The fest is now in its eighth year and has recently seen its stock go up considerably, with backing from the Sundance Channel. Organizer and local PBS personality Ernie Manouse says he believes the Houston fest will come into its own this year, establishing a distinctive identity. "In the past, it's been more of a hodgepodge," he says. "But this year, I see a real playful overall mood coming together, although I'd hesitate to call it exactly lighthearted. Also, more than most festivals, this one is increasingly about spotlighting the filmmaker as artist rather than focusing on the commercial side of things, which is something I'm very proud of."
Tuesday's Boy Shorts collection of mini-films is not to be missed, says curator Lisa Haymes. "It's quite an eclectic mix. Some are funny, some are quite dramatic, and I guarantee that at least one of them is extremely sexy, regardless of your orientation." Haymes also raves about Vegas in Space, a 1991 sci-fi drag flick that she calls her "favorite campy movie ever made." The film stars and was co-written by the late legendary San Francisco drag queen Doris Fish.
For even older-school cross-dressers, the festival will be hosting several showings of John Waters's milestone 1972 dogshit-gobbling, chicken-crushing, egg-fetishizing, furniture-licking, trailer-burning masterpiece, Pink Flamingos. While Waters and his outlaw sensibility are identifiably gay, and Divine is most assuredly a man dressed as (some sort of) woman, Flamingos is more of an ode to transgression-for-its-own-sake than anything else.
And landing on the more somber side of the drag issue is the documentary Wendy Chicago, which tells the poignant tale of the titular 70-year-old Houston-based drag queen over her half-century career of drunkenness, delusion and glamour, covering the period in drag history when practitioners could land in jail on any given night.
Other offerings include Gypsy 83, a tale about two teens growing up in a provincial town, and the comedy Touch of Pink, in which Kyle MacLachlan plays Cary Grant (see the full film review, page 47).
"This year we've really condensed the festival down," says Manouse. "In the past it's just gone on and on and on, but this time we've worked with the Angelika and the Landmark River Oaks to really fit the same amount of material into just over a week." To make it that much easier for neophytes to satisfy their cine-curiosity, this year's opening party is completely free of charge. "Yup. Free food for everyone and no admission to the first showing of Touch of Pink," Manouse says. "You really can't afford not to go."