Monday, 29 October 2007

Festival Awards: And The Winners Are...

The 18th International Lesbian and Gay Festival in Hamburg ended on Sunday, 21 October. Throughout the whole festival people were asked to state their opinion about the films they had just seen on pink pieces of paper which were collected by the festival staff at the exits. As a result, the following awards could be given entirely based on the popular vote:

URSULA for the best lesbian short film went to Abbe Robinson from the UK for "Private Life" (more info on this film on IMDB

URSULA for the best gay short film went to Michael Mew from Canada for "Peking Turkey" (more info on this film on IMDB

URSULA for the best transgender short film went to Abe Bernard from USA for "Trannymals Go To Court" (more info on this film at

This is the second time that Abe receives an URSULA. Last year his first Trannymal film which was called simply "Trannymals" also got the award. Congratulations, Abe!

Each URSULA winner received 1,000 EUR.

The MADE IN GERMANY award for the best German short film went to Martin Busker for "HerzHaft" (more about this film and the director at

The winner in this category will be given the possibility to attend a course at the Berlin Hamburg Film School (

EUROLOLA for the best European film went to Erich Richter Strand from Norway for "Sønner" ("Sons") (more about this film at

GLOBOLA for the best intercontinental film went to Brooke Sebold, Benita and Todd Sills from USA for "Red Without Blue" (more about this film at

Festival impressions: Day 6 (the final day)

Metropolis, one of the cinemas where the festival's films were shown.

Inside Metropolis: posters advertising some of the festival's films.

Before the Sunday matinée film goers could enjoy some hot drinks and croissants on the house.

Joachim from the festival team had also accepted the kind offer.

One of the festival's themes this year was the work of Greta Schiller, an independent American filmmaker. Here - a poster for one of her films - "Paris Was A Woman".

Greta Schiller was also present at Metropolis in connection with the screening of two of her short films. Here - in a conversation with Joachim.

The audience at the screening including Katrin from TalkSofa.

Greta Schiller also answered questions from the audience.

All images by Māra Pētersone.

Festival selection: A Four Letter Word (USA, 2007)

Director: Casper Andreas.

Principal cast: Jesse Archer, Charlie David, Cory Grant, Virginia Bryan.

If films were cocktails, „A Four Letter Word” would be a Pink Lady. With a cherry on top. Casper Andreas’ second long feature film is an excercise in contemporary urban gay self-defining, rich on flamboyant queer characters as well as jokes worthy of any drag queen on a mission. It is evident that the film was created by gay people, with gay people and for gay people and as such deserves credit for being consequent. Some of the most famous gay characters created on screen were played by straight actors – the entire „gay” sets of „Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”, „Brokeback Mountain” and numerous other classics were, in a manner of speech, just fakes. And although I also must give credit where credit is due (they did appear convincing), I still feel somewhat cheated when I realise that all those romantic scenes must have been forced out of them and later „improved” by the film’s editors and other technically minded people. This is certainly not the case with the cast on „A Four Letter Word” – it isn’t necessary to fake their „queerness” – for queer they are!

Luke, played by the relative newcomer Jesse Archer, is a four letter word for horny. Oblivious to any other possible „fun” things in life, he spends his days working in Gayborhood, a gay sex store and his nights playing the field on the local club scene accompanied by his best friend Mace who can probably be best defined by his own words: „I can’t speak for my ass – it’s public property”. At work, his lifestyle is constantly debated by the naked yoga enthusiast and gay rights crusader Zeke who, nevertheless, is still rather fond of him. For under the shallow facade, Luke is more than just the urban gay cliché, an etiquette he certainly doesn’t want to be put on him. One night on his usual manhunt he approaches Stephen with „ph”, played by Charlie David whom many will recognise as Toby from Here! TV’s gay soap opera „Dante’s Cove”. After a brief interaction, our protagonist is labelled by his new acquaintance as just that – „a gay cliché”. This, naturally, hurts Luke who decides to show just how „extraordinary” he is, well, only to be thrown out of the club. In the meantime, „a wannabe actor but currently waiting tables” Peter has his boyfriend Derek moving in with him while his boss Marilyn, brilliantly played by Virginia Bryan, is getting married which prompts her to go amok with what at one point in the film is described as the „Bridzilla” scheme. In order to deliver herself from her alcohol addiction she also starts attending AA meetings with her sponsor Trisha who, however, has other interests at stake with regard to her. Peter and Derek are seen by Luke as a perfect couple and he is happy for Marilyn but he insists that he enjoys being the way he is – single and able to get laid anytime he fancies. This, neverthess, changes after he bumps into Stephen the second time – in the darkroom of a club. They say that opposites attract and it must have been the case here because they are both mysteriously drawn to each other and Luke subsequently attempts to introduce himself to a completely new world – that of monogamy. He knows that his lifestyle isn't sustainable forever. And he seems to have feelings for Stephen. So what can Luke do to change himself? As part of his strategy he even attends a meeting for the sexually compulsive at the local LGBT community centre which I must admit doesn’t sound too far out in a city like New York. Luke really wants things to work out between him and Stephen. But is Stephen actually the one?

