Flaming film festival lights up Bedlam Theater this weekend

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Entering Patrick’s Cabaret last Saturday night for the 7th annual Flaming Film Festival’s preview show, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The Festival is the brainchild of local rocker, artist, director, activist, mentor, and community volunteer Lisa Ganser. Since 1999 she has been encouraging and supporting independent Queer filmmakers from Minnesota and beyond to push boundaries and blur contemporary understandings of “gay” and “lesbian.”

For full schedule, see event listing.

“Artful, sexy movies by and about actual queer folks are awesome,” said Ganser in an email interview. “As long as we, as queer people, have to continue to explain ourselves to each other, we will need outlets like the Flaming Film Festival. I think of the festival as a catalyst to build community and to create social change.”

The short films being featured in the festival touch on subjects as diverse as family relationships, sexual freedom, and the love of hula hoops and bicycles. From the lineup of performers and musicians at the preview show to the showcases and short films themselves, “diversity” is Ganser’s watchword.

According to Ganser, through the years a combination of GLBT community businesses and her own stubbornness have sustained the Festival. Though at one time she partnered with Intermedia Arts, a local arts organization and venue in Minneapolis’s Uptown neighborhood, these days she says, “It’s kind of crazy that the festival office is wherever my cell phone is.”

She must be doing something right, because this year the Festival sprawls across nearly a full week and several neighborhoods in South Minneapolis. It began with last weekend’s festivities at Patrick’s Cabaret, an intimate performance venue just a few steps from the Lake Street light rail stop. Most of the evening consisted of live performances by local artists, singers and dancers like Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder, the pixie-geniuses of HIJACK, and the husky-voiced Oskar Ly. Backed by a pair of acoustic guitars and lit by a red floodlight during her set, Ly transformed the 20 foot ceilings and exposed ductwork of Patrick’s thrust stage area into a smoky lounge.

However, the serene atmosphere didn’t last long when the in-your-face, practically in-your-lap, burlesque performer Foxy Tann took to the stage. She injected some sexy fun into the evening and shook down the crowd, like a preacher from the pulpit, for donations to help keep Patrick’s Cabaret running. The proceeds from the $8 tickets go directly to the artists, so Patrick asks for donations to help defray operating costs. Empowered Expressions, a queer youth acting troupe, performed a multi-media piece that dealt with the difficulties transgender people experience while trying to do something as simple as use a public restroom. Ganser also screened her film Tough Tough Kate, featuring her friend Katie McNulty, a local musician.

Don’t worry, though. It’s not over yet. The themes of diversity, thoughtfulness, sexiness, boundary-pushing, and maybe a little low-brow humor, will continue this Thursday on the big screen at Bedlam Theater on Minneapolis’s West Bank. At 7 p.m. the Flaming Film Festival will be screening The DL Chronicles, four episodes from a television show which airs on here!, a lesbian and gay cable network. The series explores the experiences of African-American men who live seemingly straight lives, but enjoy secret homosexual encounters.

Next, on Friday at 7 p.m., the Festival will screen a showcase of six short comic films. Included will be the sketch comedy of Michael Lucid and Amanda Barrett, the seven-minute love letter of a film about the Twin Cities Hula Troupe, and the aggressively coiffed and choreographed dance-off between Occum’s Razor Babes and The Q’s. At 9 p.m. on Friday, enjoy Backalley Jukebox 2 presented by Homocore Minneapolis, a mélange of queer music videos which debuted at the 2006 InsideOut Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in Toronto. Live music by Wet Nose Hero and Dave End rounds out the night.

Saturday at 4:30 p.m. the Festival screens Witness, a controversial documentary shot in 1999 when the filmmaker Joanna Kohler was just 19 years old. In it, she and her friends explore contradictions and exploitations that occurred at a community center for gay youth. A panel discussion and workshop will follow the documentary. At 7 p.m. a showcase of eight short films will be shown centering on the theme of “If You Lived Here…” The program promises these films will look “at the harsh reality of isolation intersecting with queer identity, home, and family (birth family and family of choice).”

Finally, at 9 p.m. when the Festival introduces their final showcase of short films called “Pretty and Dirty”—a group of “sexplicit” shorts—it’s time to tuck in the kids. The “Pretty and Dirty” films are restricted to viewers ages 18 and over.

“Every year the sexplicit showcases are the most highly attended,” says Festival Director Lisa Ganser. “They offer a safe place to view and also talk openly about sex and sexuality.” Also, local filmmaker Molly Van Avery will be attending the screening to answer questions from audience members.

The final night of films, on Sunday, November 18, keeps the party going at Pi Bar in Minneapolis’s Seward neighborhood. Ganser promises to show the first 75 minutes of movies submitted by anyone who gets a DVD or VHS to her (Lisa Ganser, Flaming Film Festival – open reel, 1710 – 2nd Ave S #2, Minneapolis, MN 55403). Once the films go dark, attendees can dance and drink to the roots music of DitchLilies.