Gay Festfor Films

The Gay and Lesbian Film Festival opens with the British import Get Real, a film that didn't necessarily sound promising. It's the story of 16-year-old Steven Carter and his struggles to fit in with his peers at his upper-middle-class British high school. Steven is gay, which is fine with him. He has known since he was 11, and he's generally pretty happy about the possibilities. He is anguished, however, by the fact that he has to keep his true nature a secret from everyone except the girl next door, Linda, his best pal. Inevitably, the film traces Steven's coming out and the world's adjustment to his reality.

The ad campaign and trailers make it clear that this is too sunny a film to have Steven's revelation end in tragedy, so there was the fear going in that the story's arc would already be known and that its targets would be too easy -- especially when compared to some of the more confrontational offerings of the ten-day festival, which has 15 feature and short film presentations at six venues. The festival ends June 6 with The Celluloid Closet and a panel discussion at the Angelika Film Center.

In Get Real, festival organizers found a fitting opening film. It turns out that director Simon Shore and writer Patrick Wilde (the movie is based on his play What's Wrong with Angry?) have delivered an extremely well made film. Their characters are so well observed that the story's twists and turns manage to surprise and satisfy even when viewers should have seen them coming.

Young Ben Silverstone is immediately empathetic as Steven, portraying him as both vulnerable in his yearning for acceptance and extremely strong in the way he has learned to accept himself, a strength that grows, of course, as the story progresses.

The film opens with Steven increasingly restless at school and at home. He's far too self-absorbed, too obsessed with figuring out a way to become his own true self, to pay much attention to the institutional world around him. Instead of doing the homework Dad keeps harping on (Dad, as grimly played by David Lumsden, is the film's one disappointingly conventional note), he starts hanging around public toilets, looking for love in all the wrong places. Silverstone captures nicely the purity of heart that Steven carries into the toilet and which he manages to preserve even when the double-dealing man he meets there turns out to be quite a disappointment.

Steven is even more interested in honesty than in sex. The same is true of only one other character, his best pal, Linda (Charlotte Brittain). She's a chunky girl in love with her driving instructor. The film never makes clear if she's really a terrible driver or if she just pretends to be in order to keep taking lessons from the balding, middle-aged man of her dreams.

Linda is earthy where Steven can be a bit ethereal, and she keeps the film's celluloid feet on terra firma. Because of the shape of her body, Linda is also something of a vulnerable outsider, but, unlike Steven, she's devoid of self-pity. There's a bit of Sancho Panza and Don Quixote to their relationship. Steven is an idealist, determined to live the impossible dream, while Linda is quite down to earth, especially when she's telling Steven he'll never land the man he pines for the most because that man, fellow student John Dixon (Brad Gorton), is also the target of every girl in school.

Gorton's performance as John is perhaps the pivotal element in the film's success. Not that he's more empathetic than Silverstone, but his character -- the school's golden boy: beautiful, rich, talented, Oxford-bound -- could have easily played as a set of attributes, rather than as a character.

Instead Gorton makes John's dilemma quite compelling. He returns Steven's love, but he's grimly determined to keep their relationship a secret. And it's hard to judge the young man harshly. Unlike Steven, John is being asked to give up a very powerful illusion, that he's flawless in both pedigree and character. Gorton conveys both his torment and his beauty.

It's still Silverstone's show, however. His Steven is deeply moving. In his most open and vulnerable moments, he opens up so completely you can almost see the light pouring through him. This is as good a coming-of-age story as has been presented in some time.

Check out the festival Web site at Call festival venues for prices and showtimes. Offerings include:

*The Aurora Picture Show [800 Aurora (in the Heights), (713)868-2101] presents a collection of shorts such as Scent Uva Butch and He Would Have Loved Me to Death.

*DiverseWorks [1117 East Freeway, (713)228-0914] has shorts, including Fireworks, acclaimed British director Kenneth Anger's first attempt at gay themes, made when he was 17, and Pink Narcissus. There are Lesbians on the Edge, My Cunt and Nice Girls Don't Do It, a "how-to" on female ejaculation.

*The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston [1001 Bissonnet, (713)639-7515] presents films such as the highly regarded Greek Cavafy, which chronicles the life of the great poet of the Mediterranean C.P. Cavafy, and Dear Jesse, a documentary in which a gay Southerner attempts to come to grips with the dark legacy of fellow Carolinian Jesse Helms. Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming college student who was later beaten to death, is among those interviewed in that film.

*The Rice Media Center [University at Stockton, on the Rice campus, (713)527-4853] presents the most challenging entry, Hallelujah. It documents the dangerous and painful career of performance artist Ron Athey, groomed to follow in the footsteps of his father, a Pentecostal minister. Now he goes onstage and creates his own personal crown of thorns, which causes him to bleed very real blood. And wait till you see what he does with scrotums.

Relax... It's Just Sex is the only other festival film which will have a commercial run (sometime in June). Lone Star Hate is a Brit documentary about a homophobia-inspired murder in Tyler.

*Film Theaters The Angelika [(713)225-5232] shows The Celluloid Closet, a documentary about closeted gays in Hollywood. Landmark's River Oaks Theatre and Greenway Theatre [(713)626-0402] will run Get Real during the festival and afterward, followed by Relax... It's Just Sex.

The Gay and Lesbian Film Festival runs from May 28 through June 6 at six venues.


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