Cape Town is Africa’s gay capital, and while there’s plenty of fun to be had here by queer visitors all year round, screenings at the annual Out In Africa film festival (www.oia.co.za) mean that the city is currently more Brokeback Mountain than Table Mountain. Hg2 Cape Town co-author Keith Bain has been checking out the, er, action, and also caught up with Casper Andreas, one of the most successful gay directors working today, for an interview.
Buy Hg2 Cape Town here
We’re midway through the Cape Town leg of Out in Africa, the 17th instalment of the South African Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and the line-up of cinema—from beautiful and thought-provoking to side-splitting, outrageous, and utterly camp—has been one of the best ever. The festival, which has been a part of the South African cultural scene since the dawn of democracy, when access to rights for all kinds of hedonists were finally granted back in 1994, has always mixed it up with films that are hard-hitting and entertaining, so festival-goers get to flex their emotional range as much as there’s opportunity to gawk at some of the hottest flesh ever captured on celluloid. It’s the one SA film fest that manages to get the full gamut of audience types—from screaming teens to outspoken retirees, underwear-obsessed party animals to button-up librarians.
Step through the crowd waiting outside The Foxy on Broadway, and you can’t help notice the carefully groomed stubble, nifty haircuts, cool and clever outfits, and the overwhelming aroma of expensive men’s cologne. They’re out and they’re proud and they’ve come to laugh, cry, think, and hopefully catch a glimpse of big screen cock, and more than a smidgen of man on man (or girl on girl) action… come to think of it, there’s every possible kind of sexual tryst on offer at this festival. It’s unashamedly open-minded and refreshingly inclusive, with serious doccies about dykes right up there alongside handsome near-naked chorus lines. Not only have there been many chances to laugh out loud, but also to salivate discreetly in the dark at larger-than-life images of toned rears and hints of navel fuzz trailing down into designer briefs.
And while there’s plenty to drool over, the festival never takes lightly its role as a social and political provocateur. With AIDS a very real, pervasive, and wide-spread threat in sub-Saharan Africa, the scourge of HIV is a recurring theme in many of the films, including some of those that are—on the surface at least—as light and fluffy and sweet as candy floss. The devastatingly moving House of Boys takes us right back to the mid-80s, when the spirit of gay hedonism was suddenly at the heart of a merciless plague that the moral right cruelly labelled “gay cancer”. The film takes viewers on a whirlwind journey of excess and sexual liberation and then whips the rug from under its feet when the epidemic strikes. It’s scintillating, emotionally-challenging cinema.
Two of the funniest comedies on this year’s programme are the work of Swedish-America filmmaker, Casper Andreas, who launched to instant success with his provocative 2005 title, Slutty Summer. This year, New York-based Casper has been one of the festival’s international guests, speaking to audiences after screenings of his two recent films, Big Gay Musical, and Violet Tendencies. While delivering a lot of what Cape Town hedonists know and love—perfectly honed bodies, promises of an endless steamy hot sex, and endings happier than anything available in a Thai massage parlour—Casper’s films also touch on a variety of poignant issues, and the HIV-prevention message is always there, often between the beefy thighs and bulging biceps of yet another Adonis.
With its hysterical one-liners and queensize dose of high camp, Big Gay Musical is never shy in its spoof of right wing proselytizing Christian groups, specifically those that actively attempt to ‘fix’ homosexual teenagers in the US. With scenes depicting God (think Liberace meets Ali G) creating Adam and Steve as the perfect couple, and a bold finale with the lyrics “God loves gays”, the film certainly aims to grab your attention, but is ultimately a gloriously funny coming-out movie. Casper’s more recent film, Violet Tendencies, also breaks a few basic rules of the gay comedy genre, placing a less-than-attractive, overweight fag-hag (yes, a woman) at the heart of the story. Of course, the eponymous hag is surrounded by male bodies dripping with sex appeal and, despite one of cinema’s most unexpected coming out scenarios and much wavering over the issue of gay adoption, isn’t short on studly eye candy.
