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Outfest ’98 Saves Its Best for Last

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Outfest ’98, the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, continues through Monday at various venues with more noteworthy films.

Tanya Wexler’s “Finding North” (DGA, Friday at 5 p.m.) features a grieving gay man (John Benjamin Hickey) who leaves New York to fulfill his late lover’s wishes by taking an extended and complicated journey to a small Texas town where the dead man was born and raised. Tagging along quite unexpectedly is a klutzy heart-of-gold Brooklyn motormouth (Wendy Makkena), who falls in love with Hickey. There’s a decided aura of contrivance in the way Wexler sets up her story, but it gets better and better as it goes along, with Makkena at last able to break through her stereotyped role. Wexler leaves us to wonder just where the strong emotional bond that develops between these two will ultimately take them.

Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir’s “The Brandon Teena Story” (DGA, Friday at 7:15 p.m.) is a heart-wrenching documentary that is all the more impressive for being a first film. In 1993 a 20-year-old female preoperative transsexual left a troubled life in Lincoln, Neb., to move to the not-too-distant town of Falls City, which has a population of less than 5,000. Falls City is economically depressed and has a high rate of domestic violence. If Brandon found Lincoln an increasingly inhospitable place for a young woman trying to pass as a man she could scarcely have picked a worse place in which to try to start a new life.

The irony is that the young women Brandon courted in Falls City remember her for possessing a sensitivity and respect decidedly lacking in the local folks. Inevitably, Brandon’s true gender would be discovered, provoking an instance of homophobia and ignorance carried to horrific extremes.

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Muska and Olafsdottir could coast on the inherent strength of their material but they give it full shape and meaning with their acute perceptiveness and compassion.

Guinean filmmaker Mohamed Camara’s “Dakan” (Destiny), which was first shown locally at the Pan African Film Festival in February, screens Friday at the DGA at 9:15 p.m. and Saturday at 7:15 p.m. It’s a love story of much charm, humor, courage and imagination.

Manga (Aboubacar Toure), raised by an adoring single mother, and Sory (Mamady), son of a rich, self-made contractor father, are college students who fall in love in their profoundly homophobic society. Manga’s mother simply denies the very existence of gays while Sory’s ambitious, hard-driving father, who intends his son to become his business partner, is apoplectic. “Dakan” becomes an odyssey for the lovers, full of unexpected developments and consequences.

Director Jeanette L. Buck and writer Kim McNabb’s “Out of Season” (DGA, Friday at 9:30 p.m.) is a strikingly subtle and moody love story set in picturesque Cape May, N.J., the venerable seaside resort, during off-season. Showing up at a local coffee shop is black-haired, black leather-jacketed Micki (Carol Monda), a most attractive, distinctive young woman with attitude to spare. Behind the counter is Roberta (Joy Kelly), as lovely as she is wary. Micki has come to care for her terminally ill, widowed uncle Charlie (Dennis Fecteau), who is close friends with Roberta. Since both are upfront, unattached lesbians you wonder why Micki and Roberta do so much skirmishing, but Roberta, perhaps before we do, realizes that Micki is a restless will-of-the wisp and therefore a potential heartbreaker. The way these women sort out their emotions and priorities is at once engaging, credible and satisfying.

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John Huckert and John Matkowsky’s “Hard” (DGA, Saturday at 9:15 p.m.) is one of the highlights of the festival, a rigorous, appropriately but not exploitatively violent and dynamic low-budget thriller in which a gay LAPD detective (Noel Palomaria) inadvertently becomes the target of a macho serial killer (Malcolm Moorman). Tense, credible, expertly written and played with sharp commentary on what professional life can be like for gay police officers and on the corrosive self-hatred that can fuel gay serial killers.

