LGBT Film Festival Explores Being Gay, Trans in a Straight World

Ninth annual TLVFest enjoys its biggest budget ever.

This is the busy season for local film festivals in Israel. The Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival opened last weekend, the Cinema South International Film Festival opens on Sunday in Sderot, and the ninth annual Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival, TLVFest, will open Saturday night.

Among the guests of honor are two women artists who will be giving master classes. One is the American director Jamie Babbit, who became well known thanks to her film “But I’m a Cheerleader,” starring Natasha Lyonne, which was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 1999; it spoke out against homophobia and in favor of social diversity. Her new film “Breaking the Girls,” a lesbian suspense thriller, will be screened at the festival.

The other guest of honor is singer and social activist Zazie de Paris, who was born Solange Dymensztein in Paris to Jewish parents. She grew up in France and in Israel, returned to France in the early 1970s and began appearing in clubs. Her breakthrough came in 1980 with a production of “Measure for Measure” at the Odeon, and a production of “The Blue Angel” alongside Ute Lemper and Eva Mattes. Babbit and de Paris will each be receiving the 2014 TLVFest Award on the festival’s opening evening, which will also feature a screening of Guttman X 5, a new Israeli film composed of five episodes based on the life and films of the late film director Amos Guttman, who died of AIDS in 1993.

According to festival director Yair Hochner, this year’s festival enjoys the biggest budget it’s ever had — almost NIS 500,000 (about $143,000). The funding from the Israel Film Council increased (NIS 287,000), as did that of the Tel Aviv Municipality (to NIS 70,000). Hochner chose several well-known international films for screening, among them “52 Tuesdays,” which won the directing award in the World Cinema Dramatic category at the Sundance Festival and a Crystal Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival. The film, directed by Sophie Hyde, tells the story of a 16-year-old girl who discovers that her mother is about to undergo a sex-change operation to become a man. From that moment, their time is limited to meetings that take place on Tuesday afternoons. The film was shot only on Tuesdays for an entire year to impart a feeling of reality.

The Swedish film “Something Must Break,” directed by Ester Martin Bergsmark, which won the Tiger Award for Best Film at the International Rotterdam Film Festival, tells the story of the love between two men — a young man who finds himself attracted to members of his own sex for the first time, and another young man who defies gender norms, does not conceal his androgynous nature, and after some time decides to change his sex.

A solo star

“Blue and Not So Pink,” directed by Miguel Ferrari, won a Goya Award — Spain’s Oscar — for best foreign film. The first gay film to be directed in Venezuela, it tells the story of a successful fashion photographer who is about to marry his partner, a physician. But the plans are ruined by two unexpected events: a violent hate crime and the unexpected arrival of the photographer’s son.

“Quick Change,” directed by Eduardo Roy of the Philippines and screened at the Berlinale 2014 film festival, exposes the thriving illegal Botox-injection industry in Manila’s transgender community. The film follows Dorina, a woman who administers illegal Botox injections to her clients, who want to compete in local beauty contests. At the same time, she is taking care of her son and is in love with a young, selfish dancer who is unfaithful to her.

“Boy Meets Girl,” directed by Eric Schaeffer, is an American romantic comedy starring Michelle Hendley, a woman who became famous after posting videos on YouTube that documented her sex change. Schaeffer, who will be coming to Israel as a guest of the festival, based the plot of his film on Hendley and asked her to play the leading role.

Also to be screened at the festival is “Hands Untied,” directed by Yannick Delhaye, a French film that examines how the LGBT image is seen through important films made by gay and lesbian directors in Israel. It also looks at new filmmakers working on the fringes of the local film industry who buck convention.

Other festival entries include “Julia,” which was screened at the Venice Film Festival last year. Directed by Johanna Jackie Baier, “Julia” follows the life of a transgender girl sold into prostitution by her best friend. She lives on the dark fringes of Berlin, where she becomes well known as a prostitute. Another is “Kink,” directed by Christina Voros and produced by famed Hollywood actor/director James Franco. “Kink,” which received its premiere screening at the Sundance Festival last year, examines what goes on behind the scenes of the American pornography company Kink, which specializes in BDSM films and runs one of the most-viewed websites on earth.

An entry that gathered much attention at its Sundance premiere was “To Be Takei,” directed by Jennifer M. Kroot. It is an intimate cinematic portrait of 76-year-old George Takei, who played Hikaru Sulu on the well-known television series (later film series) “Star Trek.” Takei recalls his childhood in a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II and how he became a successful actor. He also talks about his relationship with his partner, Brad, which he made public when he came out nine years ago. Since then, Takei has become a symbol of the struggle for same-sex marriage equality in the United States.