Timely, tragic, hilarious: Highlights of the 2016 Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival

By Gregg ShapiroContributing writer

The 31st annual Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival holds its opening night on Oct. 12 and continues with screenings in various venues Oct. 14–23.

The fest has another astounding roster of films, thanks in large part to its director, Carl Bogner.

Timely documentaries, comedies and dramas are woven throughout the schedule, offering viewers a thrilling array of options. Below are a few recommended titles certain to appeal to a broad range of audience members.

‘KIKI’

A direct descendant of Jennie Livingston’s groundbreaking drag ball doc Paris Is Burning, writer/director Sara Jordenö’s Kiki is proof that vogue-ing is alive and well. Focused on the Kiki scene, a safe haven for youth development where “everyone is unique,” the film traces how the Harlem Drag Circuit evolved into the competitive ballroom genre and the current Kiki ballroom subset.

Throughout the course of Kiki, we are introduced to the reigning queens and the movers and shakers who have created loving and nurturing families, even as their biological families flatly rejected them. In addition to truly mind-blowing rehearsal and performance footage, the film features lengthy and revealing interviews. Amo

Kiki
Kiki screens on the opening night of the festival, Oct. 12, at Oriental Theatre, 2230 N. Farwell, and again on Oct. 16 at UWM Union Cinema, 2nd Level, UWM Student Union, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd.

ng the interview subjects are Twiggy Pucci Garçon, of House of PUCCI, self-described house-specialist, mother and gatekeeper for his community; trans woman Gia Marie Love of House of Juicy; Kiki commentator Symba; and Chi Chi Mizrahi and Zariyah Mizrahi, who is transitioning. The documentary also shines a light on other issues facing those involved in the scene, including sex work in the gay and trans communities, the high cost of transitioning, family relationships, the development of characters, survival mechanisms, self-advocacy and more.

Despite the passage of time — 26 years to be exact — and increased visibility, the message of Kiki is that not much has really changed for young LGBT people of color, a “community on intimate terms with death.” The Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando comes to mind. With any luck, when it is released theatrically, Kiki won’t be overlooked come Oscar time the way that Paris Is Burning was, in spite of winning awards at multiple film festivals.

‘SPA NIGHT’

Margaret Cho has talked about her mother saying, “Everyone is a little bit gay.” Cho reference aside, there is nothing funny about the Korean-American drama Spa Night, but there is something gay about it.

David (Joe Seo), a directionless high school grad, is content to live at home with his church-going Korean immigrant parents Soyoung (Haerry Kim) and Jin (Youn Ho Cho). He works in their restaurant and spends an evening with them at the spa. However, David’s parents want more for him, including marriage and a college education.

Little do they know that David’s personal fitness obsession — situps, pushups and running — are for the purpose of the nude selfies he’s been taking of himself. Although he hasn’t actually acted on his same-gender attraction, you can feel the tension building.

Things change quickly when Jin’s restaurant is forced to close. Too ashamed to tell the truth about their situation, Soyoung makes up a story about selling the business. She’s too young to retire and is secretly grateful when church lady Mrs. Baek offers her a job waitressing in her more successful dining establishment. Mrs. Baek also offers to have her son Eddie (Tae Song), a student at nearby USC, show David around the campus in the event that he’s considering applying to school there.

Excited at the prospect of David going to school, they enroll him in an expensive and intensive SAT prep course. But David has other plans. To help his parents out financially, he gets a job at a men’s spa, where he’s paid under the table. At the spa, he’s also able to explore his attraction to men as it turns out to be a rather cruise-y spot.

From that point on, not much goes right for David or his parents. Spa Night is not so much depressing as it is unsentimental. It’s about shattered expectations, disappointment and regrets. It’s also about family bonds and discovery, so in that way it feels like something of a balance is struck. Spa Night is an admirable full-length feature debut by writer/director Andrew Ahn, a filmmaker with promise.

‘WOMEN WHO KILL’

Writer/director and star Ingrid Jungermann’s feature-length debut, the dark and funny black comedy Women Who Kill, opens with a humorous voice-over ad for a hardware store selling supplies for the removal of dead bodies. In the first scene, podcast hosts (and exes and flatmates) Morgan (Jungermann) and Jean (Ann Carr) debate who is the hottest female serial killer on their program Women Who Kill.

Research for their podcast includes going to a women’s correctional facility to meet with inmate Lila (Annette O’Toole), who is doing time for killing 12 of her students and using their remains as fertilizer in her greenhouse.

Relationships meet serial killings as the story unfolds. Morgan helps her best friend, sporty dyke Alex (Shannon Patricia O’Neill) with her upcoming nuptials to Kim (Grace Rex) by helping to plan her bachelorette party at a strip club. Morgan also volunteers at a nearby food co-op, helping with new member orientation. While there she flirts with hot new member Simone (Sheila Vand), despite pushy Grace’s (Deborah Rush) efforts to the contrary.

Jean starts dating Jackson (Rodrigo Lopresti). But this doesn’t mean she doesn’t have feelings for Morgan. In fact, as Morgan and Simone begin a relationship, Jean Googles Simone and makes what she thinks is a shocking discovery about her background and identity. Before you know it, there’s a body count and a fear factor.

