Strike a Pose

The 21st edition of the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival begins with a new name: TWIST: Seattle Queer Film Festival, which better reflects the varied forms of storytelling that characterize the event, from films to panel discussions to art exhibits. Fittingly, it also better represents festival subjects and participants who defy strict gender identity labels.

This year’s motion picture slate includes documentaries, short films, archival releases—like Cheryl Dunye’s biting Watermelon Woman—and animated features, like Stranger Genius nominee Clyde Petersen’s stop-motion road trip movie Torrey Pines, the opening night film.

In Petersen’s amusing and sometimes alarming autobiographical debut, which screens with live music and Foley, a teenager’s imagination helps them to navigate the vicissitudes of school, family, and same-sex attraction. Music and sound effects take the place of dialogue as adults (including Petersen’s schizophrenic mother) babble nonsensically, while kids communicate through physical gestures and facial expressions. Escape comes in the form of cats, stuffed animals, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the soaring voice of Whitney Houston.

The wealth of real-world detail provides a link with films like Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan’s touching Strike a Pose featuring six dancers from Madonna’s 1990 Blond Ambition tour. The iconic tour featured Catholic Church–baiting imagery (they took the bait) and cabaret-dominatrix outfits from designer Jean-Paul Gaultier (including that infamous conical bra) that found their way into Alek Keshishian’s resulting concert film, Truth or Dare, which showcased Madonna’s dancers—mostly gay men of color, who appeared to own their sexuality as much as she did.

Dancer Carlton remembers receiving a call from Madonna informing him that he got the gig. Oliver, who is straight, broke into tears when he got the call. He recalls that he “went from being homophobic to loving everybody.” They still receive letters from young gay men who took inspiration from their openness, but the years afterward haven’t been easy. If the first half of the film is a celebration, the second touches on addiction, homelessness, lawsuits, and HIV, but these men are still standing—and dancing. You may come away with mixed feelings about Madonna, who outed people before they were ready, but the impact of the tour is undeniable.

Other notable films include Pushing Dead, a sweetly surreal comedy with Psych’s James Roday about life with HIV, Women Who Kill, a deadpan psychological thriller about a podcaster (director Ingrid Jungermann) whose interest in serial killers gets out of hand, and a conversation with Rose Troche (Go Fish, The L Word), a key figure in the New Queer Cinema movement.