Best Bets • 04.22.16

Friday 04.22 — Sunday 05.22

Emily-Koch-as-Elphaba---Photo-by-Joan-Marcus

It’s time you start defying gravity: ‘Wicked’ returns for a month!

Chances are you heard that Stephen Schwartz, the composer of the megaton musical Wicked, pulled the national tour from performing in North Carolina as a result of that state’s anti-gay, transphobic legislation. Who says are and politics don’t go together? But that’s just one reason to show your support for the show, with settled in for a month-long run at Fair Park, courtesy of Dallas Summer Musicals. There’s also the grand spectacle, the thrilling songs, the touching story. If you’re not already a friend of Dorothy, this will make you one.

DEETS:
Fair Park Music Hall
901 First Ave.
Through May 22
DallasSummerMusicals.org

Friday 04.22 — Sunday 04.24

Film-Fest

USAFF, DIFF wrap up this weekend

Two of Dallas’ biggest film festivals — the USA Film Festival and the Dallas International Film Festival — are going on simultaneously right now through Sunday,  and even if you have missed some of the screenings all ready, there’s still time to catch up. And since both are centered at the Angelika Film Center, you don’t even have to go far to enjoy them both.

DEETS:
Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station
5307 E. Mockingbird Lane
For schedules, visit USAFilmFestival.com and DIFF2016.dallasfilm.org.

Saturday 04.23

Joe-Posa

Joan Rivers reincarnated (sorta)

The death two years ago of Joan Rivers has left a queer hole in our collective comedy, and Joe Posa loves to fill holes. The dragtastic comedy performs his tribute show to the hilariously inappropriate queen or standup with a one-night-only show.
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DEETS:
The Brick
2525 Wycliffe Ave.
7 p.m.
brickdallas.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 22, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Come out for the gayest of opening night film fests at the Angelika tonight

0700-flashThe Dallas International Film Festival is midway through its run, but the USA Film Festival is just getting started tonight, with three screenings. And for the first time in its history, all three opening-night films are from gay directors: Ira Sachs’ Little Men, Terrence Davies’ Sunset Song and Dallas newcomer Steven Pomerantz, whose documentary Taking Back Oak Lawn was filmed right here in the last seven months. I’ll be hosting the post-screening Q-and-A with Steven, but you will certainly enjoy any of the films tonight, as well as other movies screening there this week. Everything takes place at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station. See you there!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

GAY@USA (and DIFF, too!)

Out directors are gaining more mainstream acceptance, with queer films and filmmakers front-and-center at 2 Dallas film fests this week

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GAY SACHS | Filmmaker Ira Sachs’ latest movie, ‘Little Men,’ screens this week at the USA Film Festival — one of three movies by out filmmakers that will screen on the opening night of the 46th festival.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

There was a time when you went to theater for “the gay stuff” and the movies for everything else. Sure, there have always been indie films, but even the festival circuit was unofficially divided into “mainstream” and “LGBT.”

Well, not anymore. When I contacted James Faust, who runs the Dallas International Film Festival, a month ago to ask if there would be any gay-interest movies in the line-up this year, his response was: “Only half the festival.” While that’s a bit of an exaggeration, it’s true that there is a surfeit of gay-themed movies and queer filmmakers represented at the 10th DIFF this year, which is currently underway and continues through April 24. (See sidebar)

Just as impressively is this year’s 46th annual USA Film Festival, which screens fewer films but is just as devoted to queer voices as larger cinema-gatherings. In fact, for the first time ever, all the films screening during the opening night of the festival are by out directors, including original House of Cards creator Terrence Davies (Sunset Song), Steven Pomerantz (the locally-produced documentary Taking Back Oak Lawn; see interview Page 8) and Ira Sachs, whose Little Men is not, outwardly, a “gay film” at all. Which is how it should be.

“[Little Men] is a film about the friendship between two boys, and while it’s not a sexual relationship, it is a very romantic friendship — which many gay people can relate to … as do straight people,” says Sachs. On the other hand, “there’s a very gay filmmaker who made it! I do believe there is a kind of sensibility we have as individuals that you can’t deny in the body of work. I adhere to the auteur theory that the filmmaker becomes [part of the storytelling].”

It’s not surprising, then, that out filmmakers who have become known for adding to the canon of queer cinema are turning their sights on non-gay-specific stories that nevertheless are imbued with their unique perspectives.

“I do think being a queer man is how I experience other people — I experienced some isolation growing up,” Sachs explains.
“I was a gay kid [in Memphis] who was very involved in a children’s theater that really embraced outsiders in terms of race, class, sexuality — the last truly diverse community I was a part of. And [Little Men] is about how art and creativity can become a vessel for kids who want to be different, how that forms the next story in their lives. But they are definitely different.”

