Saturday, March 22, 2014

BFI Flare: First Impressions

Kate Bornstein Is a Queer and Pleasant Danger
I spent a very enjoyable afternoon / evening at the shiny new BFI Flare yesterday. Formerly the LLGFF, it's been rebranded and spruced up with rather viral looking explosive blobs that some mistook for hothouse flowers, but which I quickly recognised as flares. Ahem.

Highlight was most definitely Sam Feder's artful documentary Kate Bornstein Is a Queer and Pleasant Danger, a title as playful as its subject. Gender outlaw Bornstein was a fixture on the queer scene in SF when I lived there in the early '90s, and though we never officially met, she contributed much to discussions of gender expression and identity throughout that time. I'd lost track of her work since then, but the film mentions several of her books, including one on alternatives to suicide. Feder's portrait does not attempt an overview of her life, but merely touches on several aspects, as we meet some of her friends and family, including at least one ex. Bornstein emerges as a spirited, very funny and opinionated (her defence of "tranny" will rankle some) soul, whose battle with cancer and dedication to a life lived without being mean offers a vision of how to get through the worst obstacles.

My prelude to that couldn't be more different. GBF (dir Darren Stein) is the latest in an endless stream of US high school comedies. This one offers the trope that the gay best friend is the latest accessory for the ambitious would-be top girl, and so dorky Tanner finds himself suddenly in demand by the three high-maintenance divas vying to be Prom Queen. While a lot of the comedy is predicated on just how shallow the three girls are, I will give the film credit for clearly differentiating them, as well as offering a plethora of juicy female roles in what is essentially a gay male coming out story. Megan Mullally even turns up as one of the boy's well-intentioned, overly supportive mothers. The film also throws in a couple of ethnic minorities in what is otherwise a white suburban setting, but then spoils its feel-good mood by its casual use of "Wonton" and "rice queen" in reference to the Asian sidekick character. Gnarly, dude.

I capped off my visit with some cake, courtesy of Allyson Mitchell's Kill Joy's Kastle installation which has taken up residence in the very chilly atrium. More on this later, but the artist is giving a talk today at 16:00 GMT.

Today's film picks:
Big Words (dir Neil Drumming) is an ensemble piece set in NYC 2008, in which John attempts to pick up the pieces of his life after being fired from his latest job. It emerges he was once in a rap trio, DLP, in the '90s and the film circles around its three former members as they all come to terms with changes in their lives. The gay content is only peripheral, but the most interesting thing about the film is its resistance to the obvious plot devices. We expect the three to come together at some point, but their confrontation is not the expected happy ending. Kudos also to a film that is set on the day of Obama's election, and doesn't show any characters voting!

Valencia, based on Michelle Tea's novel, has 21 directors, so I won't run through them. But, the film is a fragmentary portrait of Michelle's life in the queer scene in SF in the 1990s, extravagantly depicted through many, many styles, including claymation! The music is awesome, as would be expected.

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