Every film fest has its LGBT films, but this year, the Berkshire International Film Festival (BIFFMA) has found two films that take a hard look at religious fundamentalism vs. freedom. In Eyes Wide Open, we see two ultra-orthodox jews agonizing - and being mercilessly persecuted - over their love for each other.
The repression of muslims is explored in The Taqwacores. While it is more about the freedom to love music and ignore the more repressive passages of the Koran, it also features a queer character. Both films deal with the spirit-killing nature of religious excesses. Seeing the relentless pressure their adherents pour upon those who dare to be different in the middle east makes us more aware of the battle for doctrinaire conformity that continues unabated in the United States.
Finally, there is The Owls, a riotous amalgam of lesbian love, horror, normalcy, weirdness and terror that can not be put in just a couple of words. You just have to watch the clip to even begin to understand this provocative and - in many ways - experimental film.
Sat, Jun 5 - 7:15PM @ Triplex #3
Eyes Wide Open (Israel/France/Germany, 2009) Berkshire Premiere
Director: Haim Tabakman
English subtitles Print courtesy of New American Vision
Aaron, a respectable butcher in Jerusalem's ultra-orthodox Jewish community, is married to Rivka and is a dedicated father of four children. One day, he meets Ezri, a handsome 22 year old student, and soon falls in love with him. He then starts to neglect his family and community life, swept away by his love and lust for Ezri. But guilt, torment, and pressure from the community will catch up with him, leading him to make a radical decision.
Sat, Jun 5 - 9:15PM @ Triplex #3
The Owls (USA, 2010) Berkshire Premiere
Writer and Director: Cheryl Dunye
A funny, mysterious and humane generational anthem, The Owls is an experimental thriller/film noir about four “Older-Wiser-Lesbians” who accidentally kill a young lesbian and try to get away with it. Raised in the shadow of “pathological lesbian” films like The Fox, The Children’s Hour and The Killing of Sister George, the OWLs once embraced the utopian vision of Lesbian Nation. Now, approaching middle age, the revolution has eluded their dreams. Caught between a culture that still has no place for them and a younger generation indifferent to their contributions, the OWLs face an emotionally complex set of circumstances that have yet to be compassionately and truthfully addressed.
The Owls screenplay is by Sarah Schulman (best known for her novels After Delores and People in Trouble), based on a story by writer/director/professor Cheryl Dunye (The Watermelon Woman; She Don’t Fade; Stranger Inside), and stars some of the most popular underground artists in Lesbian Cinema, including Guinevere Turner (Go Fish; The L Word; American Psycho), V.S. Brodie (Go Fish), Lisa Gornick (Tick-Tock Lullabye) and Deak Evgenikos (The Itty Bitty Titty Committee).
Sat. June 5 - 5:00 PM
Filmed in Cleveland for less than $500,000, the story's characters include include a mohawked punk-music fan, a burqa-wearing feminist, a druggie and a skinhead. As Yusef watches them argue, pray and listen to punk rock, he begins to decide for himself what it means to be a good Muslim.
It is a story about a naïve engineering student who moves into a Taqwacore household as our guide. He learns that worshipping Allah is no impediment to alternative lifestyles, bad music and all the clichéd sins that flesh is heir to. Friday, June 4 at 6:30.
Some of the other films that deserve watching include A Shine of Rainbows, about an orphan boy who discovers that love has many colors, and Peaceable Kingdom which is a both a love story and a terror tale about the animals, domestic and commercial, in our lives. They both bring a feeling of hope and optimism to what seems a world that has lost the ability to be loving and human.
Also not to be misssed is Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, an artist who spent time with Andy Warhol at The Factory. The jazz score and dazzling editing make it a worthwhile destination. Just look at the first three minutes!
One film that is likely to capture the attention of Berkshire LGBTQ's is the delightful My Dog: An Unconditional Love Story. It is a film by playwright Mark St. Germaine of Freud's Last Session fame at Barrington Stage. It gets a special screening May 23 (before BIFF officially begins) at the Beacon.)
A paeon to everyone who spoils their furkids, it takes a look at celebrity dogs - and those who serve them, straight, gay and otherwise. Dogs are more concerned about how you smell and who rules the leash than about sexual preferences. More about this, and a film clip in my Berkshire on Stage story .
All in all, the festival appears to have chosen well, and many of the films reflect the Berkshire's optimistic outlook on life in a rural setting. You owe it to yourself to visit their website to find the films that reflect your interest and imagination. Most of their offerings will not be seen on a big screen with simpatico audiences ever again. Visit the BIFFMA Website for the full menu.
Or for the full BIFF film schedule on one page, check out this Berkshire On Stage story.