The recent commercial releases might not be so hot, but otherwise, local filmgoers been enjoying an embarrassment of riches. Picking up where the Independent Film Festival of Boston just left off is the Boston Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Film Festival. Now in its 27th year, the festival boasts a program of more than three dozen features and documentaries and numerous shorts from all over the world. It has returned to form as a cinema event that makes a difference.
In part that's because it celebrates films that are themselves proud of being different, if not iconoclastic and transgressive. German director Dennis Gansel's WE ARE THE NIGHT (2010; Brattle Theatre: May 13 @ 9 pm) draws on vampire-movie conventions from Nosferatu to Twilight, but its most telling influence might be Tony Scott's The Hunger (not to mention Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark transposed to a high-rolling Eurotrash environment) in its tale of a small coven of lesbian vampires who prey on the Berlin nightlife to fulfill their undead desires.
Over the centuries, they've gotten rid of the male of the species ("Too greedy, too loud, too stupid," one explains), so now they're free to eat, drink, do drugs, and have sex with men, women, and each other, all without conscience or consequence. Plus, the shopping is great. In short, they live a post-feminist dream that lasts forever — until their leader, Louise (Nina Hoss), sees in the eyes of hoydenish delinquent Lena (Karoline Herfurth) her immortal beloved. And since Lena has a crush on the cute cop pursuing her, a patriarchally conventional resolution threatens. In the meantime, Gansel exploits the demi-monde environs of Berlin for spectacular, uncanny imagery. Compare his use of the derelict, dinosaur-themed Spree Park to that in Joe Wright's Hanna and you'll appreciate the difference.
Perhaps Marian Anderson, the late subject of Lilli Scourtis Ayers's rough and ready documentary LAST FAST RIDE: THE LIFE, LOVE, AND DEATH OF A PUNK GODDESS (2011; Brattle Theatre: May 12 @ 9 pm), might have appreciated the take-no-prisoners lifestyle of the We Are the Night people. Sexually abused by her alcoholic father as a child, Anderson transformed her trauma and rage into some of the most extreme music and performances of the '90s Bay Area punk-rock scene with such bands as the Insaints. She also worked in the sex trade as a dominatrix, and toward the end of her life, she would combine the two vocations in stage shows that got her arrested for, among other offenses, lewd acts with a banana.
Her art was not enough, however, and in her 33 years she survived depression, multiple addictions, self-mutilation, and more than 20 suicide attempts, finally dying of a heroin overdose. Ayers's film consists of interviews with Anderson's friends and lovers of both genders patched together with raucous stage performances, stills, and concert flyers and posters, all presented in a jagged, headlong style that underscores the tragedy of her subject.
A father figures significantly in Rashaad Ernesto Green's GUN HILL ROAD (2011; MFA: May 15 @ 2:30 pm, with the director in attendance). Enrique (Esai Morales) returns to his Bronx home after his latest stint in the joint to find that things are different. Notably his son, Michael (Harmony Santana, reminiscent of Jaye Davidson in The Crying Game), who not only no longer likes baseball but is in the process of transforming himself into "Vanessa." The conflict between the macho dad and the transgender son could have been a loaded one, but thanks to the performances and Green's sense of setting and emotional nuance, it proves moving and enlightening.