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LGBT Film Festival Serves Up Divine Fare With A Dash Of James Franco

Any film festival centered around themes that appeal to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered audiences or their supportive allies is sure to be as eclectic as its targeted demographic. This year’s Kansas City LGBT Film Festival at Tivoli Cinemas in Westportmakes good on that promise.

The festival features a tasty menu of movies addressing such subjects as 9/11, teen angst, the irrefutably trashy partnership between John Waters and Divine, and the controversial 1980 Al Pacino movie Cruising.

Among the most buzzed about films is Interior. Leather Bar., directed by bohemian savant James Franco and his pal Travis Mathews. When Cruising was reviewed by the MPAA ratings board, it received an X, a kiss of death for anything not running in adult cinemas with sticky floors. It was deemed necessary to cut seventeen minutes out of two scenes in order for the film to receive an R rating and what Franco and Mathews have concocted is a fable of sorts, an hour-long supposition of what those cut scenes may have looked like.

Though its mockumentary format is not successfully executed, it daringly holds one's interest, especially Franco's seemingly sincere monologue about why he's so drawn to the subject matter. The hour-long movie is at once self-mocking, curious, and, at indiscreet intervals, fairly pornographic.

After Flight 93 went down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, the crew's and passengers' phone calls allowed investigators to draft a horrifying scenario of what happened before the plan took a nose dive into that field. One of those passengers who apparently selflessly rushed the cockpit was Mark Bingham, the college athlete who happened to be gay and is movingly profiled in the documentary The Rugby Player.

Bingham's mother, Alice Hoagland, is at the center of the story. They spoke on the phone as he was in the air and it's believed her breaking news to him of what had transpired earlier that morning on three other planes led partially to how his aircraft's hijackers' original plan was aborted. But it's Mark's life that she so fondly recalls and celebrates and how in his name has become a warmly embraced, outspoken advocate within the LGBT community.

The 300-pound drag queen known as Divine has been saluted and lauded in several formats, as if the star's and John Waters' breakout film Pink Flamingos wasn't enough. Still, one more documentary about how Glenn Milstead grew from an overweight, bullied and self-loathing gay teenager to an iconic figure of LGBT culture isn't unwelcome.

I Am Divine is plush with film clips - from bizarre early experimental films like Eat Your Makeup to the family-friendly smash hit Hairspray - and interviews with Waters and members of his company, all of whom can't say enough how much they miss the extravagant yet kind person Divine became.

If the other narrative films in the festival are half as good as Darren Stein's GBF, attendees are guaranteed a good week. Written with great wit by George Northy, it's set in a high school familiar from hundred of teen films from Carrie to Clueless and pays homage to that genre while also offering a twist: the GBF of the title - a Gay Best Friend - is the newest must-have accessory. The troika of status-conscious mean girls seeking out the same classmate (the handsome and game Michael J. Willett) to fill the bill are savagely satirized before they're gradually revealed in dishy fits and hilarious starts to not be so mean after all.

Kansas City LGBT Film Festival, June 20-27, 2013, Tivoli Cinemas in Westport, 4050 Pennsylvania, Kansas City, MO.

Since 1998, Steve Walker has contributed stories and interviews about theater, visual arts, and music as an arts reporter at KCUR. He's also one of Up to Date's regular trio of critics who discuss the latest in art, independent and documentary films playing on area screens.