‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ and ‘Song Lang’ Tie for the Audience Award at Rochester’s ImageOut Film Festival – Awards Daily

Joey Moser details the films he saw at Rochester’s 27th annual gay and lesbian film festival.

I’ve lived in Rochester for almost 3 years, and one of the events I look forward to the most every year is ImageOut, the premiere gay and lesbian film festival. Due to some scheduling issues in the last two years, I was only ever able to catch maybe two or three titles, but I was able to see at least one title a day this time around. ImageOut features a lot of foreign titles and documentaries in addition to their narrative features, and this year was packed with exceptional films.

The Best of the Fest

The opening night selection was Chanya Button’s Vita & Virginia, a romantic retelling of the letters between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West (played by Elizabeth Debicki and Gemma Arterton, respectively). Since it was the first film, the screening was properly packed–I found myself in the front row, overwhelmed by the amount of gorgeous costumes–and the audience members I spoke to afterwards were praising the selection as a great way to kick off the festival.

The films of ImageOut represent over 20 different countries, including Iran, Luxembourg, and The Philippines, and half of the films I saw this year were not in the English language. Lucio Castro’s End of the Century won the Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature, and it was a constant topic of conversation as the festival continued. The film plays around with our perception of time and memory, and it didn’t hurt that it was one of the sexier films that played. The Prince, a pulpy prison drama, is a violent and engrossing film about a young man who finds himself part of a makeshift family as he serves time, and the quiet, lovely Jose follows a young man as he navigates living in Guatemala City with his religious mother who prays for him to have a better life.

(Karslake during the Q&A for ‘For The Know Not What They Do’; photo: ImageOut)

There were two documentaries that handled being gay with religion in very different ways. For They Know Not What They Do was an emotional experience that I wasn’t expecting. Since the Supreme Court supported Marriage Equality, conservatives have tried to use religious freedom as a way to discriminate those part of the LGBTQIA+ community. The film follows several families with queer or transgender kids, and director Daniel Karslake told the audience, in a Skype Q&A, that he made the film for parents specifically in mind. He even keeps in touch and spends time with Linda & Rob Robertson, a couple who were encouraged by the evangelical church to put their son into conversion therapy. As the film progressed, you could hear people sniffling and crying throughout.

Gay Chorus Deep South (which is getting a big Oscar push from MTV Films after it was acquired) had a more uplifting response from the crowd towards the end of ImageOut. The doc follows 300 members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus as they embark on the Lavender Pen tour across conservatives states in the south. Every time the chorus opens their mouths to sing as a group, you could feel it radiate through the Dryden Theater, and it had a loud applause once the credits started to roll. It’s a film about spreading love and acceptance and, most importantly, understanding. It’s the kind of documentary that anyone could watch.

Of the short films presented, I really enjoyed Sweater by Nick Borenstein’s Sweater. It’s funny, to the point, and a reminder that all short films don’t have to be gloomy. I admit that whenever a brief moment of the short popped up in the ImageOut commercial before each film, I danced around a bit in my chair.

The festival ended with the filmed presentation of the West End’s Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, a fun, sparkly musical about a 16 year old kid who has aspirations of becoming a famous drag queen. Even though a feature film adaptation (starring Richard E. Grant and Sharon Horgan) will debut next year, it is like Kinky Boots, The Prom, and Billy Elliot had a fabulous, charismatic baby. It was the right film to put everyone in the mood for the closing night festivities.

Special Guests

One of the films I was most excited to see this year wasn’t even a newer film. The romantic comedy, Trick, has been celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and director Jim Fall was in attendance for an interview after the screening. I was freaking out for multiple reasons. I have never seen Trick on the big screen, and ImageOut played a gorgeous 35mm print of the film. I was fortunate enough to meet Fall at the festival, and he revealed details about the long-awaited Trick 2–the only sequel you will hear me saying that I want.

(Director Jim Fall and ImageOut Programming Director Michael Gamilla; photo: ImageOut)

Trick meant a lot to me as a teenager, because it was the first gay film that I saw that wasn’t about coming out and it wasn’t about getting sick. In the late 1990’s, you could only find gay movies about kids getting kicked out of the house or characters finding out they have HIV, so Trick made me feel normal and hopeful as a younger gay guy embarking on my own coming of age. Fall detailed what it was like to include drag legend Miss Coco Peru in his film, working with Tori Spelling (who is freaking great in the movie), and how the legacy of Trick has endured and grown.

At one of the shorts presentations (“Something’s Comin’ Over Me”), director Aaron Immediato and actor Ben Baur sat down to speak about their projects. Immediato’s Bathroom Troll is a fun, bloody short about a young girl who is teased in the bathroom at school, and her witch mother calls upon an ancient evil to dispose of the mean girls. It has a lot of nods to Carrie and has a great scrappy vibe. Immediato told the audience that he wanted to make something fun that dealt with serious topics like the hateful bathroom bills that have been popping up all over the country. In The Office Is Mine, Baur’s character is the only gay guy in his office, but when a new gay gets hired, things take a bloody and hilarious turn. It’s a fun, ridiculous short that echoes true behavior from gay men when they think they aren’t special or feel threatened.

Award Winners

(Program Director Michael Gamilla leads a conversation with Aaron Immediato and Ben Baur following the presentation of their short films)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Song Lang tied for the top Audience Award prize this year. Portrait played on the final day of the festival, and I was a worried that the audience wasn’t with it since it was so quiet in the theater. The film is so sumptuous and hypnotic, but people were vocal towards the end and when the credits rolled. If France would have picked Portrait to be its contender for International Film (the urgent Les Miserables was selected instead), it would have been a worthy nominee. Song Lang is a quieter love story between an actor of a regional opera house and a debt collector who comes around when the company is in financial straits.

In addition to End of the Century taking the Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature, Changing the Game took the Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature. I was fortunate enough to sit on the jury for the short films, and Stigma took the Jury Award for Best Short Film. Structured like a monster horror film, Stigma starts off with a gay hook up but ends after a gross bug bites one of the young men during the act. A lot of LGBT cinema deals with sickness and infection, but with advances towards eradicating HIV, it’s the first film that I’ve ever seen that has updated the narrative of living with disease and moving forward from it.

For They Know ended up taking the Audience Award for Documentary Feature with Gay Chorus taking the Runner Up spot. Karslake joked at the end of his Q&A that his documentary didn’t yet have a distributor and audience awards help with that. Fingers crossed that it lands a backer soon. Wonder, a sweet short about a young boy who wants to be Wonder Woman for Halloween won the Audience Award for Best Short Film with The One You Never Forget as the Runner Up. Both shorts deal with fathers supporting their sons in unpredictable ways, so maybe kindness and empathy are winning over? Everybody’s Talking About Jamie was awarded a Special Audience Award for Best Cinematic Experience.

ImageOut is always a worthwhile endeavor because of the diverse films that are presented (thanks to the tireless efforts of Program Director Michael Gamilla and his team) and the talent that makes the trip to upstate New York. It’s a smaller gay and lesbian film festival than Outfest Los Angeles or NewFest in New York City, but Rochester’s festival definitely gives those ventures a run for their money with the variety of films selected every year.

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