Sometimes an e-mail can fill me with major anxiety, like the mass e-mail I received urging me to go see Finn’s Girl. “Give it a great first weekend,” it read.
Uh-oh, I worried. I’d seen it at Inside Out and it wasn’t very good. It’s a perfectly decent festival entry – a film you’d want to see with a queer audience at a queer fest – but not something you’d throw $15 at in a first-run theatre.
In fact, Finn’s Girl represents one of the problems with our queer film festival. At the last fest, the documentaries were excellent, but, with the exception of the fine opener, Like A Virgin, the features were kind of pathetic.
Why can’t a queer fest program decent features?
Some of it has to do with the mainstreaming of queer content. In the post-?Will And Grace/Ellen age, queerness has come in from the margins. Queer As Folk is so last millennium. We’ve seen Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, Exes & Ohs has brought a new reality to lesbo life, everyone’s loving The L Word, and now Callie and Hahn are getting it on in Grey’s Anatomy. Why play at a queer film fest when queers are the rage on prime-time network TV?
According to film critic B. Ruby Rich, another problem is that we’re in an age of post-?gay cinema, when queer filmmakers – Todd Haynes, for example, or even our own John Greyson – aren’t only making identity politics films any more.
So what? I’m Not There, featuring Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan, still has a queer sensibility and, some might argue, Greyson couldn’t make a non-gay film if he tried. So start programming their films, no matter what the subject. The Patti Smith documentary slated at this year’s Inside Out was a reach in terms of its “gay” label. That’s all right. Keep ’em coming.
Some of the best queer pics come into the theatres – unless they’re dumb comedies like I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry – without a whisper about their gay content. Consider The Edge Of Heaven, one of the best films of any kind this year, a hit at Cannes and now playing first-run venues. I’d wager a lot of gay people don’t even know it features a lesbian relationship.
That can happen because distributors worry that the queer label will keep the masses away. Even distributors who love the queer content prefer to screen at the big film fests – Cannes, TIFF, even Sundance – and not at a festival with a narrow queer focus.
That’s been a problem for Inside Out for a while. But in Inside Out’s earlier days, the festival pressed its advisory board to get the better films onto the program. Famous Players honcho John Bailey, for example, used to pick up the phone and talk filmmakers into screening at the festival. Those were the days when Inside Out scored films like High Art and The Brandon Teena Story.
Not to say the fest should only program blockbusters. There’s still room for content-driven films that can screen in specific communities – of trans people, for example, or queer families. And the fest should screen works by young filmmakers.
But I’m sick of crappy features that get screenings just because they’re about queer people.
By the way, the e-mail strategy worked. Finn’s Girl held on at the Carlton for three weeks.