What is Qfest? Well, it's Asheville's first LGBTQ film festival — and it's not afraid of frightening the horses. Artistic Director Robert Gaston (who made the estimable locally produced Flight of the Cardinal) already tried to frighten me by hooking me up with five of the titles — including the opening night film — that are being screened between Sept. 29 and Oct. 2. He didn't frighten me, but he did impress me.
Here's a brief look-in at the five films I've seen.
Since it's up first, let's consider Jamie and Jessie Are Not Together. This is a romantic musical comedy about two roommates, Jamie (Jacqui Johnson) and Jessie (Jessica London-Shields), who are also best friends. Jamie is about to take off for New York and a shot at a Broadway career, but doesn't realize that Jessie is what you call head-over-heels in love with her. The story runs along a fairly familiar path, but is kept afloat by clever dialogue and the performances of its stars. Actually, all the performers in the film are good, which is something of a rarity in festival entries. And then there are the musical numbers. I'm not going to make a case that the songs are destined to become standards, but they're catchy and entertaining. The bigger numbers are used sparingly, but they serve to advance or enhance the story, and are surprisingly well accomplished. The entire film has a lively, fresh feeling that makes it a very appealing work.
The next of the films to play that I've seen is Over the Edge, which screens at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 30. This is a quirky little British movie by a fellow named Webster Forrest, and I have to say it's done in a style — or maybe a lack of one — that didn't appeal to me. The camera work is nearly all hand-held and often relies too much on long takes — not to mention a seemingly pointless tendency to switch to black and white. That said, I did like the oddness of the set-up involving a man (Danny Bedford) who thinks he might be a serial killer known as the Camden Monster — the existence of a dead guy in his bed might suggest this. He's also embarking on a possible new relationship with another young man (Sean Hart), who proves to be amazingly adaptable. Beyond that, I'll leave the film to its own absurdist devices. The two young men are appealing performers.
The showiest of the films is Tom Tykwer's German film 3. It's also the most accomplished in terms of filmmaking. After the solid, but unremarkable The International (2009), it's nice to see Tykwer getting back to something a little more daring. This story of a 40-something couple, Hanna (Sophie Rois) and Simon (Sebastian Schipper), who both fall in love with the same man, Adam (Devid Striesow), is definitely different. It's a very funny, very sensitive and very political film done with remarkable assurance and style. The only drawback to it is that it requires the viewer to accept the somewhat improbable coincidence of Hanna and Simon both meeting and falling for Adam independently. But if you can get past that, this is well worth seeing. It may not be quite as wild as Tykwer's Perfume, but at least he doesn't relegate the gay sex aspect to the background here. It screens at 4:15 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1.
The documentary Wish Me Away is an extremely intimate and moving portrait of Chely Wright, the first country music star to come out as gay. The film manages to be at once heartbreaking and inspiring — and it really doesn't matter if you're a fan of Wright or country music in general. I know that's often said about documentaries, and it's often not quite true, but here I think it is. My only qualm about the film lies in its 120-minute running time, which is probably a bit more than it needed to make its point. It screens at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1.
The closing night film Romeos is also the last film I saw — and it took me completely by surprise. This German film — written and directed by Sabine Bernardi — stars Rick Okon as Lukas, a young transsexual transitioning from female to male, who becomes romantically involved with a notorious heartbreaker, Fabio (Maximillian Befort), who doesn't know that his new almost-boyfriend is a transsexual. It's not an easy deception to keep up either, because Lukas still has breasts. The film lacks the flash and polish of 3, but darned if I don't think I actually like it better. It has such an appealing warmth and good-heartedness that I found it absolutely irresistible. The film shows at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 2. Don't miss it.
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