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A common theme always seems to emerge at any film festival. In this, the 15th Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Film festival, now the Philadelphia QFest, which has evolved since its inception into a beautiful gallery of cinematic diversity and sophisticated presentation, the most palpable message is one that expresses the basic human need for love, recognition and the wanting to belong. Drawing from productions created both in the USA and internationally, this festival which included over 60 films, shorts and documentaries rivals similar events occurring worldwide today.

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Hollywood, je t’aime (Dir: Jason Bushman/ 2009)

This feature debut by director Jason Bushman is a romantic comedy where an adorable, sweet young gay Parisian Jerome (Eric Debets) finds himself feeling empty and loveless after experiencing a recent relationship break-up. Working in an office that offers little personal satisfaction doesn’t help much and when he comes across a window poster advertising Hollywood with an attractive male model on the beach, Jerome then decides to pack his things and leaves for the USA to follow a career in acting. Soon after arriving in Hollywood he finds himself in a run down seedy hotel. Wandering alone and aimlessly in this strange and new environment of L.A., he meets and befriends a caring trans-hooker Kaleesha who takes him home. The house belongs to an crusty old drag queen with a soft spot who allows Jerome to stay. We are invited along with him to share his adventures as he meets a potential romantic interest Ross (Chad Allen ) and pursues multiple auditions in his quest to follow his dream to find love and fulfillment.The main character through his benign innocence and appealing looks (much like a shy and soft spoken Adrian Brody) easily captures the viewers sympathy and compassion. This film showed on opening night and due to its display of sensitivity and humor it definitely made a wonderful pick to start off the 11 days of Philly Q-Fest 2009.

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Puppy Love and Lust

This is international collection of 5 short films follows the theme of first love, its awkwardness, its yearning and the potentially ill-fated “first start” in the realm of desire and romance. In Shotgun, a cute Israeli boy Yoav meets his first crush in the high school bathroom. The burgeoning love affair alarms the boy’s overprotective and controlling mother who threatens to send him away to live with his father. He inevitably runs away from home hoping that his boyfriend will accompany him to find salvation together in Tel Aviv. When his boyfriend also turns his back on him Yoav finds himself at the threshold of discovering with uncertainty his new life on his own. Meanwhile, in Sunshine Sparkling in My Eyes, Raphael is a 17 year old who has a one way crush on a straight male friend. Unable to receive reciprocal affection from this friend, Raphael is stricken with the grief that unrequited love often bears. The boy seeks to release his anguish, emptiness and unfulfilled desires by losing himself and blowing off his frustrated emotions in the beautiful and nurturing environment of a wooded grove. Vandals centers on a young Swiss graffiti artist who has intense feelings for another man in the rough group of vandals of which they are both members. His suppressed emotions and smoldering impulses lead him to grasp a tenuous and fragile peace within himself as he attempts to come to terms with his frustrated acceptance of his sexual identity. In Dish, a young Hispanic kid, Israel, works in a grocery store, immersed daily in a shallow world of chatty dishing about other friends’ sexual escapades and milestones. He finally meets up with an older attractive boy, and is open for the possibility to have his first erotic tryst. But Israel has an obsession involving his hair being touched and is soon turned off because he’s afraid that his hair will be messed up in the throes of of the encounter. Much like Israel’s first encounter, this film left me unsatisfied. Finally in Awakening 9, Carsten, a teen age Danish boy visits with his girlfriend at her parents’ summer home. Soon after arriving, his girlfriend’s good-looking father in his expression of warm friendship awakens in the boy an attraction for the older man. Surprisingly, or not, this attraction is mutually reciprocated. Carsten quickly realizes that he does not want to go down the same path of repressed sexuality that had led the older man into marriage and fatherhood. As he finds his true sexual nature awakening he finds himself rejected by the girl’s father when he admits that he has broken up with his daughter. This short was, by far the most satisfying out of all five in the collection.

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Soundless Wind Chime (Dir: Kit Hung / 2009)

This is truly a magical story.The entire production is a beautiful tapestry richly woven with
intense feeling and emotion. Director Kit Hung incorporates the use of flashbacks, flash forwards, speeded frames and fantasy scenes. Ricky (Yalai Lu) is a shy and introverted waiter/delivery boy who works in a Hong Kong restaurant. He soon meets Pascal (Bernhard Bulling) a street juggler and a pickpocket. Pascal, who is Swiss, has just escaped an abusive relationship and is temporarily without a place to stay. A beautiful though somewhat tenuous relationship slowly develops between the two men and the audience is beckoned to follow as it unfolds through episodes of misunderstanding, painful separations and contrasted by incredibly passionate lovemaking and mythical reunions. At one point, however, there is a departure from the rational aspect and we are hypnotically led by the current of emotion alone. Shot both in China and Switzerland this is truly an enchanting story. The dialogue is both in Chinese and German with subtitles. However, English is the common language through which the lovers converse. Although there are many puzzling aspects to this enchanting film it is definitely one that embodies an unforgettable sensitivity and one without question that directly touches the heart.

