By MATT COKER
By AIMEE MURILLO
By AMY NICHOLSON
By JONATHAN KIEFER
By INKOO KANG
By STEPHANIE ZACHAREK
By CALUM MARSH
The soul of the festival's gay-cinema offerings is found not in a short but Jim in Bold, a moving, feature-length documentary combining the life story of Pennsylvania youth Jim Wheeler with the fifth cross country road trip of Young Gay America, who search out LGBT teens in the U.S. heartland and record their positive stories of perseverance for publication on the YGA website.
The connection of Jim Wheeler to YGA is never literally clear, except in the beginning of the film when the three YGA young men discuss Wheeler's oppressive circumstances and take the road trip in his name. Throughout, the YGA boys read Wheeler's impressive poetry in voice over and on camera, but we never know if the YGA boys knew Wheeler, or if he contacted them on their website.
The teen excerpts by YGA are, indeed, uplifting, but it is Wheeler's tragic story that really captivates. Jim Wheeler was a highly talented teenager—his surreal paintings are truly phenomenal—who grew up in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, brutally tormented throughout his teens with homophobic slurs. His story, told through interviews of his family and friends is sad and touching—and surprising. Unlike many gay teens who commit suicide, Wheeler actually had the support of his large family and some friends. After high school he was accepted to a prestigious art school and acquired a promising job at a Philadelphia art gallery. It seemed as if Wheeler had survived the high school nightmare many gay youth expire in. Still, Wheeler took his life and one of his friends may have the answer as to why when she says: "he was just too damaged by that point."
The juxtaposition of the YGA boys interviews of positive, strong, gay and lesbian youth to Wheeler's hopelessness makes his story all the more pitiable—even with a wealth of positive gay images in media these days, the effects of relentless homophobic abuse are severe, and not easily overcome.
Beauteous, Alone, A Woman Reported and Gay Cops screen as part of Queer Shorts For The Straight Festival on Sun., 6:30 p.m.; D.E.B.S. screens as part of Shorts-Ploitation on Mon., 4 p.m.; Little Black Boot screens as part of For Shorts Sake! on Thurs., April 22, 10:30 a.m. All three shorts programs are at Edwards Island Cinemas, Newport Beach.Jim In Bold screens on Sat., 3:30 p.m. at Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach. (949) 253-2880; newportbeachfilmfest.com. $5-$10.
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