Grrls on film 

Camp comedies, dramas and docs on tap at Out On Film

Girls gone wild. Girls who fight fires. Girls who are actually guys. The 16th annual Out On Film, Atlanta's gay and lesbian film festival, serves up a dizzying assortment of women (and men) toeing the tightrope of modern sexual identity -- often with outlandish and unexpected results.

The festival begins and ends with two biggie-sized camp comedies (Girls Will be Girls and Die Mommie Die!, both featuring drag divas playing female roles), but the 23 films and bundle of shorts featured in the five-day festival reveal the exuberant diversity of GLBT filmmaking today, from tense dyke dramas to subversive queer documentaries.

This year also marks a venue change for Out On Film, which is produced by IMAGE Film & Video Center. All screenings take place at the newly renovated Landmark Theatres Midtown Art Cinema. A look at some of the featured films follows.

PUT THE CAMERA ON ME (NR) Reality TV can be strangely addictive for its fly-on-the-wall perspective on other people's lives. But someone else's reality can just as easily be dull and devoid of substance. For no good reason, filmmakers Darren Stein (Jawbreaker) and Adam Shell have made a documentary about Darren's childhood experiments in amateur filmmaking with the six other suburban kids who populated his Encino, Calif., subdivision. A suburban Otto Preminger, Darren liked to play mind games with the obedient neighborhood kids featured in his backyard slasher films, action-adventures, Holocaust dramas and nuclear war epics. Tedious navel-gazing interviews with the now-grown kids who starred in Stein's kiddy epics are interspersed with far too many scenes from these ketchup-laden gore opuses that make one cringe with sympathetic embarrassment. Nov. 14, 7 p.m.--FF

GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS (NR) Part All About Eve parody, part "Golden Girls" gone to hell, this witty and bitter comedy pits three wicked roommates against each other in a war of the wigs. Dried-up '70s star Evie Harris (Jack Plotnick) spews contempt for newcomer Varla Jean Merman (Jeffrey Roberson), an opportunistic actress who's the daughter of Evie's late arch-nemesis. Put-upon Coco Peru (the sensational Clinton Leupp) plays referee while longing for a lost love -- her abortion doctor. Though the plot sometimes falters, the Airplane-esque slapstick and sizzling dialogue make Girls Will be Girls an instant drag classic. Nov. 12, 8 p.m.--TB

SUDDENLY (TAN DE REPENTE) (NR) In Buenos Aires, frumpy lingerie salesgirl Marcia (Tatiana Saphir) shuffles through a humdrum existence until a chance encounter with two streetwise biker chicks, Lenin (Veronica Hassan) and Mao (Carla Crespo). They initially kidnap Marcia at knifepoint, but the barely resistant hostage soon embraces their spontaneity and ends up playing house with Mao's eccentric aunt and her two tenants. Filmed in black and white and with long stretches of silence, Suddenly gives a moody and multi-layered meditation on fulfillment and the search for family. Nov. 14, 7:30 p.m.--TB

AKA (NR) British youth Dean (Matthew Leitch) dreams of joining the aristocracy that his waitress mother encounters daily. After his abusive father kicks him out, Dean goes to work for Lady Gryffoyn, a charitable but self-serving blueblood who lets him live in her estate while the family is on holiday. He winds up in Paris, masquerading as Lady Gryffoyn's son and ultimately paying for his charade. The film's gimmick -- a triple-split screen effect -- can't distract viewers from the uneven pacing and indecipherable plot, which borrows from The Talented Mr. Ripley but fails to make us care about the pouty protagonist or his all-too-familiar plight. Nov. 15, 8:30 p.m.--TB

RISE ABOVE: THE TRIBE 8 DOCUMENTARY (NR) This shaggy dog film as raucous and irreverent as the women it documents follows the five members of the San Francisco queer punk band Tribe 8 as they assault audiences with their sexually brazen and outrageously funny brand of rock. The film illustrates what distinguishes Tribe 8 -- carnivalesque, bare-breasted, S/M-oriented performances -- but it's much more than a profile of these born-to-shock chicks. Members talk about their sense of solidarity with the outsider-ethos of punk, their drug addiction, unhappy childhoods and the politics of disrobing in public in a fascinating portrait of some very complicated women. Nov. 15, 9:30 p.m.--FF

THE GIFT (NR) Louise Hogarth's creepy but revealing documentary plumbs a subculture of gay men who do their best to contract the AIDS virus. In a bizarre world of "bareback" sex parties often advertised on the Internet, men who describe themselves either as "bug chasers" (anxious to get the disease) or "gift givers" (willing to share it) engage in sexual Russian Roulette. Director Hogarth offers troubling explanations for their behavior, from sexual titillation at being put at risk to a supremely teenage naivete about one's potential for mortality. Hogarth's documentary often sinks into cautionary tale talkiness. Several of her key subjects are irritatingly confessional without saying very much. And there is an endless encounter group session between four HIV-positive men who wax mystified about the odd behavior of this next wave of younger gay men who eroticize their disease. Nov. 16, 1 p.m.--FF

DIE MOMMIE DIE! (NR) Charles Busch, the drag legend and writer behind Psycho Beach Party, shines in this adaptation of his stage work, a black comedy set in 1967 Hollywood. With shades of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Busch plays Angela Arden, a fading songstress whose already prickly home life turns homicidal when her husband discovers her affair with a former TV star (Jason Priestley). A stellar supporting cast, including "Six Feet Under's" Frances Conroy as a back- biting maid, keep the laughs (and gags) coming, even if its Serial Mom premise occasionally drags (pun intended). Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Acting at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Nov. 16, 8:30 p.m.--TB



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