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College Boys Live (Dir: George O’Donnell / 2009)

With the expansion of multiple web cam sites affording one with internet interaction with erotic models and with the explosion of TV reality shows, its not surprising that films such as College Boys Live, which combine both elements will make their appearance. The site where the viewer gets to witness this is a cam-house in an upscale residential area in Orlando Florida where the private lives of young men are on camera 24 hours a day. Thus, all the romance, drama and sex are recorded non-stop for the pay-for-viewing pleasure of an extensive number of customer/members. Zac and Johnathan are the coordinator/”house mothers” of this thriving venture where 18+ year-olds are recruited and given free lodging. Many of these youngsters come from devastating family backgrounds and most come with a tremendous lack of self esteem and self-image. However the attention and acknowledgment that they receive daily, not to mention the sense of “family” that the house provides is trans-formative for many of them. Of course, they get their share of neighbor complaints and lawsuits along the way. The stress at the house is further exacerbated by the shallowness demonstrated by some of these young men along with their petty fights the bickering and the high drama at times of conflict.

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Raging Sun, Raging Sky (Dir: Julian Hernandez / 2008)

Kieri and Ryo (Jorge Becerra and Javier Olivan) are potential soul mates…two handsome young Mexican men who are destined to meet and become partners in an ageless love affair that gives meaning to their very existence. Photographed in black and white this three plus hour film initially takes the viewer through darkened mazes of bathhouses, old porno movie houses and lurid alleyways that are heavily pregnant with the energy of the searching and yearning of countless young men for sexual union and lust-driven intimacy. There is very little dialogue between characters and the subtitles serve mainly to express the essence of thoughts, underlying feelings and also to present the passionate lyrics of the original musical scores.The lovers finally meet but not until two hours of the film have elapsed. Mythological themes find themselves unfolding under the watchful eye of a female spirit/guide while good and evil, true love and possessive lust wind inward and outward in their timeless dance. All this plays out against a sweeping cinematography of intense and breathtaking effects and haunting sounds. Through this the viewer finds himself transported to a magic place where the strength of unconditional love clears all obstacles in its path towards ultimate fulfillment.

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Lucky Bastard (Dir: Everett Lewis / 2009)

Set in sunny Hollywood, Lucky Bastard finds Rusty (Dale Dynkoski) a handsome conservative architect who lives in a stable world ruled by his perfectionist tendencies. Even though he has a equally successful sweet boyfriend his reluctance regarding commitment to intimacy and a loving relationship keeps him detached. When at a convenience store he crosses paths with Denny (Patrick Tatten) a sexy bit of rough trade. Uncharacteristically carried away by the excitement of the moment and Denny’s strong come-on which literally steamed with adoration and attention, Rusty finds himself impulsively swept under the spell of this handsome hustler/drug addict. Denny very soon reveals his user/loser personality, plying Rusty for a space to crash and for money to support his pervasive habit. Fueled by the flames of lust and compassion Rusty finds himself caught in an undercurrent threatening to jeopardize his own well-being. Slowly but eventually, he realizes that this exciting emotional roller coaster has an extremely obvious downside. Denny’s demands, mood swings, and self-centered ways push Rusty to the limit and force him to examine what, alternatively, the potential of a stable healthy love relationship might offer.

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Redwoods (Dir: David Lewis / 2009)

This is beautiful short about love, romance and personal acknowledgment. Everett (Brendan Bradley) is in a long term relationship where he and his partner Miles are raising an autistic boy, Billy, together. The relationship in the opening scenes seems to have reached a low point where Everett’s loving nature appears to be taken for granted. Soon after Miles and Billy leave on a extended trip together, a handsome writer, Chase ( Matthew Montgomery ) passes through town and happens to ask Everett for directions. We watch as a sweet and sensitive attraction rapidly develops between these young men as they repeatedly cross paths. This is a film that in its genuine and sincere depiction of two sensitive and intelligent men finding an exquisite connection on many levels really tugs on the viewer’s heartstrings. Shot in the Russian River area of Guerneville, California the film features sweeping cinematography and the awe-inspiring beauty of the Redwood forest. Along with an attractive cast of experienced actors and a great musical score this movie for many viewers is sure to evoke its share of tears.

by Allyn Sterling

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