2008 Year in Review: Movies

2008 will always be known as an historic year — for the
passing of gay marriage laws in two states (and the tragic reduction of those
rights in four), for the election of the nation’s first president of color, and
for the downturn of the economy.

Years from now, when we talk about 2008, it’s likely that
we’ll be discussing these events, rather than any specific lesbian film that
came out.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a banner year for lesbian

While there were still extremely few mainstream movies with
notable lesbian/bi characters, the overall quality of representation was
decidedly — and dramatically — on the rise.

2008 saw an encouraging dearth of murderous, victimized or
man-hating lesbian characters in any level of production (from smaller indie
flicks to big-budget movies).

Women of color were better represented than in
many years past, gross stereotypes were avoided, and new talents emerged.

The greatest barometer of this progress was the number of
2008 releases that didn’t need to be qualified with “well, it was good for a
lesbian movie.” They stood amongst the better releases of the year, gay or

One film that embodies this was The Edge of Heaven, a masterful,
beautifully constructed German/Turkish film from Fatih Akin (Head-On). The movie told a complex tale
of four central characters and the
intricate ways in which their lives intersected. Nurgül
Yesilçay played Ayten, a fiery Turkish revolutionary who falls in love
with a German girl (Patrycia
Ziolkowska), and a good third of the movie centered on their
romance and the couple’s eventual difficulties once Ayten found herself hauled
off to jail in

As I stated in the film’s review, the
movie was one of the year’s absolute best:

It’s wonderfully refreshing to see a multi-ethnic
lesbian couple at the center of a film that isn’t billed as a “queer movie,”
and to see that their sexuality is a non-issue… It’s a fantastic film in its
own right, so the fact that a lesbian relationship factors in so prominently is
icing on the diversity-minded cake.

Nurgül Yesilçay (left) and Patrycia Ziolkowska in The Edge of Heaven

Surely, another of 2008’s biggest cinematic stories was the
theatrical release of lesbian novelist-turned director Shamim Sarif’s two
films: I Can’t Think Straight and The World Unseen. Both films were
adapted from Sarif’s novels of the same name, and both are lesbian-centric
romances headlined by Indian-North American actresses Lisa Ray and Sheetal

In our exclusive interview
with the filmmakers, Sarif and her partner/producer Hanan Kattan outlined the
huge trial-by-fire they endured making their first film (Straight), and the enormous successes and accolades they’ve
garnered with the very well-received Unseen.

While the verdict was a bit mixed on Straight, the beautiful, understated Unseen earned Sarif serious praise at film festivals of all
descriptions, including Toronto International and BFI London.

Lisa Ray (left) and Sheetal Sheth in The World Unseen

Photo courtesy: Regent Releasing

It’s not an exaggeration to count these films among the most
important of the year — they represent not only some of the best work from such
a multicultural perspective, but they are the very first steps of an emerging
cinematic force.

Sarif and Kattan are filmmakers to watch out for — the next
few years may very well see a breakout hit from them on par with the success of
Brokeback Mountain, the so-called
Holy Grail of queer filmmaking. In fact, it wouldn’t be too hard to imagine
them topping the 2005 Oscar contender some day.