Kevin Hegge, She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column, 2012, digital video, color, sound, 64 minutes.


CHANGE IS IN THE AIR, but is it happening fast enough? Certainly the season begs for more: The freezing cold and snowy winds of the past two weeks in London have established that spring has no intention of working her magic anytime soon. No big shocker for anyone coming from Berlin, and an excellent reason to seek shelter in the warmer climes of the British Film Institute, where the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival traditionally makes its home.

Jeffrey Schwarz’s long-awaited documentary on John Waters’s most famous star, I Am Divine (2013), opened the festival. With well-crafted documentaries on Vito Russo and Jack Wrangler already under his belt, Schwarz’s prowess as a historian can’t be underestimated, and I Am Divine expertly hit the right tone: emphatic hilarity. Using interviews with all the remaining Dreamland celebs, as well as archival chats with Divine in both girl and boy drag, I Am Divine is as fun as it is moving. In addition, the second day featured a screening of Female Trouble (1974), one of Divine’s finest moments and arguably one of the ten best American films ever made; all these viewings later, I’m still outraged every time Dawn Davenport fails to get those cha-cha heels for Christmas.

Another longed-for doc, She Said Boom! (2012), tells the story of Fifth Column, the ahead-of-its-time Toronto band that single-handedly invented the queercore movement, paved the way for Riot Grrrl, and gave rise to cinematic luminaries G. B. Jones and Bruce LaBruce. The film consists largely of talking-head interviews with former members—including Jones, whose enigmatic presence is as powerful as ever—detailing the band’s struggle for recognition in defiance of its queer feminist freakdom. It instilled a new longing in the audience—for a reunion.

By now, at least one thing has been made abundantly clear: Xavier Dolan, whose third feature, Laurence Anyways (2012), was featured in this year’s festival, has a lot going for him. He’s a terrific stylist. The 1990s “period” sets and costumes in this nearly three-hour-long epic following a Quebecois writer’s tumultuous male-to-female transition look amazing, and Yves Bélanger’s camera work, replete with lingering close-ups over inanimate surfaces serving as subtle commentary on the human dramas being played out, reveal the instincts of a probable genius. On the flipside, Dolan’s writing tends toward melodrama, and I have to agree with the consensus that the film could have used some cutting. Still, he’s twenty-four years old and already prolific, which suggests that we’re only at the beginning of what will be an exciting journey.

Interior.Leather Bar (2013), James Franco and Travis Mathews’s vague effort at imagining and refilming the censored forty-minutes of William Friedkin’s classic Cruising (1980)—a contender for worst film of the year—played on the same bill as one of the festival’s best films, Tom’s Gift (2012), a collaborative effort between two of New York City’s underground mavericks, Charles Lum and Todd Verow. The film is excerpted from a longer work-in-progress, comprising first-person narratives that detail the disappearance of public sex in the advent of the Internet. Given that the programmers this year included a screening of Pasolini’s Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1974), it would have been nice had they also been bold enough to include Verow’s recent Bottom (2011), a documentary feature that uses similarly excessive and disturbing content in a provocative account of what sex without intimacy has become in the twenty-first century.

In fact, there were few surprises on this year’s twenty-seventh program, much of which consisted of a “best-of” recycling of overshown commercial fare like Keep the Lights On (2012) (for those who missed it the first thirty-five times around, one can conjecture that it will also play at next year’s festival), prints of “lost” classics taken from the BFI vaults, and films nearing the end of their time on the festival circuit. Very little in terms of premieres, and, given the vast quantity of LGBT films produced each year, this is something of a missed opportunity—one that seems to have necessitated the emergence of the upcoming Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest., whose April edition will be its third.

In the past, BFI LLGFF organizers were notoriously cagey when the festival’s name was criticized as old-fashioned and exclusionary, but this year saw the launch of a new media campaign, wherein the public is invited to submit suggestions for a moniker change. Still, pretenses to exclusivity (many international delegates were asked to purchase their own tickets to screenings—unheard-of at any film festival, and an embarrassing faux pas for one currently struggling to regain its status), demographic challenges (the audience for most screenings and events appeared to consist mostly of upwardly mobile cisgendered gay white men of a certain age), and patchy programming all suggest that now would be the time for the BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival to consider changing more than just its name.

Travis Jeppesen

The 27th BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival ran March 14–24.