As a rough interpretation of a famous idiom once said, when one film festival closes, another one opens. Thus, a mere week after the Milwaukee Film Festival called it a wrap on another successful two weeks of splendid features, the festival spirit gets one more burst of life with the LGBT Film/Video Festival.
The festival, now in its 28th year of existence, starts tomorrow night at the Oriental Theatre with the opening night selection, "I Am Divine." The documentary, directed by Jeffrey Schwarz, chronicles the life of Harris Glenn Milstead, more famously known as Divine, the iconic drag queen actor who rose to fame after playing "the filthiest person alive" in John Waters’ 1972 cult hit "Pink Flamingos" (which is showing at the UWM Union Theatre on Oct. 26).
"You could have easily taken a very tabloid approach to the trajectory of Divine’s life, but ‘I Am Divine’ is really celebratory," said Carl Bogner, the director of the LGBT Film/Video Festival. "It really pops, and it’s really fun."
According to Bogner – a self-taught cinephile who works as an instructor in the UWM film department, and whose favorite film is Robert Altman’s "The Long Goodbye" – selecting an opening night film is a tough duty. The biggest difficulty is finding a movie that appeals to the festival’s broad range of demographics. For him, "I Am Divine" fits the bill perfectly.
"Divine’s popularity is maybe rooted in the gay male community more, but then I’m constantly corrected by that, by the appeal that he has across the spectrum," Bogner said. "I think we’ll have some people on our opening night who may have never been to the LGBT Film Festival before because they like the energy that Divine represents."
For Bogner, a large part of what made the popular drag queen actor a compelling and singular pop cultural figure worth celebrating was the fact that he was "persistently queer." Even to this day, Bogner believes Divine’s midnight movie collaborations with Waters are "still shocking, pleasurably and entertainingly so."
"He challenged any kind of status quo and any kind of idea of appropriateness in terms of gender, body type, class or taste," Bogner noted. "It’s a funny time in the history of queer culture, and if I use the word ‘queer’ deliberately, it’s that there’s been really important strides in civil rights that are happening, which are overdue and crucial. But I guess it’s nice to still have Divine along with the definition of what constitutes as LGBT, in the idea that there’s nothing containable about Divine. I like the definition of queer that Divine sustains. The Supreme Court would never render Divine constitutional."
After opening night, the LGBT Film Festival picks back up early Friday evening and runs throughout the entire weekend at the UWM Union Theatre, with 15 other features scheduled to screen across three days.
In order to make the line-up, Bogner looks at other film festivals across the country, of both LGBT and general varieties, to see what features are reappearing at multiple places and creating strong buzz. He used to travel to more film festivals in order to do the search as thoroughly as possible and see audience reactions. However, with the Internet, it’s become easier for Bogner to survey what’s showing at other places while avoiding "the extreme budgetary challenge of travel" that can plague a small-scale festival.
"A lot of the Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival is about figuring out how to mount something like this with as few resources as possible," Bogner said.
Even with its limited number of staff and resources, the festival still compiles a strong line-up of movies that hit upon a wide range of genres, and LGBT topics and issues. For instance, "Vic + Flo Saw a Bear" – which isn’t on the schedule this weekend but is showing on the 22nd as an additional free festival screening – won the Berlin Film Festival’s Alfred Bauer Prize, an award dedicated to features that create "new perspectives on cinematic art."
One selection that particularly stands out to Bogner is "Valencia." The film, an adaptation of Michelle Tea’s memoir/novel, tells the story of several twenty-something lesbians in San Francisco. Their stories are told by 21 directors, each with a different cast and approach to their particular chapter. It’s an exciting selection for Bogner not only because one of the actors in the film is Shawna Lipton, a PhD candidate at UWM who will be in attendance, but also because of a new cinematic vigor it brings to the festival.
"The festival could stand to be a little less stodgy," Bogner said. "Understand, I like stodgy, but I really feel lucky that we get to have this more youthful energy in the house that ‘Valencia’ represents."
There are many other options that Bogner recommends as well, including "Stranger by the Lake," "Bwakaw" and "Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution."
No matter what filmgoers may choose to check out at the LGBT Film/Video Festival, though, the event marks an opportunity to see and celebrate diversity on screen – in terms of genre, style, cultural representation and subject matter. It’s something Hollywood could notoriously improve upon.
"There’s still a paucity of gay and lesbian images that one would have available on your local screens, and the type of images that most people want," Bogner noted. "I know our audience likes nothing more than a film with a happy ending and a romance sealed with a kiss. Those are the desires than most moviegoers have."
Bogner, however, does note that there is hope.
"It used to be that one had a tote board, and one could say with authority, ‘This year, there was this gay movie and this gay movie, and the supporting character in this action movie was gay.’ I may just be lazy, but it doesn’t seem as crucial anymore. LGBT people are no longer these exotic beings that would only occasionally show up in pop culture. Representations, like ‘The Kids Are All Right’ and ‘Weekend,’ are circulating in different ways, so I’ve been able to get lazy or dispense with my tote board."
The 2013 Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival starts Thursday night with a screening of "I Am Divine" at the Oriental Theatre at 7:30 p.m. The rest of the festival runs Friday through Sunday at the UWM Union Theatre. For a complete rundown of the festival's schedule, visit the LGBT Film Festival's website.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.