Birmingham has never been thought of as a particularly hospitable place for people with alternative lifestyles, especially gay lifestyles, so it’s perhaps worthy of celebration that SHOUT Gay & Lesbian Film Festival has now called the Magic City home for half a decade. And for its fifth installment, SHOUT—which takes place this weekend from September 23-26—will run concurrently with the larger Sidewalk Film Festival for the first time.
Why did the Alabama Moving Image Association choose to run the two events together this year? “We felt we really had an opportunity to grow our audience for SHOUT,” according to Chloe Collins, SHOUT and Sidewalk executive director. Collins believes the mainstream film buffs who attend Sidewalk can find lots to like on the SHOUT schedule. “They’re good films, so why show them at another time when film lovers might not know about them?” she says.
“Howl also opened at Sundance. It’s not just a ‘gay’ film, even though it deals with some of those issues,” Collins says. Howl stars James Franco as Ginsberg and features a bunch of other name actors, including Jon Hamm and Mary Louise Parker. It’s a collaboration between Oscar-winning director Rob Epstein and animator Jeffrey Friedman, who attempts to bring Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” to life. The film will be shown at WorkPlay on September 23 at 7 p.m.
SHOUT’s closing night film will be The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls, a documentary from New Zealand directed by Leanne Pooley and starring lesbian yodeling sisters The Topp Twins. The film has won audience choice awards at a few other festivals, including the Toronto International Film Festival. The Topp Twins will be shown at the Hill Arts Center adjacent to the Alabama Theatre on Sunday, September 26, at 7 p.m.
The narrative features at SHOUT include the world premiere of the sexually explicit dark comedy Blackmail Boys, directed by the Shumanski Brothers. The film tells the story of Sam, an art student from the South who is forced to turn tricks to survive in Chicago. When his boyfriend comes to the Windy City, the boys cook up a blackmail scheme. Co-director Bernard Shumanski is scheduled to attend the premiere, along with his cinematographer (Birmingham filmmaker Adam Wingard) and three of his actors.
The festival’s documentary features include several films about people who don’t fit comfortably into the gender roles they were assigned at birth and who struggle to find expression, often through performance. Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight profiles legendary San Francisco transsexual performer Vicki Marlane, now in her 70s. Marlane shows herself to still be a vital drag performer, in segments filmed at the San Francisco club Aunt Charlie’s.
Play in the Gray takes you on the road with the Boston-based, drag-inspired theatre troupe All the King’s Men. The troupe consists of eight lesbian women, several of whom are drag kings, who try to break down stereotypical notions about gender while also breaking down preconceptions about performance genres. “One of our greatest challenges has been to figure out what we really are,” a member of the troupe
tells the students at a drag king workshop. “Are we a comedy troupe? A drag troupe? A theatre troupe? It’s funny because in life we’re like ‘Am I a girl? Am I a boy? Am I in between?’ And we’re comfortable living in the gray.”
SHOUT is a relatively small festival, with 10 features and 15 shorts, so the event’s programmers work hard to make sure that the films are the best they can find. “I don’t like programming films with weaknesses,” lead programmer Billy Ray Brewton says. “It’s a small festival, so everything we program needs to be a good film from top to bottom.”
For more information about SHOUT Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, visit www.bhamshout.com.