Interview with Casper Andreas
Casper Andreas looks and sounds like someone you want to get to know. He’s tall, dreamily handsome, and has a definite model sheen. You’ll probably guess his age a good ten years younger than he really is, but his kind eyes and generous smile betray a deep creative energy, obsessive love of humanity, and that deliciously naughty wit that infuses his films. He’s also intelligent and thoughtful—I can only presume it’s a New Yorker-meets-European thing. The looks, elegance, and svelte frame are Swedish, but the accent—initially—is Big Apple international, and his politics is all about humanity. He’s a gay filmmaker first and foremost, and for five years has made box office successes out of films on budgets so low you can’t help gasping. His trick is to pair clever, relentlessly funny scripts (which he writes, co-writes, or collaborates on) with delectable cast members, and then to tirelessly shoot the hell out of the thing in under three weeks. Having trained as an actor himself, Casper is occasionally on both sides of the camera, and—the real challenge—produces his own films, too, meaning he’s convinced a lot of people to believe in his vision. Which isn’t difficult to imagine.
He’s made six gay niche market films, all of them laugh-out-loud comedies (including the well-known title Slutty Summer), and two of them on the programme of this year’s festival; each film touches unflinchingly on issues that are a mainstay of the gay rights movement and part and parcel of being a minority in a world that can still be overwhelmingly narrow-minded. Interestingly, Casper is still fighting the prejudices of certain pressure groups in the US, a nation that started calling itself democratic a long time ago yet still has Christian youth camps where they try to convert gays into straights.
Both films come with loads of flesh, but no in-your-face exposed penises, and although you’d look at Big Gay Musical and immediately think it’s going to be profane and blasphemous, probably come away singing the finale along with the cast, most of whom are accomplished Broadway performers. The film doesn’t for a moment shy away from criticising the Christian extremists who point fingers at homosexuals, and it is ultimately a satire that demands that all people be treated equal. “I love filmmaking because I get to express my views on humanity. I want to communicate the value of all people. With comedy that’s achievable.”
And on top of that message is a ripped, fun-loving cast of buff boys with perfect smiles and impeccably groomed heads of hair, like something out of a Pierre et Gilles fantasy photo. Casper admits that his films are commercial and fluffy on the surface, but he’s committed to having something meaningful to say, and he always has something to say, whether commenting on gay adoption or the importance of safe sex. “But I’m not about to start beating people over their heads with messages… Audiences do want to be entertained.” So he endeavours to make crowd-pleasers with a difference, be it an alternative angle or new slant on an old theme. “Who the hell started the rumour that beautiful people don’t struggle with their sexuality?”
“Or that just because you’re a slutty hedonist, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practise safe sex!”
Given your budgets and tight schedules, you make filmmaking look extremely simple. How easy is it to make it as a gay filmmaker?
Have no doubt, it is tough being an artist in this niche market. That said, there definitely is a market for gay films, and there’s good interest in dedicated gay film festivals around the world; DVD sales are good, too, and the Internet has also become an important outlet. The trailer for Big Gay Musical has had over a million online viewings in the States alone. The Internet is also where people download for free, which is frustrating for a struggling filmmaker—there’s a lot of piracy. Budget concerns are impacting all corners of the film industry, including Hollywood. I shot my first film with no experience as a director; I wrote a script for a film that I wanted to act in after drama school. So, I was forced to produce and raise the budget myself, because there was no-one else to do so. I thought: “Fuck it… I want to make this film!” So I did. And I’ve unavoidably developed a useful business model for ultra-efficient filmmaking. Admittedly, I get a lot of money from guys who like hanging out with the cast and crew—they definitely find that being ‘an investor’ is a good way to meet hot actors.
New York is a big influence in your films…
The Big Apple is a deep inspiration for my films; I’ve made five films there and because I’ve lived there for most of adult life, the cityscape and its people and social culture have saturated my work as an artist. Being gay in New York City is different to being in a small town or living in the countryside or in Sweden. Cities tend to be more accepting, open to diversity; they inspire creativity.
