The 24th annual Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival, running Oct. 20-23, presents a pleasing and entertaining variety of full-length and short features. Representing many facets of the LGBT community, this year’s selection of films, domestic and foreign, dramatic and comedic, fiction and documentary, have something for everyone. Below are reviews of a selection of the movies playing at the UWM Union Theatre, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd., 2nd floor, during the festival. For the complete schedule, visit click here.
‘Leave It on the Floor’
Sheldon Larry’s “Leave It On The Floor,” showing at 7 p.m. on Oct. 22, joins such films such as Casper Andreas’ “The Big Gay Musical,” HP Mendoza’s “Fruit Fly” and Wendy Jo Carlton’s “Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together” in the fresh new trend of original gay movie musicals.
Brad, played by Ephraim Sykes, is a gay teen with an Usher thing going on. He’s thrown out by his single, homophobic mother and forced to live on the street, inspiring the first of the movie’s dozen or so songs – “Loser’s List.”
In a Los Angeles convenience store, Brad gets his pocket picked by Carter (Andre Myers), whom he follows because they cruised each other. He then pursues Carter into a nightclub, where he’s introduced to the world of the vogue ball and to a motley crew of drag/dance/performance queers called the House of Eminence.
Princess (Phillip Evelyn) offers Brad a place to crash for the night, and Brad decides that he wants to become a member of the House of Eminence. But there’s a lot of work to be done to prepare Brad for the Imperial Mini Ball, which takes place in two weeks.
Dedicated to gay and trans kids escaping from oppressive circumstance, the movie narrowly avoids being a “High School Musical” for the drag ball community. With music by Beyonce’s music director Kim Burse and choreography by Michael Jackson’s Frank Gaston Jr., “Leave It On The Floor” possesses some stunning musical numbers and impressive production values. Critics have predicted that a number of new queer musical anthems will emerge from this film.
‘Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same’
Following “Leave It On The Floor” at 9 p.m., writer/director Madeleine Olnek’s hilarious black-and-white sci-fi comedy “Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same” is out of this world. Paying homage to classic 1950s science fiction, as well as Woody Allen, this is a movie that could dispel the myth of the humorless lesbian once and for all.
Plain Jane (Lisa Haas) dreams of a note dropped from a spaceship that reads, “What are you doing later?” At least she thinks it’s a dream. Jane’s therapist thinks her patient’s rich fantasy life is a problem. But who could blame stationery store clerk Jane for fantasizing?
Meanwhile on planet Zot, a hole in the ozone is widening. The inhabitants believe it’s due to the overwhelming load of their emotions. In order to prevent further damage, select Zot beings are sent to earth to have their hearts broken by heartless earthlings.
Zoinx (Susan Ziegler) is among the crew that arrives on earth in a pie tin-looking spacecraft. Zoinx is a quick study, and in no time she’s in Jane’s store buying a “love card,” which she purchases and immediately gives to Jane. From there, the relationship develops rapidly, under the watchful eyes of two government agents who are closely tracking the aliens while harboring secrets of their own.
But all good and alien things must come to an end. Once it’s discovered that the ozone destruction back is actually being caused by the sun reflecting off the bald Zot pates, Zoinx and the rest of her crew are summoned to return to their planet.
If you seek a funny and refreshing comedy, this one fills the bill.
Sonali Gulati’s documentary “I Am” opens the festival on Oct. 23 at 11 a.m.
In the beginning of the film, Gulati leaves the United States to return to Delhi, where her family home has sat empty for 11 years since her mother’s death. In that house, surrounded by a lifetime of belongings and associated experiences, Gulati attempts to come to terms with the reasons she remained closeted to her mother.
“I Am” alternates between Gulati’s personal reflections and a series of interviews with Indian lesbians and gay men. Some are quite sad. An interview with a person named Balli and her unaccepting mother leads to the story of how Balli met and fell in love with Raj at her sister’s wedding. The media attention their relationship received caused a family backlash that forever changed them.
An interview with Vijay, a member of the anti-gay group Youth Unity 4 Vibrant Action, is full of hate speech. Indian TV talk show footage of Gulati being interviewed about coming out and why may be the saddest point in the film.
