Drunktown’s Finest

Drunktown’s Finest is writer/director Sydney Freeland’s look at life on a Navajo reservation reservation in New Mexico. It is harsh and brutally honest, but also loving and hopeful.

In the pre-show intro, Ms Freeland said that the movie was basically a coming of age story for three genders, and that sounds about right. Good girl Nizhoni, adopted by white parents but eager to find her roots; Sick Boy, waiting to ship out for the army but unable to stay out of trouble; two-spirited trans girl Felixia, dreaming of being a model while still respecting her heritage.

As a coming of age tale, the themes are about choices, recognising the consequences of your actions, and figuring out which of your dreams to hold onto. For Felixia and Sick Boy those dreams involved leaving, but in the end, maybe they found something better. Nizhoni already lived abroad but wished to reconnect with her biological family. She got exactly what she wanted and more, facing the unpleasant truth that her adopted parents had been lying to her for years.

But what I got out of the movie isn’t as trite as “stick with your people” or “follow traditions”. What I saw was a nurturing community with a culture of respect for gender variance… but also a lot of violence, homophobia, drug use and alcoholism, and people with neither solid roots not a future to look forward to. Nothing is glossed over, and no one is pretending there are easy answers. There’s no telling where Sick Boy, Felixia and Nizhoni will go from here—but the movie’s conclusion was a new beginning rather than an end. There’s hope. There’s always hope.

Incidentally, it was an unusual (and welcome) experience for me to see see the world through another culture’s eyes, and white people as “others”: Nizhoni’s well-meaning but condescending parents; the ditzy blonde girl who (for whatever reason) tried out for a Navajo women’s calendar shoot; Felixia’s could-have-been sugar daddy on Facebook. It’s refreshing.

Boys / Jongens

This movie is a feast for the eyes with gorgeous cinematography of the Dutch countryside, and equally beautiful actors, but the story itself wasn’t anything special. With some variations on a theme, this is a tale as old as time (or at least, gay liberation) that we’ve seen a hundred times before. Still, knowing how things would turn out didn’t keep me from thoroughly enjoying it.

Quiet, withdrawn Sieger has just been promoted to his high school’s higher level track team where he meets the relaxed, outgoing Marc. The two hit it off right away, though Sieger backs off after their first kiss, claiming he’s not gay. What with the intense training for an upcoming regional relay race the two end up spending a lot of time together, both on and off the track. Sieger is clearly attracted to Marc but confused about what he wants, half-heartedly double-dating a girl with his friend Stef. Marc finds out, is understandably upset, and for a while it seems even the race is in jeopardy. But all’s well that ends well, as the two make up, their school handily wins the race, and they (literally) ride off into the sunset.

Though Boys‘ tropes are, to put it gently, well-worn, I believe in this case it’s the execution that matters. It’s a very sweet and beautifully produced movie, with fine acting and directing (and the aforementioned visuals). I will mention one thing that sets it apart from similar movies, though: no big coming-out drama. In fact, no coming-out at all. During the course of the film Sieg and Marc never told anybody they were dating, or that they liked boys (though it’s possible Marc’s family already knew). Stef did put 2 and 2 together when he wasn’t macking on his girlfriend, but he never said anything until the very end, and even then it was to be quietly supportive.

Which I find fascinating. I could blame it on questionable writing—the movie was short on character development and skipped over a couple of key scenes, including Sieg and Marc’s post-race reconciliation—but one could see it as a sign of the times. Traditionally teen coming-out stories are supposed to be accompanied by huge drama, anger, disownment or tears, with the occasional bashing from local bigots. But here? Apart from Sieg’s “I’m not gay” line (which you could take in any number of ways), there’s nothing to suggest being gay would be a big deal. Are things that relaxed in the Netherlands? Awesome if true.

Boys / Jongens is not a perfect movie, but a greatly enjoyable one if you don’t mind its flaws. Come for the visuals, stay for the running tips.

Aquaporko! and Grrrls in Space

A whole bunch of sexy, funny, inspiring and beautiful women’s shorts here!

