The Films of Polari LGBT Film Festival

By Jase Peeples

Originally published on Advocate.com October 15 2013 4:00 AM ET

Polari, the rebranded Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival, runs Thursday through Sunday and will celebrate a milestone anniversary with its 25th year in existence. Polari 2013 features the best of current LGBT cinema with a diverse and compelling collection of narratives, documentaries, and shorts. Preview the festival’s collection on the following pages, and for tickets and more information visit www.polarifest.com.

Film: Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution
Venue: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema at the Ritz
Time: 5 p.m. Thursday
Synopsis: The creative, political, and sexual charge behind lesbian feminist communities that, in the ’80s, were emerging simultaneously in many countries is a subject of this enthralling documentary, which features interviews with some of the fascinating thinkers, poetsm and revolutionaries who created women’s/womyn’s-only communities and lesbian spaces. Exploring hot-button topics of gender and sexuality, the documentary reveals how feminism and lesbianism intersect and continue to shape women’s space and visions of utopian communities. Lesbiana will remind you of what was and still is powerfully important about these communities.

Film: Reaching for the Moon
Venue: Stateside Theater
Screening: 7 p.m. Thursday
Synopsis: Based on an epic real-life lesbian romance in the lush Brazilian countryside and directed by big-time filmmaker Bruno Barreto (Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, View From the Top), Reaching for the Moon has been racking up Audience Awards practically everywhere it has screened (AFI Fest, Frameline, Outfest). Frustrated American poet Elizabeth Bishop travels to Brazil, where she encounters the beguiling architect Lota de Macedo Soares. Initial hostilities soon give way to a complicated yet long-lasting love affair that dramatically alters Bishop’s relationship to the world around her. Anchored by magnificent lead performances from Miranda Otto (Lord of the Rings, War of the Worlds) and Glória Pires (Smoke Gets in Your Eyes), Reaching for the Moon is an intimate snapshot of the search for romantic and artistic inspiration, wherever and however you find it.

Film: Just Dance: Dance Shorts
Venue: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema at the Ritz
Time: 7:15 p.m. Thursday
Synopsis: Kick up your heels and glide on through this energetic collection of dance shorts taking you from the urban ballet to the country-western hall to the radical stylings of the street. Shorts played during this screening include Metube: August Sings Carmen ‘Habanera,’ Cologne, Pas, Dance Like No One’s Watching, Crunch Pop, Free Jazz Parts 4 & 6, A Ballet Dialogue, and Born to Dance This Way.

Film: Sashay Far Far Away: Sci-Fi Shorts
Venue: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema at the Ritz
Time: 9:30 p.m. Thursday
Synopsis: Journey with us into a far away future land where gender revolutionaries rise up against technological oppressions and ghostly rabbits roam free under glaring neon lights. Shorts in this screening include The Naturalist, Tableau, Elliot King Is Third, Big Shot, and We Are Animals.

Film: Hot Guys With Guns
Venue: Stateside Theater
Time: 9:45 p.m. Thursday
Synopsis: Die Hard with a gay vengeance, this entertaining action-comedy places a queer spin on a cinematic genre normally reserved for the straight boys. A series of robberies and murders at exclusive Hollywood sex parties has put gay L.A. in a panic. But when handsome party boy Pip gets drugged and robbed at an orgy, Pip’s still-interested ex-boyfriend Danny, an actor who has been training to be a private investigator in hopes of landing a coveted role on a cop show, jumps on the case. With Pip by his side, Danny embarks on a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with the unknown killer, one replete with the sexy seduction and playful humor we’ve come to expect from a good whodunit.

Film: Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth
Venue: Studio 4D at UT
Time: 1:30 p.m. Friday
Synopsis: The extraordinary life and vision of Alice Walker are brought into intimate view in this exquisitely realized documentary by queer cinema trailblazer Pratibha Parmar (Warrior Marks, Nina’s Heavenly Delights). Born in a paper-thin shack in the cotton fields of Eatonton, Ga., Walker made history in the 1980s as the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, for her groundbreaking novel The Color Purple. This universal story of triumph against all odds echoes Walker’s own trajectory from a sharecropper’s daughter to a key writer of the 20th century, in the face of racism, sexism, homophobia, and the controversy that has surrounded her outspoken political beliefs and defiantly unclassifiable romantic life. Featuring the testimony of Angela Davis, Steven Spielberg, Gloria Steinem, Yoko Ono, Jewelle Gomez, Danny Glover, Quincy Jones, and others, Beauty in Truth provides a penetrating look at a life lived with passionate commitment to truth and justice.

