"Seeing Heaven" (Great Britain 2010, 117 minutes), being given its world premiere by QFest, Philadelphia's 16th annual LGBT film festival, is Ian Powell's directorial debut 'gay arthouse film'-i.e. no frontal nudity and omnipresent tightie whities, when bare flesh might be expected, and high tone allusions to classic mythology and literature.
The new thriller concerns Paul (Alexander Bracq), a deeply and darkly psychologically disturbed escort, with a look of boyish innocence, and his search for his lost twin, Saul, and his development from hustler to porn actor. Haunting as a Hitchcock film, "Seeing Heaven" draws inspiration from the story of the stern, homophobic-and possibly homophile-Apostle Paul of Tarsus, who was Saul before he became Christ's disciple, and from Oscar Wilde's gripping cautionary tale, "The Picture of Dorian Gray."
When Paul has sex, he is gripped by dreams, or visions, of Saul, at the center of some mystic ritual and in severe trouble, and projects them so powerfully that the man he is with shares them. Early in the film, a john, infuriated by the visions, beats Paul up, and Zhivago (Denton Lethe), the loving, caring bartender, saves him from disaster. Zhivago tells Paul he will take him to John Baxter (Lee Chapman), a porn filmmaker with high ideals and aspirations, i.e. no barebacking in his films, and Paul leaves Zhivago's bed to seek out the director, immediately, on his own.
Paul agrees to make a movie for Baxter, so that his image, as young and beautiful as that of Narcissus, will be preserved, onscreen, forever. Paul meets Carlos (Maximo Salvo), handsome and dangerous, and Griffin (Chris Grezo), one of the 'good guys,' both of whom he is to perform with in Baxter's opus, but their scenes end abruptly when Paul's visions confuse and anger them.
At the party, where Zhivago was going to introduce Paul to Baxter, and at which the cast and crew are present, Paul asks Pan (Anton Z. Risan, also the producer), the makeup man, to do a reading for him and tell him what the Tarot cards show is in store. Pan sees a man in a mask, meaning misfortune, but will not say what he learns about Saul. Paul meets De Leon (Thomas Thoroe), devilishly handsome and ruthless bigwig in porn, who insists on barebacking as the way to go, regardless of the consequences for the actors' health-in another era, he'd be making snuff films.
Powell has created a suspenseful and captivating work and will be present at the premiere. QFest screenings of "Seeing Heaven" are on July 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Ritz at the Bourse, 400 Ranstead Street, and 18 at 4:30 p.m. at the Ritz East, 125 South Second Street, in Theater Two. For more information about the festival, which runs through July 19, visit http://www.qfest.com.