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Birth of a Festival 

Out of the closet and onto the screen, Colorado Springs comes out with its first gay and lesbian film festival

No doubt about it. Colorado Springs is in the midst of a cultural transformation. Perhaps even a revolution. And oddly enough, it may have actually begun with Amendment Two.

Whether you were against it or supported it, that insipid little amendment was a huge catalyst for change in Colorado Springs. It made us -- collectively -- take a good, long look at ourselves.

Change was inevitable, and with change comes growth.

This weekend, we will see a significant result of that growth and change. With the debut of the Pikes Peak Lavender Film Festival, Colorado Springs joins the ranks of some 120 cities around the world who host an annual gay and lesbian--themed film festival.

Over the course of two days, the Pikes Peak Lavender Festival will present a total of eight feature films and six shorts. While the films, both domestic and foreign, deal with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender subject matter, they promise to engage any avid film lover. To not attend because you are not gay or lesbian would be a big mistake.


Punk spunk

Friday night's lineup begins with two of the more "mainstream" films, Punks and But I'm a Cheerleader, both of which, despite receiving national attention, never found their way to the Springs.

Punks, the directorial debut of 27-year-old Patrik-Ian Polk, tackles two big issues: gay and black. The result? A sort of a gay Waiting to Exhale with an excellent soundtrack.

The term "punks" is a Southern slang term used in some black communities which pretty much means "fags." And since most gay-themed movies portray white culture, Punks is refreshing in that it immerses us in the hardly-ever-visible gay black culture.

Set in West Hollywood, Punks follows the lives of four close friends -- Marcus, Hill, Chris and Dante -- through all of their various ups and downs in the pursuits of love and sex.

Marcus is somewhere in his 20s, a successful West Hollywood fashion photographer, and the shyest of the bunch. An incurable romantic in search of the real deal, he's never had a boyfriend, doesn't really date and has no prospects -- until the luscious Darby moves in next door.

Hill, the eldest of the group at 30, is dealing with HIV and a cheating boyfriend. Chris, the diva drag queen, is entrenched in her own drama with the backup singers from her performing group. And Dante, the youngster in the bunch -- a rich kid from Beverly Hills -- is cute as any boy toy can be, but on the path to self-destruction via drug and alcohol abuse.

Punks is sexy, energetic, fast-paced, funny and touching, with the slickness, at times, of a music video. The soundtrack, crucial to the narration of the film, runs the gamut from retros like Sister Sledge and Marvin Gaye to more current hit makers like Aimee Mann and Macy Gray.


Give me an "A"!

The second feature of opening night is But I'm a Cheerleader. I was fortunate enough to catch it in Portland a few months ago and can say without hesitation that this is one that should not be missed.

Heavily influenced by John Waters, But I'm a Cheerleader is a wacky, off-the-wall comedy which examines our ideas of gender and sexual stereotypes in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

Originally, the festival was unable to obtain a copy of the film until the director herself was contacted. Jamie Babbit chose to send her own copy for use at the festival, stating how important it is for places like Colorado Springs to have access to films dealing with this subject matter.

The main character in the film is a teenager named Megan. She's smart, pretty, popular, dates the captain of the football team and, above all, she is a cheerleader. Life is pretty hunky-dory for Megan, until her parents (Bud Cort and Mink Stole) stage a group intervention. The evidence is overwhelming that Megan is homosexual: She is a vegetarian, doesn't like kissing her boyfriend, loves Melissa Ethridge and hugs her friends -- often.

She is sent off into the surreal world of True Directions, a five-step homo rehab camp designed to deprogram homosexual tendencies. Girls wear hot pink, attend home economics classes, and learn how to meet men, diaper babies and clean house. Boys wear baby blue, play football and fix things. The camp is run by an over-the-top, ultra masculine guy named Mike (played hilariously by RuPaul out of drag).

Though blisteringly funny and cartoon-like at times, Cheerleader addresses the heavy-duty topic of gay teens and homophobia. Babbit, who has been identified as part of a "brash new generation of gay filmmakers," handles these issues with humor, insight and honesty, forcing to light the absurdities of our entrenched sexual roles.


Deja viewed

Day two of the festival is solid, with six full-length features and a variety of fun film shorts which run before each of the feature films.

Saturday morning kicks off with a French Canadian flick called Revoir Julie, which, loosely translated, means See Julie Again. The plot is straightforward: The film opens with Juliet, post break-up, compiling a list of things to accomplish, the last of which is to contact her old friend Julie. The two have been estranged for almost 15 years.