Stop Calling Me Honey Bunny

Two lady rabbits (actually, women in rabbit suits) start off their relationship humping like… well, you know… but as time goes by the passion runs dry. Toys don’t cut it, and neither does role playing (and really, “hunter and prey”?). But they eventually realise they’ve gained more than they lost.

Gut-bustingly hilarious, and a sweet message at the end. Tied for favourite short so far!

Waack Revolt

Two women waack their hearts out over the decades, from 1940′s Hollywood to present day LA, paying the haters no mind. A gorgeous, catchy blend of visual genres.

(What’s waacking? I had to look it up so here you go: WaackNation)

Little Vulvah & Her Clitoral Awareness

A cute animated short of a little girl exploring the world, filled with visual metaphors for her girl parts. Not my thing, obviously, but visually quite beautiful.

Sunday / Söndag

Basking in the afterglow of their one night stand, two women start talking but discover they’re looking for very different things. An interesting little slice-of-life drama.

Sissy

What is a sissy? This short by local filmmaker Jen Crothers explores the concept of sissiness, why it’s even a thing, and how it’s an awesome thing.

Secrets & Toys

An ultra-short film of two women trying on toys for the first time. Nicely acted, an interesting plotless slice-of-life bit.

What’s What

A cute little dance number about blurring gender lines.

Orbits / Orbitas

As the world burns in nuclear war, a lone soldier in an orbital space station befriends a beautiful alien. With stunning CGI animation and a heartwarming story, this is so far tied with Stop Calling Me Honey Bunny for favourite short. The world needs more queer sci-fi!

(Oh hey, it’s available on Vimeo. Enjoy!)

Aquaporko!

A documentary about Melbourne’s queer fat femme synchronised swimming team. Lovingly produced, awesome and inspiring.

Appropriate Behavior

What a coincidence, I was just thinking the festival could use some bi visibility!

Appropriate Behavior is a comedy of life and love in New York. It’s hilarious, often absurd and blissfully plotless (as life is). It’s what Seinfeld would be if Seinfeld were queer and R-rated. And actually funny.

But there’s more to this movie than laughs. Even when your life seems to be going nowhere and the only thing you can focus on is how best to stalk your ex-girlfriend, you gotta keep moving forward. Even when asking a pretty lady out in front of your ex leads to you taking part in a super-awkward threesome with some snobby couple you just met at the bar (okay, the girl was nice) well, at least you tried.

And if you’re overwhelmed by teaching that film class to five year olds, have faith that it gets better. Besides, your rival teacher’s pretentiously artistic final film is clearly trying too hard; your movie about farts and zombies is a lot more fun, and actually involved the kids.

Because really, isn’t life about being honest, letting go of your doubts, and trusting others? Don’t worry too much about what people think, just do what feels good. But don’t be that hipster douche showing off his squid tattoo, he’s just creepy.

Wow, this movie turned out to be surprisingly deep. Who would have thought?

The Way He Looks

The Way He Looks / Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho is sexy, sweet and, if you’ll pardon the pun, kind of an eye-opener. It’s basically an expansion of the award-winning 2010 short I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone / Eu Não Quero Voltar Sozinho—shown at the 2012 VQFF and available in full on YouTube—with the same actors, same core characters and a similar but more complex story.

The original plot was fairly straightforward: blind high school student Leo and his BFF Gia are both infatuated with handsome newcomer Gabriel, who becomes friends with both but ends up spending more time with Leo (to Gia’s chagrin). The two boys eventually discover their feelings for each other and the film ends with their kiss. The Way He Looks adds several characters—Leo’s overprotective parents, some school bullies, another girl with the hots for Gabriel—and a few extra layers to the story including, most importantly I think, a huge focus on Leo and his world as a blind teenager. This film is more than an adorable love story, it’s an excellent coming-of-age story as well.

I also appreciate how the film avoided some tired old coming-out clichés: for instance, Leo’s bullying classmates only went as far as asshole homophobic taunts and ableist pranks, never actual bashing. Not only has that been done to death, I don’t think it would have been appropriate in this kind of movie. The bullies did add a little bit of coming-out drama as Gabriel and Leo gradually became more than friends, but they—along with the overprotective parents—mostly helped to justify Leo’s need to spread his wings and test his independence: whether that’s in little ways like unlocking his front door himself or going for a long walk without telling anyone where he is, or in big ways like signing up for a foreign exchange program.

