GAYDAR: The Trouble With QFest

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AaronAvatar_1.jpgBY AARON STELLA GAYDAR EDITOR With a snappy new name that aspires to put the the non-gay among us at ease, a fattened marketing budget, and walk-ons by gay cinema stars (Bruce Cambell, Sharon Gless, Chad Allen) and straight power brokers (hello Mayor Nutter!), QFest seems destined to please everyone — everyone, that is, except for the rank and file of Philly’s gay community. Consider these man-in-a-gay-bar responses when the topic of QFest was raised by yours truly:

“I don’t bother any more. None of the shows have any substance.”

“I went this year, and was more disappointed than usual.”

“This festival only hurts the gay community.”

“A bunch of heightened unreality and sappy stories. It’s what mainstream anybody wants.”

“Most the films are easily accessible to a fault. They require no thought, so they’re successful.”

Not exactly the response that Q’Fest’s organizers hoped the festival’s makeover would evoke. Many of these disdainful comments come from elder statesmen of Philadelphia’s gay community, many of who have been attending the festival since TLA Entertainment founded it in 1995. In years past, the festival was a destination for gays throughout the tri-state area, but even then, it was more the promise of lively company than the films themselves that attracted the crowds.

Which is not to say that the films were completely devoid of charm.

“I’ll never say no to seeing a 19-year-old boy with his shirt off, especially if he’s going at it with another hot, hung young thing” said a long-time patron at Woody’s, remembering when he would hop from one titillating festival flick to another in fests past. Festival fare always came loaded with steamy plot twists, which seemed to climax over and over again in conjunction with dramatized orgasms, which was a big part of their appeal and power to put asses in the seats. Sex sells, no matter what the audience: throw in a couple of hunky dudes with clumsily concealed erections and douse them in sweat and we got ourselves a gay and lesbian film festival. Now, not that there’s anything wrong with on-screen love-makin’, but if a film is entirely predicated on flaunting hot young ass, then it might as well be consigned to the discount bin at the local porn shoppe. If anything, the overabundance of erotic films at Q’Fest past and present is more a sign that gays adhere to a stereotype preset by society–they as promiscuous hedonists.

Gay film continues to espouse this stereotype even in its depictions of gay drama (no pun intended, I think…). But this time, as sissy sentimentalists.

Hollywood, even with it hordes of closeted homosexuals (looking at you Tom Cruise), purposefully abstains from exploring the complexity of relationships outside the bounds of heterosexuality — even Broke Back Mountain is no exception. The plot of Broke Back follows the dubious and often vapid tradition of gay dramas shown at gay and lesbian film fests, wherein mawkish yet harrowing narratives suggest that once a homosexual comes to terms with his or hers sexuality that their personal struggles vanish overnight, without so much as glancing at all the other potentially precarious aspects of personhood.

In that sense, much of gay film, be it salacious or schmaltzy, mimics the hackneyed, superficiality of films in mainstream. Wait a minute: wasn’t the gay and lesbian civil rights movement another opponent to super-herterosexualized, patriarchal and censorious art of mainstream Hollywood? “Five years ago, when the festival was at its pinnacle, the imperative switched to seeing how big it could become from how nice it could be. Now there are twice the movies, and back five years ago, there was already more than enough. The selection was noticeably better, too,” says Sal Gardner, a Realtor for CITYSPACE.

Coincidentally, it was about fives ago when gay marriage climbed to hot-button-issue notoriety, gaining the gay community nation-wide attention, support and scrutiny. For many gays, the prospect of legalizing same-sex marriage was their shot at gaining equal rights, and subsequently, equal regard in other arenas, such as Hollywood film. Is it possible that this chance for equality has perhaps incentivized the gay community to unwittingly embrace Hollywood’s brand of facile cinema? Have gay film producers chosen to assimilate rather than challenge those very values which have condoned, if not perpetuated, gay persecution since the fall of Rome? You might say gays aren’t assimilating, and there is some gay theater to prove that, but having two guys/girls make out on a screen set to a cloying orchestral score is just as cheesy a conceit as would it be with a hetero couple. The same goes for the vacuous story lines, flat characters, and improbable happy endings. Let’s face it there are only two kinds of movies: good and bad. Just because a movie is about gays, doesn’t mean that it’s good. I recognize that they’re isn’t much gay film out there, insofar that some gays are tempted to settle for what they can get. But that’s like saying that there aren’t any good men in the world so better to settle than chance being alone.

What do gays think about being gay? Problems with gay film seem to stem from this question. Because the answer, at least the one offered by gay films, seems to be that homosexuality defines a person, just as heterosexuality defines straight people. But in reality, there isn’t anything more to being gay or straight than the gender of one’s sexual partners. Any other conclusions derived about a person based on the premise of orientation is plain prejudice, and asserting that a gay person lives happily ever after accepting his or her sexuality is a form of that prejudice. I want to see a gay film where homosexuality is merely a backdrop to a multitude of struggles a person faces, where it’s not the foundation on which a person’s strife engenders. Gay or straight, people are complex; and no matter how you look at it, the part never defines the whole. If this principle were kept in mind, I believe that we would see qualitatively better films at Q’Fest in the coming years, and a wider audience that will come back for more. Let’s appeal to the profundity of the human soul by actually plumbing its depths. Whether in film or in life, we deserve it. Everyone deserves it. Until next time…

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