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The Independent Critic

Ken Coolen & The Vancouver Pride Society, Gilbert Baker, Sahran Abeysundara, Tomasz Baczkowski, Dean Nelson, Libby Davies, Fatima Amarshi, Scott Long, Rev. Brent Hawkes, Gareth Henry, Franco Reinado, Nikolai Alekseev, Cleve Jones
Bob Christie
85 Mins.
Showtime Networks, Optimale

 "Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride" Review 
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Being gay in America is challenging. Being gay around the world is potentially life-threatening.

Directed by Vancouver filmmaker Bob Christie, Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride is an official selection during this weekend's Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival, November 12-14, 2010, and is a powerful reminder of the struggles faced by the gay communities around the world to simply claim a sense of pride.

For those who are straight or simply unaware, "Pride" is the vision of a series of events that occur around the world annually ranging from "Pride Day" to "Pride Marches" to extravagantly wondrous "Pride Festivals."

Vancouver Pride Society president Ken Coolen doesn't so much have to worry about remaining safe during Vancouver's Pride events, however, when he embarks on a journey to experience Pride events around the world we quickly learn that what many of us take for granted, freedom of speech and freedom to march, is no easy task in many lands where even acknowledging one's homosexuality can be punishable by death.

Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride is an intelligent and emotionally resonant feature doc in which both ends of the spectrum, moments of extreme pride and episodes of desperate struggle, are treated with equal dignity, respect and a sense of admiration by the low-key Coolen.

Initially, Coolen seems an odd choice around which to center Beyond Gay. Coolen has a rather dry, decidedly low-energy presentation and quite removed from the usual festive celebration that one often associates with the American version of Pride festivals and marches. It doesn't take long to realize, however, that Coolen is the perfect spokesperson for the Pride events and the overriding vision of a world that is equal and fully inclusive of the LGBT community. While Beyond Gay certainly captures wondrous moments of vibrant and festive celebration, the focus here is not so much on America and Canada but on those parts of the world where hateful and violent crowds gather to protest any semblance of a pro-gay gathering such as Pride.

Film highlights include:

Zurich, Switzerland - Coolen is joined by co-parade director Dean Nelson for a gathering of InterPride 2007, a union of Pride organizations from around the globe including an interview with Gilbert Baker, an American artist/activist who first created the rainbow flag.

Sao Paulo, Brazil - Scene of the world's largest Pride gathering, where 4 million gather in an event that is sponsored by the Brazilian government.

Moscow, Russia - On the other end of the spectrum from the Brazilian event, those who participate in Russia must plan and meet in secret, often concealing their identities and creating decoys in this community where the mayor has historically violently opposed Pride gatherings and where gathering throngs frequently respond with violence.

Colombo, Sri Lanka - Events in Sri Lanka are announced only following the events, an effort to protect those who participate and, in turn, risk their lives to proclaim their pride.

There are many other incredible stories, inspiring and deeply moving, throughout the 85-minute run time of Beyond Gay. One Jamaican man, Gareth Henry, talks of the many killings of gay men in Jamaica, a nation that carries with it a romanticized island image and a sort of genetic machismo that is seemingly threatened by the notion of "Pride." Henry talks of the exhilaration of relocating to Canada and being able to participate without fear of retribution in Pride events.

To watch Beyond Gay without weeping is to be inhumane, for director Bob Christie beautifully captured the grandest highs and the most heartbreaking lows of the LGBT community's efforts to obtain equal rights around the world. With each nation visited, Christie companions the live footage with capsulized summaries of that nation's history with gay rights, a history that all too often includes words such as "illegal" or "punishable by death." While the use of graphics is occasionally over-utilized, for example one scene where a person is sharing some particularly powerful dialogue is immediately followed word for word by melodramatic recaptures of the dialogue, the film's use of imagery is stellar and the camera work of Joshua Kurt Rainhard beautifully intertwines both the celebration of some cities with the cautious, looming threats that exist in other cities.

One of the true gems of the 2010 Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival, Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride won Best Doc at Montreal's Image + Nation Festival and has also played at Cleveland International Film Festival, Victoria Film Festival and a host of other festivals around the world.

For more information on this weekend's Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival, visit the festival's website. For more information on Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride, visit the film's website.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic