|The New Zealand International Film Festival is now underway and the GLBT content is stunning. Here is a rundown of five of the festival’s documentaries with queer content.
Call Me Kuchu USA, 2012, 87min
Meet the very brave and inspiring LGBT-rights activists in Uganda who are fighting a tide of homophobia driven by imported evangelism, political opportunism and tabloid sleaze. Winner of Berlin’s Teddy Award for Best Documentary.
Synopsis: Meet the very brave and inspiring LGBT-rights activists in Uganda who are fighting a tide of homophobia driven by imported evangelism, political opportunism and tabloid scandal. At the heart of this vital documentary is veteran activist David Kato. Uganda’s first openly gay man, David is something of a godfather to the kuchus, as the Ugandan LGBT community call themselves. The film follows David’s opposition to draconian new anti-homosexuality laws, which propose the death penalty for HIV-positive gay men, and his court battle with a sleazy tabloid newspaper which specialises in outing kuchus with lurid headlines like “Homo Terror!”.
What the reviewers say: “As much an activist wake-up call as a piece of reportage, this report from the frontlines by co-directors Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall offers an outsider's view; while a local filmmaker's perspective may have brought more dimensions, the coverage of events here is impressive and on the mark.” – Variety.
Bully USA, 2011, 94min
What the reviewers say: “Lee Hirsch’s film is a potent and provocative look at a problem that’s out of control, what with 13 million American kids a year being bullied, and some of them even taking their own lives. Hirsch goes beyond statistics to focus on a handful of bullied students… Alex, 12, is punched and ridiculed without remorse, while school administrators tell his parents that ‘boys will be boys.’ Kelby, 16, is an athlete who comes out as gay, only to face being ostracized and run down by a car. Ja’Meya, 14, is so traumatized that she takes a gun onto her school bus to scare off bullies and faces 22 felony charges.
The families of two suicides – one boy was 17, the other 11 – try to organize on a national level, pressing students and school officials to pull the issue out of dark corners and take a stand for the silent. As one parent says to a school official who tries to brush the topic away: ‘You politicianed me.’ Bully isn’t politics. It’s a heartfelt cry for help.” — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
“While the film focuses on the specific struggles of five families, it is also about – and part of – the emergence of a movement… Its primary audience is not middle-aged intellectuals but middle-school students caught in the middle of the crisis it so powerfully illuminates.” — A.O. Scott, NY Times
A Good Man USA, 2011, 86 mins
Synopsis: An intensely stirring depiction of creative ambition and struggle, this portrait of African American choreographer and dancer Bill T. Jones observes the artist as he forges a massive, contentious dance-theatre work commissioned for the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Jones, a fiercely articulate, intelligent artist, begins with a question that hovers over the film and throughout the two-year evolution of his show: was Lincoln a good man? Jones’ relationship to his subject – the only white man he was allowed to ‘love unconditionally’ – undergoes many changes. Jones is as demanding of his dancers, whose bodies are his ‘sublime materials’, and other close collaborators with whom he has been working for many years, as he is of himself. Inspired and inspiring, but also capable of violent outbursts when frustrated, Jones is a commanding, volatile presence. Archival footage from earlier phases of his illustrious career weave through the film, but it’s the way that Jones harnesses dynamic creative relationships into a common desire for exploration that make this film so fascinating.
Habana Muda (part of the "In Cuba" programme)
Synopsis: This frank documentary account of complications in the personal life of a poor, young, Havana husband and father sheds surprising light on life in Cuba today. Director Erich Brach spent three years in Havana filming Chino, a deaf-mute who works on a farm to support his feisty wife Anaylis (also deaf) and their two children. Chino, with his crooked porn star smoulder, also hooks up regularly with Jose, a gay visitor from Mexico City. Smitten, Jose offers tantalising prospects of opportunities in Mexico, and provides generous gifts to Chino, to his children and to a bemused Anaylis as well. We meet the wider circles of all three and see how unsettling this relationship is for everyone concerned, the gallant coloniser included, and yet how very unpredictable and tenacious love can be. Brach’s eye is attentive to the eloquent sign language of his subjects. He is a sympathetic and non-judgemental observer, discreetly unpacking a complex nest of hopes and dreams. The sensual allure of their island culture informs every beautiful frame.
Sing Me the Songs that Say I Love You: A Concert for Kate McGarrigle Canada/US, 2012, 109 mins (Featuring Kate McGarrigle’s son: gay musician Rufus Wainwright)
Synopsis: The albums of the McGarrigle sisters are surely for the ages, with their plangent harmonies and their worldly, Arcadian-inflected songs of true love, broken hearts and wandering spirits. Sadly, younger sister Kate died in 2010 at the age of 63. Sing Me the Songs That Say I Love You captures, superbly, the heart-achingly gorgeous New York concert mounted in tribute by her rather talented family – children Rufus and Martha Wainwright and older sisters Anna and Jane, along with a wider musical whānau, including Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, Teddy Thompson and (the film’s great who-the-hell-is-that? revelation for me) Krystle Warren. Michael Ondaatje turns up to pay tribute to the poetry from which the McGarrigles could shape a song into a spellbinding journey. You feel the mourned and celebrated Kate in the room at every moment as song after song lifts off, channelling rich emotion in arrangements of intricate loveliness. Rufus Wainwright, that ‘First Born Son’ she so memorably and amusingly confessed to idolising as a baby, now carries her torch with passion and panache.
The New Zealand International Film Festival will visit Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton, Hawke’s Bay, Masterton, Nelson, New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Tauranga and Wellington between now and October. To find out when the films listed above are showing in your neck of the woods, head to the festival’s website here. Jacqui Stanford - 21st July 2012