Film: Ian Harvie: Superhero
Venue: Stateside Theater
Time: 4 p.m. Friday
Synopsis: Margaret Cho knew what she was doing when she chose Ian Harvie to be the opening act for her recent cross-country tour. As proved by this stand-up comedy special (executive-produced by Cho herself), Harvie is a hell of a funny guy — and a hell of a funny trans guy, to be exact. It is indeed Harvie’s trans identity that is fodder for his groundbreaking comedy, which finds humor in everything from top surgery to public restrooms to the pleasures of sex as a man. Cleverly playing against the stereotype of the macho stand-up comic, Harvie wields his humor with keen insights and unabashed openness, sending up the status quo and illuminating the trans experience in a manner that will leave audiences of all genders rolling in the aisles.

Film: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?
Venue: Stateside Theater
Time: 6:15 p.m. Friday
Synopsis: In this madcap and lighthearted comedic romp, family tradition brushes up against unfulfilled desires. Weichung is a closeted and sweetly unassuming optometrist who begins to question his straitlaced lifestyle when he reencounters some (quite colorful) gay friends from his past. His wife, Feng, dissatisfied with her white-walled office job and waning love life, drifts into a melancholic daydream — and one breakout karaoke sequence supplied by the title Shirelles song. Meanwhile, across town, Weichung’s sister Mandy copes with her hapless fiancé, San-San, by devouring comfort food and chatting with a soap opera star who magically appears on her couch. Through these whimsical narrative strands, director Arvin Chen creates an irresistibly charming concoction of friendship, family bonds, and the sublime quest for romantic fulfillment.

Film: Animals
Venue: The Marchesa Hall and Theater
Time: 6:45 p.m. Friday
Synopsis: Pol is one unusual teen. He's an introverted daydreamer whose best friend is a walking, talking teddy bear named Deerhoof, and Deerhoof's voice sounds not unlike that of Hal, the conniving computer in Stanley Kubrick’s epic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Haunted by his intractable imagination as well as his burgeoning desires for the mysterious new boy at school, Pol navigates a high-school milieu that seems like it must hold some very dark secrets beneath its queerly off-kilter surface. With shades of Donnie Darko and David Lynch, Animals evokes a surreal fever dream of nihilistic teenage eroticism that positions Catalan director Marçal Forés as a boldly creative new talent in queer cinema.

Film: The New Black
Venue: Stateside Theater
Time: 8:45 p.m. Friday
Synopsis: An explosive new documentary that uncovers the complicated and often combative histories of the African-American and LGBT civil rights movements, this thought-provoking film offers a fresh and galvanizing perspective on the hot-button issue of gay marriage. At once forcefully political and profoundly personal, The New Black introduces audiences to some of the unsung heroes of marriage equality. Sharon Lettman-Hicks is the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering black LGBT people. An intellectual powerhouse in public, back at home she wrestles with a family who openly criticizes her sexuality. Karess Taylor-Hughes and Samantha Masters are two young but incredibly bold warriors who hit the streets of Baltimore with charismatic conviction, determined to convince reluctant community members to support their rights. And popular gospel singer Tonéx (Anthony Charles Williams II) breaks all taboos when he refuses to remain silent about his sexuality within the stereotypically homophobic black church. A rare gem of a crowd-pleasing doc, The New Black has won numerous Audience Awards from AFI Docs to Frameline, and should be required viewing for anyone who cares about the right to love.

