IndieFest returns to the Roxie with LGBTQ cinematic selections

  • by Brian Bromberger
  • Tuesday January 31, 2023
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'The Affairs of Lidia,' '#LookAtMe' and '(In)Convenience'
'The Affairs of Lidia,' '#LookAtMe' and '(In)Convenience'

SF IndieFest provides alternatives you won't find at the multiplex or popular streaming services. The 25th annual festival will be presented at the Roxie Theater from February 2 to 9, and online through virtual cinema from February 2 to February 12.

Director Ken Kwek's Singaporean film "#LookAtMe," revolves around twin brothers Sean and Ricky Mazuki, who live with their mother Nancy. Sean is gay and Ricky has a girlfriend Mia, who invites the brothers to her evangelical megachurch where they hear Pastor Josiah Long preach a homophobic sermon, enraging them. Sean creates a vlog attacking Long that goes viral, resulting in him being arrested for defamation and sentenced to two years in prison. Infuriated by the injustice, Ricky becomes a prominent LGBTQ activist. The whole situation has tragic consequences for the entire family.

"#LookAtMe" succeeds most of the time, though there is dissonance between the family melodrama and prison exploitation scenes. The film was banned in Singapore for "its potential to cause enmity and social division." The film spotlights the hypocrisy of homosexuality now being legal and tolerated as long as LGBTQ people keep a low profile. The ending, a sort of vengeance fantasy, takes a surprise twist, which queer audiences will relish.

The festival has always been noted for its innovative LGBTQ offerings and this year is no exception. Bruce LaBruce, perhaps the most controversial/offensive queercore filmmaker, presents his latest, "The Affairs of Lidia" an erotic comedy custom-made for SF IndieFest. LaBruce loves exploring shocking sexual taboos in his unique explicit style, often using a fetish as a springboard (i.e. intergenerational relationships in "Gerontophilia;" twincest in "Saint-Narcissus," and amputee fetishism in "Hustler White") to lambast cultural norms.

Fashion model Lidia discovers her boxer husband Michelangelo, is having an affair with a fashion photographer named Sandro. She plots her revenge. LaBruce skewers the fashion industry, especially its woke mentality to sell products and how it plasters brands all over people's bodies. "Lidia" presents his most transgressive subject ever, heterosexual sex, though despite ample nudity, there's no penetration shown. High-end pornography, it works within its own perverse boundaries, but clearly won't be everyone's cup of tea. Still slaying haute couture's sacred cows never seemed so hilarious, especially in the outrageous modeling paint scene. Warning: prolific straight copulation might be upsetting to queer audiences.

'Let's Meet Halfway'  

Charlie and Avery are a long-distance lesbian couple falling out of love in "Let's Meet Halfway." They link up once a month in a rural Northern Californian town. The film charts their relationship's decline over six months where revealed secrets create upheaval. The premise is more promising than the execution. We never find out about the past history and background of their partnership, so we can't empathize with either character nor the plight of their affair. The audience has to fill in too many gaps and the irregular pacing becomes tedious. Directors Dana Deveris and Max Schmita avoid making the film too talky and both actresses are doing their damnedest to create plausible chemistry between these mismatched characters.

Short & sweet
The best queer films at SF IndieFest 25 are shorts. "Hotter Up Close" centers on geeky nerd barista Chris, who is dealing with two life crises: a recent break up with Brad, and turning 30. Glamour-puss Aiden walks into the coffee shop, wishes Chris a happy birthday, and invites him to a pool party. Chris is reluctant to attend, but fellow workmate and BBF Dana, encourages him to risk putting himself out there. Is Aiden flirting with him or just being a friend?

'Hotter Up Close'  

Christopher Matias Aquila wrote the script and stars as Chris. The story is somewhat predictable, but Chris —who starts off as an awkward stereotype believing he doesn't deserve love— comes to realize that as a sensitive guy he has something to offer. It's a subtle jab at image/ status-conscious LA with the film urging one to be true to oneself. Aquila is hilarious and the slick humor dialogue contrasts effectively with the pathos elements. He's developing this short into an auspicious TV program. Not stellar, but "Hotter" is an unexpected charmer.

At less than four minutes, "Last Call" is a tender experimental magical realist montage salute to the closing of the landmark Stud bar here in San Francisco. It blends past and present to reveal how much history has been lost with its closure.

"Queer Science" focuses on a female scientist who accidentally shrinks her comedian girlfriend to the size of a Brussels sprout, and yes, it's as dumb as it sounds. At 7.5 minutes, it's just the right amount of time for a restroom break.

"The Sweetest Oblivion" is a kind of spy caper about two female lovers who discover a mysterious briefcase and get entangled in a larceny scheme involving their boss, with disastrous results. With too much ambiguity and not enough believable intrigue, this film noir wannabe winds up going nowhere.

"Albedo or Apples and Oranges" is billed as a "quiet rumination on the first stirrings of desire between two teenage boys after an ambiguous encounter." We would substitute vague for quiet and emphasize ambiguous. This short is a meditation on desire, especially on what masculinity means in 2023, especially when challenging the grey line between friendship and relationship. It doesn't deliver on its premise and you leave wondering what was the point of the story.

'Albedo or Apples and Oranges'  

"The Girl That Got Away," though a heart-wrenching cautionary tale, is a festival highlight. Angel, at 64, is an HIV+ Mexican-American actor in San Francisco, often playing heavies and villains, who must decide whether to continue playing cis male roles on and offscreen after finally accepting that he identifies as female. Angel is in and out of the trans closet, suffers from depression, and is afraid of meeting other trans people because, "they would bring me all the way out."

Angel's too scared to be the person he really is. While out to his Dixon, California family as gay (and attending the town's first Pride), Angel's reluctant to say anything about being trans, "because I'm afraid of losing them... There's always something stopping me." Angel remains hopeful his goal of transparency can be met this year and the audience in tears will be rooting for Angel every step of the way.

"(In)Convenience" follows Kirby, a mid-twenties trans man, during his first few months on testosterone. He heads to the local mini-mart in San Francisco to pick up tampons for himself, where cashier Phoebe is impressed by a man secure enough to buy those feminine pads for his girlfriend. Kirby doesn't correct her.

He continues to make regular trips to the store with best friend/roommate Kevin, encouraging his tentative but growing interest in Phoebe. Will Kirby tell Phoebe the truth and how will she react? The frisson between Kirby and Phoebe is playful and titillating. There's more erotic tension here in 10 minutes than in 90 minutes of "Let's Meet Halfway." We really care whether Kirby and Phoebe can spark a romantic connection. "(In)Convenience" is a pure delight and the best queer film of SF IndieFest 25.

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