Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 19, 2006

Festival's almost 40 films look at gay life, culture

 •  Rainbow Film Festival schedule

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer


May 25-28

Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Academy of Arts

$10 individual screenings; tickets available 30 minutes prior to showing at the box office


Festival passes: Executive producer, $2,500, includes 6 Premium VIP passes with admission to all films with reserved and advance seating and gala reception, plus 10 single tickets to all individual films and 6 additional gala reception tickets; Producer, $1,000, includes 4 Premium VIP passes, with admission to all films, gala reception, and reserved and advance seating, plus 4 single tickets to individual films and 4 gala reception tickets; Director, $500, includes 2 Premium passes, with admission to all films, with reserved and advance seating, plus gala reception; Star, $250, includes 1 Premium Pass, with admission to all films with reserved and advance seating; Art Director, $125, includes admission to all films and gala reception; Crew, $60, includes admission to all films; Student/Active Military (with ID), $25, includes admission to all films

spacer spacer

Gay culture in all its rudiments — homosexual men, lesbians, the intersex community, transvestites and more — is explored in the Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival, which opens a four-night run Thursday at the Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Nearly 40 films — shorts, features, musicals, documentaries, biographies and more — have been culled from about 200 prospects for inclusion.

"The films show us our commonality in our diversity," said Winston Welch, executive director of the presenting organization, the Honolulu Gay & Lesbian Cultural Foundation. "They also reinforce that all people deserve the same respect, dignity, fairness and equality."

A key purpose of the festival, he said, is to "come together as one community to build relationships, create understanding and foster dialogue and education."

The films also demonstrate the emerging power of "new queer cinema," as critic B. Ruby Rich dubbed the genre of movies that magnifies and perpetuates a lifestyle that often is misunderstood, maligned and dismissed. Many of the films offer personal stories of struggles to survive.

Some, of course, are purely entertaining.

"Pursuit of Equality," the opening-night film, is a riveting documentary that depicts the behind-the-scenes saga of Dell Martin and Phyllis Lion. Together for 51 years, the two women were the first same-sex couple to be married in the United States. While applying for their license — as Applicant 1 and Applicant 2 (instead of the usual bride and groom) — they show fear and anticipation as they become, sort of, the Rosa Parks of gay rights. San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom launched a new civil-rights movement when he declared gay marriage legal 35 days after taking office. Director Geoff Callan captures the moment when San Francisco assessor and recorder Mabel Teng declared the couple "spouse and spouse." In the words of Newsom: "It's about time ... utterly appropriate."

"Zombie Prom" (May 26), a musical that is equal parts "Grease," "Hairspray" and Michael Jackson's "Thriller," is hardly a gay film — renegade cyclist Jonny Warner (played by Danny Robertson) falls for Toffee (Candice Nichols). The two typical teens seek romance against the moral climate of disapproving elders. But, hey, that's RuPaul as (who else?) Miss Strict at Enrico Fermi High School. With occasional cartoon panels progressing the story, and a plot that includes Jonny leaping into toxic waste to return as a sort of Frankenteen whose "skin is green and mood is blue," the modest film has frisky choreography, predictable and serviceable songs.

"Yellow for Hermaphrodites: Mani's Story" (May 26) is a fascinating glimpse of Mani Bruce Mitchell, born with an intersex condition, whose destiny is manipulated by her New Zealand parents thanks to childhood genital surgery. Mani reaches out to the intersex community, learning she's not alone, and she bonds with a Milwaukee adult with parallel challenges. Her decision to go public and share her past, the good with the bad, is an "act of both reclaiming my difference ... and celebration at the same time." The film earned the Qantas Media Award (New Zealand's Oscars) for best documentary in 2004.

Several other documentaries also excel:

"Gay Sex in the '70s" (May 26) recapitulates an era of free love, drugs and bathhouses, with observations from folks who lived the life and walked the talk, including activist Larry Kramer and filmmaker Bob Alvaraz. The decade, in retrospect, led to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Director Joseph Lovett combines archival footage with new images to document social and cultural developments that girdled the AIDS issue, united communities and had impact on political decisions still felt today.

San Francisco Chronicle reporter Randy Shilts was the first journalist to report on the AIDS crisis. In "Reporter Zero" (May 26), director Carrie Lozano depicts his uphill battle to legitimize the health issue — a man ahead of his time. The film is a tribute to his perseverence and commitment to tell the story of a dark phase that affected gay lives. Shilts later wrote "And the Band Played On," which was made into a TV movie. He died in 1994, at 42. And the band plays on today.

Todd Ahlberg's powerful "Meth" (May 27) examines the impact of crystal methamphetamine on the gay population. The drug is a thrill ride for many — and a crash landing for some. Says one talking head: "You either stop using it — or you die."

"Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema" (May 28), a documentary by Lisa Ades and Lesli Klainberg, examines indie gay and lesbian films from Kenneth Anger's physique film "Fireworks" to Andy Warhol's "Blow Job," with commentary from folks such as Alan Cumming and John Cameron Mitchell. Filmmaker John Waters declares, "All straight actors like to play gay — they win Oscars," alluding to the likes of Tom Hanks and Hilary Swank. The most profound observations come from critic B. Ruby Rich, who years ago coined the tag "new queer cinema," a label that still works. The retrospective is rich in detail and brings the journey to the present, with comments from "Brokeback Mountain" director Ang Lee.

Of course, gay and lesbian shorts abound — Boyz Shorts, Girlz Shorts.

"Color Blind" (May 27) dwells on a straight dude named Peter (how gauche) who has a girlfriend and a source for his drug habit. Then a gay Latin guy moves in upstairs.

In "Who's the Top" (May 28), by Jennie Livingston ("Paris Is Burning"), Alixe loves Gwen, but Alixe wants more. She's lured by the fantasies provided by Cymon Blank, played by — surprise! —Steve Buscemi.

Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com.