As American society has taken steps—some halting, some confident—toward recognition and acceptance of a wider variety of gender and sexual identities, compelling true-life tales reflecting a previously stifled panorama of experiences have emerged. Each year, the Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival presents a thoughtfully curated selection of those stories, and its 2018 iteration, which runs from Thursday, May 17, through Sunday, May 20, at the Hollywood Theatre, is no exception.
The opening night selection looks to the past while providing hope in the face of a fraught future. “50 Years of Fabulous” examines the oldest gay and lesbian charity group in the country, The Imperial Council of San Francisco, which was founded in 1965 by José Julio Sarria, the first openly gay candidate for public office in American history. The film functions as a tribute to Sarria, who died in 2013, as well as a testimony to the group’s accomplishments and a recognition of the challenges it faces to remain relevant today.
Other highlights include “Every Act of Life,” an affecting and admiring portrait of four-time Tony Award winner Terrence McNally (“Love! Valour! Compassion!,” “Kiss of the Spider-Woman,” “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” and so many others). Testimonials pour in from titans such as F. Murray Abraham, Angela Lansbury, and Rita Moreno. Audra McDonald, who was in the original cast of McNally’s “Master Class” and, coincidentally, will be appearing with the Oregon Symphony at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Tuesday, May 22nd, has some very nice things to say. And Nathan Lane, naturally, is irrepressible.
But it’s McNally himself who provides the most powerful stories. He’s earned them, having survived a drunken, abusive father; a closeted youth in Corpus Christi, Texas; a series of flops and heartbreaks; the AIDS epidemic; alcoholism; and lung cancer. His life is the sort of against-all-odds tale that would try the credulity of a theater audience, but happens to be true.
A vast array of subcultures and identities have come into public view, and sometimes it feels like there’s a documentary to be made about each and every one of them. “Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution” looks back at the gay punk rock scene spearheaded by filmmaker Bruce LaBruce (whose new film, “The Misandrists,” opens here in June) in 1980s Toronto. In the oddly poignant culture-clash documentary “The Gospel of Eureka,” filmmakers Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher (“October Country”) travel to a small Arkansas town where gospel-themed drag shows and evangelical Christian passion plays find a way to co-exist. And if those true-life tales aren’t tempting, there are movies about gay Syrian refugees, Brazilian transgender pop stars, Utah’s only AIDS doctor, the underground black lesbian strip-club scene in Los Angeles, and more.
(The 2018 Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival runs from Thursday, May 17, through Sunday, May 20, at the Hollywood Theatre.)
It’s not entirely clear what message Quebecois cinematographer-turned-director Ian Lagarde is trying to convey with his feature-film helming debut, “All You Can Eat Buddha.” But bumper-sticker existentialism isn’t very enlightening, anyway, and the movie, screening Saturday night at the Northwest Film Center, is all the more compelling for refusing to offer up a bite-size moral.
The setting is a Caribbean island resort with an international clientele. One such vacationer is Mike (Ludovic Berthillot), an inscrutable bear of a man who speaks rarely but, as the title implies, proves to be a champion at the buffet. He becomes an object of fascination not only for the resort staff, including his chambermaid Esmerelda, but for many guests as well. One of them even credits Mike with curing his daughter’s lack of desire for food (and apparently life in general). When his tour group boards the bus back to the airport, Mike decides to stay behind, becoming a fixture and developing even more fantastical powers, both curative and sexual. He also rescues, and bonds with, a talking octopus. There’s some Luis Bunuel influence seemingly at work here, seasoned with some obvious but funny satire of all-inclusive resort culture and just a dash of outright body horror.
If it weren’t for Lagarde’s steady hand, and Bethillot’s even steadier performance, this could seem like just another collection of random moments in search of a coherent rationale. But “All You Can Eat Buddha” is saying something, even if it’s hard to understand with all that food in its mouth.
(“All You Can Eat Buddha” screens at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 19, at the Northwest Film Center)
“Anything”: Severely depressed following his wife’s death, a Mississippi man named Early Landry (John Carrol Lynch) moves to Los Angeles to be closer to his sister (Maura Tierney). One of Early’s new neighbors is Freda von Rhenburg (Matt Bomer), a transgender sex worker. The two form a bond that will be unexpected for anyone who’s never seen a movie about two disparate people who discover they have more in common than they thought. (Regal Fox Tower)
“Let the Sunshine In”: The latest from French director Claire Denis teams the master filmmaker for the first time with megastar Juliette Binoche, in a surprisingly conventional, but extremely effective, story about a middle-aged woman looking for love in all the wrong places. One of the best films to play at February’s Portland International Film Festival returns for a regular engagement. (Living Room Theater)
“Portland Underground Film Festival”: Three days of some of the most unfiltered, personal cinema out there. Documentaries, horror films, and several themed programs of shorts means there’s something for any adventurous taste. Check website for full schedule. (Clinton Street Theater, through Sunday)
“Portland ReelAbilities Film Festival”: This triptych of short films aims to disrupt conventional narratives about disability and further the artistic expression of people with both apparent and non-apparent disabilities. (Northwest Film Center)
“The 7th Voyage of Sinbad”: While it might not be the pinnacle of Ray Harryhausen’s special-effects genius, this 1958 charmer (Harryhausen’s first color film) still offers thrills aplenty. (Northwest Film Center, also Sunday)
“Lost in Paris”: In this charming modern fable, a Canadian librarian ventures to the City of Lights and encounters a persistent, grimy suitor. Their relationship plays out in graceful slapstick that would make Buster Keaton proud. (Northwest Film Center)
“Brimstone & Glory”: This visually spectacular documentary takes viewers to an annual celebration in the Mexican city of Tultepec that honors the patron saint of fireworks. You can only imagine the pyrotechnic glory on display. (Northwest Film Center)
“Asylum of Satan”: This 1972 low-budget exploitation horror flick will be screened as part of “Satanic Panic” night, which will include “Satanic Short Films,” “Ghoulish Giveaways,” and special guests (hopefully not including Satan!). (Hollywood Theatre)
“Memories of Underdevelopment”: Cuban director Tomas Gutierrez Alea’s groundbreaking 1968 feature is a quasi-fictional road movie that explores the country’s tumultuous recent past and dysfunctional present. (Northwest Film Center)
“Gates of Hell”: Also known as “City of the Living Dead,” this 1980 grindhouse classic from Italian goremaster Lucio Fulci is among his best. Screened on 35mm. (Hollywood Theatre)