Around the World in 3.5 Days 

Pikes Peak Lavender Film Festival serves up a universal view of gay, lesbian and transgender life through the eye of the camera

Bigger, longer and decidedly international is what you can look forward to at the third annual Pikes Peak Lavender Film Festival (PPLFF) at the Fine Arts Center, coming up Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 5 to 8., Colorado's only gay, lesbian and transgender film festival. (Denver's is now defunct, and Boulder's is not happening this year).

"The quality of the films, overall, is better this year," said Alma Cremonesi, the festival's founder and president. "And this year the films are coming from places you would never imagine: Slovenia and China -- we have the first lesbian film to come out of China -- and Senegal. We're reaching to more isolated parts of the globe."

Aside from the obvious international flavor of this year's PPLFF, one of the more refreshing elements in many of the films is the abundance of "post-gay" stories. The term refers to the style of taking the existence, and in many cases acceptance, of gay culture entirely for granted and, in some cases, going so far as to ignore the existence of the straight world altogether.

Other changes festival-goers can look forward to this year are rush tickets (tickets reserved for people who wait in line just before the show), a panel that will include four filmmakers who will participate in a Promising Young Filmmakers Forum on Sunday afternoon, after-parties every night and a more professional projectionist than in years past.

"Last year we had a projectionist who thought God was going to strike him down for playing the films, so he would put the film in and close his eyes and pray," said Cremonesi. "All kinds of things went wrong."

As in previous years, this year's films were chosen from the pool of films played at the San Francsico International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival where Cremonesi and other members of the festival committee travel each year to see the latest releases. This is something that makes the PPLFF unique in festival circles.

"There are no calls for entry with our festival. We just don't have the personnel to deal with hundreds of videos coming in from all over. We let San Francisco and London narrow it down for us, so we make our selections from their selections," said Cremonesi.

Despite the relative success of past years' festivals (including last year's, which took place right after the events of 9/11), Cremonesi hopes that the community will really support this year's PPLFF so that it can continue to be a vital part of the Colorado Springs culture.

"The economy is definitely affecting us. Our costs are way up from last year because we have to provide all the video equipment and rent projectors," she said. "Rental fees for the films also went up. Printing costs went up. And we committed to having special guests from California. Everything went up!"

This year the festival is dedicated to the memory of KRCC operations manager and PPLFF committee member Jocelyn Sandberg, whose murder last May on the edge of the Colorado College campus remains unsolved.

"I have deep admiration for everyone involved in honoring Jocelyn Sandberg's spirit," said Cremonesi. "She loved our film festival and I had hoped that she would be here to take my place."

The Films

The films reviewed below compose the bulk of the major films to be shown at PPLFF this year and are organized by the date they will appear at the festival. Screening videos were not available for every film in the festival and the short films that precede the feature length films were not reviewed.

Their initials at the end of each review indicate reviewers Noel Black and Kathryn Eastburn. Recommended = *. Strongly recommended = **.

Thursday, Sept. 6

Friends and Family

United States/ U.S. Premier

Take all the clichs of a Mafia film and invert them by making the two main thugs openly gay lovers and you have the basic premise for director Kristen Coury's screwball farce.

Stephen (Greg Lauren, who played J-Lo's boyfriend in The Wedding Planner) and Danny (Christopher Gartin) aren't just a couple of dapper, opera-loving, Manhattanite fagulehs. These GQ boys can bring the smack down with just as much cool as the Brandos, DeNiros and Pescis while critiquing the tenor and keeping their ties straight. Even the boss, Victor Patrizzi (Tony LoBianco) accepts them as gay, and wishes his straight, Nancy-boy sons, whose only interests are sewing and cooking, could be more like them.

There's only one problem: Stephen's parents are coming to town for a surprise visit and they still don't know about him and Danny -- that they're Mafioso, that is, because of course they too accept them as gay (doesn't everyone, more post-gay!).

Keeping up the ruse that they run a catering business when they can't even cook provides the comic backdrop for this slapstick twist on gay expectations.

