In these highly politicized times, with the campaigns using drone-like ads to attack our sensibilities, every aspect of our private lives lies razed and dazed in the public sphere. For communities targeted and demonized by smear tactics, there comes a time for efforts aimed at redefinition or maybe that repositioning occurs, not as a reaction to the blinding glare of the high-intensity spotlight glare, but rather as a more natural evolution from within.
As Downtown Dayton LGBT prepares to present its seventh annual film festival Friday-Sunday with screenings at The Neon, I had one overarching question (with an obvious follow-up) for festival director Jonathan McNeal. I wondered what the Dayton LGBT community was looking for, in terms of representations, on the screen. Earlier this year, the group sponsored a screening of Vito, which was all about Vito Russo’s passion for acknowledging the diverse and sometimes hidden reflections of gays and lesbians throughout film history, a trigger for social and cultural liberation.
McNeal dove right in with a pointed and straightforward reply. “I think the LGBT community is interested in seeking honest representations on film. Though the gay, bitchy sidekick might have been fun, I’m not sure that character helped us make any social advancements. This year’s lineup is full of real people leading real lives. That’s not to say that all the films are dramas, we certainly have comedies, too ... but even they feel authentic.”
This year’s lineup definitely addresses this new honest reality, this striving for a sense of urgent authenticity, both through the films and the celebratory events.
Friday night’s 7:30 p.m. opening feature Gayby, from writer-director Jonathan Lisecki (who will be in attendance), delves into a safe mainstream setup — two best friends from college, Jenn (Jenn Harris) and Matt (Matthew Wilkas), now in their thirties who frantically acknowledge the tic-toc of the biological clock and decide to procreate the old-fashioned way. This, of course, is despite the fact that Matt can’t quite seem to get over his ex-boyfriend. As careers and dating complicate matters, the comedy here seems to have much more in common with Jennifer Westfeldt’s Friends With Kids than The Object of My Affection, the 1998 Paul Rudd-Jennifer Aniston vehicle that felt much more sitcom-like in its execution.
An opening night after-party at The Crowne Plaza (33 E. Fifth St., just a block away from The Neon) caps things off with the usual appetizers, signature cocktails, music from DJ Ruckus Roboticus and a video installation directed by Vivek Shraya titled “What I Love About Being Queer.” As listed on the festival site, the video explores this one burning question with “34 beautiful queers.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Saturday kicks off at 1 p.m. with the documentary How to Survive a Plague from David France. At a time when young HIV-positive men were staring mortality in the face, two coalitions emerged — ACT-UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) — spurred by a rag-tag collection of newbie activists intent on raising awareness and fighting to mobilize the scientific community to help transform AIDS from a death sentence to a manageable condition. Like Vito, Plague drops audiences into the heat and passion of tumultuous times, offering glimpses at the tested heroes who would seize the day.
Live Free Or Die, another hot button documentary selection, screens 1 p.m. Sunday bearing the weight of its message about Gene Robinson, widely recognized as the first openly gay bishop in Christian history, who during his consecration in 2003 had to wear a bullet-proof vest under his religious vestments and continues to serve under constant threat. With his partner Mark in tow, the film by Macky Alston tracks Robinson as he travels from “small-town churches in the New Hampshire North Country to Washington’s Lincoln Memorial to London’s Lambeth Palace, as he calls for all to stand for equality — inspiring bishops, priests and ordinary folk to come out from the shadows and change history.”
Authenticity is used as a coded catchphrase, an attempt to wear a folksy patchwork jacket of mainstream affiliation. Politicians and their campaigns stitch together garishly obvious garb and parade around in front of the cameras like the cravenly naked emperors in waiting that they are, but to hear McNeal talk about the idea and then peruse the full schedule of titles for the festival is to appreciate the lack of artifice in a community simply presenting and embracing reflections of who they are.
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