Big Mister Sunshine

Behind the scenes at a beauty (-redefining) pageant

One wonders how many parents, helping their kids with online research for a school report on bears, were startled to discover the word has, um, another meaning? For those four readers who don’t know, “bear” also designates any non-buff, non-depilated gay man. Believe it or not, there are a sizable (sorry, couldn’t resist) number of men out there who find Jason Alexander and John Goodman more attractive than Ashton Kutcher and Zac Efron. Outcasts from a gay culture that celebrates (OK, obsesses over) slenderness and smoothness, they (OK, we) decided to form our own social networks. Bears, screened tonight at the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (which runs Oct. 12-21), provides a glimpse of this sub-subculture via a look at San Francisco’s annual International Bear Rendezvous. Spellbound-style, Marc Klasfeld’s doc follows a half-dozen contestants (of 16, from as far as London and Madrid) vying for the title of Mr. International Bear 2004—including Seattle’s own Alan Mathews, dubbed by one judge “the Hugh Hefner of the group” for his. . . accessibility. As a film, it’s a shade earnest; it could use, for example, a bit of the irreverent zing Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato gave The Eyes of Tammy Faye. As an examination of the culture, it offers little insight beyond the usual I-never-realized-a-guy-could-be-masculine-and-gay or finally-I-felt-accepted confessions—with one exception. The most interesting point made in Bears is also the first one made: the bear movement, with its defiant assertion that weight plus fur equals hotness, burgeoned in the early ‘90s in the wake of the AIDS crisis—when suddenly the disease proved that gay men could be too thin and too hairless.

Sun., Oct. 14, 6:45 p.m., 2007

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