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18 March 2011, 12:00 pm No Comments

Cinespastic: LGBT Film at the Environmental Film Festival

This post was submitted by Ben K.

Image from Tropical Malady, courtesy of the Environmental Film Festival © Strand Releasing

Tropical Malady, courtesy of the Environmental Film Festival © Strand Releasing

As I’ve touched on before in this column, there are countless film festivals taking place all over the United States and throughout the world. In just about any major city and many of the smaller ones, as well, you can find a film festival that has the courage to show films that are often left out of the mainstream and likely wouldn’t be shown at your local multiplex. From festivals celebrating the art of film in total to those that seek to expose the creative work happening within niche categories based on demographic or interest, the recognition of the art and craft of film is alive and well.

This week in Washington opened one of these festivals. From March 15 – 27 runs the 19th Annual Environmental Film Festival, dedicated to “further the public’s understanding of environmental issues – and solutions – through the power of film and thought-provoking discussion with environmental experts and filmmakers.” Exhibiting over 150 films, attending the festival is a great way to not only learn about issues important to the world, but to also take in some great art and entertainment at the same time. There are films for every interest, including the LGBT community.

On March 26 at 7:30 pm at the AFI Silver Theatre, the Festival screens Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s hauntingly exquisite 2004 triumph Tropical Malady (Sud Pralad). As the first Thai film to be in main competition at the Cannes Film Festival, it won the Special Jury Prize in 2004.

Tropical Malady is a film split into two sections, telling seemingly different stories, with both seeking to provide a greater understanding of human interaction and our interplay with the world around us, seen and unseen. It is about loneliness and desire, and an attempt to contact on a deeper level with that which is beyond the confines of our own bodies. It strives to tell us that such connections take place between people on all levels, boundless of sexual and gender identity, and further penetrates through the idea that nature and our environment holds a deep sway over our relation to ourselves and others.

The first half of the film is the story of Keng, a soldier, and Tong, who lives in the rural city that Keng has been assigned. The connection between the two deepens into a romance of innocence and flirtation, deeper than merely a sexual attraction. What develops is not bounded by sexuality, but instead by the limitless nature of meaningful human interaction.

Tong exits into the night and the film shifts dramatically to a different story of a soldier, played by the same actor who portrays Keng who enters the jungle surrounding the rural village to find a young man gone missing. Interweaved into this storyline is the fable of a tiger shaman, and this shaman (portrayed by the same actor who plays Tong) begins to challenge the soldier in his struggle to find the villager as he gets lost deeper into himself and the jungle.

Tropical Malady is a challenging film that is patient in its storytelling and asks for a deep engagement and thoughtfulness from its audience. The connection between the two sections of the film may not seem apparent upon initial viewing and is often disorienting and confusing. But this disorientation is exactly the point, and what is accomplished is a thought-provoking, beautifully-filmed work that asks us to ponder our existence in this world and the one beyond, where the main character may not be us, but the world itself.

For more information on this film and the rest of the Environmental Film Festival, please visit www.dcenvironmentalfilmfest.org.

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