by Greg Archer - The Palm Springs Desert Sun - September 7, 2016
We always hear about people looking for the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. You know, as a kind of saving grace during challenging transitions. Clearly, 2016 will be remembered as “challenging” for the LGBT community.
That’s where something like cinema comes in. It adds levity … because sometimes, the brightest light we can ever find is the one flickering on a movie screen in a dark theater spotlighting LGBT trials and victories. This isn’t “News at 11.” In fact, over the last few years, LGBT cinema has grown considerably.
But cinematically, 2015 and 2016 stand out for a number of other reasons.
Michael Carroll Green, director of Cinema Diverse, the popular Palm Springs LGBT film festival that unravels in September, is quick to point out the expansion of diverse storytelling, noting “a rise in the number of stories we’re seeing in LGBTQ films about trans and intersex people.”
To be sure, these topics were not being explored in cinema with such vigor a decade ago. In fact, so many creative leaps have been made since Chaz Bono illuminated his journey as a transgender man in “Becoming Chaz” (2011). Take a quick look at the bevy of films, documentaries, and television series about transgender and intersex people that have captured our attention in just five years’ time. “My Prairie Home” (2013) and Amazon’s award-winning “Transparent,” which debuted in 2014, certainly stand out. Last year, film fest audiences marveled at “The Joneses” — so touching, so honest, the doc spotlighted a 74-year-old transgender matriarch of a unique Mississippi Bible Belt family. And “Call Me Marianna” (2015), an understated albeit haunting Polish film about a transgender woman with personal and health concerns, triumphed in storytelling. So, too, did “Kumu Hina” (2015) — bold, raw, and unforgettable, the doc spotlighted a transgender native Hawaiian teacher and cultural icon who relays stories about Hawaii's long-held embrace of “mahu” (third-person genders).
This year, “Kiki” is all the buzz. Filmmakers Sara Jordenö and Twiggy Pucci Garçon’s romp about the political subculture of New York City’s LGBT youth of color, for whom dance is far more than performance, is fierce, unapologetic, and flamboyant. But look for “Arianna” to win hearts at Cinema Diverse. The emotional Italian film about a teenage girl who learns from her parents that she was born intersex, but was surgically altered, delivers a powerful message about the freedom of personal choice.
Based-on-real-life films, anyone? It’s a theme.
Notice how, after “Milk” (2008), “The Runaways” (2010), “Dallas Buyers Club” (2013), “Reaching for the Moon” (2013) and the heartwarming, critically-acclaimed “Pride” (2014), audience’s appetites for real-life stories became stronger. Look how well “Freeheld” (2015) starring Ellen Page and Julianne Moore was received. The film chronicled the plight of real-life police officer Laurel Hester, who fought her local government to allow her partner access to her pension. (Actually, the film began as a documentary prior to Page’s and Moore’s version.)
Another interesting theme: The James Franco Touch. Beyond the entertainment news headlines surrounding Franco’s sexuality — last year the actor-producer-director told The New Yorker: “Yeah, I’m a little gay, and there’s a gay James” — we find something genuine: An LGBT ally whose film presence helps push some smaller projects out into the mainstream — “Howl” (2010), “Sal” (2011), “Interior Leather Bar” (2013), “Wild Horses” (2015) and Franco’s mind-bending turn as a “gay-to-straight” activist in “I Am Michael” (2015). Let’s not forget his more risqué, adult-film-star odyssey that is ”King Cobra,” which premiered at L.A.’s Out Fest in the summer.
Clearly, modern technological advances have impacted filmmaking, too. Anybody who sat through “Tangerine” (2015) understands that all too well. The award-winning indie film about a beleaguered hooker who, along with her best friend, is determined to get retribution from a pimp, was shot entirely on an iPhone 5s and anamorphic adaptors. (Wannabe filmmakers: Get your smartphones out now.)
