aGLIFF: Chronicles of Halcyon

aGLIFF, the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival, starts on Friday night and lasts until October 8. I’m volunteering for a few nights and hope to see some of the 150 short and feature-length films.
I’ve seen one already that I’d like to recommend: not a feature-length film, but a pilot for a TV series, Chronicles of Halcyon. I can’t review this hour-long episode as I normally might review a movie, because I know some of the people involved. It’s not just that I am biased, but I had a different viewing experience than you would if you saw the show. For one thing, you don’t know such-and-such actress as a former co-worker who dressed as Ed Grimley for the Halloween office party one year. You see what I mean.
Also, I am proud of and pleased with my friends for creating a video that turned out to be more entertaining than I thought it might be. I hope they are able to expand the pilot into a TV series because now I want to know how the cliffhanger ending turns out.

The pilot episode is called Chronicles of Halcyon: Pleasure Dome and sets up the potential series nicely while still providing a suspenseful, action-filled storyline. The video is set in a female-only world that is obviously meant to remind one of the Xena: Warrior Princess universe but without any pretention of historical basis. (The timelines on Xena always cracked me up. Who knew that Jesus and King Arthur were contemporary?)
The women in Halcyon, however, go further than Xena and Gabrielle ever did in portraying lesbian sexuality. No ambiguous hot-tub scenes here; these women frankly kiss, and caress, and wake up under the same animal-skin blanket the next morning with Scarlett-patented satiated expressions.
Halcyon is a land of gauzily dressed, peace-loving priestesses who are visited by leather-clad warrior women warning them of impending doom and destruction by villainous women who reside in the aforementioned Pleasure Dome. The priestess queen’s evil sister wants to steal the queen’s power and rule the world, and in the meantime, she enjoys destroying towns and menacing the beautiful female survivors.
The show is meant to be over-the-top and campy, with the occasional foray into silly humor. I have to say I always liked the funny episodes of Xena the best, and the relationship-exploring episodes the least. Chronicles of Halcyon contained more of the fuzzy relationship stuff than I preferred, but fortunately it was balanced by some amusing scenes.
The story itself was well plotted and well paced. I wish the dialogue had not been so intentionally overwrought; I think shorter, more sharply written speeches would have served the storyline better without reducing camp appeal. Admittedly the dialogue will be more fun to hear with an audience, like you might get at aGLIFF, than it was for me sitting on the sofa with my cat.
The acting was also over-the-top at times, but in a more effective way than the dialogue. Cadayne West, as the blonde warrior, and Darian Hart, as the priestess queen, stood out among the performances. West seemed to get the best and funniest lines.
I was especially impressed with the way the episode looked. I knew it had been shot on digital video and I’ve seen some amateurish results from DV lately. However, these filmmakers knew what they were doing with lighting, etc and overall, the video had a high-quality look. Perhaps it helped that so much was shot outdoors in natural lighting. The forest, castles, and other settings looked lovely and you would never have guessed that this otherwordly video was shot on location in Central Texas. Some of the special effects seemed cheesy on purpose (like the wavy effect) but others were executed subtly and effectively, like the queen’s scene at the pond (or spring, or whatever it is in which people foresee the future).
Some of the actresses’ makeup didn’t look quite right, particularly the evil sister, and I wonder if that had to do with shooting on DV. But it all added to the general campy quality, and perhaps a power-mad ex-priestess wouldn’t know how to apply blush very well, if you think about it. The costumes were simply fabulous. I don’t usually notice costumes in movies too much but these fit the general setting perfectly and looked stunning, especially when you consider this was a fairly low-budget venture.
The pilot episode includes very little violence or fighting. The characters use magic and trickery to battle evil. The level of physical intimacy is no more than you’d find in a 1960s Production Code-approved film; characters do kiss, and wake up together the next morning, but nothing graphic is shown. Since this is meant to be a television show pilot, that makes sense.
Chronicles of Halcyon: Pleasure Dome is playing at aGLIFF this Sunday, October 2, at 12:15 pm at Arbor Great Hills. (The aGLIFF listing is here.) I think this would be a wonderful video to watch with a large gay-friendly audience in a theater. I’ve already seen it but I’m hoping to see it again on Sunday for precisely that reason. Ticket info is here: it’s a matinee so it’s even cheaper than the usual festival ticket prices. If you can’t go on Sunday, check the Passion Fruit Video site for info on future screenings.