The Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival is slumming this year. Perhaps its producers at Three Dollar Bill Cinema are nervous about the specter of elitism after programming a run of high-minded '50s melodramas this spring (wasn't Tea and Sympathy fantastic?). Perhaps they actually think TV is interesting. Whatever the case, and in the absence of a generally acknowledged cultural moment in gay TV, this year's Lesbian and Gay Film Festival is dedicated to television.

Stay far away from the intro-to-gay-TV doc Further Off the Straight and Narrow (I Want My Gay TV! at SIFF Cinema, Sun Oct 14 at 2 pm). It's 61 minutes of media-studies boilerplate—a lot of didactic blather about representation and stereotypes and the exact proportion of reality or unreality contained in so-called reality TV. The voiceover narration includes an unhealthy number of questions that end in periods and mock curiosity about early representations of gay characters that the clips entirely fail to address. If you want to draw your own conclusions about the history of gay representation in television, stick with Gay TV Dinners at Central Cinema, double features of TV episodes from the '70s with gay themes—from honorable gay athletes to greedy lesbians who prey on loaded widows (Mon Oct 15, Wed Oct 17, and Fri Oct 19 at 5:30 pm). Central Cinema will really serve you dinner, too: It's the best use of the DVD-only venue I've seen in any festival to date.

SLGFF isn't big on archival films—Three Dollar Bill saves the obscure finds for its year-round programming—but Parting Glances (SIFF Cinema, Thurs Oct 18 at 7 pm), from 1986, is probably the best thing in the festival. Written, directed, and edited by Bill Sherwood, who died of AIDS before completing another feature, the film is one of the earliest and least sentimental features about gay life in the AIDS era. Twentysomethings Michael and Robert lead seemingly comfortable lives—they flirt with cute boys at the record store, have dinner parties with a middle-aged couple in a sad sham marriage, and attend bohemian soirees in a costume designer's loft where the beer flows freely but the cocaine is stashed in a curtained chamber. Meanwhile, Michael tries to get his HIV-positive best friend Nick (a bony young Steve Buscemi) to stick to a macrobiotic diet in a pathos-stricken effort to ward off death, and Robert is about to move to Kenya, for reasons Michael is unwilling to guess. The film was recently restored by the brand-new Outfest Legacy Project, so the print should be close to pristine.

Also falling into the evergreen AIDS-in-the-'80s category is André Techiné's The Witnesses (Cinerama, Mon Oct 15 at 7 pm), fresh from the international festival circuit. Though the cast of characters looks a little stagey after Parting Glances—baby-hating children's book author Emmanuelle Béart married to vice-squad flic and loving father Sami Bouajila?—the who's-sick-and-who's-guilty drama works pretty well, at least until an American character shows up and exhibits his thickly French-accented English.

Speaking of terrible accents: Woody Harrelson in the crime noir The Walker, SLGFF's opening-night selection (Cinerama, Fri Oct 12 at 8 pm), sounds like no Virginian born after 1930 I've ever heard. More like Robert E. Lee with his tongue strapped to a metronome—but even then those Tennessee Williams bons mots don't fly. Paul Schrader (American Gigolo) writes and directs, but his ear is all off, too: The idea of an unpaid shopping "escort" is derived from a flaming friend of Nancy Reagan's, but the character is awkwardly transplanted into the present day, complete with Abu Ghraib–inspired art and grumbly references to the Iraq war.

The rest of the schedule is littered with American docs (I've seen only Lulu Gets a Facelift, which is precisely as dull and gory as it sounds, and the worthy SIFF holdover Blood on the Flat Track: The Rise of the Rat City Rollergirls), shorts programs (the animated Functional Design, about a reassuring goose king, is adorable, but I can't vouch for any others), and international fare (thumbs reservedly up for the gorgeously photographed Vivere, a three-perspective triptych about rebellion and heartbreak in small-town Germany and big-city Netherlands; thumbs regretfully down for The King and the Clown, the indulgent story of a girlish street performer in the 16th-century Korean court).

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Like SIFF, our city's original behemoth, SLGFF's massive ticket-selling power far outstrips the number of appropriately themed films worth seeing in any given year. I hate to advise sticking to the '80s—surely, decent gay movies are still being made—but this year, the restored Parting Glances is the only must-see. Of course, a strict '80s regimen will also lead you to the Xanadu sing-along (Cinerama, Sat Oct 13 at 9:30 pm). Sorry about that. recommended

annie@thestranger.com