By Robert Richard Jorge   Published Sep 29, 2004 at 5:04 AM

{image1}Sweet 17, more concentrated, richer and wider scope than ever before. That's the promise offered for Milwaukee's 17th Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender (LGBT) Film Festival 2004. "Concentrated" because three, newly-acquired corporate sponsors are giving the event a generous assist so that there are no more split "weekends-only" showings as in the past.

This year's fest opens on Thursday, Sept. 30 -- again in the fabulous 1927 "palace of the past": the Oriental Theatre -- and goes straight through the next 10 consecutive days with the balance of films shown in the Union Cinema on UWM's campus, easily accessible on Kenwood Boulevard.

Maybe best of all, "There're at least five, maybe six, free films that we'll be showing. We're hoping that people of all stripes will come to see them -- there won't be any economic barrier for them not to come and check them out." At least that's the hope expressed by Carl E. Bogner, Festival Programmer.

"Richer" too because, "We actually have more comedies this year than in the past. Plus more international films, too," says Bogner, enumerating contributors from Russia, Germany, Thailand, Mexico, Sweden, France (all with English subtitles), United Kingdom, Canada and Ireland.

What's really cool in Bogner's estimation?

"We have the first feature films from makers who've only been represented with shorts in our previous festivals." The excellence of these shorts has encouraged money-people to risk going the whole nine yards.

Opening night at the Oriental will feature Angela Robinson's "D.E.B.S."

"I've always loved her shorts -- they're parodies of TV shows or familiar genres," Bogner says. "And they're always, I thought, resourcefully sophisticated and clearly made on a low budget. But they were very deft in their parody, very funny and very casually sexy. 'D.E.B.S.' is definitely satirical. It's giddy without being too smartass. And just very playful. It's a real crowd-pleaser."

Obviously. Awards and good word-of-mouth resulted in its selection to be the opener or closer film at every North American LGBT Film Festival this summer, Bogner reports. "We lucked out," he says. "We're one of only two festivals that is going to spotlight it this fall."

As much affection is being lavished on the "Festival Centerpiece" on the following Thursday: Rodney Evans' "Brother to Brother."

"He's an African-American gay filmmaker," Bogner relates. "(His film) won a special award for 'spirit' at the last Sundance Film Festival. It's been winning all of the narrative prizes -- both juried and audience awarded -- at LGBT festivals throughout the summer. It's about the Harlem Renaissance, specifically about the gay aspect of the Harlem Renaissance.

"It's a very moving, very stirring film," Bogner assures. "I'm impressed by the number of issues Evans handles in terms of contemporary racism and racism in the 1920s. His historical figures -- Bruce Nugent, Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston and others -- are given real energy and life."

Some filmmakers -- or other like-compatriots -- are expected to attend, beginning with Jim Verraros, one of the Top Ten Finalists of "American Idol." Verraros makes his film debut as actor in "Eating Out," the 9 p.m. offering on the festival's second night at the Union Cinema. This film is "The most lauded and out-and-out funny queer comedy in recent memory," according to Bogner.

Then the late showing on Saturday is "Drag Kings on Tour," a documentary which follows a motor home full of drag kings -- female male-impersonators -- as they play 16 engagements in three weeks beginning from their home base in New York, south to Biloxi, west to St. Louis, north to Milwaukee, then Toronto and other points in between.

Milwaukee? You betcha.

"It's a tour energized by this one drag king who goes by the name of Pat Riarch, like 'patriarch'" Bogner explains, "and her name is Neeve and she's from Milwaukee. She now lives in North Carolina but her father is a professor here. Part of the film takes place in Milwaukee offering a very lovely homecoming with her parents."

Milwaukee's own Miltown Kings and Minneapolis' glam rock band All the Pretty Horses will be on hand as hosts for this showing.

"There're two other films that have Milwaukee connections that I should probably tell you about," Bogner says. "One is called the 'Lesbian Centennial Project,' made by former Milwaukeean, Cathryn L. Beranich. She asked 100 lesbians what was the most important thing to happen for women and lesbians in the last century. Very simple and direct in its approach, it becomes this really compelling and engaging document.

"Then there's the sort-of Wisconsin-centered documentary, 'Farm Family: In Search of Gay Life in Rural America,' made by Tom Murray who's from Northern Illinois. Three of the eight men are in Wisconsin. They talk about raising a family, homophobia, dating, AIDS, familiar topics. But the film gives a sort of new perspective from these voices -- that Murray argues are largely an invisible part of any image we have of gay culture, which is always represented as sort of an urban manifestation."

Despite sponsorship, the price of a ticket has been raised by one dollar, from $6 per film to $7.

"Still a bargain," Bogner says. "We are keeping the student rate of $5 the same, as a way of encouraging their attendance. A lot of our programming is youth-friendly. 'D.E.B.S.,' I think, is definitely a lark that young people will like as well as 'Eating Out,'" Bogner sums up.

Remember: Short films are shown on the second Saturday (Oct. 9). See if you can spot the next filmmaker that money-people might pick to invest in a full-length feature that is now only every filmmaker's dream. The festival's Web site is