Though it has its definite acting and editing flaws, Friends and Family is good for the some of the old yuk yuk. (NB)

Friday, Sept. 6

*Journey to Kafiristan

(Die Reise Nach Kafiristan)

German with English Subtitles

From German filmmakers Fosco and Donatello Dubini comes this sweeping, exquisitely filmed historic drama, set in 1939. Annamarie Schwarzenbach (Jeanette Hain) is an emotionally fragile but fiercely independent-minded author who joins Royal Geographic Society ethnologist Ella Maillart (Nina Petri) in a journey by car from Geneva via the Balkans and Turkey to Persia and the legendary territory of Kafiristan where Annamarie seeks refuge and Ella seeks professional renown. Political developments complicate the journey, as does each woman's individual past as they grow closer and become lovers. By the time they reach Kabul, World War II breaks out, effectively ending their journey and setting each woman off toward a new life of her own.

Journey to Kafiristan is notable for remarkable location shooting across exotic landscapes and for precise historical re-enactment. The production design, costumes and cinematography are all top-notch, as is the acting. Hain's smoldering beauty and Petri's square-faced wholesomeness are camera magnets, and both actresses deeply explore their characters' lives and ambitions. The film is a travelogue, a romance, a history and an adventure -- graceful, lyrical, mysterious and visually stunning. (KCE)


Japanese with English subtitles

Hush! tells the story of Naoya, an openly gay, middle-class man who falls in love with Katsuhiro, a more reserved professional who keeps his personal life a secret. Their affair, though kept a secret from Katsuhiro's family and co-workers, is progressing into a solid relationship when they meet a neurotic young woman, Asako, who wants to have a baby. As their friendship deepens, they are more in danger of being outed, and eventually the three are confronted by Katsuhiro's brother and sister-in-law in a climactic scene. Eventually the three young adults must decide how to form a family that serves all of their needs rather than dwelling on whether the arrangement is socially acceptable.

Director Hashiguchi Ryosuke uses the passing of seasons as a formal structure to hang his story on, and by the time we've passed through winter, spring and summer, autumn can't come a minute too soon. At two hours and 15 minutes long, Hush! would have benefited from some severe editing. The actors are engaging and their characters are well developed, but long, lingering shots of facial expressions bog down the pacing.

Hush! takes aim at the hypocrisy and heartlessness of a modern consumerist lifestyle, also a familiar theme, in a strange subplot that takes place in the pet shop where Naoya works. Another subplot involving a woman at work who has a huge crush on Katsuhiro but is eventually rejected by him feels contrived and contributes little to the story.

The core story could take place anywhere but gives us insight into the barriers for mainstream gays in Japan where the traditional family values code is beginning to crack in spite of hard-held prejudices against the gay lifestyle. Sound familiar? (KCE)

*A Family Affair

United States

Think female Woody Allen and you've got an angle on Helen Lesnick, screenwriter and director of this decidedly mainstream romantic comedy that just happens to be about a gay couple. Lesnick stars as Rachel Rosen, a commitment-phobic writer who leaves New York when her on-again-off-again lover, Reggie, runs off with her gynecologist. "I should have suspected something," quips Rosen/Lesnick. "I mean who needs a pap smear once a week?"

Rachel flees to San Diego where she reunites with her parents, PFLAG-waving Leah (Arlene Golonka) and silent Sam (Michael Moerman), and where she begins the conscious search for "Ms. Rightowitz." Following a string of dates with a trio of crypto-California types named Debi, Suzi and Teri ("I just wanted to meet someone without an "e" sound at the end of her name!"), Rachel meets Christine (Erica Shaffer), a WASP massage therapist who quickly becomes her committed lover. A year later, Rachel and Christine are about to be married when Reggie re-enters the picture, providing the requisite plot complication and sexual sizzle.

