DIFF isn’t the gayest film fest, but some documentaries — one about ballet, one about politics — give queer-friendly cinephiles something to look at

ON HIS TOES  |  16-year-old Sebastian conveys the beauty and sacrifice of ballet in the engaging documentary ‘First Position.’

ON HIS TOES | 16-year-old Joan Sebastian conveys the beauty and sacrifice of ballet in the engaging documentary ‘First Position.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor


FIRST POSITION screens at AMC NorthPark on April 14 at 12:30 p.m. and at Angelika on April 15 at 8:30 p.m. PATRIOCRACY screens at Magnolia April 14 at noon and at the Angelika
April 16 at 1 p.m. DallasFilm.org.


Unlike the USA Film Festival or the Dallas Video Festival, the Dallas International Film Festival has never had an LGBT series targeted to queer cinephiles. But there are still some films playing at the 11-day event (which has screenings at the Angelika Film Center, the Magnolia, AMC NorthPark, the Nasher, the Majestic and the Texas Theatre) with definite interest to gay filmgoers.

It’s a cliché — a false one — that all gay men love ballet and opera, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t moved by such frou-frou art forms. In fact, there’s no better way to experience the paradox of ballet — its arresting beauty and the torturous toll it takes on those who practice it, physically, emotionally and financially — than with the documentary First Position. Forget Black Swan and all its overwrought incipient insanity — this is the real deal.

What makes it all the more stark is who the director, Bess Kargman, chooses to profile: Children entering in the Youth America Grand Prix, an international competition that can make or break budding careers, separating the aficionados from the stars. Think Hoop Dreams in toe shoes.

The film profiles the families of six aspiring dancers, from a black girl (one of very few African-Americans in the ballet world) adopted from Sierra Leone to an Army brat whose family relocated to Italy to be near his teacher to my favorite, Joan Sebastian, a handsome, sensitive 16-year-old from Columbia who arrived in New York not speaking English, engaged in an enterprise not seen as manly in his home country.

Anyone who doesn’t think ballet requires toughness needs to spend a week in these folks’ tights. The film draws you in, portraying the power and discipline required to execute such athleticism (and at tender ages) would shame a high school quarterback. Add to that conveying their messages with beauty while enduring the taunts of schoolmates, and the heartbreak of all that work without seeing your dream realized, and you get a unique insight into what it means to be driven to dance. After you see it, you’ll want to call up someone at Texas Ballet Theater just to say “thank you.”

Patriocracy lacks any specifically gay content itself, but anyone already engaged in the current political climate, and how discourse has been replaced with shouting and turning people’s beliefs, even their lives, into cultural footballs, will live vicariously through the film.

Patriocracy seeks to evoke a politically neutral framework, criticizing Glenn Beck and Keith Olberman, Bill O’Reilly and Rachel Maddow, for being entertainers, not newsmen. Sometimes, its point feels like retreads of points made on The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, but when it really starts to chug along is in its wonkier moments, spouting off statistics and showing graphs and talking to legislators (hearing Alan Simpson says “bullshit” to excess is oddly funny and humanizing). It’s also remarkably up-to-date, tracking the debt ceiling debate from last summer. It even suggests practical ideas for improving our political discourse. Too bad you know it’s just whistling in the wilderness — someone needs to listen.

Other screenings of note: Vito, a documentary about gay rights leader Vito Russo, was unavailable for preview but screens at the Magnolia April 13 at 9:30 p.m. and  April 14 at 3 p.m.

Gayby, a comedy feature and a Will & Grace style couple who want to have a baby, screens at the Angelika April 17 at 7:15 p.m. and April 18 at 10 p.m. Look for a write-up online early next week.

And visit InstantTea throughout the DIFF run for posts, reviews and commentary.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 13, 2012.