Wide Angle: The celluloid closet

Something queer's happening at the National Film Theatre.

The London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival to be precise, with movies from around the world ready to give the capital a pink pounding. Now in its 12th year, the festival is looking stronger and sassier than ever, with a wildly diverse programme rampaging out from that dusty, old celluloid closet to cover everything from Fags in Spaaace to circumcision. The festival kicks off this Thursday with a gala screening of The Hanging Garden (below), a headily sensual family drama from Canadian director Thom Fitzgerald, starring Chris Leavins as a young gay man lured back after a decade to the bosom of his dysfunctional family for the marriage of his sister (a gloriously foul-mouthed Kerry Fox).

For cinematic culture-shock, skip from the salty coast of Nova Scotia to the blistering heat and dust of Africa. Set in Guinea, Dakan (Tue 24, NFT1) explores the relationship between young, gay men Manga and Sory, against the backdrop of a society in which tradition and ritual are used as ways to "cure" deviancy.

Alternatively, change continents once again for East Palace, West Palace (Tue 17, NFT1), the first gay film to come out of China, and a powerful allegorical study of the sadomasochism endemic in the Chinese system.

If all that sounds too worthy for words (it's not, but still...), why not leaven the socio-political bread and butter with some escapist icing? For the boys, there's Broadway Damage (Sat 14 and Tue 17, NFT1), an old- fashioned romance full of sweet dreams, big biceps and sharp cheekbones, while Entwined (Tue 17, Fri 20 NFT1) offers girls soft focus to swoon to: a bunch of beautiful women, a tangle of romance and a gorgeous Californian location, which gives new meaning to Miami vice. As for stars, there's plenty of old faces and new blood running through the programme. Spot Roger Daltry and Dani Behr in Paul Oremland's delightful Like It Is (Sun 15 and Thu 19 NFT1), Mary Tyler Moore as the Mum from hell in Reno Finds Her Mom (Mon 16 NFT1, Sun 22 NFT2), Almodovar icon Rossy de Palma in Franchesca Page (Thu 26, NFT1), and French icon Catherine Deneuve cropping up as a philosophy professor in underworld crime thriller Les Voleurs (Tue 24 and Thu 26, NFT2, below right).

In the archive "Treasures" selection, meanwhile, the immortal Greta Garbo can be seen marching around in velvet strides like some gorgeous principal boy in Queen Christina (Wed 18, MC), while that grandmother of gay icons, Judy Garland, features (along with some severe bangs) in Minnelli's turn-of-the-century musical confection Meet Me in St Louis (Thu 19, MC). Alternatively, you could dig out your glitter gear from the back of the closet for a late-night showing of the camp classic Barbarella, as Jane Fonda gets into (and out of) her glad rags while saving the universe as we know it (Fri 20, NFT1, right).

For verite junkies, there's also a strong documentary strand running through the programme. From rockumentary The Cream Will Rise (Sat 14, Mon 16, NFT1, above right), charting the career of "dykon" Sophie B, to Divine Trash (Sun 15 NFT1, Mon 16 NFT2) which traces the colourful history of Baltimore's bette noire, John Waters, these studies prove once and for all that truth is queerer than ficton. Watch out in particular for The Brandon Teena Story (Sat 14, Tue 17 NFT2). The fascinating chronicle of how a woman living as a man came to brutally slaughter three people, this incredible real-life story is currently the subject of four features (one starring Drew Barrymore, another being developed by Diane Keaton), so see it now and steal a march on the fictional mainstream.

Small is beautiful in the shorts section, where viewers can sample a weird and wonderful kaleidoscope of bite-sized creativity. Meet America's oldest African American lesbian in Riot Grandmas!!, gasp at the director's gravity defying bottom in My Levitating Butt or thrill to David Kaplan's scatological Little Red Riding Hood, starring Quentin Crisp and Christina Ricci.

And remember, there's no need to spend the festival sitting alone in the dark. Special events include a family matinee of The Happy Prince and Other Stories (Sat 21, NFT1), for lesbians and gay men to enjoy with their children, (or any spare nephews or nieces), and an illustrated panel debate, "Khush in the Movies" (Wed 18 NFT2), which delves into sexuality in Indian Cinema. Or celebrate Mother's Day with a trip to Mommie Dearest (Sun 22, NFT1), the story of Joan Crawford's monstrous motherly love, followed by lashings of tea and cakes at the Mother's Day Tea Party (6pm, Pavilion). Last but not least, our very own David Benedict makes a Fanny Craddock of himself in Camp Cooks and Queer Cuisine. Cooking up a storm of camp kitchen boys on the box, Benedict plunders the TV archives for those fallen souffles and stuffed turkeys, outlines Craddock's S+M brand of camp cookery, and shares a few secret recipes of his own. Tasty.

The Festival starts on Thursday 12 Mar, to book call 0171-928 3232; for ticket availability 0171-633 0274.

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<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
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