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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 8.Apr.20

Seeing Is Believing: New Queer Visions  
Reviews by Rich Cline
Seeing Is Believing
release 6.Apr.20
20/UK NQV 94m

Juan Gabriel Is Dead
This collection of six shorts from the past four years has a wonderfully eclectic feel to it, recounting a stories about identity from Australia, Belgium, the USA, Mexico, Tunisia and the Philippines. Each one has a singular sense of its own culture, as well as a specific story that has its own complexity even as it touches on universal themes. These are stories about identity and the struggle to be open about a truth that a person knows about themselves deep in their bones. Some of them are lighter than others, some are sexier, and the endings are a mix of happy, sad, funny, surprising and hopeful.

Haralabidou and datillo dir-scr Jamieson Pearce
with Victoria Haralabidou, Adam Ibrahim, Gianluca Datillo, Sebastian Robinson, Tobias Tsonis, Ryan Deveau, Zen Ledden, Simon Crocker, Madison McKoy
17/Australia 13m


Adult Made in Australia but set in Los Angeles, this is a dark, thoughtful little drama that opens on a rainy day, as a woman (Haralabidou) looks furtively along the street before entering a sex shop. Out of place among the male customers, she locates the gay section and buys a video. It turns out that she's trying to reconnect with her son Nicko (Ibrahim) by watching a porn film he made. And as it plays, this cheesy cop movie reminds her of when he was a young boy (Datillo) and she was unforgiving with him. It of course offers her a glimpse into his life as an adult.

The film has a hushed, muted quality, with minimal dialog and a strong sense of emotion in Haralabidou's haunted face. Intriguingly, her perspective is complicated by the fact that she's Greek, and her son was not just trying to find his sexuality, but also his ethnic identity, as she demanded that he behave like a man from the time he was very young. While the story is over-serious (a moment of tickling notwithstanding), the porn cutaways offer a bit of levity, because the movie is hilariously silly. Otherwise, this is a wrenching look at the serious issue of how over-strict parents can be the architects of their children's downfall. Tragically, this is a far too common story, and this film offers a glimmer of hope.

pinoy and giet dir-scr Anthony Schatteman
with Arend Pinoy, Delfine Bafort, Tobias Giet, Wim Opbrouck, Tine van den Brande, Hendrik Van Doorn
16/Belgium 19m

Hello, Stranger  
Dag Vreemde Man    3.5/5

Hello, Stranger Alfred (Pinoy) is a young drag queen who performs in glittery splendour on a nightclub stage then dances with the patrons, which becomes tricky because he is also a single dad to 7-year-old Max (Giet), who hangs out backstage with a fellow performer (Opbrouck) who regards them as family. Then Max's wayward mother Daisy (Bafort) turns up, and Arthur tells her to leave. Having second thoughts, he begins to wonder if maybe Max needs to meet his mother. But is Daisy capable of being a parent, and maybe relieving some of the pressure from Arthur's shoulders?

The film is beautifully shot, with deep colours and textures that offer moody insight into the characters, plus a nice sense of musicality. The understated dialog allows the actors to create a terrific sense of camaraderie, especially in the lively, enjoyably silly scenes between father and son. And then there's the scary moment when Arthur loses Max on the dance floor. The stress of Arthur's situation is powerfully resonant on a variety of layers, and its played honestly to create thought-provoking complexity in the people and the lives they lead. There are no easy answers here, but filmmaker Schatteman is asking the important questions.

Jakupcak dir Wes Hurley, Nathan M Miller
with Wes Hurley, Elena Bridges, Ben Jakupcak, Matthew Cotner, Darlene Sellers
17/US 14m

Little Potato  

Little Potato In this snappy, sharply pointed documentary short, filmmaker Wes Hurley looks at his childhood in Vladivostok, Russia. Nicknamed "Potato", Wes and his mother Elena (Bridges) reminisce about life in the Soviet Union. Wes speaks about his violently drunk father, Elena recalls fighting back and getting a job as a doctor in prison. They explain how the collapse of the Soviet Union brought American movies, which changed everything. Watching them on a secret renegade channel, they decided that America was the place to be, because "the new Russia was not much better than the old one," Elena notes. So she applies to be a mail-order bride in Seattle, where life is better. Her new husband is a fundamentalist Christian full of hate, but he has his own secret.

