Do look now

Gaze, Dublin’s gay and les­bian film fes­ti­val, opens its 17th an­nual event in a time of changed at­ti­tudes. Don­ald Clarke ex­am­ines the role the film fes­ti­val to­day – and pre­views some of the most an­tic­i­pated screen­ings

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Festivals -

ALOT HAS changed in the 17 years since the Gay and Les­bian Film Fes­ti­val first sashayed into the Ir­ish Film Cen­tre. For a start, the fes­ti­val, re­named Gaze three years ago, no longer has to worry about its core au­di­ence be­ing carted off by Garda Plod.

“When the fes­ti­val was set up, ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was still il­le­gal,” says Jen­nifer Jen­nings, the event’s man­ager. “It may have been in the Ir­ish Film Cen­tre and it may have got great audiences, but to be ho­mo­sex­ual was still a crim­i­nal act. Things have changed.”

In Hol­ly­wood, too, the bar­ri­ers are beginning – just beginning, mind – to fall down. Writ­ing on the Gaze web­site, pro­gramme di­rec­tor Cian Smyth cau­tiously wel­comes the ad­vance.

“Since queer cin­ema has de­vel­oped into the main­stream,” he writes, “from the new wave of the early nineties through to block­buster hits like Broke­back Moun­tain, the qual­ity of queer film is once again lead­ing the cin­e­matic field.”

Sure enough, the up­com­ing fes­ti­val, which runs from July 30th to Au­gust 3rd, of­fers pun­ters a dizzy­ing va­ri­ety of de­lights.

Events kick off with a screen­ing of Grey Gar­dens, a dra­matic adap­ta­tion of the Maysles broth­ers’ great doc­u­men­tary. Co-writ­ten by Pa­tri­cia Rozema and star­ring Drew Bar­ry­more and Jes­sica Lange, the HBO pic­ture deals with two de­li­ciously ec­cen­tric rel­a­tives of Jackie Onas­sis.

The Queer He­roes sea­son, of­fer­ing work from “queer cin­ema icons”, in­cludes John Greyson’s Fig Trees, an eclec­tic hymn to gay ac­tivism; Jen­nifer M Kroot’s It Came from Kuchar, a study of the in­domitable Kuchar broth­ers; and Flo­rian Habicht’s Rub­bings from a Live Man, a glance at Kiwi ec­cen­tric War­wick Broad­head.

The tau­to­log­i­cally ti­tled Queer Cu­rios strand will in­clude a wel­come ret­ro­spec­tive of quirky Cana­dian vis­ual artist Allyson Mitchell and a sea­son of short films from the daz­zling, ex­pec­ta­tion-de­fy­ing Andy Blubaugh and Trevor An­der­son.

Rag­ing Sun, Rag­ing Sky, Juan Her­nan­dez’ ac­claimed quasi-mytho­log­i­cal love story, will have its Bri­tish and Ir­ish de­but. Win­ner of the Teddy Award for best gay fea­ture at the Berlin Film Fes­ti­val, the film is al­ready gath­er­ing a for­mi­da­ble cult fol­low­ing.

Smyth’s per­sonal pick among the var­i­ous treats is Kim­berly Reed’s al­ready hugely praised Prodi­gal Sons. Fol­low­ing the di­rec­tor as she re­turns to her home­town and con­fronts the old friends who once knew her as quar­ter­back for the (male) foot­ball team, the film man­ages to make a sur­pris­ingly tense, sus­pense­ful story from the most un­likely ma­te­rial. The fi­nal rev­e­la­tion will have you rock­ing in your seat.

The clos­ing film is Ella Lemha­gen’s de­light­ful, oc­ca­sion­ally dis­con­cert­ing Pa­trik Age 1.5. The Swedish pic­ture stud­ies a gay cou­ple as, fol­low­ing a bu­reau­cratic cock-up, they end up adopt­ing a 15-year-old ho­mo­pho­bic youth rather than the in­fant they were ex­pect­ing. The film man­ages the im­pres­sive task of cel­e­brat­ing the everyday nor­mal­ity of gay re­la­tion­ships while still point­ing up the chal­lenges that re­main.

So, Gaze con­tin­ues to of­fer a wide va­ri­ety of tasty ma­te­rial. Still, it is fair to ask what the event be­lieves its re­mit to be. Af­ter all, we now live in an era where gay-friendly ma­te­rial is ev­ery­where about. The likes of Todd Haynes and Gus Van Sant get nom­i­nated for Os­cars. A trou­ble-mak­ing Devil’s ad­vo­cate might won­der why we still need a gay and les­bian film fes­ti­val.

“Our re­mit is quite clear,” Jen­nings says. “We seek out cin­ema that has les­bian and gay con­tent – films that peo­ple from that com­mu­nity may not get to see on the big screen else­where. But, like a lot of gay fes­ti­vals, Gaze has ex­panded to in­clude work by gay artists that may not have a gay theme. We even go one stage fur­ther and seek to in­clude films that have in­spired gay artists. So, for ex­am­ple, Pa­tri­cia Rozema will be in­tro­duc­ing the orig­i­nal ver­sion of Grey Gar­dens.”

Gaze has al­ways done a good job of wel­com­ing all com­mu­ni­ties to its events and seek­ing to spread the word about gay-re­lated films be­yond the im­me­di­ate fam­ily. Hav­ing glanced through the pro­gramme, this writer sought out and greatly en­joyed some of the up­com­ing at­trac­tions.

Train­ing Rules tells the fas­ci­nat­ing story of one les­bian bas­ket­ball player’s ef­forts to frus­trate the ho­mo­pho­bic au­thor­i­ties at Penn State Uni­ver­sity. Jac­ques Martineau’s and Olivier Du­cas­tel’s Born in ’68, one of the less recher­ché dra­matic fea­tures at the fes­ti­val, takes a group of ac­tivists from the bar­ri­cades of Paris through var­i­ous com­pro­mises to the less cer­tain pol­i­tics of the late 20th cen­tury.

Still, though the event thrives on spread­ing the word widely, its im­por­tance as a so­cial event within the gay com­mu­nity can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated. This year, as the Ir­ish Film In­sti­tute un­der­goes its re­de­vel­op­ment, fes­tiv­i­ties move down the river to the mul­ti­coloured seats and wide stair­cases of the Light House cin­ema in Smith­field.

“An im­por­tant re­mit of Gaze re­mains the com­mu­nity as­pect,” Jen­nings says. “We ex­pect to see around 5,000 les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and straight peo­ple gath­er­ing in a place that is not a club not a pub. That’s al­ways an im­por­tant thing. Peo­ple will come from all over the world to this event.”

Fair enough. But have such gay events now bro­ken into the main­stream? Is this still an “al­ter­na­tive” fes­ti­val?

“I am from a younger gen­er­a­tion than those who set up the fes­ti­val,” Jen­nings says. “To us, gay­ness was never an is­sue. Things are still chang­ing. But, if I can get a bit po­lit­i­cal here, we mustn’t get com­pla­cent. We still have in­equal­ity in things like mar­riage, for in­stance.”

But, next week­end, there will, in Smith­field, be one lit­tle cor­ner of Ire­land where equal­ity reigns.

“Yes. In our minds there are now no bar­ri­ers. In our minds it’s a com­pletely equal pay­ing field.”

Grey mat­ter: Drew Bar­ry­more and Jes­sica Lange in Grey Gar­dens, which opens Gaze

Pa­trik Age 1.5 (above ) and Rag­ing Sun, Rag­ing Sky (top)

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