Film: God Loves Uganda
Venue: Stateside Theater
Time: 12 noon Saturday
Synopsis: Last year’s documentary spotlight and Jury Award Winner Call Me Kuchu offered an unforgettable account of gay activist David Kato and the courageous fight for LGBT rights in Uganda. God Loves Uganda, an exemplary documentary in its own right, contributes greatly to a further understanding of the dire situation in this African country. Keenly focused on the influx of virulently antigay American missionaries into Uganda, this Sundance Film Festival favorite shows how self-righteous ministers from the U.S., who are largely discredited abroad, have taken hold of the nation’s imagination, spreading their hateful messages and inducing politicians to put forward the country’s infamous “kill the gays” legislation. Galvanizing and maddening, God Loves Uganda also contains moments of dark humor, supplied by the missionaries’ laughably absurd logic, as well as hints of optimism, largely inspired by the unbelievable bravery of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, who has taken up the cause of LGBT rights in Uganda against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Film: The Choreography of Difference: Identity Shorts
Venue: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema at the Ritz
Time: 12 noon Saturday
Synopsis: Identity is up for the debate in this eclectic collection of shorts covering the gamut from transgender performance to lesbian body-positive empowerment. Shorts in the screening include Natives, I’m Yours, Aquaporko, A World for Raul, and Performing Girl.

Film: Valencia
Venue: Violet Crown Cinema
Time: 12 noon Saturday
Synopsis: Based on the legendary '90s lesbian memoir Valencia by Michelle Tea, this omnibus film takes us on an adventurous journey through Michelle’s tumultuous love life as told by 20 different filmmakers, including noted filmmakers Silas Howard (By Hook or By Crook), Cheryl Dunye (The Watermelon Woman), and recent Sundance award-winner Jill Soloway (Afternoon Delight). Valencia the novel put the experiences of an entire generation of lesbians on paper through the lens of one hard-loving and hard-drinking dyke. Punk rockers, riot grrrls, and simple, artsy freaks suddenly had a heroine to look up to and a mecca to head toward. This highly anticipated film adaptation of Valencia gives a whole new generation of fabulous, artsy, gender-queer folks an opportunity to reinterpret and reinvent the tales of this iconic novel one chapter at a time.

Film: Big Gay Love
Venue: Stateside Theater
Time: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Synopsis: Who says bigger isn’t better? Or just as good, anyway. Certainly not director Ringo Le (Saigon Love Story), who has crafted one of this year’s most heartwarming and body-positive romantic comedies. Bob (Gayby’s Jonathan Lisecki) is a sassy but lovelorn event planner living large among the buff bodies in all-too-sleek-and-slender West Hollywood. Bob can’t believe his luck when handsome chef Andy (Nicholas Brandon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) takes a shine to his ample charms. But, self-doubt soon threatens to rain down on Bob’s passion parade. That is, if wacky relatives and overbearing, and unbearably hot frenemies don’t first take Bob on a detour straight to the loony bin.

Film: Deepsouth
Venue: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema at the Ritz
Time: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Synopsis: Deepsouth, a crucial addition to the LGBT doc canon, is a brave, poetic exploration of four extraordinary people’s lives and unique experiences dealing with HIV and AIDS in the rural American South. Poignant cinematography captures the pastoral landscape of the South, juxtaposing the geographic serenity with the economic realities of politicized space. Each person’s experience unearths a new perspective on HIV and AIDS, an experience that is uniquely Southern and regards its re-created support systems of family and community as vital resources. Humanistic and evocatively rendered, the multi-award-winning Deepsouth acts as an outlet for marginalized rural voices and as a loving tribute to the South and those who inhabit its most quiet corners.

Film: My Queer Movie (Shorts)
Venue: Violet Crown Cinema
Time: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Synopsis: Behold the entries in this year's My Queer Movie competition for new and emerging LGBTQIA filmmakers. Superheroines, canine conundrums, and barroom brawls are among this year's attractions. Shorts screening include (an)Other, Cowgirls, Fetch, Girls With Capes, Hypocrites and Strippers, Inner Cabin, The Poser, Psycho Billy, and Three in a Bed.

Film: Entangoed Desires: Best of Girls and Boys Shorts
Venue: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema at the Ritz
Time: 5 p.m. Saturday
Synopsis: Mysterious party-crashers, bathroom snafus, and Amy Sedaris(!) are among the funny and sexy delights of this year's best of the best. Shorts screening include Before Words, Housebroken, First Date, The Devotion Project: Foremost in My Mind, Social Butterfly, Dik, Spooners, and F to 7th – Family.

Film: Pit Stop
Venue: Stateside Theater
Time: 5 p.m. Saturday
Synopsis: Local filmmaker Yen Tan makes his home state proud with this quietly charming tale of small-town Texas romance that has been making waves from Sundance to Outfest. Handsome construction contractor Gabe (Bill Heck) lives with his ex-wife (Amy Seimetz, Upstream Color) and their young daughter, occasionally, and with much trepidation, venturing into the world of same-sex dating. On the other side of town, forklift operator Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda) tends to a hospitalized ex, while back home his volatile relationship with a younger man falls apart. Tan observes the lives and loves of these two men with uncommon insight and sensitivity, situating Pit Stop as the work of a true humanist. Eschewing blue-collar clichés and easy plot points in favor of a richly nuanced portrait of gay life in the rural South, Tan honors his audience with thoughtful dialogue and reflective silences — and rewards them with one extraordinarily sexy ending.

Film: In the Name Of
Venue: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema at the Ritz
Time: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Synopsis: Set at a Catholic boys' reform school in the golden Polish countryside, this compelling drama follows charismatic priest Adam (Andrzej Chyra), who arrives at the school and is charged with responsibility for the group of troubled teens. In this beautifully shot, emotionally evocative film, we soon learn that the teens aren’t the only ones with troubles when questions about the mysterious new priest and conflicts at the school arise. Among these troubles is beautiful and brooding teenage orphan Lukasz, who stokes the flames of Adam’s repressed desires. Winner of the Berlin International Film Festival’s coveted Teddy Award and the Grand Prix at the Istanbul Film Festival, In the Name Of provokes from the boundaries of the erotically permissible.

Film: The Most Fun I've Ever Had With My Pants On
Venue: Stateside Theater
Time: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Synopsis:. In this festival favorite, childhood friends Andy (played by native Austinite Drew Denny) and Liv (Sarah Hagan of Freaks and Geeks and Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) reunite to scatter Andy’s father’s ashes from L.A. to Austin, where Liv will audition for the role of a vixen spy in a noir film. Between performing mini-funerals in surreal Southwestern landscapes, the girls practice being bad! Andy and Liv scramble through wreckage in in the Mojave Airplane Cemetary, jump topless off cliffs in Sedona, turn sand dunes into projection screens at White Sands National Monument, cimb oil rigs in West Texas and, finally, raise hell in Austin! A semiautobiographical mix of realism and camp with undertones of sexual tension, Pants is a cinematic joyride that has been taking the festival scene by storm. Featuring humorous dialogue, military cross-dressing, and sumptuous cinematography, Pants marks the unmistakable emergence of a cinematic master who we in Austin will be very proud to call our own.

Film: Everybody's Got Somebody ... Not Me
Venue: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema at the Ritz
Time: 10 p.m. Saturday
Synopsis: With gorgeous black-and-white cinematography and a stunning visual style that evokes the masterworks of art cinema, Mexican director Raúl Fuentes draws viewers into his extravagant and erotically charged world. Meet Alejandra, the uptight intellectual who never tires of quoting academic texts, and Maria, the wild teenager who just wants to have fun. They're an unlikely pair, but sparks fly upon their initial meeting and an intense physical and emotional relationship ensues. But the attraction of difference lasts only so long, and the temptations of teenage partying, coupled with Alejandra’s increasingly pretentious ways, put their all-consuming romance to the test.

Film: Interior. Leather Bar.
Venue: Stateside Theater
Time: 10 p.m. Saturday
Synopsis: To avoid an X rating, 40 minutes of footage was cut from William Friedkin’s controversial 1980 S/M thriller Cruising. In a provocative reimagining of this censored material, directors Travis Mathews (I Want Your Love) and James Franco create an explicit and steamy nonfiction film-within-a-film about gay sex and masculinity. As the straight lead, Val, prepares to assume the Al Pacino position, he is forced to confront his own sexual boundaries and discomforts, which flare as he pushes deeper into this iconic gay interior.