Leo and Gabriel have great chemistry and I loved them in everyone of their scenes together, but especially when one is teaching the other something. In particular Gabriel’s astronomy lesson, when he goes over what a lunar eclipse is all about but then has to explain terms like “illuminated” and “invisible”. He succeeds nicely, using rocks to show the relative positions of the Sun, Earth and Moon; as a bonus, it makes for a hilarious callback when Leo later mangles the eclipse metaphor with Gia.

I also want to compliment Ghilherme Lobo, the actor playing Leo. He doesn’t seem to be actually blind (or at least my Googling never mentioned it), but as far as I can tell he absolutely nailed it: never focusing on things with his eyes, even other people’s faces, which must have been a hard reflex to fight; using his hands or other senses to connect with the world; a very closed-off and defensive body language in unfamiliar or tense situations. Kudos for a fantastic performance.

One last point: the short’s title was I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone but Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho translates as “today I want to go back alone”. Interesting. I’m not sure, but it may be a reference to Leo’s growing independence.

The Way He Looks is a super-sweet love story that also made me think about the experience of people with disabilities. A win all around.

Alien Sex

I’ve honestly got mixed feelings abound Alien Sex, the Queer Arts Festival show I saw on Thursday. I’d tweeted previously that I didn’t really know what to expect—but it turns out that wasn’t true: I came in expecting weird queer/genderqueer sexy sci-fi, and I was naturally all over that. Also, I think I was expecting an overall narrative or at least overarching themes. Because I usually do, and I always look for it anyway even when it’s not there, because that’s how my brain works.

What I actually saw was a number of loosely connected vignettes, some dealing with the topics of alien life/love (but not so much with alien sex) and most dealing with human love and sexuality, with a strong focus on consent or dominance/submission play. Half the material was original, half consisted of readings from Linda Smukler / Samuel Ace, and bits of David Mamet’s play All Men Are Whores.

And I’ll be honest, I definitely enjoyed the original stuff more—the silly and playful sci-fi, in particularly the intriguing conversation with an alien who has no concept of “you” or “I”, only “we”, and what death means to people like that; the high-energy dancing and drumming, the spin-the-bottle game / consent workshop. I’m not comfortable with D/S in the first place, and in some of the bits it wasn’t clear that we were dealing with people playing out or negotiating a scene. Challenging stuff for sure, but isn’t that what the Queer Arts Festival is all about?

The problem is that Alien Sex doesn’t feel like one show, it feels like at least three: the Mamet, the poetry, and the sci-fi. I understand that it’s a work in progress, and it’s supposed to be non-narrative, but I didn’t see anything tying all these scenes together into a whole. And though I definitely respect the creators’ goal to incorporate a diversity of voices, it feels like these voices right now aren’t theirs, in the sense that they’re incorporated into the show’s overall vision.

Mind you: as frustrating as the show’s disconnectedness is, I did adore this look at the creative process, and I’m very grateful to the QAF for showcasing it. One of my favourite aspects of the East Side Culture Crawl is to see artists’ studios as places of active creation: the rags, the gloves, the half-finished pieces, the artist hirself interacting with customers and with their peers. Art doesn’t spring forth fully formed from the aether. Art evolves.

And I can’t wait to see what Alien Sex will evolve into.

WordCamp Vancouver 2014

It was time for Vancouver’s annual WordCamp extravaganza, this time a Developer Edition (the first since 2011)! Good timing, too: last year’s came smack in the middle of the Queer Film Fest and I had to miss one of the shows!

Opening remarks

Nothing too special here: a lot of thanking all the attendants, our fabulous sponsors and equally fabulous volunteers, but one thing did stand out: the organisers mentioned the “WordPress Rangers,” volunteers dressed in distinctive t-shirts, that would circulate around the Camp and how attendees could come to them with any questions or concerns, including if they were being harassed.

A few people laughed, and that was the interesting part. Was it because it came up out of the blue? Or because they didn’t think that could ever be an issue at a WordCamp, or in Vancouver? I don’t know, but I think it’s great that the conference has a code of conduct that explicitly forbids harassment and discrimination, and that the organisers went out of their way to let people know about it.

