Aging, identity, and relationships are among the themes explored in Queer Takes, the Walker Art Center’s annual festival of GLBT films from across America and around the world. Dean Otto, the Walker’s film curator, has selected several new films as well as some American gay classics in danger of disappearing.
Queer Takes, a film festival taking place June 25-29 at the Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. For tickets and information, see walkerart.org. Hear an interview with Dean Otto at kfai.org.
Before I Forget (Wednesday, June 25, 9 p.m.) is an elegiac exploration of the life of 60-year-old Pierre, a former gay gigolo. The film stars its director Jacques Nolot. Otto says Before I Forget “does not hold back in its depiction of someone [who’s] aging [and] whose life has been totally dedicated to youth and attractiveness. Now, he’s fighting for his place in the world.”
Freehold (Thursday, June 26, 7p.m.), an Oscar winner for Best Short Documentary, follows the fight of a lesbian couple, one of whom is battling terminal cancer, to have the dying partner’s pension inherited by her partner. This film, said the Kansas City Star, “put us through the wringer—when we’re not sobbing, we’re spitting mad.”
Another remarkable documentary is Chris and Don: A Love Story (Saturday, June 28, 3 p.m.), which looks at gay male life from the 1920s to the present through its focus on the 30-year relationship between literary lion Christopher Isherwood (best known for his 1930s Berlin stories that became the musical Cabaret) and his much younger lover, artist Don Bachardy. “Much is from Don’s viewpoint,” says Otto. “He was dismissed as Chris’ ‘boy toy’ and struggled to gain respect as an artist in his own right.” Bachardy’s talent is demonstrated in striking drawings that pay tribute to his partner; the film ends with a heartbreaking confrontation with Isherwood’s final illness and death.
Vivere (Friday, June 27, 9 p.m.) is German-Italian filmmaker Angelina Maccarone’s atmospheric road movie about three generations of women together on Christmas Eve. German screen legend Hannelore Elsner gives a stunning performance as a 60-year-old lesbian facing a relationship’s end. ”I was totally engulfed by it,” says Otto. “The performances are fantastic.”
Two films (screening for free on Thursday, June 26, 8:30 p.m.) in the festival shatter the stereotype of the GLBT community as predominantly white. Pariah is Dee Rees’s character study of a Bronx teenage African-American woman grappling with multiple identities. Observes Otto, “She’s kind of lying to everyone—her queer friends, her straight friends, her family—trying to be accepted by everyone. Ultimately, your life will come crashing down on you if your life is a lie.” On the Downlow looks at African-American men who have sex with men but don’t self-identify as gay or bisexual. Rejecting talk-show sensationalism, director Abigail Child digs deep. “She follows people over a long time, really gets to know her subjects and lets them speak for themselves on their own terms,” Otto says of the director, who has a long relationship with the Walker.
XXY (Friday, June 27, 7 p.m.) tells the (fictional but representative) story of a 15-year-old girl who is an intersex person—that is, one among the 1.7% of the population born with both male and female genitalia. The film is sensitive and moving, says Otto. “This film blew me away!”
Wild Combination: Portrait of Arthur Russell (Saturday, June 28, 1 p.m.) remembers the avant-garde composer (and disco producer) who went from an Iowa boyhood to global fame in the 1970s. The Living End: Remixed (Saturday, June 28, 8:45 p.m.) is a 1992 Sundance feature about an HIV-positive man hitting the road with an HIV-positive hustler who grabs life full-force in what Otto calls “a buddy movie gone bad.”
The Walker series also includes some classics. “There are few prints of classic queer cinema,” says Otto. “Companies go out of business. Prints disappear. So the Outfront Festival and the UCLA film archives started an archive, the Legacy Project.”
Born in Flames (Saturday, June 28, 7 p.m.) is Lizzie Bordon’s 1983 over-the-top mock documentary about a multi-racial lesbian-feminist revolutionary underground movement. It’s a slice of rarely-seen 70s politics.
Parting Glances (Sunday, June 29, 4 p.m., Heights Theater) was the first film in the Legacy Project. The movie chronicles a gay couple’s last 24 hours together before an extended business trip separates them. “Made in 1986, it was a key film for my coming out,” remembers Otto. “It wasn’t about victims or another coming out story. It was instead a touch of life.”
Finally, for big fun, catch Boystown (Wednesday, June 25, 7 p.m.), a comedy adapted from the Spanish comic Leo and Rey. How far will a fashionable real estate agent go to create the perfect gay neighborhood through gentrification? He’s up against Rey and Leo—a couple of rotund gay men who are beloved for befriending the elders in the neighborhood who refuse to sell their apartments. Otto compares the film to early Pedro Almodóvar with its garish delights.
These films honor differences while celebrating commonalities. The 2008 Queer Takes features artistic cinema, simple entertainment, and documentaries that counter stereotypes by telling complex stories of struggle and enduring love—stories anyone with an open heart can relate to.
Lydia Howell (firstname.lastname@example.org), a winner of the 2007 Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism, is a Minneapolis independent journalist writing for various newspapers and online journals. She produces and hosts Catalyst: politics & culture on KFAI Radio.