A Family Affair succeeds best where it relies on Lesnick's sharp-tongued wit, viewing Jewish family life and gay romance through the same dry-witted lens. A psychic probe of Rachel's unwillingness to commit draws the film off course a bit, but the creator's purpose is pure and gives Moerman a moment of screen time that is touching and offers a rare look at a functional gay daughter/father relationship.

Shaffer's Erica is a 21st-century gay June Cleaver and the actress doesn't make a single wrong turn. Lesnick is consistently delightful, serving one-liners like line drives -- straight, hard hitting, close to the ground and well inside the ballpark. (KCE)

Saturday, Sept. 7

**Markova: Comfort Gay

Philippines: Tagalog with English subtitles

Simply put: Do not miss this powerful film based on a true story. Director Gil M. Portes tells the story of Walter Dempster Jr., alias Markova, from the point of view of an elderly drag queen, looking back toward the years of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II.

As Dempster tells his story to a Filipino journalist, we are transported by flashbacks to his days as a burlesque performer and one of a group of five best friends -- gay men who dressed as women, kept house together and entertained at night in Manila nightclubs. When Japanese soldiers arrive, these queens are soon imprisoned and forced to prostitute themselves; they become the equivalent of comfort women -- Asian women forced to provide sex for invading soldiers -- hence the term "comfort gay."

Markova is a remarkable character -- sorrowful but high-spirited, haunted but life affirming, and the actor who portrays him is a transgender wonder. The casting of this film is impeccable -- the actors who inhabit each historical era visited are absolutely convincing in their outlandishness, beauty and vulnerability. The film embodies and fully explores the notion of struggle for liberation. It's a profoundly moving drama, beautifully filmed and powerfully acted. (KCE)

By Hook or By Crook

United States

If you saw Boys Don't Cry and wondered what might have become of Brandon Teena if he had left Nebraska and moved to, say, San Francisco, where gender oddballs have made their own mecca, then you'll want to see Harry Dodge (who recently appeared in John Waters' Cecil B. Demented) and Silas Howard's (of Tribe 8 rock 'n' roll fame) By Hook or By Crook.

When gender-bent Shy (Howard) loses his father and his Kansas home to foreclosure, he gets a "sign" that a life of crime on the road may be the ticket to freedom. But when he winds up on the streets of San Francisco, a run-in with Valentine (Dodge) -- an equally gender-mysterious dyke-man with a personality colored by questionable mental stability -- who is searching for his birth mother, finds Shy at home in Valentine's quest and the anything-goes gender playground of San Francisco's Mission District.

What's truly remarkable about this independent buddy film is the fact that almost the entire cast and production crew are dykes or gender queers.

Though the dialogue drags at times and the editing could have been more ruthless, this is a film that also triumphs for its creation of a world framed by gender ambiguity that allows the viewer to explore their characters' humanity more than their gender identity.

Note: Producer Steakhaus and Production Designer Samara Halperin will be on hand for the screening and for the Young Filmmakers Luncheon Forum at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 8 at the FAC. (NB)

**Days (Giorno)

Italian with English subtitles

Centered on Claudio (Thomas Trabacchi), a 35-year-old HIV-positive banker whose days are ruled by the extreme regimentation required by his medications, exercise routine, diet and job, Days takes an unapologetic and unsentimental look at the lives of small circle of gay, bourgeois Italian friends and the way they cope with HIV.

Just as Claudio and his live-in lover Dario are poised to move to Milan, Claudio meets Andrea, a young man whose selfless love for Claudio causes him to break the rigid equilibrium of his personality.

What follows is a dark, exacting look at the uncertainty of love and the unpredictability of human behavior as it changes in the face of mortality.

Most laudable about this film is the way that director Laura Muscardin forces the viewer to consider infidelity and unsafe sex in the age of AIDS with a sympathy that embraces every contradiction.

