The U.S. military’s discredited “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy will be front and center in the opening night film of this year’s Reel Pride film festival at the Tower Theatre. The film A Marine Story takes an unflinching look at the policy’s effects on gays and lesbians in uniform. From the producer of Shelter and the director and star of The Gymnast, this new film examines what happens when a decorated Marine officer unexpectedly returns home from the war and is quickly recruited to help a troubled teen prepare for boot camp. Oh…and there’s a Fresno reference in the film. A Marine Story will kick off Reel Pride the evening of September 15.
“Our goal is to provide a broad spectrum of LGBT stories that are relevant to our world today,” said Festival Director Jon Carroll. “These stories, as told by a diverse group of filmmakers, have the capacity to entertain, educate, provoke and emotionally engage our audience in a dynamic way from the opening night gala through the entire five days.
“Whether through a brand new director or a seasoned veteran, each of these films captures and celebrates the LGBT experience in a unique way that audiences—gay or straight—will find compelling. The stories range in theme from the artistic liberation of Alan Ginsberg to the challenge of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’, to marriage, parenting and the recognition of identity and acceptance in cultures from around the world.
“The collection of films this year is quite remarkable in its level of quality and breadth of story. Nearly every feature has won a major award, and we are very proud of this year’s schedule.”
The festival’s 21st year will feature an impressive five-day lineup of internationally award-winning feature films, documentaries and short films at the historic Tower Theatre and at the more intimate cabaret space, the Starline Lounge. Festival organizers have searched the world for important and socially relevant films that otherwise would not be available on the big screen to Fresno’s film-loving community.
A full schedule of films for this year will be found on the festival’s Web site (reelpride.com). As of press time film organizers were still working to assemble the final schedule that so far includes the following films:
Elena Undone combines the enchantment of falling in love for the first time with the reality and responsibilities of long-term commitments, with a healthy dosage of captivating drama and passionate sex and romance for good measure. Falling for a woman was an unimaginable situation for Elena, a straight wife and mother. The friendship between Peyton, an out lesbian writer, and Elena, who, as the wife of an anti-gay pastor has never experienced true love, transforms swiftly from a one-sided crush into a torrid extramarital affair. Despite their attraction, Peyton, jaded in a number of ways, has strong reservations about becoming involved with a married straight woman; Elena, recognizing that she is caught in a loveless marriage, can barely begin to rationalize the nature and magnitude of her desires.
Eyes Wide Open, which premiered at Cannes, is a taut tale of forbidden love, made up of equal parts first-rate independent art cinema and fascinating anthropological study of a tightly-knit conservative community against the backdrop of an Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem. Aaron runs a kosher butcher shop. When he hires Ezri (Israeli heartthrob Ron Danker), he is confronted by feelings he thought he dispensed with long ago. Steeped in the codes of religion, each interaction between Aaron and Ezri is rife with underlying tension, burning with unspoken eroticism that satisfyingly smolders throughout.
The Four-Faced Liar was an official Slamdance Film Festival submission, due in part to solid, well-crafted dialogue and the actors’ delivery of deeper characters. When childhood sweethearts Greg and Molly leave a quiet corner of America for the Big Apple, they expect life to get more interesting. But when they meet playgirl Bridget and her best friend Trip, they get a lot more than they bargained for. The striking cinematography and art direction bring New York City’s urban landscapes to life as a lush backdrop for a secret love.
HOWL is the debut narrative feature from acclaimed documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, starring James Franco, Jon Hamm and David Strathairn. HOWL is a hypnotic journey through the interwoven stories of Allen Ginsberg’s personal quest for liberation, the historic obscenity court case against his poem due to its drug-inspired imagery and explicit references to gay sex and the power of “Howl” to stand alone as a prominent work of art.
Rivers Wash Over Me is a hauntingly beautiful film and emotionally affecting drama about a sensitive gay teen forced to relocate from Brooklyn to rural Alabama. He faces harassment and abuse both at school and at home, but hope arrives in the form of a perceptive but troubled girl who introduces him to her gay brother. As the three new friends plan an escape from their small-town existence, a brush with violence threatens to derail everything.
Sasha is a refreshing take on the coming-out story, bravely addressing homophobia in a Balkan immigrant family. Young Sasha Petrovic, studious and musically talented, is the beloved child of his Montenegro-born parents, who run a pub adjacent to their home in Cologne. But he’s got a secret crush that’s about to throw his life into chaos. He’s nervous about an upcoming audition for a prestigious music school, he’s beset by a powerful crush on his piano teacher, Mr. Weber, and he’s taunted by his younger, more athletic brother Boki. As Sasha is pulled in all directions, his relationship with his family comes to a violent head, only to be saved by an unexpected ally.
Strapped is an original and provocative take on intimacy and desire. Dreamlike, erotic and at times darkly comic, this night-in-the-life of a young man’s coming of age features Adam, a young hustler, who wanders into an old, labyrinthine apartment building and cannot find his way out. A chameleon who can change his persona to match anyone he meets, Adam encounters several sexually charged men who lead him on a journey of the soul. Only when he has untied all of the knots can Adam leave the building and begin to enter the world of adulthood—should he still want to.
Undertow (Contracorriente) is the winner of the World Cinema Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. With the measured patience of a seasoned filmmaker, writer/director Javier Fuentes-León makes his feature debut with this haunting tribute to the power of the heart and the painful consequences of love denied. Set in an exotic Peruvian fishing village, the film’s romantic complications, familial assembly and loyalty to tradition evoke Shakespearean themes. Miguel’s passionate and steamy affair with local painter Santiago sates his sexual desires, but he is torn between his duty to his wife and his love for Santiago. However, tradition forbids his love for another man and Miguel is forced to live a secret life that, when exposed, threatens to dismantle his family and circle of friends.
Violet Tendencies stars the lovable Mindy Cohn from Facts of Life (scheduled to appear) as Manhattan’s most fabulous fruit fly! At 40, Violet is the racy, fun-loving belle of the ball. She spends her nights as royalty, but when the party ends, she always heads home alone. In the fast pace of high fashion PR where she works, glamorous guru Salome gives her advice: to nab a man, she insists, Violet must abandon her gay boys. In order to get a prized man of her own, Violet strikes out on a hilarious quest to change the woman she is, finding love in the most unlikely of places.
The annual Fresno Reel Pride Gay & Lesbian Film Festival is made possible by the generous support of numerous national and local individual sponsors and businesses including Engelmann Cellars, the Fresno Arts Council, the Fresno Women’s Medical Group, Heineken and Heineken Light and Starbucks.
The complete schedule and film information on this year’s Reel Pride film festival is available at www.reelpride.com. Advance tickets and festival passes are available for purchase in person beginning September 1 at the Reel Pride box office located next to the Tower Theatre at 1211 N. Wishon Avenue in Fresno. The Reel Pride box office will be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. For more information, call Reel Pride’s hotline at 559-999-7971 or visit www.reelpride.com.