When I approached the Tower Theatre at 6:30 p.m. on Friday June 17 the whole Ninth and Ninth corner was buzzing with activity. People were enjoying the patios at Coffee Garden and Barbacoa, there was a packed house at Mazza and a swarm of people were waiting in line to get into the theatre for the eighth annual Damn! These Heels LGBT Film Festival.

This honestly caught me off guard a bit. I spend a lot of time at the Tower, but tragically, with the exception of Sundance weekend, I rarely see an impressive crowd. As I entered the theatre every seat was filled and there was chattering excitement for Beginners to, well, begin. As I joined them I was struck with an appreciation for how much support Salt Lake City gives to its LGBT community.

Damn! These Heels celebrated its eighth year of bringing both narrative and documentary films dealing with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual experience this year by screening 13 films over Father’s Day weekend. The festival also held a panel discussion (fondly named “Sunday School with Equality Utah”) which discussed the changing world of LGBT media and its effects on communities and perspective. The festival, whose very name evokes rebellion to traditional gender expectations, was the perfect setting for such discussion, and will undoubtedly continue its tradition of challenging conventions for years to come. I surely hope so.

Director: Maryam Keshavarz

Creating a buzz at the Sundance Film Festival with your first film is not something many filmmakers can boast, but Maryam Keshavarz did just that with her film, Circumstance. Based on Keshavarz’s experiences growing up in a wealthy, culture-rich family in modern-day Iran, Circumstance is the story of two sixteen-year-old girls, Atafeh and Shireen (capably played by first-time actresses Nikohl Boosheri and Sarah Kazemy) who live at odds with the misogynistic society of their upbringing. In addition to their experimentations with drinking, dance clubs and drugs, their friendship develops into an intimacy that is strictly prohibited and enforced by governmental “Morality Police.” Their efforts to keep their feelings hidden are further complicated by the arrival of Atafeh’s strange, troubled brother Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai) who has turned to religion in the wake of a drug addiction. As Mehran’s angst against his former lifestyle and friends grows his suspicions grow to dangerous heights. Though it may lean a little too heavily on pretty girls dancing in slow motion, this is a beautiful movie. The often slow, methodical camerawork and stunning use of color make the film worth seeing on their own. Though some of the plot movements leave the characters looking a little less realistic and more like symbols of the warring perspectives on morality, Circumstance is a powerful film about the struggle for basic freedoms in a slanted and unjust world.

L’amour Fou
Director: Pierre Thoretton

Fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent lived his life with complete devotion to his art. In Pierre Thoretton’s directorial debut he attempts to tell three stories surrounding Saint-Laurent: One about his decades of dedicated work, one of his relationship with his lover and business partner Pierre Berge, and one about the auctioning off of the couple’s impressive art collection. The documentary opens with footage of Saint-Laurent recapping his contributions to the fashion industry, making a couple personal admissions about his long battle with depression and drugs and eventually announcing his retirement from the fashion industry. This opening sequence and other archival footage of Saint-Laurent working and speaking are the strongest parts of the film. Whereas these have the feeling of peeking in on a genius at work and are thrilling to see, the rest of the film, comprising probably 90-percent is spent in interviews with Berge that are less compelling. Listening to Berge muse about the sculptures, photographs and works of modernist art that the two had collected together gets tiring. One gets the feeling that the film belongs more to Berge than to Thoretton, which makes it all the more contrived and self-gratifying when Berge launches into a tangent about his own involvement in politics and the gay rights movement. L’amour Fou fails in its portrayal of a brilliant man, but succeeds as a statement about the effect one’s surroundings and possessions can have on their art.

Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre On Tour

Director: Kerthy Fix

Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour follows the band Le Tigre on their 2004 world tour with concert videos, interviews and goofy behind the scenes footage. One thing is for sure from this film: Le Tigre like to have a good time. I had expected that going into this film, having been somewhat familiar with the band’s electro power pop and also their reputation as a political-but-fun group of rocker chicks. I had also expected a fair share of forward thinking, sex-positive messages stating in specifics what needs to be done in the modern feminist movement. That was the primary place where this documentary was lacking. There is one moment in the film where Jane Magazine states that they won’t run a promotional ad involving the band that includes the word “lesbian” and the band must decide whether to participate and sacrifice their ideals or not. More talk about issues like that and less of the band making fun of other musical acts like Slipknot would have made for a compelling documentary. The requisite live footage of them playing shows in Hamburg, Tokyo, Copenhagen and Sydney is here, but was shot on digital cameras and looks only slightly better than cell phone Youtube videos. Who Took the Bomp? Is good for a few laughs, but lacks in substance.

