It’s time to put down the remote and stop watching those reruns of Queer as Folk and The L Word. Starting Friday, Detroit will host one of the largest collections of sexually confused roommates, politically trailblazing activists, cross-dressing Elvis impersonators, heartsick street teens, unaccepting parents and self-proclaimed “sweet transvestites” in the Midwest. That’s right: It’s time for the annual Reel Pride Michigan Film Festival.
Now in its third year at Royal Oak’s Main Art Theatre, the fest continues to offer the metro area’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender — and straight-but-not-narrow — community a forum for queer-themed entertainment that might not otherwise find a conventional media outlet, in Detroit or elsewhere.
“Smaller filmmakers, independent filmmakers, would probably not get a chance to sign up with a distributor and show their film at The Main,” says Stephanie Newman, Reel Fest’s producer as well as events coordinator for Detroit’s nonprofit gay rights group the Triangle Foundation.
As such, the fest’s host committee has chosen a diverse group of films that not only give voice to some of the concerns of locals — including same-sex marriage (One Wedding and a Revolution), religious discrimination (In Good Conscience) and inner-city homophobia (Graffiti Artist) — but of the nation as a whole. That sort of universality has made Reel Pride, in its three short years, one of the fastest-growing, highest-profile film fests in the Midwest, queer or otherwise. At this rate, according to Newman, it won’t be long before it expands to a 10- to 15-day collection of films shown at numerous venues; and as the fest gains in momentum and capital, so will the Triangle Foundation’s community outreach efforts.
Of course, not all of the 40-some shorts, documentaries and features that make up the fest exist solely to tackle Big Serious Issues (in other words, don’t worry — there’s still plenty of skin) and so Reel Pride showcases the recently expanding artistic scope of the gay filmmaking community.
“Queer film has always been more about coming out or, unfortunately, dying of AIDS, or the life that people are forced to lead because of coming out,” Newman says. “Now, it’s about family, it’s about marriage, it’s about these new genres of film, like gay horror films and gay comedies — all these wonderful branches of where it began from.”
So, there’s even more reason for curious straights to plant themselves in the Main’s seats this year. One of Reel Pride’s centerpieces, for example, is a midnight screening of the 30th anniversary print of that much-loved boundary-shattering cult flick, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And you can bet that a queer-centric audience isn’t going to let the Brads and the Janets in the theater just sit on their asses.
“We want to really be inclusive of anybody that’s supportive of us,” Newman says. “Film has a way of transcending those sorts of barriers like nothing else.”
Reel Pride highlights:
A look at a few of the films to be shown this week at the Main Art Theatre as part of the Reel Pride Film Fest:
In Good Conscience
Sunday, Jan. 30, 1:30 p.m
After all those exit poll results on Nov. 2, it’s nice to be reminded that not everyone believes that religious faith and homosexuality are mutually exclusive concepts. Case in point: Sister Jeannine Gramick, one of the most tireless champions of gay and lesbian rights in the Catholic Church. Gramick believes the church has wrongly excluded an entire group of people who now feel alienated from the faith, and that it’s not morally acceptable to keep quiet as this happens.
“The church’s credibility on sexuality is null and void,” says Gramick, who’s written a book arguing for tolerance, Building Bridges, and tours the country speaking her mind, even when she’s been ordered by the church not to do so.
Filmmaker Barbara Rick — working with Albert Maysles, one of the masters of the modern documentary — chronicles Gramick’s struggles using a mostly objective eye (even if the voice-overs of the Catholic Church’s cease-and-desist letters are a bit too melodramatically recited). Rick’s greatest accomplishment is capturing her subject’s spunky, endlessly patient character. The filmmaker doesn’t shy away from the opposing side’s point of view, either, culminating in Gramick’s contentious visit to the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas, where she speaks at lengths with detractors both eloquent and downright hostile (including a lumberjack-sized guy wielding a “No Fag Priests” sign). —Michael Hastings
Brother to Brother
Sunday, Jan. 30, 7 p.m.
Those who long for a return to the vitality and urgency of the early ’90s new queer cinema need look no further than writer-director Rodney Evans’ ambitious Brother to Brother. Comparing and contrasting post-millennial gay angst in the black community with the audacious sensibilities of the Harlem Renaissance, Evans’ film seems as if it could’ve sprung from the same fertile ground that produced such New Queer classics as Todd Haynes’ Poison or Tom Kalin’s Swoon.
The film charts the quest for consciousness of college student Perry (Anthony Mackie) as he’s shunned by his family, perplexed by black-on-black homophobia, and courted by a straight boy (Alex Burns) who may or may not want him just for a taste of “the other.” When he strikes up a friendship with a queenly older gentleman (Roger Robinson) who used to rub elbows with the likes of Langston Hughes (Daniel Sunjata) and Zora Neale Hurston (Aunjanue Ellis), Perry learns the finer points of a time and place where ideas — if not equality and tolerance — reigned supreme.
These concepts come at the camera with the urgency of a young filmmaker trying to cram as much as possible into one feature. Recalling Marlon Riggs’ groundbreaking documentary Tongues Untied in both style and sexual candor, Brother to Brother’s consistently fascinating subject matter smooths over the shoestring production’s occasional technical gaffes. And if the script has a tendency to slip into didactic, lecture-like monologues (this is, after all, a film set at Columbia University) the performers keep it utterly natural and believable — particularly Hollywood up-and-comer Mackie, who makes even the most ponderous dialogue sound as if it occurred to him on the spot. By the end, the film leaves you with the feeling that, for all our “progress,” the dank bathhouses and dorm rooms of today are no match for the hedonistic intellectualism of Harlem in the ’20s. —Michael Hastings
Harry and Max
Wednesday, Feb. 2, 9:30 p.m.
Speaking of New queer cinema: Writer-director Christopher Münch first garnered attention with 1992’s minimalist, enigmatic The Hours and Times, which fictionalized a long-rumored affair between John Lennon and the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein. Almost 15 years later, Münch is back in music-industry territory of a different stripe with Harry and Max, the tale of two pop star brothers who’ve remained close — maybe a little too close. Harry (Bryce Johnson) is a past-his-prime boy-band refugee trying to go solo, while Max (Cole Williams) is the sensitive teen singer-songwriter who’s just beginning to attract a loyal following of doe-eyed teen girls. Though their careers have kept them out of each others’ lives for long stretches of time, the two sibs attempt to reconnect over the course of a weekend camping trip, where we soon learn that their idea of “reconnecting” is very literal indeed.
If all this sounds like the stuff of bad Internet erotic fiction, don’t worry. Münch is far more concerned with the tricky, psychosexual games that might occur in an incestuous relationship, as opposed to the logistical details that allow them to happen. Still, as Harry resorts to more and more desperate means to “help Max work shit out,” the film’s plot takes some shocking turns, without chastising or endorsing any of the characters’ behavior. Münch’s artful, observant style of shooting adds to the Gus Van Sant-like omniscient feel. The film’s epilogue is a little muddled, but up until that point, Harry and Max fits in surprisingly well with Münch’s three previous films, all of them cautionary tales of hidden feelings and buried desires. —Michael HastingsMichael Hastings is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]