Lesbians in film used to follow a pretty traditional route: a butchy girl who didn’t fit in falls in (sometimes unrequited) love with another (often straight) girl and discovers (usually tragically) who she really is. Alas, things have changed so much that it’s hard to determine if a film has a heterosexual woman in drag, an FTM or transman or an actual dyke as the main character. Even openly queer cinematic women these days don’t always bother uttering the L-word. But as indie cinema shows, that’s all beside the point anyway.
My Brother’s War: The Director’s Cut (available on Amazon and Vimeo)
This little seen indie film is one of a handful of Vanguard’s new indie films with undercurrents of queer or trans themes that are being marketed to the mainstream. But lesbians shouldn’t miss the attempts at covering new territory that a film like My Brother’s War makes. In it, Grace is torn between her fiancé and her family as the Civil War pits the Union Army and the Confederates against one another. To protect her brother she chops off her hair, dons his clothes and joins the rebels in his place. Soon she falls in love with a war widow, and the couple finds themselves running through the backwoods to escape the war. This leads to irrevocable changes for both of the women and their lives. Production values are mixed at times, but really, when was the last time a movie tackled drag without it being a comedy.
by Greg Bellavia
MY BROTHER'S WAR
2005, Un-rated, 99 minutes, Bjornquist Films
The life of a microbudget filmmaker is not an easy one. Concerns that would plague any film production such as finding actors and a useable script triple in importance seeing how these are the tools which will help overcome your film’s lack of professional polish. Given that from the start there are so many factors working against you it is generally advised that indie filmmakers stick to a topic that will be easy for them to capture on screen as to not overextend themselves with a story that would prove unfilmable using their modest means. Certainly the two genres which would seem hardest to capture upon a minuscule budget would either be science fiction or historical drama. Keeping this in mind, the sheer perseverance of Whitney Hamilton in adapting her own novel "Firefly" into "My Brother’s War", a civil war period piece directed by and starring herself is to be admired. While not always one hundred percent successful in transcending its low budget, Hamilton’s film exhibits an authentic feel for its material along with a solid, ever evolving story.
With her fiancé vowing loyalty to the Union army and her brother Henry (Ryan Tramont) joining the Confederate cause, Grace Kieler (Whitney Hamilton) is left alone to help care for her father and the family's land. Upon her father’s death Grace conducts a search for her brother amongst the Confederate ranks by impersonating a man but soon finds herself enlisted. Complicating Grace’s search is the fact that Henry has been asked to act as a spy for the South and infiltrates a Union unit run by the melancholy Colonel Wright (Thom Milano). As Henry does his best to sabotage the Union from within, Grace finds herself making the acquaintance of Virginia (Dana Bennison), a bereft woman who recently lost her son who finds solace with Grace’s sensitive, male alter ego. As the relationship between Grace and the misguided Virginia intensifies the Union Army grows ever closer to exposing the spy in their ranks.
Obviously "My Brother’s War" is a labor of love for Whitney Hamilton and that devotion to the material is what gives the film its strength. Hamilton has an ear for the dialogue of the period and the story seems much more natural than bigger budgeted period pieces such as "Cold Mountain". Quiet moments such as Colonel Wright addressing a subordinate (Ed Moran), asking him about his family and telling him he hopes they stay in contact after the war, feel genuine and it is a credit to the cast that the material is able to flow as well as it does. With this said, there are several flaws which Hamilton and company are unable to overcome. Larger battle scenes are obviously taken from civil war reenactment footage and have too much of a home movie feel. Once the story gets going it soars, but the opening half hour is sluggish and could have been trimmed some in order to get to the meat of the story. These gripes are small, however, considering how Hamilton is able to do so much with so little.
An indie which is able to survive thanks to the effort and perseverance of its creator, "My Brother’s War" is microbudget film worth a look.