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‘Witness’

This is something of a reverse from the way stories were told in the past. Often, mainstream “gay” movies (The Boys in the Band, Making Love, Brokeback Mountain) could only get off the ground with straight directors (and usually actors); gay Hollywood directors like George Cukor masked their sensibilities as “women’s pictures.” But for Sachs at least, he sought his inspiration from more radical corners.

“I think there are many traditions as filmmakers we are in conversation with. More than the mainstream Hollywood films, for me was [the cinema of gay filmmakers] Fassbender and Pasolini and Visconti,” he says. “Perhaps this history of queer cinema, or you could say the history of rigorous storytelling by gay artists. It all goes back to [19th century novelist] Henry James. No single artist has been more inspiring to me than him, who looked at his time from the standpoint of an outsider in his sexuality.” (That said, his next project is an HBO movie, starring Matt Bomer, about the troubled, closeted Hollywood actor Montgomery Clift.)

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‘Alzheimer’s: A Love Story’

At USAFF, gay themes work their way into others film — not necessarily subtly, but directly. One of the movies screening, Alzheimer’s: A Love Story, is a short documentary about a gay couple, one of whom has such severe dementia he cannot recall who his partner is (try to watch it and not cry). But its universality will hit home with audiences of any orientation.

Another documentary — the impressive Witness, about the famed 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese — brings up the victim’s lesbianism, which was well-known among her friends but was white-washed in all news coverage at the time.

It’s not merely on the screen where LGBT audiences can enjoy the fest. Just as notable is that many of the honorees at USAFF are popular figures as allies of the gay community. Sachs cast Alfred Molina, who starred in his gay romance Love is Strange, in a small role here. actor Bruce Davison — who won an Oscar nomination for the AIDS-themed drama Longtime Companion and was a vocal advocate for inclusiveness — will be saluted with a retrospective, and Dallas legend Linda Gray is among the guests and moderators. The festival is also dedicated in part to the late Richard Glatzer (Still Alice), the gay filmmaker (with his husband Wash Westmoreland) who passed away last year from ALS.

Film festivals, in fact, are an integral experience for directors like Sachs.

Screen shot 2016-04-14 at 9.26.28 AM“There is less interest in specific stories about everyday lives [in Hollywood],” he says. “What’s great about festivals is engaging with an audience in a particular community, to hear how people respond [to a film]. Each city is different and each has a different relationship to cinema. It shows that it does still matter where you are.”
And the ability to tell entertaining and personal stories that resonate with multiple audiences is still the goal of the artist.

“I make films where there’s a voice as a gay man in it, but we’re all part of the same history,” Sachs says. “To me, it’s all one long story and trying to understand how people get through their days. What are the challenges these folks are facing? Telling the story of two boys in Brooklyn or Montgomery Clift? It’s the same thing.”

Sachs and Molina will be in attendance at the screening of Little Men Thursday, and saluted for their contributions to cinema.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 15, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Meet Whit Stillman at 25th anniversary screening of ‘Metropolitan’ Wednesday

StillmanMy top film of 1990 was a quirky, intelligent romantic comedy about the idle rich called Metropolitan. It came out of nowhere to become an indie hit and win its first-time writer-director, Whit Stillman, an Oscar nomination for his screenplay. (He lost to the writing for Ghost; let that sink in for a second.) Stillman was initially heralded as the successor to Woody Allen, but with only four feature films to his credit (Barcelona, Last Days of Disco, Damsels in Distress), he’s been much more careful about his projects than the prolific Woodman. So getting a chance to parse his brain about the state of film is a rare opportunity. Which I will get on Wednesday night at the historic Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff. That’s where, at 7:30 p.m., the USA Film Festival will be screening Metropolitan for its the 25th anniversary, with Stillman in attendance. And I will be conducting a post-screening Q&A with him. Hope to see you there (you can get advance tickets here)!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

USA Film Fest reveals lineup

FindingNeighbors_JEFF_PAUL_doorThe Dallas International Film Festival is still underway, but today the USA Film Festival announced its own lineup of screenings, which arrive later this month.

The 44-year-old fest, which takes place April 22–27, will include several tributes, including ones for soap stars Linda Gray (Dallas) and Morgan Fairchild (Flamingo Road), Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan, John Turturro, Ed Harris and Carol Kane.

Foodies will get a treat on April 23, when the screening of El Camino del Vino, a comic mockumentary about wine, and the film Tasting Menu (with Flanagan). In addition, chef Abraham Salum will host a five-course wine dinner at his eponymous Uptown restaurant.

Among some gay-interest screenings are the feature Finding Neighbors, pictured, a quirky comedy from Oscar winner and SMU alum Ron Judkins. It screens April 26. And out actor Paul Marcarelli (the Verizon’s “Can You Hear Me Now” spokesman) returns to the fest as a juror for the short films competition.

