Qfest 2012: Romance, satire, docs and more

In "Love or Whatever," one of 50 QFest films, Joel Rush (left) is Pete, a poetry-writing stud, and Tyler Poelle is Corey, a therapist.
In "Love or Whatever," one of 50 QFest films, Joel Rush (left) is Pete, a poetry-writing stud, and Tyler Poelle is Corey, a therapist.
Posted: July 13, 2012

Queer cinema finally has come into its own, says Ray Murray, cofounder of Philadelphia QFest, the region's leading festival of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender films, which opens Thursday night with director Terracino's romantic dramedy Elliot Loves.

"There are only a few films this year about coming out" of the closet, says Murray. "Those films have almost been retired, whereas 15 years ago they were the staple."

Adds Murray, "That is one of the greatest changes" since QFest was founded 18 years ago, "and it marks real progress."

The mainstreaming of the gay and lesbian experience in such shows as Modern Family and The Ellen DeGeneres Show and the national discussion on gay marriage means that films now feature openly gay and lesbian characters whose sexual identity isn't central to the plot.

In fact, Murray says, one of the missions of queer cinema — to expose the culture to gay and lesbian stories — has been so successful that sometime in the future there will be no need for queer cinema.

"That's the ideal of queer film," says Murray. "We're getting to a point where we'll be known more as an independent film festival with a focus on gay and lesbian films rather than a gay festival."

But that day has yet to come, and queer film festivals are still a good bet — last year's QFest drew as many as 23,000 fans, says Murray.

The bulk of the 50 features at QFest 2012 will be screened Friday through July 23 at two Old City locations, the Ritz East and the Ritz at the Bourse. (For the schedule, go to www.qfest.com.) The event also features parties, award ceremonies, and Q?&?A sessions with filmmakers and stars.

Murray says another change in programming is the quality of the films — most made on a shoestring budget.

"When we started 18 years ago, the audience would take a bad independent film and watch it because they identified with its queer themes," he says. "We are finding out from audiences that their tastes are far more sophisticated today. They're more interested in the level of filmmaking and less in the issue of sexual orientation."

Director Rosser Goodman, whose romantic drama Love or Whatever screens at QFest, makes a point of avoiding the old standard themes.

"I decided to do Love or Whatever because I was looking for a gay male story that wasn't about marriage or babies or coming out," says Goodman. "I specifically didn't want a story on those topics because I think they are played out already."

A raunchy comedy of ill manners, Love or Whatever stars Tyler Poelle and David Wilson Page as a couple whose relationship hits the rocks when one of them cheats — and, of all people, with a woman (Jenica Bergere). It also features Philly comic Kate Flannery as a woman who'd rather make love to lions and tigers than people.

Goodman, a self-professed lesbian activist, says it's time gay and lesbian filmmakers stop restricting themselves to issues and message-oriented stories. "A lot of our stories are about ‘being gay,' and I think what gay audiences as well as straight ones want to see is a story where the characters happen to be gay," she says. "We should look to create characters who are fully integrated" into the larger culture "and to be equal in every way."

Romantic dramedies are well represented, notably A Perfect Ending, from director Nicole Conn, whose 2010 lesbian romance Elena Undone was a huge hit on the festival circuit. The latest film stars Barbara Niven as Rebecca, a repressed middle-aged wife who confides in her lesbian friends that she has never had an orgasm. Her friends immediately send her to Valentina, a madam played by Morgan Fairchild, who hooks her up with one of her female escorts. We'll leave the rest to your imagination.

Murray says QFest 2012 includes a collection of foreign crossover films, which also appeal to a straight audience.

Belgium's North Sea Texas is about a teen who falls in love with his straight friend. "Oddly enough, it's a coming-out story," says Murray, laughing, "but it's very well done."

Let My People Go! is a satire about a young gay man who feels stifled by his neurotic Jewish family. "It's playing in France as a mainstream film, not a gay film," says Murray.

An American favorite this year is director Coley Sohn's send-up of American suburbia, Sassy Pants, which features Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) in one of his first film roles since graduating from college. The picture stars Ashley Rickards as a home-schooled teenager who feels so stifled by life with her uptight single mother (Anna Gunn), she decides to move in with her gay dad. Thing is, dad (Diedrich Bader) is equally off-kilter. And his young boy toy Chip (Osment) is about as silly, goofy, and just plain strange as they come.

"I decided to do the film because it's such a likable script and such a fun character," says Osment. "Chip lives in a trailer park outside town and he works at a gay line-dancing bar in the evenings." Adds Osment: "You rarely get to play a character like him."

Documentaries this year include the rock-doc Jobriath A.D., a biography of King of Prussia native Jobriath (Bruce Wayne Campbell), a flash-in-the-pan '70s glam-rock star who was compared to David Bowie.

"Jobriath used to say he was the true fairy of rock-and-roll," says director Kieran Turner, "because he was the first openly gay rock star."

Jobriath died of AIDS in 1983, before he could achieve his ambitions, says Turner. "He was trained as a classical musician and he was composing symphonies when he was 15 years old," says Turner. "Before his death, he was writing stage musicals."

Turner says Jobriath's decision to declare his sexuality sealed his doom as a marketable entity.

Are things better today for gay and lesbian entertainers?

Rose Troche says she hopes so. Troche, 48, will receive the QFest 2012 Artistic Achievement in Directing Award at a July 21 ceremony. The award honors her groundbreaking 1994 film Go Fish, which mixed documentary, narrative fiction, poetry, and dream sequences to tell the story of a group of lesbian friends in Chicago.

"I look back at the body of my work ... and I ask if I stay true to myself and to my activism. And I want to continue that, to move forward and explore new topics."

Contact Tirdad Derakhshani at 215-854-2736 or tirdad@phillynews.com.

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