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Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013

The 2013 Milwaukee LGBT Film Festival

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I Am Divine
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The 28th Annual Milwaukee LGBT Film Festival opens Thursday, Oct. 17, at the Oriental Theatre with I Am Divine, a terrifically entertaining documentary about the star of Pink Flamingos and every great John Waters film. A slew of good movies with wide appeal follow through Sunday, Oct. 20, at the UW-Milwaukee Union Theatre. Included are documentary features about the dreamy filmmaker and poet James Broughton, the novelist/activist Alice Walker, the growing recognition of marriage equality as a civil rights issue among African Americans, and the struggle for survival in Cameroon, Africa, where more people are arrested for homosexuality than anywhere else on earth.

Award-winning narrative features from Brazil, Poland, France, Canada, Taiwan and the Philippines make this a truly international festival. Three programs of short films are offered, as well as some fascinating free side features. For complete information, visit arts.uwm.edu/lgbtfilm.

“I’ve always worked to celebrate both cinema and the community,” says the festival’s director, UWM film instructor Carl Bogner. “I view this as a community gathering around a film festival and vice versa. It’s really pleasurable to open with I Am Divine the same year the Supreme Court struck down DOMA. As the overdue and necessary work of breaking down barriers to equality advances, it’s nice to present the extremely non-normative energies of someone like Divine, an uncontrollable image of queer outrageousness, an energy the Supreme Court could never contain.”

 

‘I Am Divine’

Jeffrey Schwarz’s 2013 film biography would surely please its subject, the fearless star of the John Waters film oeuvre from Roman Candles (1966) and Eat Your Make-up (1968) through Hairspray, the 1988 film that brought them to the mainstream. I Am Divine affords Divine the Hollywood star treatment.

“He wanted to be Liz Taylor, that’s all he cared about,” Waters says with characteristic cheek of his friend, the young Harris Glenn Milstead. It’s lucky for both that they met. As artists, each is unthinkable without the other. Among the movie’s treats are photos and clips of them as youngsters in Baltimore.

We learn everything about Divine. Excellent clips from her films and live performances capture her power full force. She was immense on every level. Schwarz also captures the period of the early films. We understand the hunger and the need to transgress. We also see how times change.

In a candid interview filmed shortly before his death and presented in excerpts, Divine says, “I always wanted to be a movie star. The Waters parts were the ones that came my way. They made me a star of sorts, a cult star. But that’s not enough. You can’t make any money that way. I don’t want to be old and poor.” He died of a massive heart attack the night before he was to tape his first episode as the new ongoing character “Uncle Otto” on television’s Married...with Children.

Waters is interviewed extensively. He’s endlessly interesting. Many friends and colleagues, some famous, offer reflections on every aspect of Divine’s personal life. The most moving interviews are with Divine’s mother who, after much pain, grew to be proud of him.

Pink Flamingos will also be shown at 11 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 26, at the UWM Union Theatre in conjunction with the festival.

 

‘In The Name Of (W Imie...)’

This deeply romantic, magnificently acted Polish film—winner of the Teddy Award for Best Feature Film at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival—plays at 5 p.m. on Saturday, October 19, at the UWM Union Theatre. Adam is a closeted priest who cares for tough teenage boys in a Catholic Center that’s an alternative to reform school. He’s no pedophile. He would die before he’d harm these guys. He suffers over his sexuality. It’s the reason he turned to religious life. He spends his free time running through a forest. Running, he says, is praying.

If, like me, you grew up gay and Catholic, you’ll feel some shocks of recognition. The film is subtitled but its power lies in what can’t be spoken. The other major character, a village boy thought daft, never speaks. He falls in love with Adam. When Adam is transferred from the Center for “staring at the boys in a weird way,” the young man hunts him down. Their hungry lovemaking comes as a blessed relief to the viewer. Through its understated honesty, the film makes clear that the greatest service Adam could provide, for himself and for those in his charge, would be to come out. But that seems impossible.