Rating: (4 out of 5) Saturday, 10/17/2009, 11:00 AM Feature presentation, $10 at Goethe Institut Inter Nationes
IVY BOTTINI’S FACE is memorable. And, in that this advocate for elder GLBT people isn’t particularly famous, seeing her pop up again at this year’s Reel Affirmations festival may give you a of feeling of déjà vu.
It’s not your imagination.
If you have an interest in documentaries exploring the struggles particular to GLBT elders, you likely caught Michael Jacoby’s feature documentary Ten More Good Years at the 2008 festival. Bottini wasn’t one of his featured subjects, but she was there to comment in that film about four other GLBT seniors in the Los Angeles area.
This year, Bottini returns in Carolyn Coal’s documentary of Triangle Square, a subsidized Hollywood apartment complex built to house low-income GLBT seniors. Bottini isn’t living there, but she’s still advocating. It’s a welcome reunion, one with a somewhat happier ending.
Whereas Jacoby gave us the stark realities of how gay seniors may suffer from government and community neglect, Coal’s film follows seven elderly GLBT people in the L.A. area trying to secure housing in Triangle Square. In that Coal has achieved the goal of a documentary filmmaker — presenting reality as fully as possible, in a way that pricks audience empathy — her production company, Bittersweet Productions, fits her movie to a T.
She could have edited out those who didn’t secure one of the sought-after apartments through the resident lottery, and presented simply a triumph of community effort. Instead, she forces us to take the bad with the good.
The thorough Coal offers profiles of her subjects, nearly any one of whom could stand alone as the subject of a documentary, from the closeted lesbian who flees to Hawaii with her two sons to avoid losing custody, only to be institutionalized, to the gay man who is marched off his Air Force base at gunpoint after being outed. Coal gives each subject depth with a filmmaker’s efficiency.
A Place To Live moves at an engaging pace. Coal, however, obviously took many months with her movie, following construction, interviewing all those involved, including architects, housing advocates, financial backers, etc. We go through the lottery process with each applicant, suffering with some, celebrating with others.
Contemplating the lives of GLBT seniors — particularly ones of limited means — isn’t nearly as sexy as so many of the other topics that might be appropriate at a gay film festival. But Coal’s film never drags through its 88 minutes. It’s compelling, engaging, provocative and emotional. Surprisingly, thanks to interviews with Queer As Folk star and elder-advocate Robert Gant, Coal even delivers a little bit of sexy to boot.
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