Last weekend, the Utah Film Center hosted its 10th Annual Damn These Heels! Film Festival, a series dedicated to screening films with LGBT-centered elements. This year, the UFC screened 21 films, had a handful of panel discussions and threw a bit of a party on Friday night to kick things off the right way.

The festival opened with the sold-out screening of G.B.F. (Gay Best Friend), which is a funny movie (check out the review) and I recommend you see it if you get a chance. After the film was over, it was time for the main event: the party. I’m not the best person when it comes to partying, I’m usually either the guy sitting in the corner fiddling with the what’s being played on the stereo or I’m getting a little buzzed to ease my general social anxiety. I took the middle road for this event. The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the music–it was house music with some serious bass beats supporting it. The room smelled of cotton candy fog juice and, coincidentally, a large amount of fog crept along the floor. Atop the ceiling rotated a disco ball, lasers and every table had at least twelve glow sticks in a tumbler. You would definitely call this a club themed party and several drunk people were grinding themselves into their dance partners to show it.

Now, I’m not a fan of clubs or rooms that look like clubs, but the thing that get my ears perked are two things: booze and talking about movies. The first thing I did after initially scanning the room in terminator fashion was to get a drink. They had the usual mix drinks apparel, but what caught my eye was a pitcher of what looked like to be orange juice behind the bar. I asked what it was and they called it a “Moscow Mule,” but I’d call it freaking amazing. After my second or fourth drink, I had gained enough courage to actually talk to people. In my attempts to socialize, I met several friendly people from the film being screened, all of whom were kind enough to talk to me about why they got involved in film. I’m pretty sure I had a 30-minute conversation about the beauty and vulnerability of nudity in film (FYI, my favorite nude scene in a film is Kathy Bates in About Schmitt).This all came to an immediate halt when bright flashes came from both ends of the room.

What I initially took for a couple of strobe lights were in fact LED-clad dancers. Dressed in what appeared to be outfits from the Predator series, these dudes had “washboard abs” and could actually dance–the crowd “dancing” was shamed simply because of their proximity. The Predator-dancers flickered different colors and patterns–a whole array of seizure-inducing rave-tastic pulses. All I could think about was how I would really love to see someone who couldn’t dance use that getup–like having someone do the electric slide in that would be terrible. Anyway, at one point, the illusion of “the club” escaped me and I realized I had been to this event before, but in a different outfit, with different music, with the same people. It was a gala fundraiser, but not in the classic sense. Those people at UFC are sly.

After that raving introduction to the DTH! Film Festival, the remainder of the weekend was spent steeped in the art of film. Here are few reviews of the films I caught. You can find more reviews here.

Peaches Does Herself
Director: Peaches

The movie opens to a young Peaches sitting on her bed, fiddling with a keyboard in the attempts to write a song. The movie–which is being filmed on stage in front of a studio audience–takes a sharp, surreal turn as a larger-than-life neon vulva descends from the stage rafters. From the neon nether-parts pops out a decrepit, mostly-naked stripper with a very foul mouth. Moments later, the bed transforms into a wookie vagina and a series of people in full-body Lycra dance out of it. I knew from the first couple of minutes that I was in way over my head. Peaches Does Herself is one of the most offensive pieces of artwork I’ve ever seen. I felt the urge to dry heave, cringe and then laugh on a regular basis. Think Anti-Christ set to music or a Depeche Mode concert with GWAR doing the practical effects. As it is with Peaches’ music, her film is a crash course in sexual identity and gender identity studies. By the end of the film, I was both semi-traumatized, but wondering “Why am I offended?” and “Would I still be offended if a fit, 25-year-old were singing that song or doing that dance?” The visual imagery of the stage performance is striking and all I could think was, “I wish I could see this live.” My favorite scenes in the film were the ones I was the least prepared for. As for the plot? The plot appears to be about Peaches’ rise to musical fame and her relationship with a transgender lover. I didn’t catch every part of the plot, but I think the film is more about the conversation you’re having with Peaches than about the plot. If you are not offended by the end of this film, you are not paying attention. Nothing is sacred, everything is brought to the table. By far, my favorite film at the festival.

Chastity Bites
Director: John V. Knowles
We’ve all seen the meta-horror film Scream. We all know “sluts” die and virgins save off death in the end. Chastity Bites takes that rule and inverts it. Set in a Tea Party paradise of privatized law enforcement and white privilege, the film’s heroine is a foil to the setting around her. Leah, the sports coat wearing Dariah-archetype, is a socio-political trouble maker in town on the search for the next “big story.” While on the search for scandal (teens losing their virginity as a group), Leah’s hopes are dashed by the town’s new resident, Liz Batho, a sexy, sexual puritan. Liz, with the help of concerned parents, forms a student group call the Virginity Action Group (VAG) to keep the local girls chaste. All the while, local residents go missing (why doesn’t Leah cover that for the paper?) at an alarming rate and nobody seems to give a shit until halfway through the movie. The film is campy and over the top with its kills, but that is topped by how it ends. I liked this movie, especially the shitty acting provided by the mothers (one of them is from The Real Housewives of Over-Privileged USA series, I’m ashamed I recognized her) near the end. The one thing that I got hung up on was the relationship with the main character Leah and brocialist secret-admirer Paul. Leah espouses feminist philosophy throughout the film, but that shit goes out the window when she decides to “become a woman.” How? By fucking Paul. Some would argue she was using sex as a weapon, but it doesn’t hold muster in my sex-positive perspective. Maybe I’m looking too deeply into that or maybe they did that on purpose. Also, there is a best friend story with a pretty good arch, but it plays second fiddle to the virgin killing and vagina jokes. I can totally see this being on SyFy, right before Sharknado on a Friday night.