The film is beautifully assembled with photographs projected onto sets where actors play the young Wes and Elena (Jakupcak and Sellers). The pacing is brisk, and the observations are personal, witty and telling. It's a rare account of life in post-communist Russia, where thugs and gangs continued to run society. And as a youngster, Wes had no idea that there was such a thing as a gay person, other than that they were bad. He certainly didn't identify his lust for his swimming coach (Cotner). Then in Seattle Wes begins to realise that his stepfather is the personification of those who wrote important gay men and women out of history. And the story takes one more turn that offers an even more astonishing insight into this open-minded mother and son. "Transgender was fine," Elena deadpans, "but no one wants karaoke every night."

noval and sandoval dir-scr Tavo Ruiz
with Ovidio Noval, Giovanni Sandoval, Marcela Alcaraz, Andres Blanco de Duran, Adriana Olmos, Gabriela Ruiz
18/Mexico 15m

Juan Gabriel Is Dead  
Se Murió Juan Gabriel     4/5

Juan Gabriel Is Dead Opening with a newsreel about flamboyant Mexican superstar Juan Gabriel, who died in 2016, this black and white short tells an intimate story about teen best friends Beto and Daniel (Sandoval and Noval), who hang out playing videogames while their parents are at work. Intriguingly, the film is shot through Daniel's eyes, and he secretly identifies as female. No one knows this, but she appears to us as herself while everyone else lays masculine expectations on her, such as Beto encouraging her to lust after the town slut Gabriela (Alcaraz). But Daniel's more interested in Gabriela's latest shirtless-hunk boyfriend (Blanco). Then a classmate (Olmos) Beto throws an epic party, and Daniel begins to think about opening up to Beto.

There are several clever little eye-opening moments that come through this kind of storytelling, such as when Gabriela confides in Daniel without understanding why. And filmmaker Ruiz shoots also scenes involving Beto to reveal Daniel's vividly imagined crush on him, including her desire to let him know how much she cares. The monochrome cinematography is crisp, with skilful camerawork that captures scenes in clever, revealing ways. The young cast is terrific, giving offhanded performances that reflect youthful curiosity and energy. And through Daniel's eyes, the fear is palpable, especially as it flickers into a remarkable final scene set in the full-colour real world.

briki and abdelmalek dir Hakim Mastour
scr Hakim Mastour, Nicole Borgeat
with Bilel Briki, Bellamine Abdelmalek, Jamel Sassi, Hakim Belkahla, Leila Chebbi, Mariem Sayyeh
17/Tunisia 20m

The Guest  
Le Convive     5/5

Positions It's no coincidence that this North African short opens in a sweaty hammam, where a man is waxing lyrical about how happy he is that his son Sofiane (Briki) is going to marry his arranged bride Halima and find happiness, admitting that even after 25 years of marriage to Soufiane's mother he's not sure they're in love yet. But there's an unspoken wrinkle in all of this: Sofiane has been living with his Algerian boyfriend Fouad (Abdelmalek) for four years, and is only going through with the marriage for his family. He's also terrified because Fouad wants to see what a wedding is like in a small Tunisian village. Sofiane's parents welcome Fouad as a Sofiane's friend. Halima isn't so happy to see him.

There's an earthy realism to this film, capturing the local culture with sparky wit and a remarkable attention to detail. It's a fascinating glimpse into this family's community life, packed with vivid characters who are enjoyably unpredictable. The music and festivities are beautifully depicted, as are the nuances of the story. Everyone seems to know exactly what's going on here, but no one will talk about it, as if ignoring the truth makes it go away. And on his wedding day, Sofiane is discovering that hiding himself is becoming much too difficult. The question is whether this society will let him decide his own fate. This is a telling, strikingly important film packed with powerful moments that offer a textured look at a range of very human longings. And where it goes is a superb surprise.

canlas and saracho dir-scr Jared Joven, Kaj Palanca
with Joel Saracho, Elijah Canlas
16/Philippines 18m

Contestant #4  

Contestant #4 This gentle, affirming Filipino short touches on some profound truths in a warm, understated way. It centres on a young teen (Canlas) who enjoys visiting a middle-aged man (Saracho). The man lives on his own, and the two have become friends, keeping each other company, sharing meals and chatting about life. They talk about how they deal with the noise of the city, and the boy asks the man why he never left to escape the pressure. Then one day the boy is fascinated to see home movies of the man cross-dressing for a contest. Naturally, he becomes curious about the man's drag-artist past, asking why he never got married. And he has a vested interest.

Set in the man's fusty home, the story is filmed in striking static shots in which these two characters circle around each other, connecting in ways that imply that one is an older version of the other (both have bad backs). Some scenes are virtually silent, merely observing details, some feature random dialog about unimportant topics, and others are packed with meaning and implications. There's even a brief moment of hidden attraction. All of this paints a vivid picture of these two characters, the curious boy and a man set in his ways. They see the world differently, which is a generational thing: for the boy being gay isn't an issue, but for the man saying it out loud is impossible. Through their conversations, they begin to understand each other a bit better, and also learn new ways of expressing their own identities.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 8.Apr.20

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