by Sarah Dunstan
The following is a review of Get Happy and Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride, both of which screened at the 12th annual Fairy Tales International Film Festival in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Fairy Tales started out as an underling of Calgary Independent Filmmakers in 1999, eventually growing into the Fairy Tales Presentation Society in 2004. Though the film festival may be the most popular, Fairy Tales is also home to Reels On Wheels, an initiative that promotes queer film visibility and LGBT understanding by screening a plethora of queer films to organizations across Calgary. These days, Fairy Tales is celebrating its twelfth glorious year as the largest queer film festival in Alberta. The 2010 Festival spanned a total of 9 days, with films covering issues from AIDS to pride. For more information on Fairy Tales, go to http://fairytalesfilmfest.squarespace.com/.
Get Happy is an autobiographical documentary centered around the exploits of celebrity make-up artist Mark Payne. Through a series of interviews with family and friends, the movie travels through Payne’s beginnings as young drag queen, impersonating the performances of his favourite singers — Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand, and Liza Minelli, to name a few — in his grandmother’s basement, all the way to his Emmy award-winning make-up career. Though the movie is an autobiography, it’s an extremely musical one because of the inclusion of many of the young Payne’s truly fabulous drag shows. Even if drag isn’t your style, anyone who has an appreciation for theatre or performance arts will marvel at Payne’s Jekyll-and-Hyde-style transformations of himself and the willing. Sure, it’s not the most in-depth look at Payne’s life or career, this brief 25-minute production is charming, uplifting, and you probably don’t have any excuse to not to see it. Get Happy can be enjoyed by anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
The feature film, Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride, follows Vancouver Pride Society organizer Cam Coolen around the globe on his journey to find an underlying reason for existence within pride movements around the world. Clocking in around an hour and 30 minutes, Beyond Gay suffers from being fairly broad at times, but is still a damn good movie, and well worth seeing.
Besides a few brief scenes, the film assumes that audiences will be well aware of the origins of LGBT pride during the Stonewall riots and the era of Harvey Milk. If you’re looking for a history lesson, you won’t find it in The Politics of Pride. The main premise is that although Pride is a huge event in Vancouver, B.C., but seeing as homosexuality is still a criminal offence in over 80 countries, in many places it’s deeply taboo or outlawed completely. The documentary spans over several years, in which Coolen travels around the world, experiencing pride in different cities around the world; but instead opting for a basic east vs. west approach of illegal vs. legalized sexuality, Beyond Gay is queer-hurricane of LGBT pride — in locations around the globe such as Vancouver, Toronto, Budapest, Warsaw, Moscow, Colombo, Zurich, Sao Paulo, and New York – thundering across continents to celebrate the liberation of human spirit.
At times the movie feels rushed, just beginning to touch on the social problems and controversy of LGBT in a particular city before moving onto the next. The ‘freedometer’ coupled with a brief timeline of relevant events in a country flashes on screen with before footage of a city begins rolling, and that’s as much additional information as audiences will get. It’s much appreciated that the film isn’t too long and keeps viewers attention by never spending too much time on one place, but it leaves one wanting more than just a mere feel for the LGBT situation in any given country. This wouldn’t be a problem if the film gave viewers some direction as to where to find out more or get involved in any given city during or after the credits, but it does not. Though the filmmakers likely excluded such information because it is not technically concerning the pride movement itself, chances are if audiences enjoyed the movie, they’ll be interested to learn more. But most DVD releases come with booklets or extras pertaining to the feature film, so my major gripe with this movie may very well be rendered moot.
What Beyond Gay does do, however – and is worth the price of admission alone for it – is stress the importance of Pride not as a gigantic party, but as a political movement. Whether Coolen is amongst the brave handful of people relentlessly vying for a Moscow pride parade, or the hugely corporate Toronto Pride parade, the common ground is an underlying struggle for solidarity and human rights. It’s great to hear some of LGBT’s most notorious activists — namely pride flag creator Gilbert Baker and the late Harvey Milk’s partner-in-crime, Cleve Jones — share their experiences growing up with the LGBT movement. One of the best moments in the entire film is when Baker stresses that the city will always have a “march, not a parade.”, because not only reaffirms the cry for Pride as a political statement against oppression, but it acts as a great throwback to the LGBT movement’s roots in Stonewall and San Francisco’s ‘Hashbury’ during the 70s.
Those with a large knowledge of LGBT politics may find it a bit redundant, but movie goers, politics addicts and queer cinema geeks alike will still certainly enjoy Beyond Gay. While blaring dubsteb, rainbows and non-stop dancing are all enjoyable aspects of pride, it’s incredibly refreshing watching a film that brings the pride movement back to it’s roots by emphasizing courage, dignity, and human rights.
The film will be shown at the Budapest Pride Film and Cultural Festival in Budapest, Hungary on July 9th, and at EuroPride 2010 on July 14th. For those unable to attend or those dwelling elsewhere than Europe, the filmmakers assured the audiences during a Q&A that the movie will be available on DVD before the year’s end. For more information, go to http://www.biggaymovie.com/.