Shorts Directed By: Hong Khaou, Michael Simon, Jason Bushman, Timothy Smith, Jean Baptiste Erreca, Damien Rea, Tim Hunter, John Winter, Max Barber
Reviewed By: Timothy Breach
A collection of short films by various different writers and directors from around the world, focusing on LGBT+ issues and thematically linked by the collection title.
Hard love. Hard love? What does hard love mean to you? Is it a one-sided relationship? An abusive relationship? Is it even worth it? The short films in this collection address ‘hard love’ from various different angles, from love for a friend to love for oneself, with varying degrees of success.
There is not a right order or wrong order to watch them in (the DVD menu and the back of the case sometimes differ in their order) but I started with Summer and didn’t regret it. Summer is a coming out story between a guy and his best friend. I know what you’re thinking, ‘I’ve seen it a thousand times’, but wait, Summer does it without the cliché or melodrama we have come to expect. It has a fresh approach. I was also impressed with the performances of the leads. There’s a lightness and sense of reality to it all which can be summed up in my favourite line: “You can’t just nick my leaf!”
Next was Gay Zombie. I’ve only ever seen one other gay zombie film and that was rather strange and explicit… I won’t name it. Gay Zombie definitely took a different approach; comedy. A gay zombie simply wants to find love. However fun it was, and despite the make-up effects being better than expected, there wasn’t anything spectacular about it. In the end I felt that it was too long for the content and too long to stay engaged throughout.
I was also slightly disappointed by Serene Hunter but for different reasons. There is a heavy focus on sex and promiscuity which (don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude) fed into pre-conceived ideas and stereotypes of gay identities. I know that such people exist and I am not judging them, but I know that there is more to those people but often this is overlooked in the media. The question that persisted in my mind was ‘Is Luc actually a hunter or is he just a commitment-phobe?’ Many of us try and project an image of who we think we should be when in fact we are completely different.
Things certainly picked up with Le Weekend. I don’t want to give too much away about it because it is something that you need to watch to experience. In essence, it is a straight guy’s perspective on the gay lifestyle… there’s some juicy deceit to keep you hooked. Everything from the cinematography to the dialogue works beautifully together to create a short that is thoroughly captivating from start to finish. However, I would be interested to get a French speakers opinion on it; maybe the language made it seem more alluring than it actually is.
Cowboy Forever is a beautiful (if too long) exploration of a gay Brazilian’s friendship with the new guy on the ranch; the gay guy is in the closet. It beautifully explores a mutual love between friends. Despite one wanting more than the other, it never truly becomes an issue and isn’t milked for dramatic effect. It was beautiful to watch a compelling short focussed on mutual respect and love rather than sex. If I were to pick a hole with it, it was rather long… maybe too long, with the pace dragging in places.
There was a change of tone with Scarred, as you can probably tell from the title. This one is hard to sum up without giving anything away; if I say the wrong thing, the twist is revealed. So how can I whet your appetite; Nudity, sex and violence? Is that enough? How about a cliff-hanger? Scarred was simple yet executed effectively. It keeps you engaged and I personally was surprised by the twist… maybe I’m blind to these things though. What I am unsure about however is whether karma exists or whether gays can be psychos. Let me know what you think!
Let’s skip past Packed Lunch, unless a documentary about Speedos is your thing?
After the yawn inducing Speedos documentary was possibly the best short in the collection; Mirror Mirror. One actor, one person but two characters. Confused? Mirror Mirror is a heart-wrenching story of a man saying goodbye to his drag alter-ego. It beautifully explores the relationship between the two sides of the character and shows how they are almost two different people who, over time, have become so entwined that it has become destructive to the man behind the make-up. Love for oneself is the most important love of all, and this love drove a man to give up something he loved; how more moving can it get? For me it is hard to fault anything besides the fact that it ended.
So how do you follow that? Well you can’t top the drama so comedy is the best option and VGL-Hung fits the bill. To those under 20, you may never have experienced a chatroom. Chatroom, what’s that you ask. It’s a thing that was popular before smartphones and Grindr or Tinder. It’s how people met online, hooked up and dated. They still exist you know (but I won’t promote a site I know because you may hunt me down!). VGL-Hung is a fun insight into gay dating culture in the late 00’s and very much pokes fun at the clichés, expectancy and lingo. It may feel dated in places but many of the points it makes are still relevant today.
An Interview with Actor-Director Adi Spektor
Movie Marker Magazine sat down with award-winning actor/director, Adi Spektor to talk acting, making movies in Hollywood and his latest role in ‘The Miracle of Hanukkah’.
Can you tell us a little about your early beginnings living in Poland?
