Lucky 13: The Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival

Some 76 films, more than half of them feature-length productions, will be unveiled at this year's Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. In case there was any doubt in your mind, that's a lot of movies — well over three solid days and nights worth, were you so inclined to prop your eyes open for that length of time and take it all in.

The good news is that you won't have to do that. Ever mindful of their viewers' comfort levels and basic needs, not excluding the need to occasionally sleep, the good folks at the festival have spread the wealth out over an 11-day period. Even better news is that so many of these films are actually terrific you may just find yourself spending a goodly amount of those 11 days camped out at the festival's various venues.

This is year No.13 for the festival, but there's no need to be superstitious here (and who's counting anyway?). The Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival remains vital, endlessly interesting, and unchallenged as the premier film event — and quite possibly the premier cultural event — in the entire Bay area.

As usual, the festival's primary venue will be Tampa Theatre, with selected screenings taking place this year at Centro Ybor Muvico and at TECO Plaza, across the street from Tampa Theatre. It all kicks off at 6 p.m. on Thursday Oct. 3 with a big opening night party at TECO Plaza, followed by an 8 p.m. screening of Margaret Cho's take-no-prisoners concert film Notorious C.H.O.. A typically outrageous collection of Cho bits targeted mostly at sexual excess of every conceivable stripe, Notorious C.H.O. is a perfect opening night entertainment for boys, girls and everyone in between.

With this much going on, it's obviously impossible to give you a rundown on everything that's playing, but here are some of the highlights of the films we've managed to get an advance look at from this year's event.

True to the "international" description in their name, this year's festival focuses more attention on world cinema than ever. Karmen Gei (Oct. 5, 2 p.m.) is an exhilarating adaptation of Bizet's Carmen from Senegal. The film bursts with sound, color, imagination and ripe sensuality, and features some of the most gorgeous and charismatic actors you'll ever see on screen.

Reflecting the bounty of great films, gay and otherwise, currently emanating from Asia, we get a pair of extremely interesting selections: Revolutionary Girl Utena (Oct. 8, 7:30 p.m.) and Memento Mori (Oct. 6, 6:30 p.m.). The former is a cheerfully surreal but surprisingly complex gender examination in the deceptively simple form of a Japanese anime, while the latter is a richly atmospheric addition to Korea's New Wave of filmmaking, a remarkable and unpredictable blend of ghost story, lesbian romance, teen drama and open-ended art film.

One of the most interesting movies of the entire festival is the Slovenian offering Guardian of the Frontier from first-time director Maja Weiss. Recalling the haunted fairy tale world of In the Company of Wolves mixed with more than a little bit of Deliverance, Weiss' film trades in poetry, horror and an arresting political agenda that often seems to be equating sexual repression with fascism. Filled with stunning imagery and evocative, suspenseful music, Guardian of the Frontier chronicles the tensions that develop between a trio of young female students boating down the seemingly peaceful river that divides Slovenia from Croatia. Oh yeah, and there's a serial killer on the loose who may or may not be the creepy political demagogue who appears to be following them. Like many of the best films this festival has presented over the years, the movie works both as a smashing mainstream entertainment and as an engrossing and artful piece of cinema. The film becomes increasingly enigmatic as it progresses, culminating in a dreamy finale that borders on the hallucinatory and opens itself up to any number of interpretations.

Rounding out the world cinema entries are a pair of somewhat more traditional but beautifully made, bittersweet love stories, Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan's Lan Yu (Oct. 11, 6:45 p.m.) and the German-Spanish co-production Food of Love (Oct. 6, 4 p.m.). Both films offer richly nuanced portraits of younger men involved with older, worldlier partners, but each opens windows on very different sorts of worlds — Lan Yu on modern Beijing and Food of Love on the classical music performance scene in New York and abroad. Both films are elegant, polished and manage to put fresh spins on a tried-and-true scenario. Author David Leavitt will be in attendance at Food of Love, and a pre-screening brunch/book signing takes place at 1 p.m. at Dish in Ybor City.

There are plenty of domestic pleasures to be found at the festival as well. One of this year's sure-fire crowd pleasers is certain to be The Cockettes (Oct. 8, 6:45 p.m.), a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable timepiece of the late '60s and early '70s. The movie offers an elaborately detailed account of the infamous group of mostly gay San Francisco-based performers who took tons of acid, adorned themselves with glitter and outrageous gender-bending outfits (or nothing at all) and took to the stage, shoving the more flamboyant side of the counterculture firmly in the face of America. The ultra-androgynous Cockettes weren't the most talented bunch on the block, but their dubious historical/cultural impact winds up being only a small part of a story that is ultimately that of an entire era. Combining rare archival footage with contemporary interviews, the movie is finally anything but subversive. The Cockettes is simply good, classic storytelling.

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