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Gay film fest lineup is safe and sincere

Page 2 of 3 -- ''The Joy of Life" Dramatically, the festival's best film isn't much: A woman speaks over a montage of various San Francisco spots. But less here is more: The film's loneliness is vividly evocative without turning depressing. Arranged in three movements, writer and director Jenni Olson's hourlong project shifts from the speaker's relationships and feelings about her masculinity to an exquisite account of the making of Frank Capra's ''Meet John Doe" to a musing on suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge. The city's exteriors and facades make a beautiful complement to the narration's interiority.

''Girl Play" Robin Greenspan and Lacie Harmon talk about their couplehood and all the frogs the two aspiring actresses had to kiss before winding up with each other. The two talk at the camera with painful earnestness, while director Lee Friedlander breaks up the onstage monotony with reenactments. But there are moments of truth. When Greenspan says she's sick of learning about herself, it's amazing. I was sick of learning about her, too.

''Jim in Bold" Three out-and-proud young men drive across the country meeting the gay youth of America, many of whom share their poems. It's a valuable inspirational-instructional video that belongs in the school counselor's office before it belongs in a film festival.

''The Aggressives" An all-talking-all-the-time documentary about predominantly African-American macho lesbians. They're thugs and drug dealers who pass, or could pass, as black men. The subject is riveting: women who want to be men dating men who want to be women! (Ricki Lake once devoted an hour to this.) But the director Daniel Peddle, who spent five years with his subjects, goes at them like a social-working anthropologist, not a storyteller.

''The Journey (Sancharam)" In southern India, two girlhood friends become women in love with each other. Of course, it's forbidden. Of course, long faces and an arranged marriage will follow. Ligy J. Pullappally's movie is culturally significant but lacking magic, mystery, and compelling characters.

''Dangerous Living: Coming Out in the Third World" Janeane Garofalo narrates this hourlong essay, directed by John Scagliotti. The movie's subjects are brave for sure, but, distressingly, Scagliotti seems fine leaving us with the idea that the most powerful thing a freshly out gay man can do is love pop music. To embrace Madonna, apparently, is to embrace yourself.

''You I Love" From Russia comes the inscrutable tale of a Moscow advertising executive who invites a Mongolian day worker into his apartment after hitting him with his car. Sex or something like it ensues, then a relationship or something like it. Tossing in a loopy ad-world parody, directors Olga Stolpovskaya and Dmitry Troitsky handle all this with extreme whimsy, as though it were a music video from 1985.   Continued...

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