„A Four Letter Word” is a romantic comedy set in New York. Still, the characters portrayed are fairly universal and recognisable. The films poses more questions than it attempts to answer. Still, the questions it poses are relevant to most urban gay men of our day and age. Romance versus sex, care versus selfishness, the ability to cohabit and compromise. At the same time, it’s a fun and witty film which should be enjoyed just like a Pink Lady. With a cherry on top.

You can watch the film's trailer here

And a special tribute to Adam Joseph who appears in the film with his song "Faggoty Attention" (that cherry on top)

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Festival impressions: Days 4 & 5

Apparently, the Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in Hamburg even has a fan club which is advertised here at one of the cinemas.

The Canadian filmmaker and now professor at York University in Toronto John Greyson was in town to present his latest project as well as a number of his shorts at the festival.

John Greyson's workshop took place in an independent cinema in Sankt Pauli called B-Movie. Here: Abe Bernard ("Trannymals") and Til Kreisch (TalkSofa) engaged in a conversation in the cinema's foyer.

John Greyson is probably best known for his feature film "Lilies" which won him several international awards including The Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television Genie Award and the Best Canadian Film Award at the Montreal International Film Festival in 1996. He has also directed several episodes of the American version of "Queer as Folk".

Some of the audience at the workshop.

Back to Mittagstisch.

Abe Bernard, John Greyson, Markus Götze and some people from the festival team.

Joachim from the festival team and John Greyson.

Abe Bernard on his way to Metropolis to present his short film "Trannymals go to Court".

Passage, one of the cinemas where the festival's films were shown.

Not a completely unreasonable place to raise awareness about AIDS.

Markus Götze presents the new American comedy "A Four Letter Word" in the capacity of its producer.

The audience at the screening of "A Four Letter Word".

Wayne Yung, the director of the German short film "Birthday Games" is grilled on the TalkSofa in the Nachtbar.

Then it's the turn of the well-known American filmmaker Greta Schiller to be in the spotlight.

And I had a chance to chat to John Greyson, the director of my favourite gay film "Lilies".

All images by Māra Pētersone.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Festival selection: Sheng Xia Guang Nian (Eternal Summer, Taiwan, 2006)

Director: Lester Chen.

Principal cast: Bryant Chang, Hsiao-chuan Chang, Kate Yeung.

A few decades ago it was widely assumed that there were bad films, then there were awful films and then there were Chinese films. Much has changed since those days, especially when it comes to contemporary cinematography from Taiwan. Films coming out of this breakaway part of China continue to impress and “Eternal Summer” is no exception. Its moody and almost intimidating landscapes are a fitting backgound for a story that in itself isn’t particularly original, yet necessary to tell – a story of entering the adult life where you have to make choices and sacrifices in a way you couldn’t imagine.

Our two protagonists, Jonathan and Shane (we’ll stick to their English names here), are practically coerced to being friends at an early age at school. Shane is being a disruptive and unruly child from whom all other kids shy away, and Jonathan, the class orderly, is ordered by his headmistress to befriend Shane to get him on the right path. Although Shane initially sabotages Jonathan’s attempts at changing him, they eventually form a friendship which will only get stronger as they enter adolescence together a few years later. They become virtually inseparable and nothing seems to threaten that.

A girl who has grown up in Hong Kong returns to her native Taiwan and joins the school which the two boys attend. Early on, Carrie, as she is called, befriends Jonathan and they even skip school for a day together to go to Taipei where they also stay the night in a hotel room. Carrie tries to seduce Jonathan but fails and their train ride back to school on the following day is conducted in awkward silence. It doesn’t take Carrie long to realize that Jonathan is in love with Shane and although she quitely accepts it, she is also confused. Shane becomes somewhat jealous that Jonathan seems to hang out a lot with this new girl and tries to get to know her on his own. As a result, Carrie becomes Shane’s girlfriend. In order not to hurt Jonathan, they try to keep it a secret, but no secrets can be kept forever and our three confused youths are taken on a bumpy ride of emotions they barely knew existed.