All About Evil
Director: Joshua Grannell

I was already pretty frightened before I got to the theatre to see the first full length film by Joshua Grannell (better known by his drag alter ego, Peaches Christ). Although it stands a little outside the rest of the festival in theme and style, people turned out in droves to see Grannell host a pre-show musical number and introduce the film. All About Evil is the story of Deborah Tennis (Natasha Lyonne) who always wanted to be a star, but instead became a quiet, wallflower of a librarian. When Deborah’s father dies, his beloved but failing rep cinema house, The Victoria, is left to her. When her evil stepmother tries to force Deborah to sell the movie house, a struggle ensues and ends in a brutal murder. By a freak and completely unrealistic mishap, the killing is captured by the lobby’s security camera and accidentally projected on the big screen, but the small, loyal crowd thinks the footage is an admirable short film that quickly becomes a hit. Eager to embrace her shot at fame and save the family business, Deborah employs a staff of nefarious misfits to assist her in staging the grisliest series of all-too-real horror shorts of all time. Admittedly, there is a lot of fun to be had with All About Evil. The acting (including cameos from Noah Segan, Thomas Dekker and cult movie icons Mink Stole and Cassandra Peterson a.k.a. “Elvira: Mistress of the Dark”) falls right into the over-the-top style that is typical of filmmakers like John Waters and H. G. Lewis. Fans of cult, camp, grindhouse and gore who are able to suspend some disbelief and forgive some poor editing will be well pleased.

Director: Andrew Haigh

Andrew Haigh’s sophomore feature, Weekend, primarily takes the perspective of Russell (Tom Cullen), a timid lifeguard who lives by himself and seems to have a hard time connecting even with his closest friends. Following an opening sequence at a dinner party with friends, he heads alone to a local gay bar and winds up going home with the seductive Glen (Chris New), an outgoing artist-type who urges Russell to record the details of their sexual encounter on tape the next morning. It’s awkward, and the lack of music and extremely close cinematography in all the bedroom scenes throughout the film make the mood all the more intimate. As the weekend progresses and the two men spend more time together, they get to know each other through drinking, doing drugs, having sex and discussing topics of varying philosophical significance. The two rarely have a similar outlook on any given topic, but it’s a testament to the true acting skills of both Cullen and New that a natural attraction is palpable. Despite the fleeting nature of the relationship between Russell and Glen, a surprising amount of personal discovery happens for both characters making the film comparable to Medicine For Melancholy or an inverse Faces. To put it on par with those titles isn’t far off, either. Weekend is a rare, powerful romantic drama.

Director: Mike Mills

Mike Mills’ follow up to Thumbsucker, Beginners, details an artist’s (Ewan McGregor’s Oliver) relationships with a zany actress (Melanie Laurent) and his ill (and recently out-of-the-closet) father (Christopher Plummer). Mills’ unashamedly cute, quirky tendencies belabor Beginners to some degree, since it otherwise has a very realistic style, but the film boasts plenty of positive attributes to be forgiven its excessive visual aids set on black and gimmicky subtitled dog. All three of the film’s stars deliver understated yet impressively authentic performances that prove impossible to resist. Mills likely got such performances from his actors as a result of the script being mostly autobiographical, and there’s a great deal of warmth brought to the subject of accepting one’s self and history. McGregor is far more suited to play a regular guy grappling with his former perception of love and domestic partnership in the light of a new romance and a new lens through which to view his father than he was to be a jedi. With its non-linear chronology and magnifying glass look at attraction and domesticity, this movie plays out like Blue Valentine only with far more charming and genuinely funny moments.

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
Director: Leanne Pooley

In The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls, Leanne Pooley presents an homage to Jools and Lynda Topp that is nearly as hilarious and truly entertaining as they are. For decades, this pair of yodeling lesbian twins have been a couple of the hottest comedian/musical acts in New Zealand, as well as instrumental leftists in just about every social and political issue to face their island. From the obvious gay rights movement to nuclear-free zone to Maori land rights, they have been comical crusaders for every platform without losing their complete acceptance and lovability. As a documentary, Untouchable Girls adequately gives the history and background of the girls, from their rural, animal-loving roots that they never let go of, to their relationship with their parents in light of their homosexuality. The interviews are conducted with the people who knew them best rather than music experts and critics, making this a film about getting to know the Topps, not analyzing them. Pooley doesn’t miss the opportunity to interview the twins’ alter egos, including the pub-frequenting Ken and Ken, and the society matrons Prue and Dilly. All in all, the film is a delightful look at some the quirkiest sisters in entertainment.

Elvis + Madona
Director: Marcelo Laffitte

Elvis + Madona is Brazilian director Marcelo Laffitte’s first venture into the full-length narrative medium. A wildly vibrant movie with a fast-paced, dynamic feel, E + M is in no way a conventional romantic comedy. Elvis is a young, attractive lesbian who takes a job as a pizza delivery girl in the Copacabana neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro to make money while she waits for a job as a photographer. On her first delivery, she meets a transvestite named Madona who has a shaky past and a dream of being a famous stage performer. There’s an almost schizophrenic quality to how many subplots are running through what is basically a love story, which is Laffitte’s attempt at displaying many perspectives on the singular themes of self-image and freedom. All these varying side stories do nothing to lift the film, but rather bog it down. Still, it has its redeeming qualities that will entertain anyone willing to bypass a barrel-rolling rollercoaster of a plotline and near anti-realism for a message about the power of love when you have the courage to put your faith in it.