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The Washington Blade
Silverdocs goes for gold: Documentary film festival features gay themes
Brian Moylan, Staff Writer
June 10, 2005
Washington Blade - June 10, 2005

For the third consecutive year, the American Film Institute and the Discovery Channel are joining forces to sponsor Silverdocs, a five-day festival that highlights documentary filmmaking.

This year, after programmers reviewed more than1,300 submissions and trolled the international film festival circuit, they came up with nearly 90 documentaries, which are scheduled to be screened in Silver Spring, Md., from June 13 to June 19.

There are more gay-themed films than ever before.

"To be honest, it's mostly a happy accident," says festival director Patricia Finneran of the increase in films with gay content. "I think we're always going to have films that deal with gay issues and are from gay filmmakers, because there are so many wonderful films that come from those entities." From opening night on Tuesday, June 14, with a campy feature on "Midnight Movies," to the spectacular experimental documentary "The Joy of Life," on Sunday, June 19, and "James Dean: Forever Young" on closing night, there are plenty of reasons to head to Silver Spring next week.

All documentaries are to be screened at the AFI Silver Theater, 8633 Colesville Road in Silver Spring. Individual tickets are $9, unless otherwise noted. Here are some options: "Midnight Movies: From the Margins to the Mainstream" (Tuesday, June 14, 7 p.m., $45; Sunday, June 19, at 12:45 p.m.; 88 minutes.): Director Stuart Samuels seems to understand that the world of midnight movies always had a gay connection.

Making its North American debut, he looks at movies like the gay classics "Pink Flamingos" and the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" in an attempt to explain not only how they were made, but also what made them hits. The answer is the pot-smoking, free-wheeling, experimental '70s and people on the fringe of society - like hippies and gays - finally getting access to venues that celebrated and catered to a lifestyle that wasn't necessarily embraced by society at large.

That led to the success of movies like "El Topo," "The Harder They Come" and "Eraserhead." Chock full of interviews with both filmmakers, including the fabulous John Waters of Baltimore, and cinema managers, even the biggest film buffs will learn a bit more about these cult classics.

After the screening on opening night, "Good Morning America's" Joel Siegel is scheduled to talk to director Samuels about his movie and midnight movies, followed by a reception with Siegel, Samuels and some of the directors featured in the documentary.

"Irene Williams: Queen of Lincoln Road" (Wednesday, June 15, at 9 p.m.; 23 minutes): Not only does the "queen" in the title refer to Williams, a Miami eccentric, but also to her best friend, gay director Eric Smith. A self-proclaimed "hag fag," a gay man who loves eccentric old women, Smith befriends Williams after a chance encounter on the street and begins to document their friendship.

The result is a 30-minute salute to Williams, who draws looks, comments and admirers with her garish outfits as she walks each day from her house at one end of Lincoln Road to her office at the other end. She is a self-employed public stenographer.

Because no store carries the fashions she craves, Williams makes all her own outfits, bags and hats (often out of strange material like bath mats). While these crazy creations take center stage, the real attraction here is the unlikely, but deep connection between two very different people.

This film follows a screening of "Stan Kann: The Happiest Man in the World," a 67-minute feature about the "Tonight Show" regular during the '60s who also was an antique vacuum collector and celebrated theater organist. Though the film doesn't delve into his personal life, Kann never married and has a certain offbeat charm that gay audiences should be drawn to.

"Small Town Secrets" (Shorts Program 1: Wednesday, June 15, 12:30 p.m.; Thursday, June 16, 9:30 p.m.; 7 minutes): This film may be brief, but it is certainly memorable. Lesbian filmmaker Katherine Leggett talks about growing up as a child of divorced parents in a small midwestern town.

Between haunting landscapes from the town and old family movies, she interviews both of her parents using Web cams, which allows her to simultaneously show herself and the respective parent talking on a computer screen. This new technique shows them together, but also emphasizes the distance between them.

When we discover both parents' secrets, the film is as interesting in substance as it is in style. Hopefully, this great start will be expanded into an amazing feature.

"Three of Hearts: A Postmodern Family" (Friday, June 17, 9:15 p.m.; 95 minutes): It is truly a postmodern family that both gay audiences and conservative audiences may have trouble understanding. Here gay couple Sam Cagnina and Steven Margolin decide that they want to bring a third person into their relationship. No, not a third man - a woman.

After dating several women, they both fall in love with Samantha Singh. The three get married, move in together and start a business.

Director Susan Kaplan has eight years of interviews with the trio, and shows their relationship changing and evolving over time, including Singh's pregnancy.

Frank, funny and fearless, this unconventional relationship will challenge the way everyone thinks about love, commitment and orientation.

"Positively Naked" (Shorts Program 3: Saturday, June 18, at 9:30 p.m.; 38 minutes): A sequel to 2001's "Naked States" and 2003's "Naked World," directors Arlene Donnelly Nelson and David Nelson again follow photographer Spencer Tunick, known for his vast assemblages of nude people.

Unlike the last two films, which aired on HBO and concentrated more on the artist, this 30-minute short focuses on a few of the 85 HIV-positive subjects who agreed to be part of a shoot for POZ magazine's 10th anniversary cover.

Using the photo shoot as the center, it soon spins off into several stories about the subjects, both gay and straight.

Smartly, the Nelsons use the shoot to examine the collective experience without minimizing the effects of the virus on individuals. The end result is a 40-minute tale of survival, an empowering story about being HIV-positive in the United States.

"The Joy of Life" (Sunday, June 19, at 5:30 p.m.; 65 minutes): There are some movies that audiences will either love or hate, and "The Joy of Life," which screened at Sundance this year, is definitely one of them.

Half narrative dialogue and half statistical analysis, there are no people in this entire 65-minute film. Instead, director Jenni Olson depicts beautiful scenes from San Francisco - empty streets, walls, hills, neighborhoods, and abandoned buildings. They just languish on the screen for extended periods of time. And the result is extraordinary.

During the first half of the film, narrator Harriet "Harry" Dodge tells a sexually graphic, first-person tale of a butch lesbian living in the city and her unsuccessful quest for love. Halfway through, the visuals switch to scenes of the Golden Gate Bridge, and Dodge talks about the history and prevalence of suicides by people who jumped off the famed structure.

Lonely and beautiful, desolate and breathtaking, "The Joy of Life" is unlike anything you've seen (or heard) before.