As I’ve pointed out earler, the plot in itself isn’t very original – girl loves boy, boy loves boy – a triangle drama which is seen before in different combinations. What sets this one apart is the depth of the characters’ emotions shown in respect to each other and the lip-biting silent suffering with which they bear their predicament. Shane is presented with a true dilemma – he can’t afford to lose Jonathan’s friendship, yet he doesn’t want to trade him for Carrie. His own feelings towards Jonathan are also more complex than just those of being his best friend which is clearly shown in one of the more passionate scenes. Jonathan, who can’t force himself to reveal his true feelings to Shane because he also fears losing Shane as his friend, is forced to make a choice as well as Shane. In their new adult lives things can’t stay the same. Carrie cannot but bear witness to the inner struggle in both of them as well as the struggle between them which culminates in a powerful scene on a beach set against the ocean background – the forces of nature at work.

“Eternal Summer” uses the grandness of the surrounding natural settings to highlight the human nature and the storms that it creates. It’s not so much about being one with the nature, it’s more about being part of it. Just like the ocean can get upset and start ravaging the coastline and sinking the ships travelling through it, so can people. Like the ocean, they can also calm down, but as long as they are alive, their emotions will never come to a complete halt. “Eternal Summer” is a beautiful coming-of-age drama which deserves to be seen by many people. The issues it deals with are universal and the fact that it’s in Mandarin shouldn’t deter anyone from seeing it. It is also worth mentioning that the film won the Golden Horse Film Award in 2006 which is the main Taiwanese film prize.

Here you can watch the film's trailer

Festival focus: Nachtbar/TalkSofa

Every year a different location is chosen for the so-called Nachtbar which is a place where people can meet after the day's programme to discuss films and other topics. The exact location is always kept a secret until the opening night when it's announced publicly. This year it's in a place called Maria Kron near Sankt Pauli.

Die hübschen Mädchen behind the bar.

Every night after midnight different festival guests are interviewed on the TalkSofa "Bei Kreischbergers" hosted by Til Kreisch and Katrin Bergers which is also broadcast live on the local radio station TIDE. Here: Markus Götze, a native of Hamburg talking about "A Four Letter Word", a new American film, in the capacity of its producer.

The audience on the spot.

Here Abe Bernard from California is telling about his film "Trannymals".

Our friendly hostess Anja was also there to listen.

And then it was my turn to talk about the LGBT Film Days in Riga and the general gay rights situation in Latvia.

The party doesn't end with the talk show though. You can talk and dance until the wee hours.

Even the bar staff take it pretty easy later in the night.

All images by Māra Pētersone.

Festival impressions, Days 2 & 3

Inside Studio in Sankt Pauli, one of the cinemas where the festival's films are shown.

And this is what Studio looks like on the outside.

Every day between 12.30 and 2 pm the organisers and guests of the festival gather for a lunch together. It is known simply as Mittagstisch. A great opportunity to make arrangements for the day and meet other people from the festival.

Another shot from Mittagstisch.

The Mittagstisch location is also used for interviews. Here Clair from the US is interviewed by Pink Channel, a local LGBT radio station in connection with the film "Red without Blue" in which she features.

All images by Māra Pētersone.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Festival selection: Huhwihaji anha (No Regret, South Korea, 2006)

Director: Hee-il Leesong.

Principal cast: Han Lee, Young-Hoon Lee.

It certainly isn’t every day one gets to watch Korean films. Come to think of it, I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever seen a Korean film before. My knowledge of Korean drama seems to be limited to the flashbacks of the two Korean characters on ABC’s hit TV show „Lost”. And while you can still tell if the dialogue is convincing in most European languages, even you don’t understand them, simply by listening to the intonations, it is somewhat harder to do the same when it comes to Asian languages. What can seem a typical soap-opera pathos in Spanish, may well be a very respectable way of speaking in the Far East. And this is definitely one of my limitations when it comes to judging this film. Although I have found the acting rather convincing, it only applies to the visual part of it, and I’d be most interested to know what opinion Koreans themselves have on this matter.

„No Regret” is set in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, which, just like its counterparts in most other countries, draws people en masse looking for a better life, opportunities that don’t exist elsewhere in the country. So, when Sumin, one of our two protagonists, reaches the age of 18, he leaves the orphanage in which he has grown up and heads for the big city. In Seoul, he shares a flat with another boy from the same orphanage. Both of them get work at a factory while Sumin also works nights as a driver by request. Requested, that is, by wealthy people who get too intoxicated to drive themselves. One night he is asked to drive home a young guy who shows more interest in him than what the others usually do. Sumin ignores his advances. On the following day he discovers that a bunch of newly hired people are laid off from their factory jobs and he is one of them. It turns out that the rich guy from the previous night, Jaemin, is the son of the factory’s owner. He quickly reinstates Sumin who, however, will have none of it and leaves the factory for good. He gets by doing occasional jobs as a dishwasher and cleaner, but doesn't seem to fit in anywhere and finally decides to enroll as a house boy at a local sex club. Life as a rent boy isn’t directly glorious, but Sumin seems to be doing better than before. Jaemin, on the other side, despite being forced into a marriage by his family, is obsessed with finding Sumin and when he finally does, begins to stalk him. This unleashes an emotional roller-coaster which becomes rather violent in the end.

„No Regret” has been called one of the best recent independent Korean films. I can certainly see why. It has a compelling, albeit fairly twisted plot. Yet, the stories told seem real enough and the fate of these orphan boys in the big city is also touching. Besides, one gets a rare insight into the whole question of masculinity and homosexuality in the Korean society, even if only a little. It is also a romantic love story with what must be a Korean twist. Emotions run high and occasional blows are dealt to all parties involved. No one escapes unscarred.

Here you can watch the film's trailer

Festival selection: Wild Tigers I Have Known (USA, 2006)

Director: Cam Archer.

Principal cast: Malcolm Stumpf, Patrick White, Max Paradise, Fairuza Balk.

A mountain lion is killed near a school. 13-year-old Logan is fascinated by the poor creature's fate, for he himself feels like the mountain lion whom everybody hates. The mountain lion becomes a symbol of Logan's angst and loneliness as he is growing up in a fairly desolate landscape, both physically and mentally. He befriends Rodeo, a slightly older guy who unlike the rest of his peers doesn't seem to harbour any feelings of loathing or disgust towards Logan. If anything, he himself appears a bit of a loner. Rodeo claims that he has seen mountain lions in the woods several times and takes Logan on long walks there. They spot some caves where mountain lions must have lived. Soon Logan's interest in Rodeo becomes more than just friendly and he engages in long night phone sex calls pretending to be a girl named Leah. Rodeo wants to meet "Leah" and they agree to meet in the caves.

Cam Archer's first full length feature film is a meditative exploration of a teen boy's mind as he is discovering his sexuality. Gus van Sant is one of its executive producers and some of the people who have contributed to its creation are Jonathan Caouette ("Tarnation") and John Cameron Mitchell ("Shortbus"). The originality of the camera work and the film's beautiful stills have not gone unnoticed as it was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award in the Best Cinematography category earlier this year. The film also won the Special Jury Prize at the Sarasota Film Festival in 2006.

There is no doubt that "Wild Tigers I Have Known" is what might be called an "arty" film. Dreams and fantasies are mixed with reality to an extent that it isn't always possible to tell the difference. As one's perception of reality is always subjective, a clear-cut distinction may not be that relevant in the end. I certainly don't find it of utmost importance here. On the contrary, it adds to the overall feeling of the alienation that Logan experiences. His daydreaming is his mind's natural defence against just that. The slow and poetic rhythm of the narrative is a mental reflection of the world as Logan deals with it.

All in all, a beautifully shot film dealing with complex issues without shying away from touchy subjects. A must-see for those of you interested in contemporary American queer cinema.

Here is the film's trailer:

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Festival impressions, Day 1

The festival opened on Tuesday night at Streit's Cinema in an upscale part of the city near the City Hall.

There was also time for a glass of Sekt and a nice chat before we found comfort in the seats inside the cinema. Here: Gerda from Filmmotor, Til from TalkSofa and yours truly.

Mingling in the foyer of the cinema.

Some people were dressed for party in environmentally-friendly colours. Here: Katrin from TalkSofa and her friend.

Filmmotor was also on the spot ready to interview the unsuspecting guests.

The hosts of the opening night.

The festival's director made a short presentation.

The entire festival team on stage. Everyone took a turn in spotlighting a particular film or film programme to be shown later in the week.

Maren Kroymann, a famous German actress, entertained the audience before the screening of the opening film "Vivere". She is also widely known for her activism in LGBT issues.

Filmmotor in action at the opening.

The opening film's director Angelina Maccarone and her assistant answer questions from the audience after the screening.

All images by Māra Pētersone.