Presented by Same Same at this year’s Melbourne Queer Film Festival, Shelter is the first feature film by Jonah Markowitz, and is the quintessential gay surfer movie.
Zach, played by Trevor Wright, is an aspiring artist caught in the struggle between living his own life and having to care for his family in the small Californian town of San Pedro. After the death of his mother, he is forced to give up his dream of art school to look after his invalid father, dead-beat sister Jeanne and her five-year-old son Cody.
Jeanne (Tina Holmes) is a reluctant mother who is painfully neglectful of her son. Despite the lack of affection from his mother and being abandoned by his father, Cody (well played by little cutie Jackson Wurth) is a well-natured five-year-old with a sense of family that has clearly been provided by Zach. Working a dead-end job in the local diner, Zach spends his spare time surfing, drawing, creating street art and hanging out with his best friend Gabe (hilariously portrayed by Ross Thomas). When Gabe’s openly gay older brother Shaun (Brad Rowe) returns to town, the two begin to surf together and a mutual attraction develops. Shaun guides Zach not only through accepting his sexuality, but in reconciling his own desires with the needs of his family.
Writer-director Jonah Markowitz has created a movie that one wishes more gay films would emulate. Shelter is more than just a coming-of-age story or a gay surfer film – it is a well made film about characters who just so happen to be gay. Consequently, there is a refreshing lack of gay clichés in this movie, allowing the audience to look beyond the sexuality of the characters.
The performances from the entire cast are solid and brilliantly observed to flesh-out complex, three-dimensional characters. Heterosexual actor Wright is whole-heartedly convincing as Zach, a man struggling to come to terms with his sexuality and conflicted between his desire to pursue his dreams and his familial responsibilities. Rowe, who plays Shaun and has previously been in Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss, is excellently understated. Holmes ( Six Feet Under ) also delivers an exceptional performance in the very unlikable role of Jeanne. The natural dialogue and strong performances are aided by a particularly good soundtrack, featuring an evocative score by J. Peter Robinson and original songs by Shane Mack.
It is obvious why this film has become a favourite on the GLBTI festival circuit since its release in 2007, picking up the Audience Awards for Best Film at the Seattle and Tampa Gay and Lesbian Film Festivals. On Friday night it played to yet another sold-out crowd at the Same Same sponsored Melbourne Queer Film Festival screening. This movie seems to resonate with its audience, inciting simultaneous reactions to many subtle relatable moments throughout. In fact, attending this session served as a reminder of why GLBTI film festivals are still relevant, as watching Shelter with a queer audience added enormously to the experience.
Post-screening drinks were held at the Festival Club at ACMI Cinemas in Federation Square and the unseasonably balmy evening provided the perfect backdrop for this film. There was a distinctly pleasant vibe among attendees as tunes provided by DJ Angry Dan played in the background. This festival is obviously well-loved by Melbourne’s queer community and seems to bring together a unique mix that is not seen at any other event throughout the year.