Days is definitely of the "post-gay" variety among this year's films. "The homosexuality is the frame of this story," says Muscardin in her director's notes, "it is not the theme of the film. Since most of the characters are gay this obviously gives a strong definition of a certain milieu, but I think about Claudio and Andrea as two people in love, nothing else." (NB)

Guardian of the Frontier (Varuh Meje)

Slovenian with English subtitles

We weren't able to review Guardian of the Frontier, the first lesbian film to come out of Slovenia, described by festival director Alma Cremonesi as "a feminist film."

Directed by Maja Weiss, Guardian tells the story of three girls who canoe down the Kolpa, the river that divides Slovenia from Croatia. The river provides both a literal border and a metaphorical moral border as they are watched by the Guardian, a conservative politician prepared to severely punish those who transgress traditional Slovenian values.

Guardian was the winner of the Levi's First Feature Award at this year's San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. (NB)

The Trip

United States

Alan Oakley (Larry Sullivan), a young Republican journalist, delves into the early 1970s Los Angeles gay underground to research an anti-gay book called The Straight Truth, and inadvertently falls in love with Tommy Ballenger (Steve Braun).

When Peter (Ray Baker), a jealous older lawyer decides to publish the book in 1977, the book becomes fuel for Anita Baker's homophobic "Save Our Children" campaign and breaks up Alan's affair with Tommy. Alan settles with Peter until 1984 when Tommy, now living in Mexico, becomes sick and calls on Alan to rejoin him.

The road trip and run from the law that follow add adrenaline at this story of redemption set in the context of a critical period in gay history from civil rights to the spread of AIDS.

The Trip has a decided B-movie quality, but its scope makes up for its shortcomings in production. (NB)

Sunday, Sept. 8

**Trembling Before G-d


One of the most compelling films in this year's festival, Trembling Before G-d is a documentary that explores the lives of gay Orthodox Jews.

Anyone who thought that fundamentalist Christians were the only literalist interpreters of biblical laws on homosexuality will want to see the ways that traditional, conservative Judaism deals with the homosexual members of the community and the ways those members deal, in turn, with their faith.

The irreconcilable contradictions provide the tension that drives this superbly made film by director Sandi Simcha DuBowski. (NB)

*A.K.A. (Lies Are Like Wishes)

United Kingdom

This is a captivating fictionalized treatment of the true story of director Duncan Roy's life as Britain's infamous "Lord of the Lies." Born to an illegitimate 16-year-old waitress and, at 17, kicked out of his home by his abusive stepfather, young Roy found employment with eccentric London socialite, Lady Rendlesham. When she fired him, he set out for Paris where he took on the fictional identity of Lord Anthony Rendlesham and lived the high life of an aristocrat. As Anthony, Roy was welcomed into the inner circles of wealth and aristocracy until he was outed and convicted of credit card fraud and eventually imprisoned for 18 months. A.K.A. is Roy's feature film debut and was awarded this year as Best Fiction Film by the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and won the Audience Award at Inside Out, the Toronto Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival.

Roy uses a split-screen technique that keeps three separate images at play constantly, offering a unique view into his characters' motivation and emphasizing the split quality of his main character's double life. Matthew Leitch is intense and fetching as young Dean Page who leaves his working-class family and becomes entwined in the life of Lady Gryffoyn, then steals her son's identity and moves to Paris. There he befriends a young, gay American gigolo, Benjamin (Peter Youngblood Hills), who becomes his only true friend, but whose social ambition eventually tears the two apart.

Roy is particularly effective at drawing out the gnawing loneliness of Dean, the imposter whose actions are motivated by inescapable self-loathing. And he is adept at revealing the seamy underside of the British high society set of the late '70s, early '80s, where cocaine use is rampant and sex for hire is the order of the day.

When he finally returns home to confront his father, played powerfully by Geoff Bell, young Dean has truly come of age, ready to honestly face himself and the consequences of his deception. A.K.A. is artful and provocative, quiet and absorbing, its power undeniable. (KCE)

*Karmen Ge

French and Wolof with English subtitles

Banned in Senegal for its bisexual and political content, Director Joseph Ga Ramaka's adaptation of Bizet's Carmen is one of the most sensually exhilarating films in the PPLFF lineup.