When I was growing up in communistic Poland, there weren’t many opportunities for child actors, so when I was a kid, I would create puppet shows for my sister and we would play for hours. Other times, I would come up with different characters and would interact with her as that character. She really believed that I was someone else. It was fun. Also, although my parents are supportive of my acting career now, at the time, they wanted me to become a doctor, so acting professionally wasn’t even an option for me then. So unfortunately, I never had a chance to study acting in Poland.
What inspired you to take the acting journey?
I was always interested in human beings, why they are the way they are, what drives them, what’s important to them and why. I wondered what it would be like to be someone else for a short period of time. Acting gives you an opportunity to experience that, and there is no way you could have this experience in real life. I like to see and feel what it is like to “walk in someone else’s shoes”. As an actor you can do that, and then come back safely to your regular life.
You have co-starred in some hot TV shows and movies. Can you tell us a little about your most recent roles and have you enjoyed one more than another?
I played a Latvian gangster in ‘Rizzoli & Isles’ which was really fun to play, since I had to learn Latvian dialogue for it and I don’t speak the language. In ‘Scandal’ I played a Russian art dealer, who is double crossed and killed. Recently I had the chance to work with one of Hollywood’s legendary directors in a new studio blockbuster movie that will be in the theaters all over the world in the summer 2017. That was a real treat and I learned a lot from this experience. I am usually cast as some kind of Eastern European bad guy, so I especially like the characters that I have never had a chance to play before. Like for example the role in my film ‘A Miracle of Hanukkah’, I was playing a loving, Jewish gay guy who is also into BDSM and the supernatural. Completely different!
Your recent lead role in the film ‘A Miracle on Hanukkah’ you wrote, produced, directed and starred in. Can you tell us about the film and how you came up with the idea?
I like to make films with an uncommon and unpredictable story line. I have seen many films about exorcism, but the story line in them is very similar and there is usually a priest involved as one of the characters. Since I am Jewish and I speak fluent Hebrew, I wanted to create a Jewish version of the exorcism, which would give me an opportunity to use my language skills as well. Also, I didn’t want it to be a horror. When I was visiting a friend of mine, I saw a beautiful hanukkiah (menorah made just for Hanukkah) in his house and I borrowed it. This is how I decided that my film would take place during the first day of Hanukkah. The story line just came while I was already writing the screenplay.
You have made two award-winning smartphone movies. Can you tell us how this idea came about?
I decided to produce my first iPhone film after I was a Juror at the iPhone Film Festival, and saw the quality of these films. We had a script and a director, but the rest was up to me. It was a challenge because this kind of production wasn’t very popular at the time, we had to learn as we went along. The production took 10 days and I soaked up a lot of practical knowledge. The process inspired me to want to direct my own film, so I decided to challenge myself and shoot it on iPhone 5s. It was a success. ‘How to Rob a House’ has been screened all over the world and has won multiple awards.
What type of genre of film or TV show are you drawn to traditionally?
It depends on the day. Sometimes I like to watch a fast pace action film, another time a horror or a comedy. As an actor, I am more drawn to characters than the genre of film. I like to explore new characters that I have never had a chance to perform.
When you are not acting, what do you enjoy to do?
Physical and mental fitness is very important to me. I train in the gym on average 4 days, 2-3 hours at a time. I also love to read. So, I try to read as much as possible, both in English and Polish, to keep my vocabulary up to speed. When I have time, I try to watch as many movies as I can. I enjoy watching movies, but I also watch them as an actor and as a director. When I like the specific light they are using or a camera angle, I try to remember it, so maybe I can use it later in my productions. At times, I watch interviews with well accomplished directors, trying to pick their brains. There is still so much to learn, and internet is a great source of all kinds of knowledge.
What can we expect to see you doing over the next few months?
Presently, I am writing my first feature film, which is much more complicated than writing a short. There are many more story lines that must come together, there are more characters to develop etc. Also, it’s more challenging to keep an audience’s attention for 90 minutes rather than a 7-minute short! We are hopefully starting production in 2017.
Holding The Man
Reviewer: Freda Cooper
Director: Neil Armfield
Stars: Ryan Corr, Craig Stott, Anthony LaPaglia, Guy Pearce, Kerry Fox, Geoffrey Rush, Sarah Snook
Released: June 3rd, 2016
Cast your mind back to the mid-80s, when the world became aware of AIDS. There’d been deaths among the San Francisco gay community and in the UK we had those doom laden TV commercials. Designed to inflict the maximum amount of fear, they came with a built-in stigma. But what about the rest of the world? What about Australia, home of the ‘mate’?
Which is exactly where “Holding The Man” is set, a country that doesn’t immediately come to mind when you think about gay culture or the 80s epidemic. So it gives us a different angle on a piece of social history that we think we already know.
This is director Neil Armfield’s adaptation of Timothy Conigrave’s book of the same name, about his 15 year relationship with John Caleo. After meeting at school in their teens, they stayed together until the early 90s, surviving separation while Tim (Ryan Corr) went to drama school, the occasional temptation along the way and the opposition of John’s (Craig Stott) parents. And their devotion becomes even stronger when they are both diagnosed as HIV positive.
