Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Frameline 32 -- Monday, June 23, 2008

Let's face facts: in the late 1960s there weren't too many reference sources available about gay life. That's why I've always considered myself to be extremely fortunate with regard to my gay identity. I came out in my late teens and, although not sexually active for several years, was able to spend a lot of time on understanding, accepting and embracing my sexual identity. In some ways, I was just relieved to finally have a word with which to describe myself.

The great blessing I received is that I never ever felt compelled to compartmentalize my life between gay and straight issues, activities, or passions. I was able to live an integrated lifestyle wherein I was simply one person. Whatever labels might have been used to describe me (gay, Jewish, atheist, Democrat, obese) were all wrapped up in one package, indivisible. Later in life, as I discovered that I was more of a loner than a joiner, I carved out a career path which essentially let me freelance. I remained my own boss, kept my own schedule, planned my own life, set my own goals, and never had to hide the essence of who I was in order to move ahead in a homophobic corporate environment.

I was reminded of my good fortune while watching two vastly different programs on Monday at the Frameline 32 film festival. One was devoted to films about the"two-spirits" people from various Native American cultures. The other program was a feature film about a British advertising executive who kept trying to keep his life carefully compartmentalized (without much luck).

A compactly crafted short film, Two Spirits, One Journey demonstrated the clash between two young Native Americans. Luke (Alex Meraz) knows, understands, accepts who he is and is determined to "get off the res" and go someplace where he can be himself. His boyfriend Chris (embodied by Patrick David -- a prime piece of beefcake), is too weak to resist the pressures of local Native American women who keep trying to lure him into a relationship. Written by Shawn Imitates Dog and performed in both English and Lakota, this short film captures every bit of the pain of being afraid to leave the safety of one's traditional comfort zone and the alarming self-awareness that staying put will no doubt suffocate your soul for the rest of your life. Not unexpectedly, it was the muscle hunk who ended up being the coward, while the lanky Luke got up the guts to head for Hollywood where he could breathe free. Before going, however, he visited his grandmother who, in a quietly moving scene, assured him that striking out on his own was part of his fate. This short film was beautifully directed by Chad Richman and the award-winning Arthur Allen Seidelman.

What is so interesting about these Native American stories is how they relate to the role of the berdache in tribal culture. An outreach tool created by the Fred Martinez Project, Two Spirits is a documentary which strives to show how modern Native Americans are reclaiming the heritage of the two-spirited person who embodies both male and female characteristics and yet is exclusively neither . Part of their goal has been to take back their heritage since the two-spirited people were an integral part of tribal life before European influences reached American shores.

Capping off the program was a full-length documentary entitled Byron Chief-Moon: Grey Horse Rider, which examines the life and creative work of Blackfoot dancer, actor and choreographer Byron Chief-Moon. With great sensitivity the film explores his roles as a two-spirit person, an adoptive parent of three children, and allows friends, relatives and professional colleagues to describe what a role model he has been in the communities in which he has lived and worked. The tribal ceremony in which he was given a new name and taught its importance was quite touching.

Unlike the old-fashioned feather-and-leather spectaculars familiar to most Americans from Hollywood Westerns or musicals like Annie Get Your Gun, this documentary goes to great lengths to explain the role of traditional dance in Native American cultures as a way of relating to and expressing the spiritual ties to the land and animals in one's environment. Watching Byron Chief-Moon work on choreographing various pieces with Caucasian Canadian choreographers (as well as solo pieces in which he explores his own creativity), one gains deeper insight into the creative force or artistic vision which sets so many gay, lesbian and two-spirited people apart from their heterosexual colleagues.

By contrast, Ian Poitier's comedy-romance Oh Happy Day explores what happens when a closeted black advertising executive enjoys a hot one-night stand following an awards ceremony in London only to arrive at work on Monday morning and discover that Mr. Right Now is the agency's newest client and that he has just been handed the client's account to manage.

Poitier does a fine job of examining a variety of prejudices and sensitivities and how they all overlap. There is black versus white, British versus American, religious versus nonreligious, heterosexual versus homosexual, closeted versus openly gay and, last but certainly not least, the question of whether or not one should mix business with pleasure.

Although nicely filmed and directed, much of Oh Happy Day is quite predictable. I particularly enjoyed Stephen Billington's portrayal of David, the American businessman who makes the transition from one-night stand to important client. As the ad exec, Christopher Colquhoun didn't impress me as much, being easily outperformed by Julie Saunders as his wife, Jasmine, Hazel Palmer as Miss Eartha, Blanche Williams as Rose, and Percy Duke as a bitchy ex-boyfriend.

While good for a movie-of-the-week type rental, Oh Happy Day is a rather modest story, nicely told and smartly packaged. It is a tale told about an advertising executive who realizes he's been an idiot in the way he has tried to micromanage his relationships.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Next: Tuesday, June 24, 2008

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