Sunday, November 13, 2011

LSIFF Concludes With Pariah

The Lone Star Film Festival ended with Pariah, a terrific indie drama from Dee Rees that stars newcomer Adepero Oduye as a 17-year-old African-American girl named Alike, pronounced a-LEE-keh and frequently shortened to Lee. She's hiding her gayness from her middle-class parents (Charles Parnell and Kim Wayans) and wondering what sort of woman she's going to grow up to be.

I wish Rees had gone into more depth about Alike's academic success (which is apparently considerable), but there's a great deal to recommend the film anyway: Its depiction of the marital discord between Alike's parents, the way it evokes a pocket of homophobia in New York City (one of the most gay-friendly cities on earth), the platonic friendship between Alike and the only other lesbian she knows (Pernell Walker), the way the parents are depicted as flawed individuals rather than gay-bashing monsters. I was most surprised with how funny the movie is, especially in a sequence involving a strap-on that's the wrong color. Stuff like that helps keep this from becoming a standard-issue anguished coming-out story. With terrific acting (Kim Wayans, who knew?) and well-managed storylines, this isn't a movie for gay audiences or African-American audiences, but for everyone.

I think we'll remember this year as the year that LSIFF stepped up in weight class. Counting The Descendants, The Artist, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Shame, and Pariah, that's five plausible Oscar contenders in a five-day festival. Yeah, that's pretty good. And that's not even accounting for the charming minor films like High Road and the splashy premiere afforded to Searching for Sonny, a film that proves a Fort Worth movie can attract name talent. It's notable that this past year Dennis Bishop stepped down as the festival's artistic director, allowing programming director Alec Jhangiani to take over the position. The quality on display at this year's LSIFF is a testament to the programmers' good taste and the organizers' acumen in bringing such big-ticket items to the festival. Of course, that just means that they'll have to do this all over again next year. I can't wait.

Zack, do you have any final thoughts about how this year's festival shaped up?

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