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“I’m not sure that these are the greatest LGBT films ever,” says Jon Gann. “To me they are significant. I like them because they are about the entire community. In some of the stories, the LGBT portion is very small, but the LGBT component is really critical to how the story unfolds.”
Since 2009, just prior to the Oscars, we’ve occasionally put together lists of “25 Gay Films Everyone Should See.” When it came time for this year’s list, we thought we’d give feature films a break and turn our attention to an oft-neglected, but much beloved category — the short. And who better to curate our mini-festival for us than Gann, executive director of DC Shorts, which, every fall, stages a massive, citywide shorts festival. Gann (see profile, page 20) unearthed 20 LGBT nuggets for us to review, and while, as with any collection of shorts, the quality varies considerably, the collection as a whole captures the entire gamut of the LGBT experience.
The beauty of a short film — most of which range from 2 to 20 minutes — is that even if they’re not perfect, they can be easily endured and then you’re onto the next. It takes a special gift to craft a cogent narrative, to capture a powerful emotion, to convey an idea in a film whose average length is 9 minutes. So, when a filmmaker gets it right — such as Carlos Molina with the unnerving thriller Red or Lance Larson with the emotionally raw Bloom or Arnaud Lalanne with the blissful La Princesse — you have to admire the craftsmanship at work. Yes, short films are sometimes easy to figure out — when the genre is specifically LGBT, it can be hard to truly surprise your viewer — but look beyond that and, in the fleeting moments you spend with each film, absorb what the filmmaker is trying to impart.
A link and instructions on how to stream or download the shorts are available after this feature. Read our thoughts on each, then follow the link at the bottom of this page to enjoy all 20 shorts, courtesy of DC Shorts.
No matter how you digest these shorts — in bitesize nuggets, or one long session, on iPad, computer, or even via Chromecast — it’s an experience worth having. With 20 films from across the gay spectrum, it’s three hours of LGBT cinema that won’t leave you feeling shortchanged.
10 min., Canada, 2013
WHAT’S IT LIKE to be the subject of a fetish? That’s the question posed — and humorously explored — in Austin Wong’s brisk, frisky comedy. Geoff (Adamo Ruggerio) prefers men of a bearish nature, and Steve (Ben Lewis) freely admits he’s a “sexual racist” who “only sleeps with White, middle-class, Anglo-Saxon guys.” While their sexual appetites are well-defined, Aaron (Richard Lee) is undergoing a bit more of a crisis. Too discriminating, he rejects anyone with a hint of “rice queen.” He finally lucks into Matt (Brett Donahue), a handsome man with an increasingly apparent Asian fetish. The ensuing makeover montage — as Matt molds Aaron into his ideal (read: sterotypical) Asian — is amusing, but the line is drawn when Matt chastises him for using a fork to eat Chinese food. Wong covers an impressive amount of ground in ten minutes, and the light script and lithe performances add up to a sweet little film with a jubilant ending as Aaron comes to accept himself for who he is.
9:45 min., Finland, 2014
IF THE INTENTION of this film, directed by Joel Rahkonen and Sonia Stenius, is to make us laugh, it thoroughly succeeds — even if the overall quality will leave cinephiles wanting. A mini-musical, it features a rather glum young man who eschews moving to London with his austere, demanding girlfriend and declares his love for … well, you’ll just have to see for yourself. If you can get past the in-your-face absurdity of it all, not to mention the strained singing and lyrics that won’t trouble Broadway (or even off-Broadway), and make it to the end credits, which features the entire cast engaging in choreography that would make a typical high school musical look like the Bolshoi, and do so without laughing, then you’re either dead or just dead inside. Why should you see this one? Because it’s so delightfully batshit — and utterly endearing as a result.
9:30 min., France, 2013
IF EVER THERE’S an example of the emotional range that can be packed into such a short length of film, this is it. In Arnaud Lalanne’s breathtaking little movie, a teacher (Laetitia Andreiu, giving a performance that can only be described as beguiling) reads a fairy tale to her class about a princess looking for love. This isn’t your typical Disney fare, however, with the teacher delivering an electrifying monologue that subverts the traditional happily ever after into a tale of bisexuality, polyamorous relationships and the core concept of “free love.” Lalanne plays it smart by cutting to the expressions of the young children as they listen — confused, bewildered, dumbfounded, and in at least one case, a telling look of disgust for a teacher who, moments before, had them rolling in childish giggles. It’s a captivating film with a message that is not as as simple as it initially seems. Just like love itself.
20 min., Venezuela, 2013
IT’S A RARE short film that can create a sense of unnerving ambiguity, raw tension and utter dread, and do it with nary a word of spoken dialogue. The less said about Red, the better actually. But Carlos Molina’s gripping tale of a teenager (the cocksure yet vulnerable Noel Duarte) who decides to meet the man he’s been flirting with online puts you on edge almost from the start and then slowly pulls the chair out from under you. It’s insidious, dark, cold — Molina’s film captures the dubious nature of elder men tempting youthful boys into sex. Of the twenty films in this series, this is the one you’ll keep rewatching. It doesn’t just haunt you; it dredges up your worst nightmares.