But here’s something refreshing. Green believes that the B part of LGBT is being addressed with more frequency in films. It could move beyond just a trend.
“A lot of people don’t talk about it [bisexuality],” Green explains. “We like to say we are really inclusive. But sometimes, the B gets left out of the conversation.”
To that end, Cinema Diverse tosses “Throuple” into its eclectic lineup this year. An award-winning Hawaiian film about a polyamorous couple’s relationship, “Throuple” candidly explores misconceptions about sexuality.
“I appreciate the fact that it looked at the virtual rainbow of sexuality,” Green adds. “I think what many films have done over the last year is stretch the definition of sexuality and definition of gender and gender identity. And the LGBTQ community is really way ahead of the culture in dealing with these very real issues.”
Most were groundbreaking, others were just inspiring escapes. Take note of a dozen of the top LGBT-themed films of the last 50 years.
Drop the emotional baggage and just love. That’s the idea here, however, it’s 1950s Manhattan and emotions run high for two star-crossed lovers (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara) — and so do the consequences. Worthy of its Oscar noms.
‘Longtime Companion’ (1989)
One of the best LGBT films of all time finds a group of friends confronting the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s. But what’s this? We also get some of the finest work in the careers of Campbell Scott, Dermot Mulroney and Mary-Louise Parker.
‘Torch Song Trilogy’ (1988)
Harvey Fierstein’s Tony Award-winning play brings Matthew Broderick and Anne Bancroft along for the big-screen ride in a poignant, unforgettable tale about relationships, love of all kinds, and the quirky lines we all walk for acceptance.
‘Boys in the Band’ (1970)
Director William Friedkin’s classic tale broke new ground in this screen version of the popular play about a group of gay men at a birthday celebration that quickly derails and turns into a deeper exploration of self-acceptance and sexuality.
‘Paris Is Burning’ (1990)
Drag queens pursue their dreams in New York City. What’s not to like? Fortunately, beyond the sass and makeup, we’re given a story that also isn’t afraid to touch upon the realities of racism and poverty, too.
‘My Beautiful Launderette’ (1985)
Daniel Day-Lewis in one of his earlier memorable roles plays a man who, after being reunited with his former lover, helps revitalize his former beau’s new launderette. The message: Love deeper. Rinse. Repeat.
‘Boys Don’t Cry’ (1999)
Hilary Swank took home an Oscar for her performance as Brandon, a determined young transgender man who falls for small-town gal Lana (Chloë Sevigny). One of the first major films to address transgender issues.
‘Brokeback Mountain’ (2005)
That a story about two closeted cowboys in love is now considered one of the great love stories of American film is a triumph. Ang Lee’s brilliant adaptation of Annie Proulx’s short story nabbed an Oscar for Best Director and nods for its actors, the late Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams. We can still hear the haunting soundtrack.
Last year’s hit indie film is a worthy Netflix romp if you dig creative filmmaking, riveting (and real) dialogue, and a story about a transgender hooker hell-bent on righting an emotional wrong. Of course you do.
Sean Penn and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black took home Oscars for this remarkable tale chronicling the life of iconic civil rights activist Harvey Milk, who, in 1977, became the nation's first openly gay man elected to public office (San Francisco Board of Supervisors) before his assassination in 1978. Worthy of repeat viewings.
‘The Times of Harvey Milk’ (1984)
Doc lovers will appreciate just how well Milk’s legacy is captured here in an exposé that deserves ideal real estate in any film queue.
‘Hedwig and The Angry Inch’ (2001)
John Cameron Mitchell’s fierce fairy tale about fate, gender and identity rises to the occasion on all fronts. Nothing — not even a botched gender reassignment surgery — will keep one determined crooner down. One of the best soundtracks around.
If You Go:
Cinema Diverse, which will present 42 screenings this year, runs Sept. 22-25 at Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Rd., Palm Springs. For the full, up-to-date list of films featured, visit cinemadiverse.org.