The Long and the Tall of It by Gerald Saul.
review of Queer City Cinema 2.

This spring, Regina artist and curator, Gary Varro coordinated the second Queer City Film Festival, four days of screenings and discussion of gay and lesbian film. Works were drawn from across Canada and the United States with numerous guest filmmakers attending. Varro's program notes, beautifully printed with a cover designed by Katherine Bradbury, presented an intelligent and informed analysis of the films and filmmakers.

Attendance was fantastic for all four nights, often with standing room only. While the Saturday afternoon panel of filmmakers was not so well attended, it proved to be an opportune forum for the filmmakers to have a meeting of minds. The panel discussion was lively and informative. One notable debate revolved around the purpose of festivals such as these which feature and serve a marginalized group. The concern was voiced that such festivals will ghetto-ize the films they profess to promote. Some filmmakers voiced a desire that their films be respected as films, not just as elements of gay culture. Many of the ideas that are expressed in the films are universal. Other films might do more good in enlightening non-gay audiences who are not familiar with the issues involved than they would for a gay audience which is already aware of the debates. On the other hand, one panellist suggested that in smaller cities (such as Regina) there are only one or two public gay events each year. In that case, events such as the Queer City Festival fulfil a very important role in bringing the gay and lesbian community together.

The special guest of the festival was the award winning filmmaker, writer and "pornographer", Bruce LaBruce. LaBruce is the notorious creator of Super-8 1/2 and Hustler White, the latter was screened on Friday night. Before the festival, I was unfamiliar with LaBruce's films and knew of him only through a single piece of his writing (although I later discovered that he has created a large body of writing). The article discussed his earlier film, Super-8 1/2. It led me to anticipate an individual of diminutive sophistication. That is to say, the myth of Bruce LaBruce is that of a man more interested in the process of making the crassest of hard core gay porn than in making a meaningful work of art/entertainment. I was wrong. While Hustler White was indeed vulgar and savage, it also had heart. The film tells the story of an irresponsible young street hustler, and an arrogant writer of sensationalist social criticism and how lust can lead to friendship. It was more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

While the festival began with two feature length films, the highlight of the evenings for me was definitely the wonderfully diverse short films and videos by gay and lesbian artists.

A day in the Life of a Bull-Dyke is wonderfully didactic and overrunning with cynical irony. It follows an in-your-face "monstrosity" of a woman who claims to be universally feared. The filmmakers, Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan, both in attendance, use the film to create a figure which is as absurdly offensive as much of society believe lesbians to be. They spit in the face of those who pride themselves in being open minded and demand that we turn the other cheek so as to spit in our other eye too. The film shames us into admitting how prejudice we all can be.

Another delight was Sarah Abbott's Froglight. Filmpool has screened two other Abbott films in the past couple of years and this one takes us on yet another magical journey. The images are black and white and sharp, featuring macro close-ups of grass as seen with a magnifying glass. The camera moves through a night realm of bugs, bogs, frogs and inky black water; a world of the unconscious where the imagination manifests itself in words and words create patterns rather than sentences or ideas. It is sombre but intimate, like being told a story while the weight of sleep overcomes your eyelids.

Andy Warhol's Blow Job was all I expected and more.... and more and more. This is one of Warhol's most famous films from his early silent era. It begins without a title, running with the assumption that the audience has been previously informed that the subject is a blow job. Without this knowledge, the film is merely a shot of a young man (the only person on screen) seen from mid-chest up, performing a long series of rather unusual facial expressions. Blow Job proved how subversive film can be without obscenity.

In Valkyrie Theory by Saskatoon's Joanne Bristol, nine "actors" (obviously the filmmaker's friends) perform voices and take on the roles of these Norse angels in what is essentially an essay on the history of valkyries. This black and white video essay attempts to bring to life these mighty women of mythology. While the acting is very crude, often read off of cue cards, the video is campy and fun. It also reminded us once again of how our history has continuously down played women, even in fictitious roles.
Steve Reinke is an extremely prolific Toronto video artist whose works are short, sharp and comical. In his 1996 Seventeen Descriptions he takes a simple static six minute piece of video of people walking along the city street and transforms it into a complex social commentary on the secrets we never dare voice. He does this by adding a "play-by-play" voice over in which he summarizes each man's sexual fears, desires, physical anomalies, fetishes, or recent actions as these men walk by. Although the comments are certainly fictitious, the idea that someone may be watching us and knowing such things about us is unsettling. It has something to make every man both laugh and squirm.

Static, a video by Nikki Forrest, is most notable for its soundtrack which is borrowed from a radio broadcast. Faceless voices express negative, often violent, viewpoints about homosexuals on a radio phone in show. Between each voice, the only response is static.

Winnipeg's Noam Gonick attended with his film 1919, a rather abstracted adaptation of the Winnipeg General Strike. It borrows from Eisenstein with its creation of metaphors through juxtaposed images. Although minimal in both content and form, it does manage to present a strong gay subtext through its frequent anachronistic moments of open male intimacy. This film says as much about gay and political history as it does about film form and style. Interestingly Gonick had some of the strongest views on his future role, or rather "non-role" in gay film festivals. He recognises a risk that his admirable skills as a "filmmaker" may be lost beneath a label of "gay filmmaker".

Dozens of other films ran throughout this four day event, with rarely a dull moment. When the flickering stopped, the fun continued until the bar went dry. It was an event which, if Regina is lucky, Gary Varro will continue in years to come. That's a straight dope on Queer City Cinema.

Gerald Saul 2005