Now, on to the talks:

Curtis McHale: Getting Started With Unit testing

Curtis McHale stepped us through the theory and practice of test-driven development, focusing specifically on PHPUnit. I have to admit it’s something I sorely need to work on. Some of the tools and tips were WordPress-specific, (e.g.: turning on WP_DEBUG, using WP_UnitTestCase), but most could be applied to any development project. Good stuff.

Mel Karlik: How to Build a Custom Widget

Mel Karlik gave us a quick how-to on creating a widget as a plugin. I’d already tried my hand at this before, but it was nice to get a refresher course. Plus, I learned about Genericons! I thought they were the same icon font as the 3.9 admin dashboard uses but no, that’s Dashicons. Still, same idea.

Ben Lobaugh: Securing your plugin / theme

On the bright side, Ben says, even the pros introduce security flaws in their work. When it happens, the thing to do is own up to it and push an update.

This talk contained a million tips on writing secure code: follow the coding guidelines in the Codex; enable WP_DEBUG to ensure you don’t miss anything like deprecated hooks; don’t trust your users; sanitise everything; use the API, it’ll keep your code simple and do the heavy lifting for you; check user permissions; and so on and so forth. Great stuff, I just need to sit down and be mindful of it when I’m doing my coding.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen: Future Responsive Today

Morten’s talk was in two parts: one on the HTML5 <picture> element, which is intended to replace the tag, and Flexbox, which is pure awesomesauce magic to let you lay out elements in far more flexible ways than we ever thought possible.

<picture> was new to me though flexbox wasn’t; still, I loved the demos and seeing all that it could do.

(Slides here: http://mor10.com/presentations/flexbox/)

Merrill Mayer: Advanced Custom Fields: Beyond the Basics

In the first of 4 lightning talks, Merrill Mayer walked us through her solution to a particular client problem: they needed a custom date field for a custom post type, along with custom “previous post” and “next post” functionality (getting links from this field, not the usual post date), and some customising of the dashboard post list. You can see it in action at bbrc.net/speakers. It was a neat exercise, using a variety of tools (custom wp_query, filters for the links, more filters for the dashboard, etc…)

Tanner Moushey: Introduction to the command line

Second lightning talk: Tanner Moushey introduced us to command-line tools, and why on earth we’d ever need them. Except for mentioning WP-CLI it was very general: Git, ssh, scripts, and vim. Nothing really new to me, but again it’s good to bring it all together.

Christine Rondeau: Responsive web development made easy with CSS and the mobble plugin

Third lightning talk: Christine Rondeau talking about a few tools for responsive design. The first technique is to hide ¬†or reveal content at certain breakpoints, using CSS. It’s simple but effective and flexible; however, the HTML content is still being downloaded, which is an issue. It’s good for small bits of code, but nothing too big.

That’s where mobble comes in: the plugin provides conditional functions for detecting a variety of mobile devices. Good stuff.

Robert Dall: How to create your own robot

Or, how to connect Github with Asana. How do you work with Github when your team is physically somewhere else? One solution is to have your commits show up in Asana.

(Slides and blog post here)

Zack Tollman: Cowboy coding

What’s cowboy coding? Zack explains that it’s risky coding, without testing or staging or any safety net whatsoever. It’s unpredictable and there’s bound to always be collateral damage. So he walked us through some tools to automate deployment and server update processes, to reduce the chances of human error bringing down whole sites or servers.

Tools to test updates locally (Vagrant, MAMP/WAMP); provisioning tools; deployment tools. And my first thought was that I never had to manage a server, but I have installed updates on live servers without proper backup plans. I need to avoid that in the future!

(Slides can be found here)

Luke Woodward: Little-known WP JavaScript helpers

I’ve already used a tiny little bit of the Ajax API, but I figured this talk would be take me to the next level. And it did! I’ll need more time to digest and apply the lessons here, so I won’t bother to summarise the talk. Here are the slides! And here’s his code example!

