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
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
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
"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.