N.C. Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
Carolina Theatre
Aug. 14-17

A fitting choice for the unofficial theme of the 13th annual North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival would be “Back to Basics.”

One year removed from shifting to a late-August start date, the festival returns to its traditional mid-August slot. A confluence of circumstances facilitated last year’s move, including remodeling to the Durham-based festival’s Carolina Theatre home and print booking conflicts with other queer film festivals. The organizers hoped that holding the NCGLFF after the start of fall semester for area colleges and universities might translate into higher attendance figures for the already-popular event.

According to Jim Carl, Carolina Theatre senior director and director of programming for NCGLFF, the change in schedule “had no impact in the slightest” on festival attendance. “The turnout was great, as always,” says Carl. “But, according to our festival surveys, we had roughly the same number of college students attend as in years past. The feedback we received was that college students were not really going to attend early in the semester because of orientation and the process of starting classes.” Carl says that the only way to make serious inroads in college student attendance would be to delay the festival until mid-September, “and that’s just too late for many reasons.”

An emphasis on streamlined, thematic selections dominates the programming for this year’s festival, which comprises 68 films (down from 76 last year). Only 20 feature-length films are among that number; this represents a continuation of the move toward fewer-but-better that began after the 2005 fest. Even more significant is the number of repeat filmmakers on this year’s schedule: Seventeen, or 25 percent of the total number of directors in this year’s fest, have had entries in past NCGLFFs.

Each year, the NCGLFF program covers subjects ranging from romance to political struggles to frothy sexual escapades. But, this year’s lineup also contains a noteworthy global perspective with foreign filmssome from less familiar sources such as Spain, Argentina and South Africa.

Films about men

Still … for all the talk of high-minded, issue-oriented fare, the fact remains that romps still rule. That is why the most anticipated film on the schedule is probably Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild, the follow-up to 2006’s Another Gay Movie. But, failing to include this wildly popular film “would be like doing a sci-fi festival without Star Wars,” says Carl. The Saturday evening screening in Fletcher Hall is also notable for a guest appearance by Randy Jones, the original cowboy from the Village People, who will introduce the film, sign autographs and, surely, pose for cell phone photos.

For other attendees, well-made, polished filmmaking still rules. Of the men’s features screened by the Indy, the most accomplished was Newcastle, an Australian coming-of-age drama about a group of teenage surfers coming to grips with their lives, future and sexualityboth straight and gay. Outstanding cinematography punctuates a poignant script.

The subtitle to Boystown should have been “Gentrification Gone Wild!” In this black comedy, a sexy, charming real estate agent murders elderly ladies in order to lay hands on their apartments, which he then converts into trendy flats for gay couples. A blue-collar queer couple must eventually save the day. This Spanish import from director Juan Flahn is both breezy and stylish.

Other noteworthy entries include the award-winning Were the World Mine, the festival’s opening night film. Save Me comes highly recommended from festival organizers; but, while assailing faith-based sexual orientation methods is forceful and timely, the heavy-handed script skewers piety alongside prejudice, thus engaging in some of the same narrow-mindedness the film lambastes. The light, amusing comedy Ready? Ok! is notable for a supporting appearance by Michael Emerson, best known as Ben from TV’s Lost. Among the short films is What the Frock, by Cary-based filmmaker Jeffrey Moore, which will screen as part of the “Queen with the Teetering Tiara” shorts program.

Films about women

XXY, director Lucio Penzio’s offbeat Argentinean drama, tackles teenage angst as its central character (played brilliantly by Inés Efron) struggles to locate her sexual identity. Shot on the remote Uruguayan seaside, this film sparkles with natural beauty and a lingering erotic charge. A diamond in the rough, XXY redirects itself from dogmatic queer cinema and features a compelling storyline that is accessible to straight and gay audiences.

In South African period yarn The World Unseen, an unlikely match between two Indiansa demure housewife and an independent-minded female cafe workerblossoms under the iron fist of apartheid rule in the 1950s. The film’s major fault results from its formulaic, sweeping romance, cloying glances and lustful sighs. But, the overall cadence ebbs and flows successfully through scenes of oppression to round out the narrative and provide a complex portrait of societal flaws and cultural confines.

Another highly accessible foreign film is Etienne Dhaene’s brightly colored comedy The New World (Le Nouveau Monde), about lesbian motherhood and its effect on relationship politics when female lovers from France join in the baby race. A warm and witty exploration of the modern family, this film gives a humorous voice to any couple seeking to add a new branch to their family tree.

The most American-minded picture is one that bares our culture’s male-centered obsessions with a smirk as it employs a sly pun on small breasts in its title: Itty Bitty Titty Committee. A young Latina gains membership to a group of pranksters whose main purpose is to bring down male-dominated ideas and institutions. Boisterous and infused with a riot grrl attitude, the film unfortunately hews closely to the cookie-cutter mold of lesbian-hood in the U.S., and its message becomes submerged in the characters’ frivolous sex-capades and its simplistic portrayal of feminism.

Individual tickets and passes may be purchased at the Carolina Theatre box office or online at www.carolinatheatre.org.