13 min., USA, 2011
DARIUS CLARK MONROE’S single-set, two-character drama is aptly titled. Its pace is tempered, deliberate, moving the narrative with concise precision — a necessity, given its 13 minute runtime. It centers on a blind date between two men — one literally blind, played with a stoic gentleness by Carlton Byrd, who co-wrote the screenplay with Monroe. The visitor, Harvey Gardner Moore, is seductive — shedding his clothes shortly after arriving — and ominous. Like the dinner Byrd is preparing, the tension comes to the boil in a shocking escalation — neither the characters nor the viewer seem sure of where the narrative is headed — but Monroe keeps tight control, easing it down into a skillfully handled, plausible conclusion. It’s quite the bravura turn.
20 min., USA, 2012
ALBERT CHAN’S DEBUT short ticks many boxes for its subject matter: a gay, interracial couple, dealing with adoption and the stress it could place on their marriage. Unfortunately, it’s in the execution where Chan, who wrote, directed and stars in the piece as one half of couple Robert and Ethan, loses control. The Commitment hits every cliché in the book — with a sledgehammer. It’s high quality, and Chan’s direction is certainly competent, but neither he nor his co-star can make much of the weak script, riddled with obvious, clunky dialogue and a twist shoehorned in at the end with zero attempt at subtlety. It’d be unfair to write off The Commitment, as it does touch upon several important issues — and its production values alone shine above most other shorts. If only Chan had been better able to express everything he (and his characters) wanted to say.
7:30 min., Singapore, 2010
THIS FICTIONAL ACCOUNT of a devout Muslim man who, along with his son, travels to see his estranged gay son to set things right, is downright bone-chilling. The Binding of Ishmael is another film in which the less said, the better, but director Taofik Kolade masterfully evokes an atmosphere of quiet resolve. Small things happen that serve as foreshadowing devices — the father suddenly gets sick, something is said that quietly unnerves. Mostly, however, the film’s dusty, amber calm belies the escalation — and it’s a brutally quick escalation — to follow.
6 min., USA, 2010
DOCUMENTARY SHORTS can be hit or miss. This is a very serene, intimate look at a handsome young man named Ewan who has transitioned from a beautiful redhaired girl named Rachel. The film begs for Ewan Duarte to explore the issues he touches upon in a longer feature. What, for instance, happens to the identity of a person before they transition? What’s the impact on a parent who is losing a daughter, but gaining a son? The parents of transgendered persons are often not the focus of the debate, but their reaction, their acceptance, their embracing of the change is central to the well-being of everyone involved. A magnificent film.
3 min., USA, 2012
A SPOOF OF Schoolhouse Rock, featuring original Schoolhouse Rock cast member Essra Mohawk as a Red, White and Blue tornado of a drag queen instructing in all things governmentally gay. The gags go by far too fast to fully absorb and it’s over in a flash. Basically, it’s superb.
7:30 min., USA, 2011
DANIELLE LURIE’S SHORT is indeed quite magical, depicting the budding relationship between a woman and the postman who delivers her mail. Every day, they swap gifts with one another through the letterbox, gradually escalating in value or meaning, revealing more of their personality to one another. Of course, there’s a twist you’ll spot a mile off, but it doesn’t dampen what is, ultimately, a rather sweet little tale, and the potential ambiguity of the ending adds a rather intriguing depth to the entire affair.
2:39 min., Canada, 2011
IF IT FEELS like a commercial for gay rugby, chances are it is a commercial for gay rugby. That said, it’s a pretty good commercial for gay rugby.
14 min., USA, 2013
MICHAEL MORGENSTERN’S DRAMEDY about William and Virgo, two adolescents whose company is forced upon each other during a routine Shabbat dinner, and who subsequently find common sexual ground, is an uneven affair. There’s nothing particularly surprising about the narrative. Nor is there anything particularly illuminating. Like so many shorts, the story is merely padding, a means to a final shot from which we then infer, in our own minds, what happens next. While there’s nothing wrong with inconclusiveness, it’s better when the material has depth (see: Red). The film suffers from choppy editing, poor direction, and a stilted script. Everything feels clunky and wrong. And while Chris London is marginally appealing as William, a young man nervously exploring his sexuality, Dan Shaked is somewhat creepy as Virgo — in part because Shaked appears notably older than London. Perhaps the biggest issue here is that William doesn’t lock his bedroom door when he and Virgo disrobe and get down to business. They might as well have hung a giant sign on the door: “Burst In Now, Folks, We’re Doing It!”
17 min., USA, 2011
NOT ALL SHORT films are created equally, and nowhere is this more evident than The Carrier, which has countless production dollars seeping from every pore. As a result, there’s a fair amount of recognizable talent here: Chad Michael Murray (One Tree Hill), Anna Paquin (True Blood, The Piano) and Rita Wilson (The Good Wife, Girls, Mrs. Tom Hanks). What’s more, overall quality is sumptuously high, with thoughtful direction from Scott Schaefer and a tight script from he and co-writer Colin Borden. The plot centers on Thatcher (Murray), a serial womanizer who suddenly dies, leaving his estranged mother (Wilson) to pick up the pieces. She learns that Thatcher was recently diagnosed as HIV positive, and proceeds to inform his many partners, including Paquin, uncovering snippets of her son’s life she was previously unaware of. It’s the film’s final twist — which isn’t entirely surprising — that concludes seventeen minutes of beautifully portrayed transformation in Wilson’s character. It’s far from perfect, and its LGBT content is minimal at best, but that doesn’t diminish its impact.
