Milwaukee LGBT Film Fest is a welcome old friend

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Like a very welcome old friend, Milwaukee’s LGBT Film Fest returns Oct. 20-23. Screenings for the movies below are at the Union Theatre in the UW-Milwaukee Union. 

“Gen Silent” (3 p.m., Sat., Oct. 22) is a compelling, sometimes heartbreaking documentary about LGBT elders facing discrimination in institutions for seniors. It shows the challenges faced by two gay male couples, a lesbian couple and a transgender woman as health fades and assisted living support or nursing care become necessary.

The prospect of our LGBT pioneers having to return to the closet to avoid the bias of fellow nursing home residents or professional caretakers should alarm us all. “Gen Silent” is unsettling to watch but effectively dramatizes the need for increased training and ethics around the treatment of LGBT seniors. The social workers at one agency avidly respond to the needs of one of their clients, creating a support network that provides companionship and assistance in her final months. Let’s hope it represents the beginning of real changes in attitudes and practices.

“Tomboy” (5 p.m., Sat., Oct. 22 at) is an endearing French film about an intense little girl with short-cropped hair who prefers to be a boy. Moving into a new neighborhood, Laure introduces herself as Mikael, roughhouses with the boys and attracts the attentions of a pretty girl. But the idyll cannot last, and its unraveling leads to a poignant climax.

“Tomboy” is a tender, intimate film, told almost exclusively from the children’s points of view. Extended scenes of children playing and bonding, especially Mikael with his little sister, are remarkably rendered and something we rarely see in movies these days. Kudos to director Celine Sciamma. “Tomboy” is a must-see.

In “I Am” (11 a.m., Sun., Oct. 23,), director Sonali Gulati returns to her homeland of India to explore why she never came out to her mother and, more broadly, the attitudes that compel Indian LGBTs to come out or stay closeted. Her personal story is touching, and the cross-section of individuals interviewed have riveting stories, whether they end in violence or acceptance.

The cinematography in “I Am” is lovely and shows thoughtful choices that move beyond the static headshots common to documentaries. It ends on a positive note, with Indians celebrating the repeal of the British-era law that criminalized homosexuality.

“The Night Watch” (3 p.m., Sun., Oct. 23) is the fourth film version of a book by Sarah Waters, a startlingly talented British lesbian who writes historical novels with fascinating gay characters and plot twists that blow your mind. “Fingersmith” and “Tipping the Velvet” got big budget, three-hour BBC productions that did those stories proud. “Affinity,” a psychological thriller, got badly muddled by producers at Logo.

“The Night Watch” combines melodrama and mystery to explore love and loss among lesbian, gay and straight friends during the crisis of World War II and its aftermath in London. Passion, danger, doubt, heroism – the book is a real page-turner. Sadly, the film disappoints.

Three things undercut character development and the power of the story: the miscasting of the lead, who is supposed to be butch but is played by a scarily thin, tremulous Anna Maxwell Martin; the baffling backward-moving timeline from 1947 to 1941 (which works better in the book); and the abbreviated 90-minute length of the film, probably due to BBC budget cuts.

Waters’ reputation grows exponentially with the publication of each new book. Let’s hope she gains the clout to have more influence over the movies made from them.

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