Hot Guys With Guns
Director: Doug Spearman

Remember when buddy cop films were all the rage? Turner and Hootch, Stake Out, Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot? Well, imagine a gay-themed buddy cop movie with hints of noir and you’ve got Hot Guys With Guns pinned down. The movie is fairly straightforward: a mystery pair of men are drugging and robbing large groups of gay men at sex parties, and the two main characters try to solve the mystery. Danny, a failed actor taking a course in private investigation in order to gain insight into a part he’s auditioning for, and Pip, Danny’s ex-boyfriend, potential sex addict and codependent momma’s boy, set out to find Pip’s watch, but find a much darker and disturbing problem. The movie is fairly predictable, but I really doubt they were setting out to produce the next psychological thriller when they started this film. The comedic timing is paced well, however, the movie straddles the fence between a buddy cop comedy and a romantic comedy. One moment, Danny is hunting down the robbers, the next, Pip and Danny are discussing their relationship at the most ill opportune times. There are a few montages that may be unnecessary, but they play along well with the clunky duo pretending to be real P.I.s. The film’s noir angle isn’t played hard enough to justify having some of the pseudo pulp fiction self-narration. That being said, Hot Guys With Guns is funny, and even though you figure out the ending halfway through the film, it’s definitely worth seeing at least once.

Director: Marcal Fores

Animals is a film not to be pigeonholed. From the get go, it is clear that this film is awash in a of sea genres. Part coming-of-age, part surreal and completely captivating, Animals’ cinematic style is merely a reflection of its main character, Pol. A bit of a loner, Pol is a garage rocker in his late teens who is still talking to his imaginary friend, Deerhoof, a stuffed teddy bear. Confused about the direction his life is taking, Pol clings closely to Deerhoof in hopes of fighting of the difficulties of reality. A girl in Pol’s school goes missing and in turn, Pol becomes obsessed with one of the girl’s friends, Ikara, a troubled young man with a dark side. Pol struggles with his sexual identity and mental stability as the story goes on.

What makes Animals such a successful film is the non-linear quality to the narrative. All the scenes are character-driven, like Donny Darko, but with a Cohen brothers’ pacing. Shots are filmed stationary with very few cuts and angle changes. The confidence and artistry of director Forés is one of the highlights of the film. When a scene is filmed in nature, the background is grandiose and occupies the majority of the frame, and when a scene is filmed in man made structures, the camera crowds the frame with the person, giving a cramped atmosphere. Fans of cinematography should really see this film. Finally, the film’s soundtrack is something to be admired. The music in the film is bipolar, the awkward moments are coated with youthful Spanish garage rock, something that makes you want to twist. The movie’s darker moments are fogged by atmospheric gloom punk from a band called the A Frames, giving a Joy Division feel to the whole latter half of the film. Buy it, rent it, whatever–just go see it.

Ballroom Rules
Director: Nickolas Bird, Eleanor Sharpe

I’m not a dancer, nor am I a fan of competitive dancing. In fact, if I were to be given the choice between digging a large, cumbersome hole and watching competitive dancing, I’d start digging. However, what attracted me to this documentary was the premise: a group of Australian gay and lesbian couples preparing for the 2010 Gay Games in Germany and the struggles they face within the dancing community. First off, it’s hard to image why there would be a backlash against same-sex couples wanting to compete in such a sport. You would think that with all the rhinestones, sheer fabric and stage makeup, there would be a natural acceptance, but apparently there are people who believe in “traditional dancing” and “traditional coupling.” These couples aren’t professionals, some of which have been only dancing for a few months, but what they lack in skill, they make up with passion. The film documents the nine months prior to the Gay Games and the blatant homophobia, injuries and spousal conflict that gets thrown into the mix. Most of the discussion revolves around the cultural workings of same sex competitive dancing, like the treatment of gender, how people pick roles in dancing and how the public perceives the league. The documentary is just over an hour and it’s the perfect length if you’re not particularly interested in dancing or amateur sports. My only criticism is that I wished it would have spent more time going into the relationship dynamics and how the couples are tested in this clearly stressful time. Instead, the audience is left watching scenes that mark chronological time rather than marking critical moments. Go see it, but only if you’re a fan of ballroom dancing.

You can find more reviews of the DTH! films here, including our review of Gore Vidal, which won the DTH! Audience Award and will be screened free at Brewvies at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 18. Stay up to date with Damn These Heels! by following their Facebook page.