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Divine and James Franco top this year's N.C. Gay & Lesbian Film Festival

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For Carolina Theatre Senior Director Jim Carl and the other programmers for the North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, there's usually a moment, when all the films are locked down and scheduled, when they wonder if some or most of the films have something in common. That happened once again for this year's fest.

According to Carl, the subjects of gay marriage and Southern hospitality will pop up periodically throughout the 10-day, 117-film, 18th annual fest. Documentaries will tackle gay marriage: The New Black deals with it from the perspective of the African-American community, while The Campaign tells the story of California's now-outlawed Proposition 8. There are also feature films on the subject, like the romcom The Perfect Wedding and the aptly titled farce Scenes from a Gay Marriage.

On the Southern side of things, Sordid Lives creator Del Shores adapts his play Southern Baptist Sissies for the big screen. There is also going to be a special throwback screening of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, the 1982 film version of the Broadway musical, starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds.

While it's true that Whorehouse is a musical starring a gay icon and a movie star that's probably been an object of queer male desire since he appeared naked on a rug in Cosmopolitan, Carl says the film was booked primarily as a tribute to director Colin Higgins. In the '70s and early '80s, Higgins was a successful, openly gay filmmaker, either penning or directing some of the era's funniest movies (9 to 5, Silver Streak, Harold & Maude) before dying of AIDS in 1988.

"He's rarely been recognized in the LGBT community, and I thought this program would be a nice way of finally giving him some recognition," says Carl. "Rarely has such a commercial filmmaker had such a winning streak and garnered such little recognition. And, so, I'm hoping this program might change that."

Carl predicts other must-see hot tickets will bring in audiences of all sexual preferences. James Franco co-directs the certain-to-be-talked-about Interior. Leather Bar., a graphic, head-scratching re-imagining of the 40 minutes that were cut from Al Pacino's controversial 1980 thriller Cruising. The documentary I Am Divine has John Waters and various loved ones paying tribute to the late Pink Flamingos star and drag queen extraordinaire.

What Carl wants most known about this year's NCGLFF lineup is that it's a fully rounded affair, with something for all facets of the LGBT community—and everyone else. "What message does the festival want to give out this year?" he asks himself. "I guess it would be pride. Pride that the world is changing. Pride that society is also rethinking its views about what gay and lesbian means in today's world. Pride that we're still here after 18 years, and able to give the community a nationally ranked festival such as this one."

We were able to watch several of the films in advance. Here's our take on them:

IN THEIR ROOM LONDON—This documentary by Travis Mathews is one in a series that chronicles the getting ready and grooming process for a group of gay men in various cities, combined with their honest opinions about the state of modern gay relationships, sex and hookup culture, as well as their personal experiences with the subjects. What results is a portrait of each man's vulnerability, both in pursuit of sex or romance, and with the filmmaker. —Mary Alta Feddeman

INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR.—Big-name movie star James Franco gets in touch with his rebellious side in this hour-long doc where he and co-director Travis Mathews rounds up a bunch of gay and straight actors in making what they think would've been the 40 minutes that were cut from the controversial Al Pacino thriller Cruising in order to avoid an X rating. Even though one gets the sense that Franco is trying to get both the audience and his actors to examine their own homophobia, the whole thing still comes off as awkward and pretentiously baffling. —CDL

THE NEW BLACK—This sobering, long-overdue documentary examines homosexuality from the African-American perspective. Mostly, it follows black people in Maryland as they rally either for or against the proposed ballot question regarding marriage equality in last year's state elections. It also focuses on the influence black churches have on the black community when it comes to homosexual issues—and the hypocrisy that surfaces when men and women of color come out of the closet and become pariahs to the people who once embraced them. —CDL

G.B.F.—Call this likable but mega-snarky high-school comedy (helmed by Jawbreaker director Darren Stein) a gay version of Easy A. It centers on an introverted, closeted kid (Michael J. Willett) who reluctantly gets outed and becomes courted by the school's popular alpha females for the position of their gay sidekick. Megan Mullally, Jonathan Silverman, Rebecca Gayheart and Natasha Lyonne guest star as the uber-liberal adults who support our protagonist throughout this wacky ordeal. As fun and adorable as the film is, it does suffer from pun overload. —CDL

I AM DIVINE—As far as larger-than-life drag queens go, Divine was the gold standard. This respectful, revealing documentary chronicles the life and times of the extravagant, Baltimore-born cross-dresser/actor/recording artist, best known as the envelop-pushing muse for trash-loving filmmaker John Waters. (Anyone who's seen Pink Flamingos knows what we're talking about.) Waters, along with various friends, loved ones and on-screen co-stars (including Tab Hunter and Ricki Lake) recall their experiences with Divine, who died too early of a heart attack in 1988.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Best little gay festival in Durham."

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