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Slightly Gay
by Becky Tan

Gay, lesbian, transsexual, drag queen: all have a permanent place in Berlinale films. A nine-member jury from the U.S., Portugal, the Czech Republic, Canada, Argentina, Germany, and The Netherlands awarded the gay-lesbian prizes, called Teddy Awards, in a special invitation-only, post-midnight press conference. It ended in a party open to the public. The Teddy Award for best documentary went to Feline Masquerade (Katzenball), a Swiss film about five lesbian women from several generations. In the 1930s women lived in a society of secrets and disinformation and the word lesbian was unknown. It was a brave woman who could analyze her situation, make decisions and then stand by them. One woman caused a scandal by leaving her husband and daughter for her girlfriend. During the feminist movement in the 1960-70s homo- and heterosexual woman joined forces for women’s liberation, which opened not only job and educational horizons, but gave gay women a voice. Lesbians could benefit from this new openness to establish themselves as a recognized entity, but it has been a difficult struggle and still cannot be taken for granted.

Rosa von Praunheim, probably Germany’s best-known gay director, made Who is Helene Schwarz?, a mainstream, not gay, documentary about Helene Schwarz, a seemingly ordinary 78-year-old secretary. She is special, having for years worked in the office of the German Film and TV Academy of Berlin, mothering a whole generation of German directors and film people such as Wolfgang Petersen and Detlef Buck. The film describes her life as well as the changes, growing pains, and development of the film academy. For example, successful director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) failed academy admittance three times. We sang Happy Birthday to her in person, and the Berlinale Camera Award went to von Praunheim for the film.

In Transamerica Bree could have been an ordinary person driving with his long-lost son Toby from New York to California in a road movie. However, Bree is transsexual and saving money for a sex-change operation, which makes for unusual turns in the plot. Never having accepted his masculinity, he also never accepted that he had fathered offspring. The child, now a teenager, must be rescued from jail by his only remaining legal relative, Bree. On the trip west Toby realizes that his rescuer is really a man; Bree attracts an admirer; they visit Bree’s conservative parents; and both main characters begin a new life near the Pacific Ocean. U.S. director Duncan Tucker has made a warm, funny film about so many different types of people that, taken together, all are “normal.”

Other gay films were documentaries: Christopher Buchholz's story Horst Buchholz… Mein Papa about growing up with his famous German-actor father, who left his family for a man; Heroes and Gay Nazis also by Rosa von Praunheim; and George Michael, A Different Story (click here for another article about this film). Based on a True Story originates from Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1976) about a transsexual who robs a bank for money for a sex change. The Teddy Award winner, A Un Año sin Amor (A Year Without Love) by Anahi Berneri came from Argentina and describes a man’s hopes and despair over a year of dying from AIDS. We can just hope that some of these films find their way to Hamburg via the Hamburg Gay-Lesbian film festival October 12-17, if not through mainstream cinemas.

A Gay Utopia by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Mariscos Beach by French directors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau appears to be a light musical comedy, but actually asks the serious questions, “Should gay couples have the right to marry or have children? Would they make good parents?" Marco (Gilbert Melki), Laura (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi) and their two teenagers go to the French seaside on holiday. The oldest daughter immediately meets a new boyfriend on a motorcycle and vanishes over the horizon. Laura soon invites her lover from Paris to join her and they meet secretly to enjoy their sexual freedom. Son Charly’s gay friend comes to visit. Laura immediately suspects that her son may also be gay and accepts it, but doesn’t know how to approach him on the subject. Marc has a completely different reaction which leads to misunderstandings. What a surprise to find out that Charly is not gay after all.

Throughout the film, water sets the mood, such as changing tides of the sea or the shower running. This and the music help create a certain rhythm. The water is a metaphor for what works and what doesn’t. The shower in particular often doesn’t work so they call a plumber, who happens to be Marco’s ex-lover. At this point, everyone confesses, putting secrets on the table. Marco’s ex-lover doesn’t understand why he left so mysteriously, and Marco explains his wish to marry, have children and be a father. Laura’s reaction in this idealistic world is complete understanding. In the end, there are no villains or conflicts, just a lively song. The next summer in the same vacation house Laura is with her lover from Paris, Marc is with the plumber, Charly has a new girlfriend and his gay friend a new boyfriend. Everyone has a niche in this perfect gay utopia.

That Man: Peter Berlin by Karen Pecota

This documentary is all about German Peter Berlin who delighted in living in a dark and promiscuous homosexual world. He loved it! He was known for his erotic style of dress which consisted of extremely tight clothing which heavily accented his huge genitalia. He is very lean and handsome with beautiful blue eyes and white-blond hair in a Dutch boy hair cut. He was so striking that people would see him on the street and just stop and stare or often go hunting for him just to catch a glimpse. He thrived on this attention and lived to excite whomever he could sexually tantalize with his physique. He was an amazing artist who photographed or painted mostly himself. He was never out for hire and had few intimate relationships. He never used his lust for sexual exhibition in return for money (although he was advised to do so many times). He is now in his 60s, very healthy, very attractive, but now dresses down. He says that at his age people don’t want to see an old man “strutting his stuff’. He still lives in San Francisco where he concentrates on other hobbies such as his art and caring for his many friends, some who suffer from AIDS.