GAY ACTIVIST Vito Russo's earliest organizing efforts involved getting his community together to watch old movies—Russo, the author of The Celluloid Closet, believed cinema was an art form that unified generations. So it's fitting that Vito, Jeffrey Schwarz's documentary about Russo, will close the sixth annual Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival. Vito nicely caps a selection of true-life stories that showcase both the diversity and shared experience of gay expression.
Creativity and art are a commonality in a lot of the features: The opening-night film, Wish Me Away, is a moving chronicle of country singer Chely Wright's decision to come out as a lesbian in an industry not exactly known for being gay friendly. When contrasted with Jobriath A.D., Wright's story demonstrates how far American society has progressed—and how little some of it has really changed. A self-avowed "true fairy" of rock-and-roll, Jobriath was a 1970s oddity whose theatrical self-confession is only just starting to get its due. Director Kieran Turner's portrait of the performer's rise and fall is the must-see doc of the festival.
Also of interest is King of Comics, a look at the life and work of German cartoonist Ralf König, whose humor and expressive drawing style has provided comfort and education for gays and straights alike across Europe. Other films are more far-reaching and serious-minded: Question One examines Maine's tumultuous battle over same-sex marriage, while This Is What Love in Action Looks Like profiles a teenage boy's fight against Christian "reprogramming."
With many filmmakers and subjects in attendance, including Wright and Schwarz, the QDoc Festival would certainly bring a smile to Russo's face. The late historian fought hard to create a sense of connectivity in the gay population. The varied stories here suggest we're closer than ever to fulfilling his dream.