The inception of the New York Lesbian and Gay Experimental Film Festival came out as a real need for such a showcase, since experimental film festivals often bar gay films. Even the growing number of gay and lesbian film festivals around the world often limit themselves to screening narrative films.
"Experimental film" is a catch phrase that can strike a cynical chord even among those who are fond of modern art. Lawrence F. Brose prefers the term "essential film." Brose is a Buffalo filmmaker who has an established professional relationship with the New York festival. The third annual festival screened films by more than 60 filmmakers last September.
Essential film, Brose says, "suggests testing the limits of what artists can do with film.
"Film can have the movement and timing of music. It can also have the flow and the imagery of poetry. There is so much that film can be that mainstream movies are not."
Brose is curating a show called "Power and Desire," 10 films considered highlights of the festival. It will be screened in Buffalo later this week, co-presented by CEPA Gallery and Alternative Images Development Association.
A distinguishing feature of the short films is eloquence. Unusual when compared with most other art films, the films that make up "Power and Desire" clearly communicate with the audience.
"Power and Desire" can easily put to rest preconceptions that gay film is limited to spicy stories about sailors or sensitive coming-out dramas. In fact, such drama is notably absent from all of these films. Likewise, the range of experimentation by the filmmakers here is impressive, defying the notion that these festivals are a marathon of grainy, obtuse images. The lesbian and gay filmmakers' non-traditional use of the medium's technique expands the possibilities for film to ignite the screen.
"Elegy in the Streets," a work by Jim Hubbard --a founder of the New York festival and presently one of its curators -- is an example. "Elegy" is composed of dreamy balletic images; the look of the film suggests what would be possible if Robert Joffrey had been able to choreograph a Monet painting. But the subject of the pictures Hubbard moves onto the screen would seem the remotest inspiration for such pensive and artistic result.
Hubbard recorded a street demonstration by ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and then toyed with the speed of the action and hand-treated the color and texture of the film images. he intercuts this with images of a friend who died of AIDS. Without effort given to storytelling, Hubbard manages to relate everything one needs to know about why gay men and women take their demands to the street and make them public.
In "Song From an Angel," a mini-musical by David Weissman, the camera faces actor Rodney Price, who is seated in a wheel-chair. He sings a sprightly Kurt Weill melody with lyrics altered to comment on his situation, the chorus reminding that "I have less time than you."
Although AIDS has sapped his body of strength, Price is able to engage an audience. One of the film's accomplishments, not the least of which is entertainment, is that it brings you eye to eye with a person with AIDS without sensationalism or sentimentalism.
If there is a film that is difficult to watch, it is "DHPG Mon Amour." Director Carl George introduces Joe and David, two men who will not allow AIDS to interfere with their home life.
DHPG is a treatment that has shown promise in preventing blindness caused by AIDS-related retinitis. David uses it in hopes of keeping his sight as he lives through the course of the disease. The routine of preparing the drug is compared to household ritual of making dinner.
Theirs is a very cozy Manhattan household. It might be excruciating to watch the administering of the injection, but the director so efficiently portrays their relationship that it would almost be impolite -- a breach of trust -- to look away while David takes his daily does.
It is necessary to note that AIDS is a recurring them in current gay art. It is as important a theme in gay art as love and morality have been in the history of world art. AIDS can be seen as a metaphor in these films for the intersection of love and morality.
The films treat other themes besides AIDS. They are also motivated by home and family, friendship, longing and fantasy. "Power and Desire" implicitly communicates the need for gay men and women to reclaim what is theirs and to do so on their own terms.
"Power and Desire" may seem a strong title for 10 films that are eloquent and genial. The gentle outside, however, covers a potent inner conviction. The filmmakers seem to say that they and their work are vital -- only the dead feel no pain. Suffering may be for the living, but them, so are home, family and friendship.
CEPA and AIDA present "Power and Desire" as part of their commitment to films representing new directions and unique effort in the art. Its screening is scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society Museum.