Polari 2013 Dispatch: 'Uganda' and 'The Most Fun'

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Most Fun with Pants On

Saturday was far too beautiful a day to spend in a movie theater. But watching the Polari screening of God Loves Uganda at the Stateside Theater on Saturday afternoon was worth sacrificing a couple of hours of stunning Austin weather.

God Loves Uganda is a terrific, must-see documentary that both enlightens and infuriates. It's relentlessly unpleasant viewing, but this gripping movie casts a much-needed spotlight on one of society's great outrages: American evangelical Christians' quest to spread homophobia in Uganda.

As the growing acceptance of gay marriage demonstrates, evangelicals have long been losing the culture wars in the United States. But decades before gay marriage was legal in any state, fundamentalist Christians already were seeking greener proselytizing pastures in the developing world. Uganda became a prime target for evangelism after Idi Amin's brutal regime ended in 1979, giving American missionaries an opportunity to build churches and schools and recruit new followers.

The missionaries wasted no time in spreading their virulent anti-gay message, along with preaching against extramarital sex and condom use. They found a receptive audience in Uganda's largely conservative population. Of course, their ludicrous admonitions against safe sex didn't popularize abstinence; they only hastened the spread of HIV and AIDS. And their anti-gay rhetoric fanned the flames of hate to the point where many gays and lesbians feared for their lives.

As America became more tolerant, Uganda became a homophobic hell for its gay citizens. The anti-gay hysteria culminated in a proposed 2009 law to ban all homosexual sex; under the law, first-time offenders would be subject to life in prison -- and repeat offenders could be executed.

God Loves Uganda tells this horrific story in searing detail, recounting its long history and spending a lot of time at raucous God-hates-gays church services in the U.S. and Uganda. In the interest of fairness, the film gives a handful of missionaries plenty of chances to defend their beliefs in interviews; of course they can't, for their intolerance is indefensible. (God Loves Uganda is a very serious film, but some of the interviews provide dark comic relief with the missionaries' bizarre rationalizations. One claims to be a former lesbian who wants to help others "recover" from lesbianism also; another crusades against all sin because he was once a sinner with an addiction to porn.)

Fortunately, God Loves Uganda also gives us reason for hope. It profiles several Ugandans who are openly fighting the bigotry with some success, reminding us that as long as brave souls will risk their lives to end the madness, things can change. The voices of sanity have much work to do in Uganda, but history is on their side.

On Saturday evening, I saw a very different film: the poignant road movie The Most Fun I've Ever Had with My Pants On, starring former Austinites Drew Denny and Sarah Hagan.

The Most Fun I've Ever Had with My Pants On (pictured at top) follows two women on a road trip through the Southwest; however, their more important journeys are emotional and spiritual. Childhood friends Andy (Denny) and Liv (Hagan) reunite to scatter Drew's father's ashes at various points between Los Angeles and Austin. Andy will visit her mother in Austin, but her ultimate destination is less geographical than emotional, as she comes to terms with her father's death. Liv's goal is more immediate -- she's travelling to Austin to audition for a role in an indie noir film, while doing some soul searching along the way.

Along the way, the two perform impromptu mini-funerals -- some serious, some not so much -- while scattering the ashes. They also behave rather badly; there is much drinking and a fair amount of pot smoking, along with shoplifting and spontaneous sexual encounters with strangers. Throughout the journey there are undertones of lesbian attraction; actually, they're more blatant overtones, as the openly lesbian Andy flirts with the straight Liv. (In one sexually charged scene, Andy gives Liv some up-close-and-personal coaching as they rehearse Liv's lines for her audition.)

Denny wrote and directed The Most Fun I've Ever Had with My Pants On, and it's a solid feature film debut. The first half is a bit uneven and unfocused, as the two women cavort in the desert and act a little too silly for my taste. But the second half is lyrical and poignant, with a much smoother narrative arc and some innovative, beautiful scenes shot in equally beautiful landscapes. (In a particularly moving scene, Andy projects a video of her father on a sand dune in White Sands National Monument.)

There is a great emotional authenticity to The Most Fun I've Ever Had with My Pants On, largely because the story is autobiographical. Denny adapted it from a performance artwork she created as a tribute to her deceased father, and there are true-to-life touches throughout the film. (In the sand dune scene, the video features Denny's actual father, who died not long after filming it.)

In a Q&A after the film, Denny answered the expected questions about making The Most Fun I've Ever Had with My Pants On; she explained that like any road movie, it was a logistical challenge to film in public settings on a low budget. But she also was very open about the relationship between the film and her life, showing hints of emotion as she talked about her dad. Obviously, The Most Fun I've Ever Had with My Pants On is a labor of love, and the end result is an engaging film that hits just the right emotional notes.