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Bearing the brunt of “Bear Nation.”

Bearing the brunt of “Bear Nation.” (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

Amongst the tousled, too-hip-for-the-room Japanese punks and the deglammed hipster brunettes with Jackie O. shades, one of the more recognizable constituencies walking around this year’s SXSW would have to be the portly bearded male, so prominent in number that you’d think you were living in a wet dream of the men profiled in “Bear Nation,” Malcolm Ingram’s look at the fetish of a certain subset of gay men towards the hirsute and hefty. The film is a follow-up to Ingram’s first documentary “Small Town Gay Bar” and, like that film, you pretty much know what you’re getting into from the title, though “Bear Nation” doesn’t only refer to America, but apparently Canada and England, where Ingram films interviews, and the rest of the world, as the film shows through a series of posters and pictures in the end credits from bear conventions around the globe.

There are interviews with famous bears such as Hüsker Dü frontman Bob Mould and honorary bear Kevin Smith (the film’s executive producer), but mostly “Bear Nation” has average Joes telling their stories about having to first come out as homosexuals and then coming out once more as chubby chasers. All that’s well and good, but it’s not a 90-minute movie, and it might not even sustain the 44-minute version set to air on Logo later this year. (Ingram said during the Q & A that he’s taking the film on a 29-city tour of bear-related events this summer, where the film will find its most appreciative audience.) The trouble is “Bear Nation” is a film at war with itself, surely set into motion because the idea of being attracted to “bears” is intriguingly subversive, but presenting its subjects as normal, average guys with particular tastes like everyone else. And while the testimony of the men is heartfelt, their stories, as well as the many clubs and conventions Ingram takes us to, are too similar and mostly mundane to justify its feature length.

Dressed up in pop music and drizzled with campy clips from the ’50s, “Bear Nation” has energy to spare and Ingram continually spices up the film with his subjects’ tales of masturbating to “Smokey and the Bandit” and being sexually awakened by “Longtime Companion,” but there’s also pointless sequences of people on the street comparing gay bears to real bears and interviews where the t-shirts say more than the subject wearing them (one particularly amusing one reads “It’s okay that I eat meat because I eat all the gay animals”). Additionally, Ingram and cinematographer Andrew MacDonald make the distracting choice to shoot many of the interviews from an indirect angle that’s not quite a side profile, inadvertently undermining the integrity of what the men are saying since they’re always looking way off-screen.

Still, “Bear Nation” will likely resonate with bear lovers, and as many who are interviewed in the film suggest, take the stigma off of what one calls “a splinter group within a splinter group.” That much was evident from the film’s post-screening Q & A, where two separate audience members praised the film for documenting a part of the gay community that has existed for at least a decade-and-a-half, which is how long Bear magazine, which is featured prominently in the film, has been in business. (The hairy SXSW staffer who introduced the screening did his part to excite the crowd by asking where the “beardos” were and encouraged the audience to feel his beard, which he “sifted with coconut oil and sandalwood” earlier in the morning.) Ingram also took the opportunity to share how he personally finally felt comfortable when he was taken in by the bear community when he came out in his thirties, though he never includes his own story in the film. By leaving the story to be told by others, “Bear Nation” misses a key opportunity to rise above its attention-grabbing premise.

“Bear Nation” will be self-distributed and appear on Logo this year.

[Photo: “Bear Nation,” View Askew Productions, 2010]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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