3 min., USA, 2012
DIRECTOR, WRITER AND star Fawzia Mirza’s obsessive fascination with Bollywood comes through in this experimental short that reimagines a romantic moment from the 1969 classic, Aradhana, but with a queer twist. The film is a pastiche of images, utilizing time-lapse and split screen to convey gender transformation, as Mirza narrates. Does it work? At three minutes, it hardly matters. It’s over before you know it.
7:30 min., USA, 2010
CHRISTINA CHOE’S SWEET, charming comedy is a one-joke affair, but it’s told well. An awkward, nerdy gay teen (Sean Tarjyoto), who works at his mother’s dry cleaning store, finds himself confronted with the garments of his high school’s prom queen and handsome prom king (Tamir Kapelian). An inevitable fantasy sequence ensues amid the bagged clothes, leading to an amusing kicker ending. The big question is: where did Choe get the bucks to pony up for the rights to Pat Benetar’s “We Belong” and Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me.”
11 min., USA, 2010
IT’S APPARENT THAT a short has the right ingredients when its makers see fit to stretch it into a full-length feature. Such is the case with Gayby, which inspired the eponymous 2012 film — but the original short is itself a wonderful piece, playing marvellously to the constraints of the genre. Writer/director Jonathan Lisecki gives his two actors, Matthew Wilkas and Jenn Harris, plenty to work with, as Harris convinces Wilkas’ gay character to have a baby with her. An awkward sex scene and snappy, humorous dialogue ensues, culminating in a well-earned ambiguous conclusion. Lisecki leaves no room for his performers to lag or stumble on his words, and the chemistry between Harris and Wilkas undoubtedly helped carry their roles to the feature film. Children can disrupt everything, but this short is a glorious exception.
13 min., USA, 2008
WHEN YOU LOOK up director Lance Larson on IMDB, you find he’s made two shorts, one of them this taut thriller. And then you think, with a shred of remorse, “Why isn’t this guy making movies?” Bloom is a knock-down stunner of a film, and one of the few with a plot twist as viscerally horrific as it is emotionally devastating. A night guard at a new car lot must, in the course of one night, contend with the advances of a co-worker, an abusive boss, a needy boyfriend, a car thief, and a pair of vicious guard dogs. Larson juggles multiple actions with dexterity, creating a climax that is painfully brutal. The acting and writing could be a notch better, but it really doesn’t matter when the filmmaking itself is this damn good.
10 min., USA/Israel, 2011
THIS SHORT EXISTS to sell the feature film from which its contents are culled — and in that respect, it utterly succeeds. Offering a candid glimpse into life in Israel and Palestine for gay men on either side of the divide, it touches upon several subjects, all with their own horror stories of the brutality of conservative reactions to their presence. Whether a Palestinian man telling of his mother’s multiple attempts to kill him, simply for being gay, an Israeli man showing the scars he received after being stabbed at a Pride march, or the (somewhat) safe haven a gay bar in Jerusalem provides for the community, Freedom on the Rocks conveys the dangerous reality of life among Orthodox Jews and conservative Muslims. Indeed, homophobia is one thing both sides unfortunately share in common.
13 min., USA, 2007
LEX CONFRONTS HIS advancing years by grabbing a friend and heading to a gay bar, looking to stall the advance of father time by securing a man to take home. The man in question, however, transpires to be deaf — played with doe-eyed innocence by Jason Wittig — and the two strike up a chord after Lex assists Jonathan with his drink order. It would be a disservice to discredit the film, and it’s worth seeing as it touches on topics rarely confronted — namely, that of deaf, gay men, and in this instance the reverse discrimination of Jonathan’s deaf friends rejecting Lex, rather than the reverse — but it’s tough to get past writer/director/star Rick Hammerly’s inexperience in this, his first film. While the signed dialogue is quite touching, spoken words are clichéd, acting is average, and Hammerly can’t disguise the obviously low budget. All could be forgiven if Lex were commiserable, but Hammerly’s desire to make us care about him with little characterization beyond his age leaves a rather cold feeling in its wake.
7 min., France, 2006
A man, overwrought by the loss of his best friend, whom he revealed feelings for, travels to Paris, gets dolled up in very stylish, very pink drag, and goes for a walk — only to have his purse snatched. The ensuing chase is like a French Connection in heels. The purse only had one thing of value in it and the man’s pursuit of that item is at the heart of this short, showing that there’s no price you can put on true love, unrequited or not. To call Diva an oddity would be an understatement, but while it reveals little, in invests in itself a lot of heart.
To watch the shorts, all you’ll need is an active email account and a device capable of streaming the films, or capable of playing them should you choose to download each short. Smartphones, tablets, computers, Google Chromecast, Roku devices and Apple TV all support streaming.
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