Though the nature of reunion seems innocent enough, we see that there is much more to it as the story unfolds. Eventually the evening culminates in a huge dinner and a bottle of wine.

Set in Canada, the backdrop to the film is beautiful, but periodic moments of blatant symbolism slow the story just a bit. The compelling chemistry between the two actresses and quirky camera work keep it interesting.


Survivors on the sea

On July 2, 1997, eleven HIV positive men set out on a racing yacht they named Survivor to compete in the Trans-Pacific Yacht Race, a 2,200 mile, 10-day-long race from Los Angeles to Hawaii. The entire adventure was documented with a handheld camera by filmmaker and crew member Bobby Houston. The film is called Rock the Boat.

This is an incredibly inspiring and emotional film. The sailing footage is fantastic and exciting, and interspersed among the footage of high-seas action are candid and emotional interviews with each of the crew members, detailing their battle with HIV and the impact which it has had upon their lives.


What I want for Christmas

Switching gears altogether, 24 Nights is a dark comedy about a 24-year-old college dropout named Jonathan. Jonathan lives with his sister and her husband, works in a bookstore, smokes a lot of pot in his spare time and still believes in Santa Claus -- due to an odd but memorable childhood encounter with a Salvation Army Santa.

One day, around Thanksgiving, Jonathan decides to write to Santa asking him for a boyfriend. A week later, on Dec. 1, he meets an innocent Southerner named Toby. Jonathan decides that he has 24 days to figure out whether or not cute and charming Toby is indeed his Christmas present from Santa.

If your sense of humor runs on the darker side, you'll especially appreciate this film. The characters are colorful, well-developed overall and ring true. And this film is refreshing in that it depicts queer life with honesty, on just a regular day-to-day basis without a great deal of drama.

Throughout 1999, this film picked up six various independent film festival awards, including Best American Independent Feature Film at the Cleveland International Film Festival. It's an offbeat and engaging little film, shot low budget, but it should not be overlooked. Even if it's not Christmas.


Love and war

Rounding out the festival are two larger-budget films.

The first, which has never before toured on any festival circuit, is Aime & Jaguar. It was nominated for a 1999 Golden Globe Award and was Germany's submission for the year's best Foreign Language Film Oscar. And both of the lead actresses received top awards at last year's Berlin International Film Festival for their portrayals of the title characters.

The film, based on the book of the same name, is set in Berlin and tells the story of Lilly Wust and Felice Schragenheim, two women who meet and fall in love during the height of World War II.

Lilly is in her late 20s, married to a Nazi soldier, has produced four racially pure sons and lives a rather privileged life as a result. Felice is Jewish, but works undercover as a journalist for a Nazi newspaper in order to pass along information to the Jewish underground.

The two meet by chance at a concert and, through a series of circumstances, eventually enter into an epic romance. Some of the most passionate moments of the film are told through letters the two women pen to each other, under the names of Jaguar (Felice) and Aime (Lilly).

This is an emotionally charged and riveting story, with an intensity that is underscored by the backdrop of war-torn Berlin and is made more astounding by the fact that this is a true story. Today, Lilly Wust is 87 years old and lives in Germany. The film flashes between past and present, with present-day Lilly narrating. This film holds up with the best of epic romances.


Dark confessions

The last film of the evening, a favorite on the festival circuit for many years, is the film Lilies. Set in 1952, Lilies is essentially a story of love, betrayal and revenge. The entire story takes place in a prison confessional, where a bishop has been summoned to hear the confession of a certain prisoner.

Narrated by the prisoner, what unfolds is a love story wrought with jealousy and, ultimately, murder. As the prisoner recounts his story and makes his true identity known, the bishop is horrified to recognize his own name in the prisoner's past. The bishop must come to grips with his true feelings and all of his wrongdoings. q


First Annual Pikes Peak Lavender Film Festival

The Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St.

Schedule forFri., Sept. 22: hors d'oevres, 7 p.m.; Punks, 8:30 p.m.; But I'm a Cheerleader, 10:15 p.m. Ticket for Fri. evening only: $25.

Schedule for Sat., Sept. 23: Revoir Julie, 10 a.m.; Rock the Boat, noon; 24 Nights, 5 p.m.; Aime and Jaguar, 7:45 p.m.; Lilies, 10:15 p.m. Ticket for Saturday only: $35.

Tickets: for individual movies $8 ($10 for Aime & Jaguar), available at the Fine Arts Center on the day of the show. Festival pass: $50, available at Wag 'N' Wash, 457-9274, or Spice of Life, 685-5284.

Check out www.lavenderfilms.org for more information.

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