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The 27th Annual San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Film Festival

Years down the road, we may point to the 27th edition of the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Film Festival as a turning point for lesbian and gay filmmaking. For the second consecutive year, the Sundance Channel has stepped forward as the Premiere Sponsor of the festival. What does this mean? National promotion for the festival through their website and channel by the most recognizable name in independent filmmaking. In addition, over thirty gay themed films will be screened on the Sundance Channel as part of the OutLoud FilmFest. With this sort of publicity, the appeal of gay themed films is poised to break out into the mainstream audience. This belief is further substantiated by the impressive number of celebrities appearing in films screening at this year's festival. Household names like Gina Gershon, Jason Priestly, Olympia Dukakis, Macaulay Culkin, and Anna Nicole Smith comprise an abbreviated list of the somebodies appearing in this year's films.

Perhaps, that is why there is such a strong theme of reflection in this year's festival selections. An impressive selection of biographies and bio-pics highlighting some of the important figures and events in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) history appear in this year's festival catalog. There is also a range of films dealing with AIDS, something that has become a prominent part of the gay culture. Included in the screenings is Philadelphia, the first major Hollywood studio release dealing with the virus.

2003. A year for LGBT filmmaking to look back before it moves forward?

Die Mommy Die - OPENING NIGHT
Cross David Mamet and Days of Our Lives, set it in the 50's, and you might get something similar to Die Mommy Die. Melodrama abounds in this black comedy fully stocked with gender bending love triangles, incestuous innuendos, and double crosses. The tightly written script keeps you chuckling throughout, but remembers to make even the smallest details relevant in the very satisfying conclusion.

Prey For Rock and Roll - CLOSING NIGHT
Gina Gershon is at her charismatic best as an aging bisexual punk rocker trying to balance her dreams with a very mundane reality. We follow the fictional all-girl punk band 'Clam Dandy' as they struggle with remote prospects of success despite their ardor for music. Though some truly depressing events seem to exist solely to convince the viewer of the film's importance, the often times witty dialogue makes the film thoroughly enjoyable. And most importantly, the vibrant soundtrack is easy to enjoy, even for the ears of the non-punk fan.

The Gift
An insightful and disturbing look at the cavalier attitude that many in the gay community have towards the HIV virus. After years of identification of gays with the virus, some have begun to treat infection with the disease as a symbol of prestige. This new mentality has spawned the phenomenon of bug chasing (intentionally pursuing infection) and gift giving (intentionally infecting another), and elevated these pursuits to an almost erotic status. Though excessive use of amateurish camera tricks can sometimes be distracting, this documentary deals with serious issues often skirted by the mainstream media.

Gender Bias
Moody crime drama that follows a transvestite entertainer as she weaves her way through the dangerous underworld of Brussels. Alternating between a brutal love story and a suspenseful detective thriller, the film sets itself apart from the typical murder mystery by developing stories on many different levels. Every character has secrets to reveal which lead to a complex series of twists that conclude the movie.

Porn Theatre
In a time when sex is so hackneyed a concept, it takes a little more to catch our attention. Set in a somewhat decrepit X-rated theater, we get a glimpse of sex in its most hormonal form. Clearly, any sort of tryst taking place at such a venue can only be characterized as somewhat deviant, but perhaps that is the source of its eroticism. Still, there is another side to this film, as a relationship between an older cashier, a younger projectionist, and one of the moviegoers develops in a surprisingly tender, even romantic fashion.

Enter the Clowns
Perhaps it is a sign of the times that a movie that handles issues of sexuality so aggressively made its way out of Beijing. From the opening sequence, where a dying parent asks the son permission to give him a blowjob as a sendoff, we see the unforgiving approach that will be taken with sexual identity. A severely convoluted plot and all too frequent indulgences in extended monologues and tangential storylines mars this effort, but it cannot cloud the fact that the subject matter constitutes an important step forward in Chinese cinema.

Cock and Bull Story
In arenas, the boxing ring and urban streets, where toughness and masculinity are the most treasured of attributes, being labeled a queer is the most harsh of all invectives. Two youths learn to deal with the self-hatred that comes with repressed feelings of homosexuality in two different, but equally violent manners. Gritty and engaging, my attention was easily held, though the outcome could have been slightly less predictable had a slightly more tactful approach been employed.

Get A Way
Perhaps because it is so difficult to execute successfully, filmmakers often eschew subtlety in favor of shock value. After all, why go through the pain of developing a relationship through conversation, when some good old-fashioned sex can be so easily substituted? Two troubled youths have their worlds intersect after a coincidental traffic accident leads to an unexpected friendship. An uplifting tale of friendship that deserves notice for creating a connection between opposite sex characters that isn't based solely on sexual attraction.

Since You've Been Gone
Sometimes heavy handed, but teeming with emotion, this quartet of shorts deals with the tragedy of losing a loved one prematurely. The best of the group is the title short, a first-person account of a woman dealing with the grief of losing her lover. Due to the film's length and gravity, a feeling of melancholy begins to set in, but its articulate narration makes it a worthwhile watch. The cheerful nature of What I Love About Dying, a celebration of the life of renaissance woman Kris Kovick, balances the somber tone of the rest of the program.