In the opening scene we are introduced to Karmen Ge, played by the sultry and magnetic Djenaba Diop Ga, as she seduces her prison warden Angelique (Stphanie Biddle) in an inexplicably bizarre dance scene in the prison courtyard.

After Karmen sleeps with the warden that night, she is released and returns to the city where she again reveals the anarchic freedom and sexuality of her character as she crashes the wedding party of policeman Lamine Diop (Magaye Niang) and declares, "I say you are evil. ... You have swallowed up the country," and dances his wife into the ground.

When Lamine tries to take Karmen to prison, she laughs in his face and escapes, leaving him to spend the night in jail where she later rescues him and makes him a part of her band of smugglers. And this is just the beginning.

Sound weird and confusing? It is! But this tale of individual freedoms vs. the imprisoning expectations of society set to Senegalese music, costumes and backdrop transforms the confusion into a truly bemusing musical mystery you'll be glad you can't fully grasp.

Note: Karmen Ge is said to be the first film musical ever to come out of Africa. (NB)


All Shows: Fine Arts Center Theater, 30 W. Dale St.

Festival Passes:

$75, $60 for seniors, students and low income. Pass gives admission to all festival events including 15 short films, 13 features, the Young Filmmakers Forum and all parties. On sale now at KRCC, 912 W. Weber St.; Wag 'N Wash, Uintah Gardens, 16th and W. Uintah; or Spike of Life, 727 Manitou Ave. in Manitou Springs.

All-day Passes:

Sept. 6 - $20 Sept. 7 - $25 Sept. 8 - $25

On sale now at the Fine Arts Center box office

Tickets for Individual Shows and Rush Tickets:

Tickets for individual shows can be purchased in advance for $8, or a limited number of rush tickets will be available just before the shows on a first-come, first-serve basis at the theater. On sale now at the Fine Arts Center Box Office.

OPENING NIGHT: Thurs., Sept. 5
6:30 Reception and Welcomes
8:00 Shorts: Sexy and Going West (Canada)
8:40 Feature: Friends and Family (U.S. Premiere)

Fri., Sept. 6

3:30 Short: Roberta Loved(United States)
4:00 Feature: The Journey to Kafiristan (Germany)
6:00 Short: The Parlor(United States)
6:15 Feature: Hush! (Japan)
9:00 Short: Breaking Up Really Sucks (United States)
9:15 Feature: A Family Affair(United States)

Sat., Sept. 7
11:00 Short: Sweet Thing (Australia) 11:15 Feature: Markova: Comfort Gay (Philippines)
1:45 Short: Sorry, Brenda(United States)
2:10 Feature: By Hook Or By Crook(United States)
4:00 Short: Lost Cause(United States)
4:10 Feature: Days (Giorni) (Italy)
6:30 Short: Selma & Sophie (Sweden)
6:50 Feature: Guardian of the
Frontier (Slovenia)
9:00 Shorts: Rick & Steve 3:Potty Mouth Training

Rick & Steve 4: Menage a Twat

(United States)
9:15 Feature: The Trip (United States)

Sun., Sept. 8
11:00 Short: Just a Woman (France/Iran)
>11:30 Feature: Trembling Before G-D
(United States/France/Israel)

1:00 Promising Young Filmmakers Luncheon Forum featuring Steakhaus and Samara Halperin from By Hook Or By Crook, Q. Allan Brocka from the Rick & Steve series and Roberta Loved, and Glenn Gaylord from Lost Cause

2:30 Short: The 10 Rules (A Lesbian Survival Guide) (United States)
3:00 Feature: Fish and Elephant
5:00 Short: How They Get Us to Screw Ourselves (United States)
5:15 Feature: A.K.A. (United Kingdom)
8:00 Short: 2.2. Tango (United States)
8:15 Feature: Karmen Ge

Closing Night Party: Hide 'N' Seek Complex, 512 W. Colorado Ave., 634-9303


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