But there are more stories of hope. Openly gay Indian prince Manvendra came out and was disinherited by his family, but he continues to live his life out and proud.
Equally touching is the video footage from Aditya’s traditional Indian wedding to his partner.
And what better way to end “I Am” than with the emotionally charged rally celebrating the decriminalization of homosexuality in India in July 2009?
‘I Shot My Love’
This intimate doc by gay Israeli filmmaker Tomer Heymann is about the families we make. It screens at 7 p.m. on Oct. 23.
Tomer Heymann is the director of the Filipino drag queen movie “Paper Dolls.” In the beginning of the film, he takes his mother Noa with him to Berlin for a screening of the film. It’s the first time either of them has been to Germany since Heymann’s grandparents escaped the Nazis in 1936 and relocated to Israel.
The night after the premiere, Heymann goes out to a club and meets dancer Andreas. Andreas moves to Tel Aviv to be with him.
At a Passover dinner with Heymann’s family, Andreas gets the chance to connect with the German side of his partner’s family. The role of family in “I Shot My Love” is emphasized when Andreas invites Heymann to spend Christmas with his family in Germany.
‘Gun Hill Road’
Screening at 7 p.m. on Oct. 23, “Gun Hill Road” is the festival’s closing night feature. By writer/director Rashaad Ernesto Green, it was a 2011 finalist for the jury award at the Sundance Film Festival.
This is not the first American indie film to address LGBT issues in the Latino community. Peter Bratt’s 2009 “La Mission,” starring the writer/director’s brother Benjamin Bratt as the macho Latino father of a gay son, is another recent example.
The two films share more than a few similarities. Both fathers, for example, have done time in prison. Both are fiercely proud of their heritage and equally secure in their heterosexuality. And both feel threatened to their very core by the queerness of their sons.
Enrique, portrayed by Esai Morales, returns to his Bronx neighborhood after serving time in prison. His wife Angie (Judy Reyes) is throwing a welcome-home party for him, even though she’s considering leaving Enrique for the more stable and gainfully employed Hector, played by Vincent Laresca.
Enrique’s teenaged son Michael, played by Harmony Santana in an impressive screen debut, doesn’t plan to stick around for long at the party. Once out the door, he transforms into Vanessa and takes the stage to perform at a poetry slam.
After her performance, Vanessa is hit on by Chris (Tyrone Brown) and respectfully finds a way to let him know that she is transgendered. The scene has a raw honesty and is intensely intimate. To Vanessa’s surprise, Chris is undeterred.
The lives of the father and son are juxtaposed. Enrique meets with his parole office and vows not to go back to prison. Michael is harassed by classmates in the school locker-room. Enrique gets a job working in the kitchen of a restaurant. Michael hangs out with his friends and shows no interest in attending sporting events with Enrique.
Eventually, father and son come to blows. When Enrique tells Michael he “didn’t raise you to be like this,” Michael responds, “You didn’t raise me.”
In one of the film’s most remarkable scenes, Vanessa dresses for her date with Chris. The attention to detail, including forearm and chest shaving, tucking, dressing, hair, make-up, press-on nails and even the addition of hip-padding, is incredible. But the date has a tragic quality as it becomes clear that Chris’ comfort level is being tested.
As if the night couldn’t get any worse, Enrique is waiting up for Michael when he returns home with traces of Vanessa. An enraged Enrique drags him into the bathroom where he proceeds to cut off most of his hair.
Enrique soon quits his job and is back to his old ways, getting a gun and threatening Hector. Vanessa wants more than sex from the relationship with Chris, and a date at a restaurant ends badly when Vanessa is taunted on the street and Chris doesn’t defend her. At a parent /teacher conference, Enrique is embarrassed to learn about Michael’s behavior at school, something that Angie had been keeping from him. Angie, who supports and approves of Michael transition, knew that Enrique wouldn’t.
Ultimately, Enrique’s final two acts of desperation – one of which includes taking Michael to a prostitute – backfire on him. Michael, meanwhile, has temporarily run away to Hector’s, a place that both he and Angie know is safe for him. In the film’s finale, both Michael and Enrique head for home and reconciliation, but only one of them will reach their destination.
“Gun Hill Road” is an explosive film fueled by Harmony Santana’s riveting performance.