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Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008

Creating Acceptance Through Film

The 21st Annual LGBT Film/Video Festival

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   As autumn approaches and daylight hours diminish, more and more of us will be inclined to spend our nights looking for something bright and clear- especially on the big screen.

  From Sept. 4-14, Milwaukeeans get another chance to bright en their eyes and enlighten their minds with the annual LGBT Film/Video Festival, presented by the film department of UW-Milwaukee's Peck School of the Arts. Now in its 21st year, festival director Carl Bogner jokes that the 11-day event is "finally old enough to drink whatever it wants." But the purpose remains serious: the positive representation of diverse sexuality on film. "The festival has always been an LGBT festival and a film festival, of interest to anyone interested in good movies," says Bogner, who has been curating the program for 11 years. "The festival's mission of presenting films by, for and about the LGBT community remains unchanged. We are showing films that would otherwise not be on local screens-even on local art-house screens-allowing a diverse array of images and discussions around LGBT life."

  The festival offers the only way that most Milwaukeeans can catch these features and shorts on the big screen.

   Though the mainstream media occasion ally delivers coverage of the changing face of gender and sexuality, "only a narrow range of 'difference' is ever represented," Bogner says of the uphill climb for gay and lesbian representation in the media. "There is still a paucity of LGBT images on main stream theater screens."

   Despite that relative scarcity, however, Bogner notes that LGBT films have become more readily available. "If theatrical release remains elusive for LGBT film, there is a huge DVD market," he says. Indeed, many films are advertised in the pages of The Advocate and other magazines that focus on LGBT issues.

                                                                Branching Out

  The growing acceptance of the lifestyles depicted in the LGBT Film/Video Festival has led to changes in programming over the years. "A festival that, of necessity, was originally more insistently edgy and international in scope, now also spotlights more conventionally satisfying fare," Bogner says. This conventional fare, even if it means the equivalent of Hollywood popcorn movies, can serve as a way to better represent the full scope of LGBT life and imagination. A comedy such as the Shakespearean Were The World Mine and the teen drama Tru Loved rank among this year's less experimental films.

   Of course, more exotic options abound as well. The semi-improvisational Japan Japan and punky The Lollipop Generation stand out amid a lineup filled with intriguing titles.

   Documentaries add even more depth to the festival, often covering topical, global issues. "While the festival has always been inter national," Bogner says, "there are more stories coming from elsewhere, otherwise not reported on, like the amazing films Be Like Others and A Jihad For Love, two documentaries about homosexuality and Islam."

   The rise of the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Church and the life of disco cellist Arthur Russell provide subject matter for other compelling documentaries on the bill. Over the years, another segment of the festival with noticeable growth has been films by women. This year's Festival Centerpiece, showing Sept. 10, is Water Lilies, a tale of teenage lesbianism among a synchronized swimming team, by French filmmaker Celine Sciamma.

   "This is a director to watch," Bogner notes. He is also impressed by the evolution of movies about the transsexual community.

   "[These films have] become stronger, more complex, more diverse," he says, a development displayed this year by She's A Boy I Knew and XXY. However, it may be Turkish-Italian director Ferzan Ozpetek's Saturn in Opposition that reaches the broadest demographic.

   Bogner says it's "a very funny, very engaging and moving film...about straight and gay, young and old people coming together in laughter [and] hardship, about the communities we create and find in ourselves."

   The Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival, a year older than New York's LGBT film festival and just a few years younger than its San Francisco equivalent, has fulfilled Bogner's hope for an event that sustains the community, a festival where "lots of folks come to see movies they like and have a good time." The festival's Sept. 4 opening-night film, Were the World Mine, and Sept. 10 Centerpiece, Water Lillies, will be screened at the Oriental Landmark Theatre. All other films will be shown at the UWM Union Theatre.

What's your take? Write: editor@shepex.com

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