Jungermann has crafted a smart, laugh-out-loud comedy that derives as much pleasure from poking fun at podcasters, serial killer fetishists and puzzling lesbian relationships as it does from precious hipster Brooklyn. Women Who Kill kills with comedy.

‘POLITICAL ANIMALS’

For his first film in almost 10 years, director Jonah Markowitz (the marvelous Shelter) gets political with the doc Political Animals, co-directed by Tracy

lgbt-film-pa-jackie-today
Political Animals screens on Oct. 20 at UWM Union Cinema.

Wares. The film opens with President Barack Obama speaking of the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling — of the ruling’s “vindication of those countless, often anonymous heroes who made an entire country realize that love is love.” Political Animals shines a light on the role of four heroes — California Assembly members and lesbians Sheila Kuehl, Christine Kehoe, Jackie Goldberg and Carole Migden — who changed the course of LGBT history.

Agents of change and social justice advocates who knew that being out makes the difference, Kuehl, Kehoe, Migden and Goldberg recognized the combined political clout of gay and lesbian communities. By being steely, resilient and never letting anyone see their hurt, they were able to bring about a change in the legislature’s response to the LGBT community in the 1990s and beyond.

As much as these four women have in common, that’s how different they are. Kuehl, a lesbian and women’s activist, got her start in the public eye by playing Zelda on the early 1960s sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. San Francisco’s Migden describes herself as having “lipstick in one hand and a bayonet in the other.” L.A.’s Goldberg was active in the Free Speech Movement and San Diego’s Kehoe was an AIDS activist. Markowitz should be praised for creating a stirring and informative portrait of these four strong women.

‘LAZY EYE’

You could consider Lazy Eye the gay comeback of writer/director Tim Kirkman (the acclaimed doc Dear Jesse and the fantastic Loggerheads) — it’s that good. The timing of the film, around the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, only makes it even more potent.

Bearded ginger graphic designer Dean (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) is having an eye exam. He’s experienced a dramatic change in his vision problems, including amblyopia (aka “lazy eye”), as he approaches middle age. It’s something he noticed when he was using his laptop, especially after getting email from Alex (Aaron Costa Ganis), a “ghost from the past.”

Lazy Eye
Lazy Eye screens on Oct. 21 at UWM Union Cinema.

At Dean’s office, where he’s getting used to his new trifocals, he meets with his business partner Mel (Michaela Watkins), whom he’s known since college. While working on the design for a movie poster, Mel mentions that Dean’s been in “weird, funky state.” He agrees and tells her he’s going to drive out to the desert, to his house near Joshua Tree, to clear his head.

It’s obvious that Dean’s unsettled state of mind is due to the email from Alex, which is causing him to flashback to his past with Alex, 15 years earlier New York, before Alex broke Dean’s heart. Naturally, Dean responds to Alex’s email and they begin corresponding. Alex lives in New Orleans. Dean extends an invitation to him to come to Joshua Tree. Alex accepts.

Alex arrives and they immediately have sex. Over course of the next couple of days they hash out a lot of stuff, some of it nice (reminiscing about seeing Harold & Maude together early in their relationship and stuff like that) and some not so nice (the way Alex disappeared 15 years earlier, shortly after 9/11). As the two fill in all the details of the past, you almost begin to root for them getting back together. That is until Dean drops his bombshell revelation.

Sexy, funny and dramatic — sometimes all at once, Lazy Eye manages to avoid being another standard gay indie.

‘PARIS 05:59: THÉO & HUGO’

Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo, co-written and co-directed by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau, is a timely and sensitive reminder of the current state of things in the world of gay sex. The lengthy, erotically charged and sexually graphic opening sequence takes place in a sex club where the red-lit lower level is swarming with writhing naked men engaging in various sex acts.

Curly-haired Théo (Geoffrey Couët) can’t take his eyes off hot Hugo (François Nambot) and when they finally hook-up, they engage in unsafe behavior. Afterward, upstairs, they retrieve their clothes, get dressed and leave the club together. It’s 4:47 a.m. Riding bikes through the city, they talk about the connection they felt and how it was different. On the way to Hugo’s apartment, Théo admits it was his first time at a sex club. Further discussion reveals that Hugo is HIV+. Hugo calls the AIDS hotline and is directed to the emergency room of a nearby hospital.

They exchange phone numbers. Théo insists on going to the hospital alone. Hugo texts him relentlessly. It is 5:02 a.m. Théo registers at the hospital. Hugo arrives and tells Théo he’s in treatment and that his viral load is undetectable. Hugo stays with Théo and he begins the treatment regimen because he didn’t want him to be alone, as he was, when he got his test results.

At 5:25 a.m., after leaving the hospital, Théo and Hugo get to know each other even more intimately than they did before, filling in the pieces of their lives for each other. You can watch them slowly becoming involved with the other in a way that is reminiscent of Andrew Haigh’s Weekend. Romantic and revelatory, Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo is strongly recommended.

ON SCREENS

For tickets and more information on the 31st annual Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival, visit uwm.edu/lgbtfilmfestival