Tickets go on sale today. You can get passes, and search the entire schedule, here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘Bridegroom’ at USA Film Fest

Bridegroom-3Shane and Tom were the cutest twink couple you’ve ever seen. From the time they first met, it was a real connection: Both were from small Midwestern towns; both had conservative families; both loves to sing and perform and listen to Garth Brooks. Only Shane’s folks understood when he came out that being gay wasn’t a choice, and supported and loved him unconditional.

Tom’s parents were not so understanding. They claimed Shane “converted” (and perverted) Tom. That it was a sin. Tom’s dad even threatened to come to California and “gut” Shane for what he did.

Shane and Tom were stunned, but they kept on, traveling the world and vlogging about their adventure in Macchu Picchu and the Great Pyramids.

Then Tom died.

Bridgegroom, which is just one of the gay-themed films at the USA Film Festival this weekend (it plays tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Angelika Mockingbird Station), traces they tragic but beautiful relationship as they struggled to achieve marriage equality and combat homophobia. The documentary, directed by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (creator of Designing Women), is brief (less than 90 minutes) but punchy, filled with tons of video diaries, home movies and personal interviews (the best with Shane’s sassy great-grandma) explaining their struggles (when Tom is taken to the hospital, Shane is excluded for not being a relative) and Shane’s recovery from the pain of his loss, including his conflict with Tom’s parents. It’s a plainspoken and deeply moving story that strikes many familiar chords. Try leaving the screening with a dry eye.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

IMG_6695The Turtle Creek Chorale tips its hat to Broadway this weekend with its Kander & Ebb concert, a show featuring two dozen of the songwriting teams’ most memorable hits. It’s at the City Performance Hall through Sunday. Right next door, you can check out Val Kilmer in his one-man show, Citizen Twain, playing at the Wyly. And across the street, the Dallas Opera’s season winds up with alternating performances of Turandot and The Aspern Papers at the Winspear.

On Saturday, you can get the energy to go get all your other chores done by popping by Deep Ellum for the inaugural North Texas Taco Festival, sponsored by our good friend Jose Ralat-Maldonado of the Taco Trail blog. That evening, hop over to the Hilton Anatole for the annual Bloomin’ Ball fundraiser for AIN.

On Saturday and Sunday, there are plenty of activities (in Fair Park and in Oak Cliff) leading up to Earth Day, which is officially on Monday. Then later in the week, two film festival get going: The USA Film Festival kicks off Wednesday, and runs through the following Sunday. And over in Fort Worth, QCinema returns with its spring series with the one-night-only screening of Lesbian Shorts: The Best of the Fest.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

USA Film Fest opens with history of AIDS, Q&A

This week, I reviewed How to Survive a Plague, a fascinating and emotional documentary from journo-turned-filmmaker David France about the early days of the AIDS crisis, especially as it relates to the founding of ACT-UP. The screening kicks off this year’s 42nd annual USA Film Festival.

David France, pictured, will be in attendance, and yours truly will be moderating the question and answer session immediately following it, and bring your questions for David!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Niles no more

David Hyde Pierce knows what it means to be a ‘Perfect Host’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

On television and onstage, David Hyde Pierce has enjoyed the rare perk of being a character actor who gets leading-man attention — and money. By the time he ended his 11-year run on the acclaimed sitcom Frasier, Pierce had become the highest-paid series regular not to headline a series in TV history. (Four Emmy Awards will do that for you.) In 2007, he added stage superstardom to the resume when he won the Tony Award for best actor in a musical (against tough competition) playing a sad-sack cop in Curtains. (That followed a hit run as one of the leads in Spamalot.)

On film, though, Pierce has always been the second banana, often giving memorable supporting in movies like Wolf or voicing animated characters in A Bug’s Life and others, but never being asked to carry them.
Not anymore. Pierce finally gets above-the-title billing — but keeps his character-actor cred — in the indie comedy-thriller The Perfect Host.

“These opportunities don’t come around a lot except for the Tom Cruises of the world,” Pierce admits. “When they first showed me the poster, I saw my name big and my picture all over it. I realized that’s what it means to be the star of the movie.”

Of course, Pierce knows the box office expectations aren’t as high for his film as its opening-weekend competition, Transformers 3. The Perfect Host, which got its local premiere in April at the USA Film Festival but opens in some cities for a commercial run this week (it was screened earlier this week at the Texas Theatre as well), is a quirky and enjoyable romp full of twists — so many, in fact, it’s difficult to talk about without spoiling some of the surprises.

On the surface, it’s about a career criminal named James (Clayne Crawford) who talks his way into the home of a sophisticated but meek suburbanite named Warwick (Pierce). James plans to kill Warwick, but then the tables are turned on him, as the evening spins out in ways that recall such thrillers as Misery, Rear Window, Psycho and A Clockwork Orange.

