When she thinks back over the 10 years that she's directed the Pikes Peak Lavender Film Festival, Alma Cremonesi hesitates to name her favorite films. She's already learned that what she likes really isn't that important.
"At first [in selecting films] I was going with my own taste, which I discovered was a little too esoteric ..." she says. "I learned pretty quickly that I had to understand the taste of our audience."
So the festival strives each year to be diverse. A team of four travels to the San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Fest to pick the best from that 11-day festival to screen here.
"It's hard," Cremonesi says, "because you want to include transgendered people, you want to include offbeat subjects, you want to have foreign films and domestic films, you want to have films for men and women, you want to have narrative films, dramatic films, comedies and documentaries."
With 13 feature-length films, including four documentaries, plus seven shorts, this year's fest is the biggest in recent years, and Cremonesi hopes it's the right mix. Here's a look at some of the more notable selections:
I Can't Think Straight
Friday, Sept. 18, 7:30 p.m.
Opening night's first feature, I Can't Think Straight, follows two women — one Jordanian Christian, one Indian Muslim — raised by repressive families. Despite both having boyfriends, with one about to celebrate her engagement with an extravagant party thrown by her parents, the women find themselves irresistibly drawn to one another.
This could have been an interesting look of cross-cultural love, but the film is mostly forgettable aside from its highly attractive leading ladies (Lisa Ray and Sheetal Sheth from last year's The World Unseen), who do make a pleasant pairing.
Patrik, Age 1.5
Friday, 9:05 p.m.
Even if the night's first film leaves you uninspired, don't cut out early or you'll miss one of the festival's best features. In Patrik, Age 1.5, a sensitive, funny drama from Sweden, Göran and Sven move to suburbia and hope to adopt a toddler. When a tiny typo brings them a youth who's 15, instead of 1.5, the action takes off.
Sven struggles to tolerate a teen with a violent past, Göran is caught off-guard by Sven's rebellion, and Patrik is uneasy about living with "homos" until the matter can be resolved. One of the film's delights is its beautifully photographed, colorful and slightly cartoonish setting in a too-perfect suburbia, where the straight neighbors are played almost as caricatures.
Double feature: Against a Trans Narrative and Diagnosing Difference
Saturday, Sept. 19, 10 a.m.
Both those inside and outside the transgendered community should find ideas to digest in this pair of documentaries. The first, Against a Trans Narrative, smashes the expectation that transgendered people should fit their lives into clichéd storylines to explain their feelings and to please the experts who serve them. Instead, the film mixes interviews, group discussions, dramatic scenes and readings to bring out a diversity of opinions and experiences. It addresses complex issues like relationships during transition, and sexism and changes in power and privilege.
Diagnosing Difference disputes the idea that gender identity disorder should be classified as a mental health condition. Lively, diverse and articulate transgendered people, including an early activist, a punk rocker, a psychologist and others, talk candidly about their lives, the changes they've seen, and the future they envision.
Make the Yuletide Gay
Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
While it might seem early for a holiday feature, Make the Yuletide Gay unwraps some Christmas cheer. Nathan and Gunn are out as a couple at college, but at home Gunn's parents are unaware that he's gay. When Nathan's parents decide to take a holiday cruise, Nathan shows up on Gunn's doorstep for Christmas, where Gunn wants to pass for "roommates." Nathan's not so sure.
The humor is a little too simple, but what saves this "teen" film is the cast of infectiously enjoyable characters. Gunn's mother stands out as an overly enthusiastic, cookie-baking machine who bathes herself in Christmas kitsch and Gunn's father is a genial, albeit overgrown, pothead.
Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
Be warned: This is a very dark comedy that touches on domestic violence and explicit racism in a dysfunctional Southern family. Doesn't sound like a comedy? I didn't think so, either, but Drool is one of the fest's best and most entertaining films.
Anora is a downtrodden housewife who tolerates a horrible husband, a potty-mouthed teen and a bratty son via regular and hilarious fantasies of a better life. When the cosmetics saleswoman next door gives Anora a makeover, and Anora's husband catches them kissing, violence sparks a Thelma & Louise-type run with kids in tow. You'll like these characters so much, you'll forgive them their backward beginnings and embrace their liberation.
Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement
Sunday, Sept. 20, 2:30 p.m.
This timely film, which won the Outstanding Documentary Feature Award at Outfest 2009, tells the moving story of a lifelong love affair. Edie & Thea follows the two title characters from their meeting in the early '60s to the present day, using personal photos and their candid stories to re-create the romance and its struggle to endure personal and political pressures.
When Edie gets a difficult diagnosis, the urgency to make their 42-year relationship "official" grows, and they travel to Canada in hopes of being wed. Current headlines about same-sex marriage only make this film's touching moments feel more powerful, without turning maudlin.