“Edge of Seventeen” (John Anson Ford Amphitheater, Sunday at 8:30 p.m., following the 7:15 p.m Outfest ’98 awards ceremony) is a classic gay coming-of-age story told with the utmost perception, sensitivity and humor by writer Todd Stephens and director David Moreton. It’s such an assured and touching film that it transcends the category of regional cinema, and it draws considerable strength in its depiction of Sandusky, Ohio, as a most inviting community, not as some narrow-minded burg. Nonetheless, Chris Stafford’s Eric, a delicately handsome youth rounding out his junior year in high school, is having a struggle with his sexual identity. He’s reached the point that he can no longer deny to himself that he’s attracted to his own sex but feels overwhelmed with what to do about it. What about his loving family who are prepared to make sacrifices to send him to New York so that he can pursue his music studies? What about the girl (Tina Holmes) he’s grown up with and who would like him to consider her more than just a friend?

In attempting to answer these questions Eric will cause a great deal of pain for himself and others, but his rite of passage is one that countless gays and lesbians have experienced.

Not all the festival films are winners: “The Unknown Cyclist” (DGA, Saturday at 7 p.m.) is a contrived, synthetic TV-like drama about a gay man’s dying wish that his lover (Stephen Spinella), his homophobic twin brother (Vincent Spano), his loving ex-wife (Lea Thompson) and his slacker pal (Danny Nucci) participate in the West Coast Cycle for AIDS. “Mob Queen” (Sunset 5, Saturday at 11:30 p.m.) is a hopelessly inept, sub-Damon Runyon gangster comedy set in 1957 that wastes its gimmick, which is that its glamorous streetwalker heroine, with whom a mob boss falls in love, is actually a guy. “The Sticky Fingers of Time” (DGA, Sunday at 4:30 p.m.) is an admirably imaginative and assured but increasingly arch lesbian time-travel romance.

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Outfest ’98 concludes on an appropriately festive note with a gala premiere at Mann’s Chinese of Tommy O’Haver’s “Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss.” A giddy romance inspired by glossy ‘50s women’s pictures, it stars Sean P. Hayes as a young photographer seeking romance and a career in Los Angeles. Billy yearns for the seemingly unattainable, movie-star handsome Gabriel (Brad Rowe) while Billy’s mentor (Richard Ganoung) silently yearns for him. O’Haver is unfailingly clever in turning a modest budget to advantage with his terrific sense of pastiche--there’s even a drag trio lip-synching vintage pop tunes that serves as a Greek chorus and a bridge between sequences.

“Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss” is the just the right light-hearted dessert for an ambitious and wide-ranging festival. For full schedule and ticket information: (213) 782-1135.

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In collaboration with the Art Center College of Design, 1700 Lida St., Pasadena, the Polish Consulate of Los Angeles is presenting in the center’s Ahmanson Auditorium a three-weekend series of six films of the legendary Polish filmmaker Wojciech Has. The series begins Friday at 7:30 p.m. with “The Sandglass” (1973). A son’s visit to his ailing father becomes a surreal odyssey in which Has suggests that faith is the only answer to life’s absurdities and further laments that fathers and sons don’t seem to have to get to know each other until they’re both in their graves. For full schedule: (626) 396-2200.

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Writer-director-actor Patrick Gleason’s “Laughing Dead” (Fridays and Saturdays at midnight at the Sunset 5) is a vaguely post-apocalyptic allegory of good and evil vampire movie that swiftly becomes progressively campy and silly. Gleason, however, displays a strong instinct for guerrilla filmmaking, making the atmospheric most of his key setting, a decrepit factory, but needs to connect it with considerably less pretentious and far more original material. (213) 848-3500.

Note: Director Budd Boetticher will appear after the 7:15 p.m. Saturday screening of his classic western “Ride Lonesome” (1959), starring Randolph Scott, at Raleigh Studios, 5300 Melrose Ave. It is part of the American Cinematheque’s “Greatest Hits” summer series, which begins Friday at 7:15 p.m. with Blake Edwards’ “The Party” (1968) and runs through Aug. 22.

The Silent Society resumes its regular screenings at the Hollywood Heritage Museum, 2100 N. Highland Ave., Saturday at 1 p.m. with D.W. Griffith’s “Orphans of the Storm” (1922), a drama of the French Revolution starring Lillian and Dorothy Gish. (213) 937-0776.


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