A sufficient number of the dozens of films in Outfest '97 were made available for preview to suggest that this is a banner year for gay movies, most of which either have already been picked up for distribution or are virtually certain to find buyers. After a gala opening at the Los Angeles Theater Friday, the festival settles down at its usual venue, the Directors Guild of America's Theaters I and II and Video Theater, 7920 Sunset Blvd., augmented this year with the Harmony Gold Preview House, 7655 Sunset Blvd.
There's been a flourishing of lesbian films in recent years, although few in this year's festival were made available for advance screening.
But all the films in the festival that were available are by and large encouraging, not only for their artistry but also for their rigor and depth and for envisioning lesbian and gay people as part of society as a whole. Most all are fine examples of resourceful, committed, low-budget independent filmmaking.
Here follow mini-reviews of films available for preview:
It matters little that John Keitel's shot-in-13-days "Defying Gravity" (DGA 1, Saturday at 1 p.m.) is a tad rough around the edges, for it confidently goes right to the heart of the matters of coming out and of gay-bashing. College fraternities are officially as emphatically heterosexual as the military, and it's no wonder that Griff (Daniel Chilson) wants to keep secret a new gay relationship--even to his best friend (Niklaus Lange). Griff is not yet ready to accept that he's gay or bisexual, while his lover (Don Handfield) has moved out of the fraternity house to explore a more openly gay way of life.
A brutal gay-bashing incident thrusts Griff, very well played by Chilson, into profound conflict. "Defying Gravity" is taut, to the point and totally involving and is a reminder that coming out remains a painful process for many even as the end of the 20th century approaches.
Director John Schlesinger will receive Outfest's first lifetime achievement award at a screening of one of his finest films, "An Englishman Abroad" (1984) (DGA II, Saturday at 4 p.m.). The film was inspired by a real-life meeting that actress Coral Browne (who plays herself) had in Moscow with notorious British spy Guy Burgess (a formidable Alan Bates).
With John Greyson's dispiriting "Lilies" (DGA I, Saturday at 9:15 p.m.), it's the old story: You can imagine "Lilies" working on stage (it's based on Michel Marc Bouchard's 1987 play), but this screen version is so close to being a filmed play that it has an aura of artificiality that allows it to lapse into tedium.
It's Quebec, 1952, and a bishop has been summoned to hear the confession of a supposedly dying convict, imprisoned for 40 years. Sure enough, the bishop and the convict were schoolmates, and they and another student were caught up in a lethal entanglement of homosexual passion, which via flashbacks is played out in stylized, sometimes surreal fashion heavy with symbolism--it's not for nothing that the youths are seen enacting the martyrdom of St. Sebastian. The cast, which includes men playing female roles, is clearly able and at times affecting, but rarely are we unaware that the actors are acting rather than becoming the characters they portray.
Bestor Cram's documentary "Courageous Hearts of Transsexual Men" (DGA Video, Sunday at 2:45 p.m., Monday at 5 p.m. and July 19 at 7:30 p.m.) introduces us to six very different individuals, all of whom have undergone or are undergoing the challenging passage from woman to man. With humor and candor they open their hearts to us as they face this dramatic change in their lives, which does not necessarily involve the still rudimentary--and very expensive ($20,000 to $70,000)--surgery to replicate male genitalia. Several seem effeminate, others amazingly masculine, and all of them happy with the choices they've made.
The description of "The Cream Will Rise" (DGA I, Sunday at 6 p.m.) as a work in progress should be taken seriously. It is documentarian Gigi Gaston's ambitious attempt to create a portrait of the beautiful and talented singer-composer Sophie B. Hawkins, a self-described "omnisexual," coming to terms with childhood sexual abuse while on a national concert tour and a visit with her decidedly bohemian mother in her native New York.
In its present state "Cream" is all impressions and no context, with virtually every aspect of the singer's past and present shrouded in ambiguity and contradiction. If Gaston means to stick to this approach, she needs to tighten her film to eliminate a sense of repetition and a feeling of anticlimax. There's an excess of music video-style communing-with-nature footage, but Hawkins comes across a vibrant woman of dazzling presence.