3 min

Spit & polish

Good things come in small packages

Credit: Xtra files

Local filmmaker Scott Treleaven’s The Salivation Army, currently making the rounds on the film festival circuit, is pretty much a must-see if you’re keeping up with the best of current queer film and video. If you haven’t seen it yet, catch it at the Canadian Film Centre’s Worldwide Short Film Festival.

Army is bewildering in its complexity. It’s a faux documentary all mixed up with a boy’s coming-of-age tale; a lyrical, near-Romantic love story masquerading as a political rant. It’s the blackest of comedy, but it doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s a punk film that is perfectly happy to allow that punk is dead.

The narrative is deceptively simple: Three young guys form a queer love trio and decide to launch a revolution. In tried-and-true punk-rock style, they launch a fanzine (whose name gives the film its title) and recruit others to join what they jokingly refer to as their cult. Sex, graffiti, theft, violence: These are encouraged in the fight against the evil corporate culture that has made a commodity of queerness.

But things start to go wrong. Some folks out there don’t get the joke and want to join the Army for real, performing prescribed cutting rituals and mailing bits of bloody paper to the zine editors. As the furor escalates, the misunderstanding grows. In the end, the guys find themselves wondering what responsibility they must take on for the behaviour of their followers – a responsibility that they consciously refused at the outset, and which leads to their downfall.

The rise and collapse of the Army is captured by some stunning camera work. Treleaven has an excellent sense of balance – of colour, motion, speed and light – that gives the film a dreamy, lyrical tone. He edits with a careful mind to articulation, with black screens to underline ironies, endless repetition to express ire, and grainy black and white giving way to shocking blasts of intense colour.

Treleaven narrates the tale of the Army in voiceover, a clever tactic that lets the film attack the homogenization of gay culture which, as he states, is “brought on by shit dance music and designer clothes,” at the same time gently skewering naïve, misguided attempts to fix the world. “We are the new circus,” the Army claims, “and we are the envy of the fucking world.” As the viewer, you find yourself rooting for this band of queer thugs, all the while sadly aware that it is their eagerness to bring about change that will ultimately fail.

Treleaven himself is the film’s primary subject (he is an editor of a real-life zine called The Salivation Army) but he is careful to subsume the film’s many contradictions in his overarching directorial role. Maintaining tight control over such a complex, personal work is no mean feat, and Army displays the power Treleaven wields over his piece. In the hands of a less talented director, this project would have been dead in the water. The Salivation Army confirms a real directorial talent in our midst (screens at 6:30pm on Thu, Jun 6 and at 4:30pm Jun 8 at the Isabel Bader Theatre; 93 Charles St W).

Among the other titles of queer interest at this year’s Short Film Festival are Christine Zeidler’s Traces, a tribute to the artist’s late dog (4:30pm on Jun 5 and 7pm on Jun 8 at the ROM; 110 Queens Park); Barry Dignam’s Chicken, the tale of a dare between two young Irishmen (2pm on Jun 5 and 9:30pm on Jun 6 at the ROM), and Cassandra Nicolaou’s smash hit Interviews With My Next Girlfriends, which features all your favourite local lesbian performers (6:30pm on Jun 6 and 4:30pm Jun 8 at Isabel Bader).

And be sure to catch Andrew Lancaster’s hilarious In Search of Mike. When he was just a little fella, Brian lost his Chatty Cathy doll and asked his mother if she knew where it was. “Up Mike’s ass,” she replied – whoever Mike is.

So begins the amusing and touching story of Brian’s turbulent relationship with his mother – one hell of a phrase-turner, with a mouth on her like a stevedore. The film focuses on the rather awful manner in which Brian’s mother treats her son. She’s been a real crankpot ever since her husband left her when Brian was a boy. But the joy of the piece is the way that, despite mother’s nastiness and son’s exasperation, the loving bond between the two is fleshed out. It might be dysfunctional, but it’s love all the same (2pm on Jun 6 and 2pm on Jun 9 at the ROM).

Worldwide Short Film Festival.

$8 per screening.

Tue, Jun 4-9.

(416) 205-8928.