first two screenings in that series are scheduled for Nov. 1 and Nov 29. Titles and locations have yet to be determined.

To download a festival brochure, visit