It’s fitting that the flagship offering of the sixth annual Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival is Jeffrey Schwarz’s Vito (7 pm Sunday, May 20), a eulogy for the man who documented the depiction of gays and lesbians in cinema. GLAAD co-founder Vito Russo took more than a decade to pen The Celluloid Closet, outlining the devolution of queer characters on the silver screen. It isn’t simply that Russo’s subject matter was so apropos: It’s his unapologetic and beautifully outraged spirit, recalled in footage of the man himself and in interviews with contemporaries Lily Tomlin and Armistead Maupin, that makes Vito so symbolic of this year’s lineup.
Another near-euphoric tale of activism is Love Free or Die (4 pm Sunday, May 20), the story of New Hampshire’s openly gay and partnered Bishop Gene Robinson, whose 2003 ascent in the clergy was enough ultimately to bring the Episcopal Church, the American branch of Anglicanism, up to date on electing gay officials. We follow the unassuming but eloquent Robinson to Canterbury, where he’s locked out of a convocation of bishops, to his opening prayer prior to Obama’s inauguration, and finally to a churchwide debate on whether to allow gay and lesbian bishops to serve—an opportunity several clergy members take to come out publicly. It’s a rare coup that director Macky Alston uses religion to support and promote LGBT rights.
But then, it could be
argued that coming out in Nashville is nearly as harrowing as coming
out in the church. Country music darling Chely Wright documents her
countdown to truth in the softer-in-touch Wish Me Away (7 pm Thursday, May 17). Wright does it big, identifying herself as lesbian on The Today Show
the day her autobiography drops (she then, understandably, dodges her
mother’s calls). Rounding out the entertainment angle and adding just
the right shade of camp is Jobriath A.D. (9:30 pm Saturday, May 19), about the unrealized career of a Hair
alum who pushed the boundaries of glam rock while being open about his
sexuality. This is one of the more fascinating films in the lineup,
leaving open the questions of whether Jobriath was given a fair shake,
given that the public could clearly abide androgyny but not
homosexuality in their rock stars, or if he was simply a self-sabotaging
performance artist with delusions of grandeur.
Critic’s Grade: A
SEE IT: The sixth annual Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival runs Thursday-Sunday, May 17-20, at Kennedy School. Check queerdocfest.org for showtimes and a complete schedule.