Only not. And with more humor. Well, you gotta see it to get it.

“It’s a movie where what seems to be is continually not,” agrees Pierce, trying not to give away any secrets. “People who seem benign are not and those you think are dangerous maybe aren’t. At Sundance, many people said seeing it a second time is a lot of fun, knowing what’s real and what’s not.”

“The most influential film was Joseph Losey’s The Servant, but also Polanski’s early work — Cul-de-Sac, Compulsion,” says first-time feature director and co-writer Nick Tomnay. “Warwick is doing [this] to satisfy his fetish. He’s actually quite a happy guy — he’s not conflicted about it. But the last note of the film is very dark.”

For Pierce, it was an opportunity to stretch but without veering too far from his screen persona. Warwick is as fastidious as Niles Crane but has a kooky side Niles never did. It’s a transition that he embraced.

“Especially when you’re seen on a TV show, you can’t pretend the past didn’t happen,” he says. But Warwick allows Pierce to be both the “perfect host” of the title and act out deep, id-like compulsions. And it also gave Pierce the chance to do something he rarely has done in public: Disco dance.

“I got a friend of mine who was a dancing coach to choreograph that,” Pierce says. “That was great to do.”

Theater remains a passion for Pierce, though; in addition to his performances in Curtains and Spamalot, he was in New York seeing La Cage aux Folles — once with his former co-star, Kelsey Grammer (whose performance he raved over), and once with the replacement cast of Chris Seiber in Grammer’s role and Harvey Fierstein as his drag-queen boyfriend.

“Harvey was great,” he says. “There’s an added layer because of course Harvey has lived it in a way.”

Pierce, who is gay and lives with his long-time partner in California, has been very active in recent years coming out in support of same-sex marriage. But he’s not definitive about Warwick’s sexuality.

“I think Warwick would be up for anything,” he says with a wink.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 1, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

It’s not easy being ‘Green’

First-time filmmaker Steve Williford teams with the Verizon Guy (seriously!) for ‘The Green,’ a movie about homophobia and suspicion

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IDYLLS OF THE QUEENS | A quiet couple (Dallas theater veteran Jason Butler Harner and ‘30 Rock’s’ Cheyenne Jackson) becomes immersed in controversy when one is accused of an affair with a teen in the USA Film Festival entry ‘The Green.’

MARK LOWRY  | Special Contributor
marklowry@theaterjones.com

Although Steve Williford never felt any homophobia directed at him when he lived in southwestern Indiana, his perception of what others thought of him as a gay man was something that stuck with him for many years. At dinner parties and social events, his sexuality was a subject that came up often, usually as a result of others’ curiosity.

“Months went by and I started to wonder if I was the poster boy for gay,” he says. “I always wondered what would happen if something in my life happened that brought my sexuality to the forefront, like if I was at a party and kissed my partner.”

That question would eventually lead him to his first feature film as a director, The Green, currently on the festival circuit and screening at USA Film Festival Saturday. The screenplay is written by Paul Marcarelli, best known as Verizon’s “can you hear me now?” guy, who recently came out publicly.

The story they ended up with concerns a high school teacher, played by Jason Butler Harner, who is accused of an inappropriate relationship with a male student. It causes tension with the teacher’s partner, played by out Broadway hunk Cheyenne Jackson (also known for his recurring roles on 30 Rock and Glee), and in the community.

Williford directed nearly 150 episodes of the recently axed soap opera All My Children from 2004 to 2011, but his background is in theater (he directed a production of Driving Miss Daisy in the early 1990s at Dallas’ Park Cities Playhouse, back when it was called the Plaza Theatre). So it’s not surprising that his cast is filled with actors who come from the theater world, too — not just Jackson, but Harner, who played Hamlet at the Dallas Theater Center in 2003. That may explain why Williford’s film has something in common with several plays, notably Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt.

Screen shot 2011-04-28 at 5.27.05 PM“We’re a proud cousin of all of those works,” Williford says. “We are trying to examine a situation that can illustrate to us how slippery truth and clarity really is and how quickly it can slip away from us.”

“Paul and I are both big lovers of ambiguity to a certain degree,” he adds. “I had always modeled this story in my heart and mind on what I love about the Chekhov short stories: We leave certain things open and free to be interpreted. For the bulk of the story, you’re really not sure if he has done what he’s being accused of, but there are some significant issues that do get resolved, quite clearly I think.”

And of course, he knows the audience won’t trust if they don’t believe in the relationship as portrayed by Harner and Jackson, and takes a dramatic turn from the comic roles he has done on TV.

“I completely believe in Jason and Cheyenne as a couple. That’s one of my complaints when I see LGBT couples represented in film: I feel like there’s a link missing a little bit. I don’t feel that way about them, in the work environment or what has come together for the film.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas