Scroll To Top

Breaking Down the

Breaking Down the

War Paint by Paul Richmond

Advocate film critic Kyle Buchanan checks in on Outfest's Fusion Film Festival, one of the only outlets to see queer people of color on the big screen.

In an age when most media portrayals of LGBT life still focus on gay white men, an event like Outfest's Fusion Film Festival isn't just important--it's necessary. Now in its fifth year, the Los Angeles-based festival (which ran from November 30 to December 2) shines its spotlight on queer people of color, providing a forum for diverse films, documentaries, and shorts from around the world.

Jock Soto, the subject of Gwendolen Cates' documentary Water Flowing Together (which won the festival's Best Feature Award), is the perfect Fusion protagonist: gay, Navajo Indian, and Puerto Rican. At just 16-years-old, Soto was personally selected by George Balanchine to become a member of the New York City Ballet's corps de ballet; now, after 25 years with the company, he prepares to retire from the only career he's ever known. Soto is a charming, handsome subject, and though Cates prods him into an awkward trip to the reservation he left behind as a teenager, there are no teary confessionals to be had here. Instead, the film acts as a circumspect tribute to Soto's hard work and endurance, and though it touches all-too-briefly on the issues of his mixed heritage and sexuality (Soto's partner isn't even glimpsed until the end credits begin to roll), it effectively conveys the rigor of professional dance.

Above: Water Flowing Together

The screening of In the Fire (En El Fuego), which took the festival's Best Documentary Short award, was preceded by a minor dust-up when a Peruvian audience member took director Dante Alencastre to task for filming in the shantytowns of her home country. She was worried that the ensuing portrait would paint a negative picture of Peru--and in some respects she was right as Alencastre does not sugarcoat the country's cruel, backwards treatment of its transgender women. Still, there is much here to inspire, and it comes from the strong trans women Alencastre interviews, who are working hard to change the hearts and minds of their fellow countrymen. One attempts to seek justice for abused trans sex workers, while another puts on plays for children that teach lessons about tolerance, and a third is a talented engineer who harbors an ambition to run for Congress.

While In the Fire excels by selecting fascinating people to interview, Daughters of Chiquita can find too few. The documentary purports to be about Chiquita's Party, an annual event in Belem, Brazil that acts as a campy offshoot of the procession of Our Lady of Nazareth, a religious ceremony that draws millions. Really, though, the subject is just a jumping-off point to explore the attitudes of a dozen or so Brazilians toward homosexuality. There are plenty of amusing gay men to meet (one drag queen recounts how destroyed he was when his outrageous costume earned him nary a gay slur), but the homophobes are all easy targets.

Though Love My Life is adapted from a Japanese manga, it feels like it could have first been a pop song--it's that sweet, fun, and cute. When college student Ichiko comes out to her father, he's got a surprise for her: he's gay, too, and so was Ichiko's late mother. In fact, almost everyone in Ichiko's life is gay or lesbian, including Ichiko's studious girlfriend, her dad's younger boyfriend, her nerdy best friend, and the punky girl who Ichiko nurses a secret crush on. Though the characters all wrestle in some way with the idea of coming out publicly--giving the film its nominal theme--this is a sweet-natured fantasy at heart, one where the parents are cool, the haircuts are hip, and the romances are as sweet as cotton candy.

The relationships in Don't Go are considerably more fraught--each of its main characters has a tricky lover or family member that they can't seem to shake. Conceived by director Amber Sharp as a television drama pilot, the project has been making the gay festival rounds as Sharp attempts to find it a home, and there's certainly promise in its intent to be an LGBT Melrose Place (especially one that features a cast made up predominantly of people of color). Still, there's only one plotline that makes good on its milieu--a surprise pregnancy that pivots on an intersexed twist--while the rest play their soapy storylines out in far too earnest a fashion. Perhaps Sharp should take a cue from her biggest influence and add a Heather Locklear character to mix things up--or lend the tense, terrific Guinevere Turner (this cast's biggest pro) a pair of claws.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreAdvocate Magazine - Gio Benitez

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Kyle Buchanan