Poignancy and humor merge in the three feature-length films at the 23rd Sacramento International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, running Thursday through Saturday at the Crest Theatre.
Festival opener “Tiger Orange” (7:30 Thursday) reunites two estranged gay brothers after their father’s death. The wilder brother (Frankie Valenti) ran off to Hollywood while his more stable sibling (Mark Strano) stayed in their small hometown and ran the family hardware store.
“It is a drama, but there is humor, and the acting is good,” SIGLFF film programming committee chairman Michael Dennis said.
Valenti, a.k.a. porn star Johnny Hazzard, has won good notices in his first foray into legit feature film (a.k.a. doing a Sasha Gray) for his charismatic turn as the irreverent brother. Strano, who co-wrote with director Wade Gasque, was named best actor at Los Angeles’ Outfest film festival. Strano and Gasque will appear at the Crest with their film.
In the high-spirited German road movie “Happy End?” (7:30 Friday), a law student (Sinha Gierke) mistakenly accused of a crime is sentenced to community service in a hospice. There, she meets the good friend (Verena Wustkamp) of a dying woman. The young women pair up to carry out the dead woman’s final wishes, heading out on the road with her ashes. Lesbianism ensues.
The documentary “To Be Takei” (2 p.m. Saturday) chronicles the fascinating life of “Star Trek” actor, Facebook fixture and activist George Takei.
Known for his wit, deep voice and optimistic outlook, Takei has advocated for Japanese American internment camp survivors and for same-sex marriage rights. Both causes sprang from his real-life experiences.
In the film directed by Bill Weber and Jennifer Kroot (she will appear at the Crest on Saturday), Takei recounts the years he spent in camps as a child as well as the years he spent hiding his sexuality out of fear the truth would harm his career.
The difficulties of his earlier life make the happiness Takei exudes now – especially in his loving, teasing relationship with husband Brad Takei – seem more joyful for being so hard-won.
“He is fun, he is boisterous, but he has a story,” said Tyler Edwards-Lohse, the interim president of SIGLFF, a charitable nonprofit. “Being a closeted actor and on one of the biggest shows of its time certainly is noteworthy.”
Confronting adversity is a theme behind the scenes at the festival as well.
In April, Edwards-Lohse’s husband and SIGLFF president Todd Lohse-Edwards died from cancer at age 45. Edwards-Lohse took over as president in January, after his husband could not continue in the role.
“It’s been hard,” Edwards-Lohse said. “Running the festival and mourning him is a double-edged sword.”
The couple worked in real estate, but Lohse-Edwards earlier had worked in film exhibition, for Century Theatres. “He loved movies,” Edwards-Lohse said. His late spouse left him with “over 1,000 movie posters going back to 1987 that have never been unrolled,” he said.
Part of his mission as president, he said, is to further Lohse-Edwards’ goal of expanding the festival’s reach. SIGLFF has planned more screenings for throughout the year, and not just during the festival. Edwards-Lohse also is raising money for the J. Todd Lohse Memorial Fund, through which he hopes to realize his late husband’s idea for late-night festival programming.
“I have seeded it,” Edwards-Lohse said of the memorial fund. This year, it is paying for Joan Rivers impersonator Dee Dee Hanson to “add some spice” to the festival’s red carpet Thursday and Friday, he said.
“We wanted to do something fun,” he said, in the spirit of Lohse-Edwards and of Rivers, who died in September.
The event’s bittersweet quality carries over to the Crest, the festival’s home for much of its history. This will be the last SIGLFF at the Crest under the management of Sid Garcia-Heberger, who is ending her 28-year tenure there Nov. 1.
Garcia-Heberger and her business partners failed to come to terms with the building’s owner, Robert Emerick, on a lease. A mediation last week, facilitated in part by Edwards-Lohse, did not break the impasse.
Emerick’s fiancée, Yulya Borroum, is booking Crest events for Nov. 1 and beyond.
The SIGLFF will remain at the theater through at least 2016.
“The board decided to stay through our 25th year, and (then) look beyond that,” he said.
Dennis said the festival had “had issues” when it tried other venues in the past.
“I have always gotten along with Sid, and she’s always taken care of us, so if she’s not there, yes, I will miss her terribly,” Dennis said. “But for the festival, given that we have been there so long, we should stay at the Crest.”