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Gay and lesbian film festival set to change perceptions

Cassie Belek | Friday, February 10, 2006

With recent campus debates over University President Father John Jenkin’s comments on academic freedom still fresh in students’ minds, the Gay and Lesbian Film: Filmmakers, Narratives and Spectatorships series is in full swing at the Browning Cinema. The series kicked off yesterday with two screenings of Academy Award nominated “Brokeback Mountain,” directed by Ang Lee. “Brokeback Mountain” is one of four already sold-out films, with its second screening selling out in only two hours.

The aim of the series, which formerly went by the name of the Queer Film Festival, is to present films that make students question what a gay and lesbian film is, or even if it can be categorized in a “gay and lesbian” genre. The student organizers for this year’s film series are graduate students Harry Karahalios and Martin Laina.

“We feel as student organizers that this is an important event for Notre Dame students because it gives students the opportunity to look at contemporary culture and see these great films,” Laina said. “The films present students with the opportunity to ask academic questions and raise questions about our contemporary culture.”

The six films being screened are “Brokeback Mountain,” “Breakfast on Pluto,” “Happy Endings,” “Saving Face,” “Gay Republicans” and “Cachorro (Bear Cub).” The first three films explore the complex genre of a gay and lesbian film.

“Brokeback Mountain,” starring Oscar nominees Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, follows the love story of a ranch-hand and a rodeo cowboy who fall in love herding sheep one summer only to keep their love a secret over the years as they both get married, have children and try to cope with their feelings for one another.

“Breakfast on Pluto,” with Golden Globe nominated Cillian Murphy, is about a young man in the 1970s who leaves Ireland to look for his mother in London and becomes a transvestite cabaret singer.

Director Don Roos will be in attendance for Saturday’s screening of “Happy Endings,” a film interweaving the lives of characters of 10 different stories. After the screening, Roos, who also directed “The Opposite of Sex” and “Bounce” and who is a writer in the upcoming movie “The Devil Wears Prada,” will be leading a question and answer session in this rare opportunity.

Two of the screenings will show international films. “[These films] represent gay and lesbian people in a multicultural and international context,” Laina said. “Saving Face” follows the life of a young Chinese-American surgeon whose single, pregnant mother moves in with her as she grapples with falling in love with a ballet dancer and scandalizing her Chinese community. The director of “Cachorro,” Miguel Albaladejo, will also be in attendance for his film’s screening and will be hosting a question and answer session as well. The film tells the story of Pedro, a gay man who unexpectedly must care for his young nephew as the two forge a close bond.

The last film in the festival, “Gay Republicans,” follows Log Cabin, the Gay Republican Club, in the intense time leading up to President George W. Bush’s election, and reveals the extremely difficult choice gay republicans were forced to make.

In addition to the screenings and the question and answer sessions, the series is hosting a number of panels featuring prominent professors from Notre Dame. Panel topics include “Making Gay & Lesbian Film” and “Gay & Lesbian Film, Queer Theory & the Academy.”

The goal of the panels is to encourage discussion among the Notre Dame community and to provide students and faculty with a forum to express their thoughts and opinions about contemporary gay and lesbian films.

“These films are important because they are very much within the tradition of film scholarship and within the spirit of inclusion at this University, which we feel to be a strong spirit,” Laina said.

By looking to these films, students can gain awareness of the diversity in the world and have the opportunity to view films they might not otherwise see. The film series takes a close look at gay and lesbian films and encourages scholarly debate, redefining the perceptions which are associated with this film genre.