Thom Dibdin previews Burn, the tenth London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival as it tours to Scodand.
Queer cinema has changed immensely over the decade in which the British Film institute has been promoting its annual London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. Hollywood may not have come out of the closet -- Philadelphia and Robin Williams ﬁnding it in himself to drag tip again in The Bin/rage does not a gay cinema make -— but eleven years after Mr BeauIi/al I.(IllII(/l'(’ll(’, the number of ﬁlms with a gay or lesbian theme which receive a theatrical release has increased substantially.
Robin Baker. who has been programming the LLGFF‘s tour for the last four years and who co-programmed this year's Festival. has noticed an increasing move of gay cinema into the mainstream. ‘Four years ago. you would be lucky to be able to construct a tour out of a few. poorly funded features and a large number of short
ﬁlms.‘ he says. ‘Now there are a huge number of features around. a large number of them shot in 35mm.‘
Quantity is all very well. but it is quality which counts. as Baker realised at the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. Because San Francisco shows so many ﬁlms. the quality control goes out ofthe window and it ends up showing a lot of rubbish. However. the large number of ﬁlms available left Baker able to choose ﬁlms with a critical eye.
‘It was one of those times where you were actually spoilt for choice.‘ he says. ‘Everything included in the London festival was there because it deserved to be shown. rather than because there weren't enough good things to go around. I feel very enthusiastic about the whole thing. and
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particularly about the tour. inasmuch as it has been chosen from the ﬁlms that were the best of the festival.‘
Furthermore. British queer cinema is in good health. with seven feature- length programmes or features in UK theatrical distribution. two gay feature ﬁlms currently in production and four features in the LLGFF. Highlight ofthe tour is Beau/ital Thing. Hettie Macdonald's ﬁlm version of the West End play. It is the story of two sixteen- year-old gay boys living on a Thamesmead housing estate in south east London.
‘What I ﬁnd brilliant about Beautiful Thing is that it is a huge audience pleaser.‘ says Baker. ‘lt is the kind of ﬁlm where it does not feel like a gay issue ﬁlm. it just happens that it is a romance about two sixteen-year-old
boys who happen to be gay. That is wonderful because it gives gay audiences a really accessible feature ﬁlm. rather than it being high art. And there aren't very many of those around.‘
Another ﬁlm with theatrical origins is Cynthia Roberts’s The last Supper. This extraordinary production from Canada. told in real time. is about a man dying from an AIDS-related illness who is preparing for a lethal injection to be administered by his doctor. Described by Baker as the most powerful and devastating ﬁlm he has seen about the AIDS crisis. it is made even more so with the knowledge that the meal being eaten on screen is the last the actor ever ate: he died four days after ﬁlming was completed.
in any queer film festival. camp and humour should never be far away. And although ll’igs/aek failed to make the cut after London. Man ()j'The Year will do very nicely. thank you. it is Dirk Shafer‘s ‘mockumentary‘ story of being Playgirl magazine's 1992 centrefold ofthe year —- the ‘ideal man for all women‘ in public and privately living with his lover. Mike.
With a dozen feature-length screenings. the tour seems to have something for most tastes and justiﬁes Baker‘s claim that ‘audiences in Edinburgh and Glasgow are very lucky.‘
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Elina Liiwensohn is not an actress whose name is on the lips of the average cinema-goer, yet she appeared in one of the biggest films of the 90s. In Schindler’s list, her scene leaves a lasting impression on a shocked audience when, as the young architect who points out — quite correctly - that the foundations of the camp are badly built, she is shot in the head at close range.
In Britain, Liiwensohn has become more recognisable from her enigmatic performances in the films of Hal Hartley and especially from the poster and advertising campaign for Amateur: cigarette in hand, eyes cast moodily to the side, she is exotically, unattainany beautiful.
Hartley’s work draws on the quirks of its dialogue, making a feature of Liiwensohn’s native Romanian accent. Her East European bone structure, dark eyes and darker eyebrows have been better used by the more visually driven style of director Michael Almereyda, with whom she made the Pixilvision mini-feature Another Girl, Another Planet and now the monochrome arthouse horror movie Nadia.
As the daughter of Dracula searching for her lost twin in modern-day New York, liiwensohn’s looks can make the character resemble a Transylvanian
gypsy, wrapped in a head-scarf, or an alluring silent movie star, face luminoust lit and surrounded by a black-as-night velvet hood. The actress is the first to admit that Hadia’s detachment is something that, as a Romanian exile in America, she can easily tap into; she also knows that her accent is a stumbling block when it comes to winning bigger roles.
Almereyda met her while she was waitressing in a 24-hour restaurant in New York’s East Village. It was the time of the Romanian revolution and so they got talking about her first- hand experience of the communist regime (it’s their joke that the vampire Hadja’s full name in the movie contains not only the surname ‘Dracula’, but also ‘Ceausescu’ - ‘sucking the blood of the people’). Her story of coming to America might make a movie in itself.
‘My mother detected in 1979,’ she explains. ‘My father had died when I was seven, but I think my mother could have borne it because that was a less frightening time. She was a ballet dancer and teacher, but she didn’t want my brother and me to become established intellectuals in that sort of society. Carter was the president in America at that time, and there was a pact to help immigrants get out, so within a year we had the papers. We used to have Dallas on television, J.H. Ewing and all that, and this is what most Romanians thought was America — a swimming pool, a ranch. The reality was quite different, and it was a shock for my mother, being alone.
EIIna Liiwensohn InHadIa: ’exotlcaliy, unattainany beautitul’
‘We lived upstate New York for four years, in the town where Sing-Sing prison is. My mother managed to teach some ballet, but didn’t make much money, so she had to clean houses. What kept her going was us. I had to go and work in some little factory folding napkins. But I know that if people come from those countries to America with a really big ego, they will not survive, because this is a place where doctors might be cleaning toilets until they take their exams.’
Liiwensohn’s acting career didn’t really get going until she attended
New York University, but even now it’s very stop-start, and the 29-year-old admits that there are long periods where she has to live off her French abstract painter husband, Philippe Richard, which means she now lives part of the year in Paris.
‘I feel at home in New York, not in America,’ she says. ‘There’s a difference. But I feel very good in Europe. It’s almost like this love surfaces, some sort of passion, like, “Yeah, I can feel the European in me”.’ (Alan Morrison)
Nadia opens at the Filmhause, Edinburgh, on Fri 31.
The List 3| May- I 3 Jun 1996 23