Two LGBT films I've really enjoyed at Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival 2016

by Oliver Carnay

LOEV - Dir. Sudhanshu Saria - LOEV simply tells a tender, often hilarious road movie capturing a knotty love affair between two Indians who just happen to be gay.

This will be perhaps in one of my top LGBT films I've seen this year. It truly touched me that it is reeling with me for a few days after watching it.

Protests greeted Deepa Mehta's lesbian-themed "Fire" after it opened in 1998 in India, where same-sex activity remains criminalized as officially “against the order of nature.” No wonder Sudhanshu Saria shot his debut film, the English-language LOEV, in complete secrecy. While its very existence is something of a bold political statement, Saria smartly doesn’t dwell on the novelty of the LGBT content.

Arriving in Mumbai for a short business trip, Jai (Shiv Pandit), a handsome Wall Street banker, meets up with his old pal Sahil (Dhruv Ganesh), a young music-producer. The excitable Sahil leaves his volatile boyfriend Alex behind and earnestly plans out the road trip to the canyons of Western Ghats, after Jai proposes to take a short pleasure trip. As these old friends drive and hike the trails, their fascinating dynamic — sometimes easy and jokey, at other times thorny and awkward — emerges. Leaving many things unsaid, the pair engages in a feverish tryst. Outwardly confident but actually confused and struggling with his sexuality, Jai unleashes his frustration on Sahil in a brutal scene. Things come to a head at dinner, between the would-be lovers as well as Alex and his new boy toy, when Sahil — who turns out to be the more self-aware of the two — puts all his cards on the table.

Thoroughly engaging, LOEV is told in an assured, shorthand style that evokes Richard Linklater. Director Saria has a light touch, and he’s not afraid of ambiguity. Eliding standard exposition, he lets his actors play out their complicated relationship through silences and gestures. Pandit wears the alpha dog mask well, and Ganesh is absolutely dynamite — his Sahil is at once brash, funny, insecure, and all too human. Tragically, Ganesh died of tuberculosis at the age 29 shortly after making LOEV, and the film is dedicated to his memory.

OutRun 1min from Walking Iris Media on Vimeo.

OUTRUN - Dir. S. Leo Chiang & Johnny Symons
In this most contentious of election years in the U.S., the current political climate in the Philippines offers a frightening corollary in its specific cultural and religious contexts. Directors S. Leo Chiang (MR. CAO GOES TO WASHINGTON, Festival 2012; A VILLAGE CALLED VERSAILLES, Festival) and Johnny Symons (BEYOND CONCEPTION, ASK NOT) team up for this highly topical look at the emergence of Ladlad, the first Filipino LGBT political party, and its members’ struggles for representation in the national government.

The filmmakers follow key Ladlad members Bemz Benedito, a LGBT activist, trans woman, and “public face” of the party; Raymond Alikpala, a recently “out” attorney passionate about advocacy; and Danton Remoto, one of the party’s founders. OUT RUN follows this grassroots team as they campaign to win three government seats and root the fledgling party into the corridors of power, in the hope that they can effect long-term change. As baklas (Filipino for gay and lesbian people) in a fundamentally Catholic nation, they are all well-acquainted with daily, in-your-face discrimination, in which some are overt but more commonly in the form of microaggressions. Even as recent surveys reveal a growing acceptance of the LGBT community, the Ladlad members face an uphill political battle as conservative candidates like Christian pastor Benny Abante play upon Filipinos’ homophobic fears. Abante’s brand of political rhetoric convinces particular LGBTQ community members to back his platform under the unfortunate acronym, A.I.D.S. (“Alyansa ng Ikatlong lahi ng Distrito Sais”). When compared to people of color and women who misguidedly support Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, the comparisons are chilling.

In their quest for political inclusion, the Ladlad agree to a seemingly fatal compromise in the hopes of bettering their election chances. Directors Chiang and Symons highlight these milestones and missteps among the candidates and within the rank-and-file party membership. While the compromises made may seem steep, these intrepid Ladlad activists see them as building blocks towards a more equitable future in Philippine society.