Final filmfest reviews: Prodigal Sons, Fig Trees, Big Gay Musical at TIGLFF

The 20th annual Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival concludes today, and if the lines outside the films and the comments from Executive Director Chuck Henson are any indication, this was one of the most successful seasons ever, with large increases in single ticket sales offsetting the drop in corporate sponsorship. The fest certainly felt like a success; last night was a case in point, with long lines and big laughs for the screening of Eating Out 3, and a crowded, convivial men's party at Czar.

There are a few films left to see, culminating with the splashy Big Gay Musical (right) at 7, reviewed below by Ryan Jent. And if you missed Prodigal Sons or Fig Trees, both of which screened earlier today, read the reviews below and decide whether you need to add them to your Netflix queue; for my money, Sons was one of the most powerful films in the fest, so be sure to check it out if you missed today's screening.

Big Gay Musical I liked it better when it was just called Cats. Big Gay Musical revolves around Paul and Eddie prepping for their roles in the Off-Broadway musical Adam and Steve: Just the Way God Made 'Em. The actors are surprisingly strong, but the film becomes commentary on commentary, mirroring their lives with those of their musical counterparts, and we all know what happens to a copy of a copy. While the music is sure to inspire theater majors across the country, the film lacks the heart it needs for you to really care about any of the characters in the way someone clearly wanted you to. Big Gay Musical, in the end, just falls flat. Sun. Oct. 18, 7 p.m., Tampa Theatre. —Ryan Jent

Prodigal Sons An extraordinary documentary that begins with a trans-woman’s journey to her Montana hometown for a high school reunion and expands into a complex narrative with surprising plot twists, complicated characters and wrenching family confrontations. Filmmaker Kimberly Reed assumes that her own story will take focus when she returns to her high school; after all, most of her classmates still remember her as Paul, the quarterback all the girls had crushes on. But it’s her adopted brother’s dilemma that eventually dominates; brain-damaged in his 20s in a car accident, he makes a startling discovery about his lineage that leads the film into fascinating territory, stirring up questions about past and present, personal history and family ties, gender identity and sibling rivalry, even Big Sky Country vs. Old Hollywood. Sun. Oct. 18, 1 p.m., Tampa Theatre. —David Warner

Fig Trees A documentary-opera about two men who take AIDS activism very personally. Canadian Tim McCaskell and South African Zackie Ahmet lead different, yet parallel lives. Tim's fight against major pharmaceutical companies that value profits over human lives leads him to create Aids Action Now in the late '80s. Fed up with the lack of government support for AIDS treatments in South Africa, Zackie goes on a treatment strike in 1999. The story is shaped by Gertrude Stein’s 1934 avant-garde opera Four Saints in Three Acts. The documentary cuts between a fictional tale of Stein kidnapping Tim and Zackie to play the saints in her opera, and real-life footage and interviews about the AIDS epidemic. So much   gets touched upon — the musical scale, palindromes, saints, a singing albino squirrel, the lack of governmental support, the top 100 AIDS songs, the suggestion that beetroot and garlic are appropriate AIDS treatments by South Africa’s Minister of Health — that the viewer can be forgiven for feeling confused. The film is visually stunning, its black and white footage of interviews with Tim and Zackie contrasting with dreamlike sequences. Like the storyline, however, the visuals can at times be choppy and unclear. This is a film that you’ll either love, hate or not understand at all. And because of how important the subject matter is — at the core it’s about fighting AIDS – it’s disappointing that the message may get lost in the noise. Sun. Oct. 18, 3 p.m., Tampa Theatre. —Courtney Bishop