QCinema returns to Fort Worth with thrillers, comedies and more

STEVE WARREN | Contributing Writer
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The 20th annual installment of QCinema, Fort Worth’s international LGBT film festival, returns to Cowtown Oct. 4–7, with a slate of more than a half-dozen feature films about 10 short films, ranging from documentaries, lesbian comedian, gay thrillers and more. We managed to snag a look at some of the entries and offer this preview of some of the highlights. All films screen at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (you can see a complete lineup at Qcinema.org).

Devils Path, pictured above. For quite a while Devil’s Path is a can’t look at it/can’t look away kind of movie: You keep wondering whether it’s going to get good… then it does and … wow! It surprised me so many times I’d feel like a hypocrite if I didn’t recommend it.

Noah (Stephen Twardokus) tells us he has always felt safe in the woods but not around people. He looks like he’s afraid of everything. But the part of the woods he hangs out in (filmed in California’s Russian River area) has a lot of people because it’s a notorious gay cruising spot. “Sometimes I like to watch,” he admits.

One day, Noah sees a good-looking guy, Patrick (JD Scalzo), and sets out to meet him. Patrick pegs Noah as a “Midwestern small town guy who believes in love,” while he’s just there for a quickie with no strings, so no thank you: “Love is a chemical reaction of the brain. It’s not real.”

After Noah is attacked by one man and he and Patrick are chased by two others, they wind up lost in an area where two young men recently disappeared. Their pursuers are still after them so they go deeper into the woods until they don’t know the way out. Noah’s content to spend the night there, but Patrick wants to return to civilization before dark.

Got the picture? Good. Now forget it, because most of it isn’t true. It’s a setup that sets you up for the twists to come.

Twardokus, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Matthew Montgomery, gives a terrific performance, although he looks a bit older than I imagine Noah is supposed to be. Scalzo makes a fine foil for his partner’s histrionic gymnastics. Devil’s Path is a little indie that could. And does.
  Oct. 5, 8 p.m.

Dykes, Camera, Action! It’s amazing how much you can cram into an hour when you know what you’re doing, and Caroline Berler obviously does. You could take a whole course in the History of Lesbian Cinema and not learn more than you do from watching this one film.

Back before they kept stats on the number of movies made by women (because there weren’t enough to move the needle), a good percentage of the few female filmmakers were lesbian. But Berler begins in the ‘60s, when Hollywood required queers in movies (The Fox, The Killing of Sister George) to meet a grim fate, a holdover from the Production Code. In the ‘70s, lesbians like Barbara Hammer (Sappho, Dyketactics) and Su Friedrich (Hot Water, Scar Tissue) started making experimental films, while lesbian vampires became a thing in horror movies (The Vampire Lovers). The ‘80s brought lesbian narratives by men with big budgets (Robert Towne’s Personal Best, Tony Scott’s The Hunger) and women with smaller ones (Donna Deitch’s Desert Hearts). The ‘90s began the New Queer Cinema, but at first it was all male. Later came the likes of Rose Troche’s Go Fish, Lisa Cholodenko’s High Art and Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman.

I would have included Nicole Conn’s Claire of the Moon and the Wachowskis’ Bound, but I’m amazed at how comprehensive Berler’s film is, how many clips she was able to obtain, how many interviews she’s included with filmmakers and scholars (including lesbian critic B. Ruby Rich), who sound intelligent without coming across as dry and intellectual.

The filmmakers talk about works that inspired them, but mostly how they were driven to create the films they wanted to see because they didn’t find themselves represented on screen. For some filmmaking was a form of activism, although proportionately a bit too much time is given to the Lesbian Avengers, in the streets and on the screen.
Incredibly, this is Berler’s first film. You can call it beginner’s luck but I call it starting at the top.
  Oct. 6, 2:30 p.m.

Freelancers Anonymous. So here’s my regular-guy side having a perfectly enjoyable time watching this lesbian comedy, when my critic side starts whispering about flaws in the script. As the movie goes on and the flaws get bigger, the whisper becomes a roar, and the bad outweighs the good. Still, if you’re not part-critic, you still might love it.

Billie (Lisa Cordileone, a Toni Collette type) is tired of getting screwed over and quits her miserable job. She and Gayle (Natasha Negovanlis) are planning their wedding. A flier sends Billie to a meeting of Freelancers Anonymous (FA) at the church where she’s to be married. She pushes the aimless group to find investors and develop an app that will connect people with jobs, and she plans a launch party to coincide with her wedding.

The movie is set in an almost all-female world. The few male characters never speak. I get it — payback for 90 years of talkies in which female voices have been suppressed. But aside from Billie, Gayle and Gayle’s mother, there’s no indication of the orientation of any characters; no romantic subplots; total asexuality.

And we see very little affection between the leading ladies. When they’re together they argue, lie to each other and bemoan financial problems. They might as well be married already!

And the people in FA — five women and one man before Billie joins them — seem to spend all day, every day meeting at the church without doing anything, except eating when one of them brings pastry. A good running gag has them wearing nametags even though they all know each other. The farcical climax isn’t set up properly so there’s no reason for people to be running around, except that it’s theoretically funny.

In a collaborative medium like film, it’s hard to believe no one pointed out the script’s deficiencies to writers Cordileone and Amy Dellagiarino and director Sonia Sebastián. Their film is still watchable and sometimes enjoyable, with some original, creative touches; but the script wouldn’t get a passing grade in Screenwriting 101.
  Oct. 7, 7:30 p.m.