What’s your impression of Cape Town so far?
What’s not to love? It’s gorgeous; the city is open and walkable, and there are so many great natural sights. It’s my first time here, and it’s hard to get over how Table Mountain rises up from the edge of the CBD. It’s an interesting social mix, too. I can imagine that a city this beautifully located could get pretty obnoxious over the summer! New York can be like that… occasionally a bit obnoxious. South Africa was always in the news during my early years growing up in Sweden; then it was all about Apartheid. Since democracy, you hardly hear about this country, so it’s amazing to visit a place that doesn’t get all that much hype.
And what have you been doing between screenings?
Well, the Festival has been treating us (my sister and I) to a fabulous time. Despite the limited time (you really need to be here for a few weeks to take it all in), we’ve managed to pack in quite a few extraordinary experiences, including getting out to see the whales in Hermanus, and the African penguins at Boulders—they’re extremely cute. Oh, and at the very tip of the Peninsula is Cape Point—the views are sensational.
Any nightlife recommendations?
Yes, for a wicked night out, you have to go to Crew; everyone agrees that it’s the best gay club in town. Together with most of the other gay bars and hangouts, it’s in De Waterkant—which everyone calls the ‘Gay Village’ or ‘Pink Quarter’—in the most historic part of Green Point, which is where Cape Town Stadium hosted the FIFA World Cup. Start your evening, as we did, at Manhattan’s, a casual, gay-friendly restaurant where everyone seems to meet up for drinks and gossip. It’s a pretty mixed crowd and totally unpretentious, with a few tables on the terrace so you can check out the action on De Waterkant’s cobbled streets. Next, we did Rosie’s, which is a bit grungy, but a real undiscovered gem in a city that’s so geared towards sophistication. But Crew was where we decided to really let our hair down… I tend to go to bars and clubs more often when I’m travelling than I do back in NYC these days. Crew is pretty much like any international gay club. We arrived to the throbbing sounds of Lady Gaga, and the place was packed—a mix of people… mostly fit men. Things went on till rather late….
Any tips on where to stay and eat in Cape Town?
Well, I believe there are more than enough gay-friendly hotels, particularly boutique-style places where you’re properly, intimately taken care of. We’ve been put up at The Glen Boutique Hotel (www.glenhotel.co.za), a slick and cosy spot tucked into the residential beat in Sea Point (a quick cab ride from the Pink Quarter). Staff are clued in on the local gay scene, and have their finger on the pulse of what’s hot and what’s not; in summer they have decadent pool parties, so it must be a fantastic place to meet local guys without the usual club atmosphere. I’m sharing a room with my sister, and there’s loads of space; very chic, too. And lunch at 6 Spin Street, a newish restaurant started by one of Cape Town’s best-loved restaurateurs, is a must. It’s a beautiful venue near the parliament buildings, right in the heart of the city on one of its oldest streets. Well worth seeking out (there’s a map on its website; www.6spinstreet.co.za).
And your next project?
I’m hoping to make a film with a real budget. It’s a period drama and a true story, about a gay Swedish king… or perhaps that should be ‘queen’.
At the end of our conversation, the delicate Swedish notes of Casper’s textured accent have become stronger, and he revisits a point made by one of the audience members after a screening of Violet Tendencies. “One guy said he thought all the men in my movie were too good-looking. I admit that, in a way, they are all an embodiment of some strain of physical perfection. A lot of those guys are in top-calibre Broadway shows, and they really are exceptionally hot (in real life); and those are the people who actually inhabit my real world. But, then again, I think you have a similar situation here in Cape Town. So many fine looking men, and there’s an emphasis on athleticism and fitness. Yes, Cape Town really is blessed with many reasons to explore all forms of hedonism.”
Out In Africa (www.oia.co.za) runs in Cape Town until 7 November, with films playing at Nu Metro cinemas at the V&A Waterfront (www.numetro.co.za), as well as at The Foxy On Broadway, a temporarily converted theatre (44 Long Street; www.onbroadway.co.za).