When 'Brokeback' Isn't Enough

Reviews of nine LGBT flicks from this years' Cleveland International Film Festival

By Adam Griffiths
Fusion staff writer

Each year at the Cleveland International Film Festival in March, the 10% Cinema series features under-the-radar movies focusing on LGBT characters and their lives. While you might have to do some digging to get your hands on a copy of these films, they tell out-of-the-ordinary stories about real-life issues in unique, creative ways – well, most of the time.

“Trinidad”

Dr. Marci Bowers is one of the world's foremost genital reassignment surgeons. She is a male-to-female and performs up to six surgeries a week, with a waiting list more than a year long. (Courtesy of PJ Raval)
Dr. Marci Bowers is one of the world's foremost genital reassignment surgeons. She is a male-to-female and performs up to six surgeries a week, with a waiting list more than a year long. (Courtesy of PJ Raval)

Directed by PJ Raval, Jay Hodges, from USA

>> Trinidad, Colo., is the sex change capital of the world. That’s right — Colorado. Since the ‘60s, the former coal-mining town has been the site of thousands of genital reassignment surgeries. This documentary follows three women whose journeys brought them all to this remote Western town to complete their transition into bodies and lives that match the feelings they’ve had their entire lives. “Trinidad” puts their personal stories in the context of how the women became a part of the community while learning to live in their new bodies. Dr. Marci Bowers, once Mark, is world-renowned for her genital reassignment work. Sabrina Marcus and Dr. Laura Ellis work to establish a halfway house for Marci’s patients recovering from their own surgeries. The interaction among these three women, their families and the community they serve is an intimate, full-circle portrait into the lives of those so often misunderstood.

The film also screened at festivals in Denver and Los Angeles, and it won the Nesnadny + Schwartz Documentary Film Competition at the Cleveland fest. “Trinidad” will show on Showtime this summer and eventually LOGO as well. Visit www.trinidadthemovie.com for the latest information.

“Ciao”

Andrea (left) comforts Jeff as they both struggle to cope with the loss of a friend. (Courtesy of Regent Releasing)
Andrea (left) comforts Jeff as they both struggle to cope with the loss of a friend. (Courtesy of Regent Releasing)

Written by Allesandro Ca, written and directed by Yen Tan, from USA

>> “Ciao” is the story of two men who are dealing with the loss of a very close friend – a friend one of them never met. After the death of his best friend, Jeff discovers Mark’s relationship with Andrea while keeping up with Mark’s e-mail. The thing is, Mark’s from Dallas, Andrea’s from Italy and they were planning on meeting in-person for the first time soon after Mark’s tragic car accident. Andrea comes anyway, and tension quickly develops between the two relative strangers. The tension between them is what makes “Ciao” engaging, and while it’s maybe a little too subtle and muted in places, the film tells a sort of passionate, modern love story that’s easy to envy. It proves even in the fast-paced world we live in today, it’s possible to find a connection in the most unexpected of places. Visit www.ciaomovie.com for more information.

“Chef’s Special”

Horacio, the closeted Argentian soccer player (right), goes to embrace Maxi, the self-obsessed Spanish chef, after outing himself on a national sports talk show. (Courtesy of TLA Video)
Horacio, the closeted Argentian soccer player (right), goes to embrace Maxi, the self-obsessed Spanish chef, after outing himself on a national sports talk show. (Courtesy of TLA Video)

Written by Antonio Sánchez,  Oriol Capel, written and directed by Nacho Velilla, from Spain

>> Maxi is a successful Spanish chef whose success seems thwarted when his ex-wife dies, and he’s left with his 15-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter. Add to that, his maitre d’ seems destined for romantic failure, and sparks are flying with a sexy, closeted soccer player who moves in next door. “Chef’s Special” was the feel-good part of this year’s LGBT film series. It’s the stereotypical story single dad left with kids he doesn’t know, but given the context, it’s hilarious all over again. The film is currently playing in limited release across the country. Visit tlareleasing.com for DVD release information.

“Between Love & Goodbye”

Marcel (right) and Kyle embrace near the Hudson River after Marcel’s marriage to Kyle’s lesbian best friend, Sarah, so he doesn’t get deported back to France. (Courtesy of Casper Andreas)
Marcel (right) and Kyle embrace near the Hudson River after Marcel’s marriage to Kyle’s lesbian best friend, Sarah, so he doesn’t get deported back to France. (Courtesy of Casper Andreas)

Written and directed by Casper Andreas, from USA

>> I spent most of “Between Love & Goodbye” sinking down in my seat at how cliché and ridiculous it all seemed. Marcel and Kyle are dating, but Marcel has to marry Kyle’s best friend, Sarah, so he doesn’t get deported. When Kyle’s transexual sister April moves in, Marcel and Kyle’s relationship disintegrates from petty squabbling to Kyle ratting out Marcel for immigration fraud, and Marcel kicking Kyle out of the apartment. Even the music was corny and predictable. Still, if you really, really want to see this film, it’s playing in some theaters now, and you can order it on DVD at www.embrem.com.

