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Pick of the Week

Celluloid Lesbians

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It's Friday night at the end of a long week, and you've got nothing scheduled in your planner. So what could be more fun than surrounding yourself with a couple of hundred LGBT and LGBT-friendly folks eating popcorn and watching movies?

There may be few things more entertaining happening in town this Friday than what will be happening at the University of Arizona's Modern Languages Auditorium, during opening night of the UA's 15th annual Lesbian Looks Film and Video Series.

Actually it's the UA's Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Studies that is the official sponsoring body, and this, the first of LL's three consecutive Friday nights of screenings, promises to be a hoot. That's because the main attraction will feature a heavy dose of sharp political satire in a documentary featuring comic Kate Clinton, in Andrea Meyerson's 2007 documentary, Kate Clinton: 25th Anniversary Tour.

With a quarter-century of standup under her belt, Clinton touts herself as "the last lesbian comic standing." A celebrated voice of enlightenment and empowerment within the LGBT community, Clinton dished out heaps of politically charged humor during her 50-city silver-anniversary tour (which included a November 2006 show at the Rialto Theatre). Although the performances were sponsored by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, it would be a disservice to Clinton's craft to think that appreciation for her brand of comedy should be restricted to the LGBT community.

"Her act, in fact, is as much about progressive political humor as it is about inside lesbian jokes," says Beverly Seckinger, founding director of the festival and associate director for the UA's School of Media Arts. "Not that I even know any inside lesbian jokes," she deadpans. "Actually current, up-to-the minute political humor with a lefty spin is her forté." Needless to say, "There are a lot of W jokes."

In addition to capturing her work onstage, the film is interspersed with a variety of offstage moments. These involve some personal time with Urvashi Vaid, her partner of 18 years; lots of backstage banter; and several special guest cameos, including Lily Tomlin, Melissa Etheridge and Billie Jean King, among other lesbian icons.

Cornell University scholar Amy Villarejo will introduce the evening with a brief overview on the state of lesbian filmmaking, in a talk titled "Fifteen Years of Lesbian Cinema, or How I Came to Love Romantic Comedies." She will be followed by Human Thing, a short animated music video for the Be Good Tanyas, by New Mexico filmmaker and artisan Kate Brown.

That Lesbian Looks is kicking off with such a timely and recent release speaks volumes as to how the festival has evolved. "Back in 1993," reminisces Seckinger, "it started with a handful of us who were young assistant professors and graduate students relatively new to the UA, and deciding like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, 'Hey, let's put on a musical!'" Films were ordered from catalogues, and all of it was done on a shoestring budget.

With the steady growth of Lesbian Looks, Seckinger is now able to solicit speakers and works while also lining up films that are making the rounds of larger and more established festivals. "Now we don't order things from catalogues, but show newer work that hasn't been picked up by distributors yet."

The second Friday night of the festival (Oct. 12, also at the Modern Languages Auditorium) is an evening labeled "From the Archives," and will feature the 1995 documentary Paris Was a Woman, by Greta Schiller and Andrea Weiss. Billed as a "mesmerizing portrait" of the creative community of women who flocked to Paris during the early decades of the 20th century, the film combines interviews and anecdotes with "newly" discovered home movies and archival footage. The result is an intimate glimpse into that magical time and place. Gertrude Stein, Alice Toklas, Natalie Clifford Barney, Sylvia Beach and Berenice Abbott all prominently figure into this mix.

On Friday, Oct. 19, Lesbian Looks concludes at the Loft Cinema (3233 E. Speedway Blvd.) with a bang, presenting what Seckinger refers to as "the darling of this year's festival circuit," the Itty Bitty Titty Committee. Called a "feminist revolutionary romp" by the Advocate (the country's pre-eminent gay-oriented magazine), Katherine Brooks' 80-minute comedy is actually enjoying a limited theatrical release. And why not? A contemporary lesbian romance that transforms a timid office girl working at a plastic-surgery/breast-enhancement clinic into a punk-feminist anarchist ... what's not to like?

The 15th annual Lesbian Looks Film and Video Festival takes place at 7:30 p.m., Fridays, Oct. 5, 12 and 19. Admission the first two nights, at the Modern Languages Auditorium, is free; admission on Oct. 19 at the Loft costs $5. Call 626-3431 or visit the Festival Web site for more information.

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