Film: Bwakaw
Venue: Stateside Theater
Time: 11 a.m. Sunday
Synopsis: Dogs may be man’s best friend, but in this humorous heartwarmer, perpetually crotchety silver fox Rene (Filipino megastar Eddie Garcia) is convinced that canine companion Bwakaw is the only pal he needs. Bwakaw faithfully follows Rene around their small Philippines town as he spars with the befuddled locals and matches the campy queens at the beauty salon quip for quip. A gay man who came out late in life, Rene has never acted on his desires, but when burly taxi driver Sol pulls into his life, he begins to rethink his irascible ways, imagining a more friendly future for him and Bwakaw. Brimming with unexpected humor and a wonderful humanity, it’s no surprise that Bwakaw was selected as the Filipino entry for Best Foreign Language Film to the 2012 Academy Awards.

Film: She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column
Venue: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema at the Ritz
Time: 11:30 a.m. Sunday
Synopsis: Before there was riot grrrl — a feminist punk movement begun in the 1990s and associated with such bands as Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney — there was Fifth Column. Based out of Toronto, Fifth Column was a band on a mission to shake up the straight-male-dominated punk scene and to overturn the lifeless sexual politics of the gay and straight mainstreams. Combining music, film, and self-publication, Fifth Column defied conventions of art practice, eschewed gender ideals, and challenged homophobia, providing inspiration to the countless queer and feminist punks who followed in their pathbreaking footsteps. Kevin Hegge’s penetrating and true-to-the-ethics of-punk-DIY documentary combines interviews and archival footage to provide substantial evidence why this often overlooked band deserves to be remembered.

Film: I Am Divine
Venue: Stateside Theater
Time: 1:45 p.m. Sunday
Synopsis: As made clear in this wildly entertaining doc from Jeffrey Schwarz (director of last year’s highly regarded Vito), Harris Glenn Milstead, a.k.a. Dvine (1945-1988), was the ultimate outsider turned underground hero. Bullied for being fat and gay as a child, the adult Milstead was transformed into the glamorous and shocking Divine via the transgressive cinema of John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Hairspray). An internationally recognized icon of stage and screen, Divine spat in the face of sex, gender, and beauty norms and stood up for the queers, the drag queens, the punk rockers, and all the socially ostracized misfits and freaks. Featuring firsthand accounts from the likes of John Waters, Ricki Lake, Tab Hunter, and Frances "A Mother Divine" Milstead as well as a treasure trove of film clips and live performances, I Am Divine successfully captures the fierce and irreverent spirit of the undisputed queen of trash drag.

Film:Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf?
Venue: Stateside Theater
Time: 4:15 p.m. Sunday
Synopsis: In this eccentric all-women comedy, charismatic filmmaker Anna faces a midlife crisis. She’s just turned 40, has neither job nor girlfriend, and lives in her friend’s garage. For the past few years, she’s had no goals and no idea how to get what she wants. Just when she’s about to throw in the towel, she meets the enchanting Katia (Janina Gavankar, The L Word, True Blood), who becomes her muse and sets her on a path of self-discovery, creativity, and redemption. Vagina Wolf also stars Guinevere Turner (Go Fish) and Carrie Preston (True Blood, The Good Wife). Winner of Grand Jury Award for Best Actress at the 2013 Outfest in Los Angeles.

Film: Test
Venue: Stateside Theater
Time: 7 p.m. Sunday
Synopsis: The year is 1985, and cute blond modern dancer Frankie (played by former Austinite Scott Marlowe) is struggling to find his place among the more accomplished dancers at a competitive San Francisco studio. Romance is in the air for Frankie, but he can't help but be distracted by rumors of a new test for HIV. Navigating a world of intoxicating desires and frightening risks, Frankie must decide what life-changing actions he is willing to take. Featuring heart-stopping dance numbers and gorgeous San Francisco vistas, this unexpectedly sexy and playful film has been garnering much praise and favorable comparisons to such LGBT indie sensations as Parting Glances.