“I Can’t Think Straight”

On the tail end of a weekend together in Oxford, England, Leyla (left) wonders what’s next between her and Tala . (Courtesy of Regent Releasing)
On the tail end of a weekend together in Oxford, England, Leyla (left) wonders what’s next between her and Tala . (Courtesy of Regent Releasing)

Written by Kelly Moss, written and directed by Shamim Sarif, from United Kingdom

>> I sat through more than 20 films between these nine and the others I saw in the meantime, and the only moment when an entire audience roared with laughter was when Leyla, the main character in “I Can’t Think Straight,” came out to her parents. She’s come out to her mother, and her father walks in. “I’m gay,” Leyla cries. “But I was only gone two hours,” her father replies. The only movie to focus on lesbians was one of the best I saw this year. The writing was good. The acting was more than tolerable. Leyla is a goody-goody British Muslim of Indian descent who meets the wealthy, go-getting Tala, a Palestinian Christian who’s on her third engagement. Leyla falls for Tala. Tala tells Leyla she can’t break the engagement and must keep up an image for her family’s social position. Leyla moves on. Tala can’t. And in the end, of course, they’ll live happily ever after. I know, it sounds just about as cliché as “Between Love & Goodbye,” but it was a comedic, light-hearted reminder of how uncertain destiny is and to always follow your heart. Check it out on DVD at www.enlightenment-production.com.

“Jay”

Jay, a so-called documentarian, shares his documentary on the life of Jay Mercado, a recent gay murder victim, with his latest boy conquest. (Courtesy of Ignatius Films)
Jay, a so-called documentarian, shares his documentary on the life of Jay Mercado, a recent gay murder victim, with his latest boy conquest. (Courtesy of Ignatius Films)

Written and directed by Francis X. Pasion, from Phillipines

>> It’s hard to take any reality television program as any reflection of reality after sitting through “Jay.” We’re introduced to Jay Mercado, a cute young schoolteacher, through a television report of his brutal murder. What we come to find out is that this isn’t news – this is a Filipino reality show, “Dearly Departed Ones,” that “chronicles” the grieving process. The second Jay we meet is the reporter who meets the family, shares the news of their loss and proceeds to follow them until the funeral. The problem with this “coverage” is that Jay and his camera man become part of the story they’re “reporting.” Jay coerces the late man’s family to reenact tragic scenes, such as their arrival at the morgue where their son and brother’s body is being kept, and later the moment when chicks are placed on Mercado’s casket to peck the souls of his murderers. At one point during a viewing, the cameraman even knocks the casket shut, and reporter Jay invites Mercado’s ex-boyfriend to join the scene even after the sorrowful woman explicity asks him not to. By the end of the movie, you’re left wondering if Jay the reporter had a role in murdering Jay the schoolteacher in the first place. It almost feels too ridiculous to be representative of anything that could ever happen, but the film’s strength lies in its ability to make you question what media portray as “truth.”

“A Place to Live: The Story of Triangle Square”

Developers and community leaders celebrate the opening of Triangle Square, the nation’s first affordable, multi-cultural housing development supporting the needs of LGBT seniors. (Courtesy of Cynthia Childs)
Developers and community leaders celebrate the opening of Triangle Square, the nation’s first affordable, multi-cultural housing development supporting the needs of LGBT seniors. (Courtesy of Cynthia Childs)

Directed by Carolyn Coal, from USA

>> I tend to favor the documentaries I see at the film festival more than anything else, and this one blew everyone in the auditorium way. “A Place to Live” follows seven older, low-income LGBT residents in Los Angeles. The film begins by telling their various stories of the challenges of finding suitable, affordable housing as they reach the end of their lives. Some face discrimination from their landlords, as sexual orientation isn’t covered in equal housing laws, and others can no longer physically function in their currrent situations. Recognizing these members of the community were at a serious disadvantage, developers and leaders formed the Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing non-profit organization. The result: a $21 million development of 100 apartments focusing specifically on their needs. “A Place to Live” chronicles their journey from finding out about Triangle Square and applying to live there to the opening night party where one resident tells the crowd there’s no place she’d rather be and finally their moving in. It’s the story of an often neglected segment of our community and should be an example for major metros across the country.

“Whirlwind”
Written by Jason Brown, written and directed by Richard LeMay, from USA

>> This one easily could’ve been titled, “Drake’s Pathetic Attempt at Revenge.” When he comes across a close-knit group of friends, he immediately tries to seduce the pretty-boy Sean, who’s dating Bobby and having issues committing to getting an apartment with him. One drunken evening, Drake seduces Sean, pushing Bobby to leave him. This throws their group of friends — in the midst of planning an anniversary party for — into disarray. And when Drake shows up at the party at the end of the movie, after Bobby takes Sean back, he pretty much just makes a fool of himself. “Whirlwind” really just ends up being one gay man’s bitchy attempt to ruin a relationship.

“Antarctica”
Written and directed by Yair Hochner, from Israel

>> This may be one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen – gay, straight or otherwise. While it does offer up a lot of gratuitous sex in the first ten minutes of the film, “Antarctica” lacks any sort of story to care about and instead serves up the rather pointless day-to-day interactions of a bunch of pretty people in Tel Aviv. This movie about gays, lesbians and an author who leads the main characters to an alien landing at the end of the film. No one we meet in “Antarctica” has much depth. They seem to only have one specific goal in mind for the more than hour-and-a-half we spend with them and really make it hard to care about their dilemmas at all. There’s even a drag queen who plays the outrageous Jewish mother who gossips about her kids’ life struggles at the salon. Easily the only movie of this year’s series I’d rather forget, you can find more information at www.heretv.com.

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