Screened Out – FFF’s Slash and The Other Kids

By : Stephen Miller
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One of the aspects that has kept the Florida Film Festival going so strong in its 25 years is a fierce commitment to edgy, outsider films. A couple LGBT films this year definitely explore this filmic vision. Slash and The Other Kids delve into the tangled teenage issues of sexual identity, sexual confusion and coming out. Both movies have already played once; you’ll get only one more chance during the festival.

Director Clay Liford shows he's fine navigating tricky, uncomfortable truths.

With Slash, director Clay Liford shows he’s fine navigating tricky, uncomfortable truths.

Slash
Narrative Feature
Wed., Apr. 13, 9:15–11:10PM at Regal Cinemas, Winter Park

One of the easiest gripes about previous teenage coming-out stories is that they have been so clean and unconfused. Gays are gay; straight people are straight. In fact, in our society, people – including teenagers – are growing more and more comfortable with the bisexuality and pansexuality. It’s becoming less uncommon to describe attraction as “fluid.”

(Even the sexy, deaf dancer on this season’s Dancing with the Stars, Nyle DiMarco, describes himself this way. That’s a big step!)

This is a great moment in understanding ideas that the Greeks have been saying for centuries. Of course,  Dr. Kinsey reiterated this in his famous 1948 study. Yet, it takes society a long time to accept truths that don’t express themselves as a majority. (And let’s admit it, gay is a minority; sexual “fluidity” is even more rarely expressed).

In short, it has to be devastatingly baffling for a teenager dealing with this emerging sexuality that doesn’t fit our hetero-normative society.

In Slash, 15-year-old Neil (Michael Johnston) starts writing homoerotic fan fiction (fanfic) about his favorite superhero. This is how he comes to terms with his feelings. When he’s discovered, it happens to be by a messy-but-sympathetic young woman (Hannah Marks) who also writes her own fanfic about a sexy elf girl. Because Neil is short on experience and longing for intimacy, he transfers his attention between men and women, and between his fictional muse and his very real compatriot.

Writer/director Clay Liford shows a great empathy for youth, for perplexing sexual situations, and for the people who are obsessed with fictional worlds and characters.

Though festival films like Slash can be very rough in their execution and dialogue, famous people can help them. In this case, comic writer and actor Michael Ian Black (Stella, The State) lends his cred, playing a fanfic online editor and possible illegal paramour for Neil. Missi Pyle – an actress you’ve seen in Gone Girl, The Artist, Big Fish and a billion TV guest spots – plays Black’s boss.

The theme cutting edge, uncomfortable stuff, and it should be. Slash also finds the heart in all the turmoil.

The-Other-Kids_Still

In The Other Kids, Isaac Sanchez is a migrant teenager trying to secure his position in America as he graduates high school.

The Other Kids
Narrative Feature
Fri., Apr.15, 2:15–3:55PM at Regal Cinemas, Winter Park

To call The Other Kids narrative fiction is slightly misleading. The film started off reality based. Then it was roughly scripted and improvised by the teenagers going through this in real life. The six small-town high schoolers worked with filmmakers to learn the art and to craft a fictional story based on truth.

Director Chris Brown lets this be as stilted, disorganized and rough-hewn as teenage life. The overlapping conversations, the pauses, and the general, quiet chaos seem realistic.

Because these kids are growing up in an agricultural town in northern California, there are unique challenges. There is the feat of coming out in a rural town. These young adults are also figuring out their paths in life. Then, The Other Kids strongly explores the plight of a migrant teenager trying to earn his diploma and forge opportunity in America. All of these six stories drive up to their graduation day. This is a good way to add tension and direction to the plot.

It’s difficult to really capture how teenagers talk and act. It seems that the minute you point a camera at someone – anyone – he or she is going to change behavior, become more presentational. Yes, these students are obviously not professional actors. That sort of polished work is not at all what The Other Kids wants to capture.

The Other Kids could start several conversations about film. It’s a nascent experiment. It’s also a way to educate some possible future filmmakers. This flick shows life in an agricultural town – between kids born here and born elsewhere, between young people trying to find the country to which they belong, both literally and figuratively.

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