In conclusion

Success! I learned tons, reconnected with WordPress peeps and met a few new ones. Now I just need to apply everything I learned… and think about doing a talk myself? Hey, why not?

Sunny Drake’s “X”

I saw this hilarious fourth-wall-breaking one-man show on Saturday, as part of the Queer Arts Festival. It’s a weird little piece, cleverly self-referential, making great use of props and multimedia, with several stories evolving in parallel, occasionally meeting and influencing each other. In other words, right up my alley!

But in addition to all this, it’s very painful and personal, with the theme of addiction (specifically alcoholism) running through the main stories. And the thing is, those stories were extremely relatable, being all about the need to escape into a magical world where bullies don’t exist and you can be any beautiful pop princess you want; about it’s not just about you, and the harm you cause yourself does affect others; about how trying to quit and living in the real world will mean dealing with all the emotional issues that drove you to escape in the first place. So, check it out if you can. Whatever your vice is, this show will definitely speak to you. It made me reflect, made me feel, made my brain spin. That’s a Saturday night well spent.

PS: actually, maybe it made my brain spin a little too much because there were some parts I just couldn’t follow. The puppets in the magical world, for one were doing things that seemed unrelated to the humans’ doings. And the thing with the heart and the ribcage, what was that about? At first I relaxed and expected it all to come together eventually but it never did as far as I could tell. Part of me wants to watch it a second time to see if it might make more sense… but I think if I did it would lose its magic, so I’ll just let it go.

My 2014 Queer Film Festival Schedule

It’s that time of year again! Whoooooo!

And just FYI, I am planning to keep on writing reviews of the movies I see. I know, last year I fell way behind, though I did get them all done eventually… But I’ll do better this time, even if it means trimming the reviews themselves down a bit. Sometimes I have too many thoughts, y’know?

Thursday, August 14

Just the opening gala, and I am totally looking forward to it. I adored the original short, I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone / Eu Não Quero Voltar Sozinho, shown back in the 2012 VQFF.

Final choice: The Way He Looks / Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho

Friday, August 15

EITHER

a) Boys / Jongens (a coming-out-slash-first-love-story between two 15-year-old boys) and Eastern Boys, “a seductive drama/thriller/love story” with hustlers and gangs and commentary on France’s immigration policies.

OR

b) Appropriate Behavior (not sure what this one’s about. There’s lesbians and closet-related hijinks and pansexual explorations. I think it’s a comedy?); and A Street in Palermo / Via Castellana Bandiera, another lesbian comedy, this one satirising Italian society.

At this point I’m leaning towards international lesbian comedy. Besides, I’m less interested in Eastern Boys and I’ll have the chance to see Boys / Jongens later in the festival.

Final choice: Appropriate Behavior and A Street in Palermo / Via Castellana Bandiera

Saturday, August 16

I’ve got other plans that night, so I’ll only be able to see the early-early show, a documentary about Melbourne’s fat femme synchronised swim team, plus what looks like a bunch of sexy and/or funny shorts. Too bad, I would have liked to see GRIND: Hookup Shorts.

Final choice: Aquaporko! and Grrrls in Space

Sunday, August 17

Early-early show: Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People, which is exactly what it says on the tin. Then it’ll be either:

a) Drunktown’s Finest, a drama of life, love and identities on a Navajo reservation; and A Self-Made Man, a documentary about transman Tony Ferraiolo and the trans youth he inspires,

OR

b) Test, a love story set in 1985 San Francisco; and Bad Hair / Pelo Malo, a Venezuelan story of economic inequality, intolerance, and a working-class boy who wants to straighten his hair and become a performer.

Both sets look good! However, I’m slightly leaning towards the gay stuff.

Final choice: Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People, Test and Bad Hair / Pelo Malo.

Monday, August 18

EITHER

a) Boys / Jongens—see Friday above—and My Child / Benim Çocuğum, stories of families of LGBT people in Turkey. Probably not too different from last year’s Mama Rainbow,

OR

Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty, a documentary on sexuality, beauty and disabilities; and Out in the Night, the true story of the New Jersey 4.

Right, so I do want to see Boys, and why not get an extra helping of warm fuzzies with My Child?

Final choice: Boys / Jongens and My Child / Benim Çocuğum

Tuesday, August 19

EITHER

a) I Feel Like Disco, a disco-flavoured coming-of-age story, followed by Hey, Hey My Kid is Gay, a panel discussion of LGBTQ allies; and Love is Strange, a drama with older gay characters, starring John Lithgow,

OR

b) Boy + Sikat + Das Phallometer (3 shorts, the first of which is a drama of ambition and opportunism) and Pierrot Lunaire: Butch Dandy (a “gender-bending operatic thriller” adaptation of Andy Schoenberg’s poetic melodrama Pierrot Lunaire), which looks too weird to pass up. And I don’t even know what the hell Das Phallometer is about, except it adds up to “weird and German.” Suits me fine!

Final choice: Boy + Sikat + Das Phallometer and Pierrot Lunaire: Butch Dandy

Wednesday, August 20

EITHER

a) Changemakers (a selection of local queer documentary makers) and The Coast is Queer (films by local queer filmmakers)

OR

b) Test (see Sunday above) and Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger, a look at the amazing artist and activist Kate Bornstein.

Easy decision, though. You don’t think I’d miss The Coast is Queer, do you? I mean, I’m skipping the last day of grass volleyball league to catch this show, that’s how much I want to see it.

Final choice: Changemakers and The Coast is Queer

Thursday, August 21

EITHER

a) The Way He Looks (see Opening Gala above) and Eastern Boys (see Friday above)

OR

b) The Centrepiece Gala, Children 404, an documentary on the lives of queer children and teens in Putin’s Russia, focusing on an online support forum of the same name currently under legal attack by the authorities.

This one’s easy as well: I’ll already have seen The Way He Looks and I’m not that interested in Eastern Boys.

Final choice: Children 404.

Friday, August 22

EITHER

a) Tru Love, a lesbian love story set in Toronto; and Quick Change, a drama set in Manila’s underground trans women community.

OR

b) The Third One / El Tercero, a sexy and romantic Argentinian drama; and Salvation Army / L’armée du Salut, a gay drama of identities, race, class and domestic abuse, set in Morocco and Switzerland, and based on an award-winning novel.

Final choice: tentatively, The Third One / El Tercero and Salvation Army / L’armée du Salut.

Saturday, August 23

Early-early show: POWER, “an edgy, hip-hop cabaret show” featuring a diverse youth cast, taking place in East Van with what looks like a strange meta storyline. Then it’ll be either:

a) The Dog, a documentary about John Wojtowicz the man who robbed a bank, served 20 years in prison and got played by Al Pacino in 1975′s Dog Day Afternoon; and Winter Journey, a weird Russian love/hate story between a refined opera singer and a street thug

OR

b) Of Girls and Horses, a German coming-of-age lesbian tale set on a horse ranch; and Anita’s Last Cha Cha / Ang Huling Cha Cha ni Anita, a little rural Bulacan slice-of-life “with a few touches of magical realism thrown in”. Sounds nifty.

I think I’ll go with the lesbian stories this time around. I’m a bit curious about The Dog even though I’ve never seen Dog Day Afternoon, but Winter Journey might be too dark and gritty for me… plus I’m kind of in the mood for super-atmospheric, simple-storied German lesbian cinema.

Final choice: POWER, Of Girls and Horses and Anita’s Last Cha Cha / Ang Huling Cha Cha ni Anita

Sunday, August 24

Only one choice, the Closing Gala: a crazy rock-n-rolling musical with lesbian love triangles, the criminal underworld and a climactic battle of the bands. Fuck yeah.

Final choice: GIRLTRASH: All Night Long

TOTAL NUMBER OF SHOWS: 20. Yikes. But it’ll totally be worth it!

On the Road to Kamloops

Lots of pretty pictures on the way to Kamloops!

The muddy Fraser

Elvis Rocks the Canyon

Dry Interior landscape

I took a picture of this church before, and now it has a name: St. Michael and All Angels Anglican Church, near Spences Bridge

A family(?) of mountain goats by the side of the road, climbing the cliff like it ain’t no thing.

Let’s show a close up of one of the goats, just because.

Out of the mountains (sort of)

A little farm, on the way back

More here!