Essentially a personal story, it’s set against the sweeping background of social change, at a time when legal and social attitudes towards the gay community started to show the first signs of shifting, but when AIDS first appeared and was viewed as a death sentence. And it’s the personal side of things that really hits you between the eyes.
Both boys are from conventional, middle class families and attend a Catholic school. John’s family are devout Catholics and he’s the more reserved of the two, taking his time over the relationship. He’s also more conscious of pressure from school and his family, especially his father (Anthony LaPaglia) who never comes to terms with the relationship. Tim’s parents (Guy Pearce and Kerry Fox) are more tolerant and eventually more accepting. And, if there’s an award for a Best Supporting Put-Up Bed, it has to go to the one in the Conigrave household, where it’s used by John on his visits: later it moves to the hospital, where it’s occupied by Tim on overnight stays.
This is a film that sneaks up on you – and how. You know in your heart of hearts how things are going to end, whether you’ve read the book or not, but the first two thirds of the film are filled with charm, laughter and warmth, regardless of the struggles faced by the couple. And they’re very appealing: showy, aspiring actor Tim, who discovers that he’s never going to set the acting world alight, and the quieter, more grounded John with those lush eyelashes and thick, dark hair. They draw you into their world, you get to know them, you laugh with them – and out of nowhere comes the hammer blow.
Knowing about their diagnosis doesn’t lessen the shock. It’s because you’re hoping against hope that maybe there’s a treatment that will mean they can stay together. But this is the late 80s and early 90s and today’s medication was a long way in the distance.
The performances are excellent, especially Ryan Corr as the irrepressible Tim, who loves to challenge attitudes. But it’s Anthony LaPaglia who really stands out in the plum role of John’s dad, a man who dearly loves his son but finds it impossible to understand, let alone tolerate, his lifestyle. His only way of coping with his son being in hospital is to quibble with Tim over the items John plans to leave his will. You instinctively despise the man for being so intransigent, but you also find a twinge of sympathy for him. As he says to Tim, everybody “knows” about him and John. They may know, but that doesn’t mean they understand. He most certainly doesn’t. He can’t. And he knows it.
Comparisons with “Brokeback Mountain” are inevitable and a touch too easy. Yes, there are parallels but real similarities between Jack and Ennis and Tim and John are few, especially when it comes to social attitudes. The ending is devastating. Especially because it’s true. And tissues are compulsory.
LGBT History Month Review – Lilting
Director: Hong Khaou
Cast: Ben Whishaw, Cheng Pei Pei, Naomi Christie, Andrew Leung, Peter Bowles
I have chosen to review the recent feature film Lilting to celebrate LGBT History Month, the first feature from London-based filmmaker Hong Khaou. Starring the endearing Ben Whishaw as Richard, Lilting tells the story of the how Richard copes when his partner Kai dies suddenly, and how he longs to share his grief with Kai’s Cambodian-Chinese mother, Junn. They do not share a common language, but Richard recruits an amateur translator who struggles to bring Richard’s profound grief to light without dealing with the secret we dance around- that Kai was gay.
The film, although clouded in grief and sorrow from beginning to end, is utterly charming. You are locked into a time warp with Kai’s mother, Junn, expertly played by Pei-pei Cheung, with heartbreaking dreamy flashbacks of Kai visiting her, that arrive unannounced to break into her day. Whishaw is greeted with frosty suspicion, and he hovers in the background, keen to hold onto any link with the ultimate love of his life. Set in contemporary London, we flit between Richard’s hectic flat and the vintage-themed care home Junn now resides in, which brings a dark comic tinge to the scenes as the characters remain unnerved and uncomfortable during the first visits.
The struggle to connect the two vastly conflicting cultures of modern day London and Junn’s traditional Chinese background palpitates throughout the film, with a concluding crescendo which burns brightly and passionately, breaking the barriers between Richard and Junn. At last, a common language is found in the grief that they share for the person they most cared about.
I chose this film because it is so much more than a film about two protagonists playing out a LGBT relationship as, indeed, that part of the narrative has already happened. It’s a universal love story centred around grief and an all-inhabiting relationship. In the way that audiences turn to Brief Encounter or Roman Holiday as their go-to classic romance, I also go to Lilting. Dealing with a subject as profound and tragic as the loss of the ‘one great love’ as delicately and as interestingly as it does is a real success, especially for a first feature. We are also able to see the struggles that Kai had with the lack of cultural understanding about his relationship within his family, which is both fascinating and significant for modern audiences. The struggle to come out to his family was a very real one, and how much did he have to sacrifice in order to keep this a secret? With such a young death, it seems to drive home to view that it’s so much better to live openly and honestly, especially as his mother fully embraces her son and his life by the end of her journey in the film.
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