World-famous cinematic auteur Gus Van Sant has made me mutter “What the fuck” twice in my mostly uneventful life. The first time was sometime in 1988, when one evening my kitchen was suddenly flooded with incredibly bright light. I went outside to see where the light was coming from, and discovered Mr. Van Sant and his crew two blocks away, at the old St. Francis Hotel in Portland, Oregon, filming the final scene of what would end up being Drugstore Cowboy. The second time was tonight, at the closing ceremony of the Side by Side LGBT film festival at the Skorohod culture space in Petersburg, where Mr. Van Sant was the guest of honor. It was bad enough that he told the audience—who had just filed back into the Skorohod after a bomb threat, the fifth of Side by Side’s ten-day run, had cleared the place for an hour and a half while the police searched for the nonexistent bomb—about his visit, in 1991, to an equally nonexistent “gay artists’ commune” on Pushkinskaya Street. What was totally disheartening was that his remarks were translated by a person (an “old Russian friend,” Van Sant called him) who had helped pulled the wool over his eyes back then, twenty-two years ago, and who less than two years ago helped re-elect to the Russian presidency the man who is the real source of “homophobia” in Russia, not the “grassroots” homophobes of beleaguered Petersburg, who at most have been able to muster a couple dozen zombies to look funny at festival goers on a couple of occasions and phone in a bomb threat every other night. Mr. Van Sant should stick to making films about Portland, where he really does understand the lay of the land. Despite the fact it roused me out of the house that night in 1988, Drugstore Cowboy was a terrific movie.
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