Is the gay community as welcoming as it likes to perceive itself towards men of all ages, races, kinks, disabilities and HIV statuses, or does it leave the majority of gay men unhappy by telling them to chase an idealistic body image and personality that is more likely to get them accepted – rejecting their own identity in the process? Tristan Ferland Milewski’s documentary Dream Boat doesn’t have the answers, even though it is commendable for exploring this quandary in a far greater depth than you’d expect from a film set on board a gay cruise, that takes obvious delight in showing everybody on board in as little clothing as possible.
Of the hundreds of guys on board this annual party cruise, Milewski focuses on subjects with traits that render them as outsiders to the hedonistic gay lifestyle presented here. With men from all over the globe coming on board the ship, he is fortunate to get a diverse set of interviewees; the UK-based, Polish born Marek, whose Catholic upbringing is arguably largely responsible for a social awkwardness and sexual conservatism that renders him unable to talk to guys, despite physical attributes that render him easily desirable. Religious upbringings are equally crutches for Ramzi, a Palestinian who has embraced the freedoms of living an openly gay lifestyle due to emigrating to a progressive Western territory like Belgium, as well as 32 year old Indian immigrant Dipankar, an IT expert now living in Dubai whose strict Muslim upbringing has left him largely in the closet, never falling in to a relationship because of it.
Of all of Milewski’s subjects, the most interesting by far is Philippe, who stands out for two reasons. He’s an older, wheelchair-bound man who, unlike the other subjects, isn’t battling for a sense of self acceptance regarding either their sexuality or HIV status. He’s been in a loving relationship for two decades, with his partner joining him on the cruise, and although he waxes lyrical about whether other guys would consider him as a sexual partner were he single, his real struggle is with attempts to walk again after meningitis left him in a wheelchair two decades prior. Whereas time spent with other patrons on the Dream Boat is largely dealing with them expressing their insecurities and desires to fit in with either the gay community or “normal” society, time spent with Philippe is considerably more laid back, dealing with the same weighty themes, but not feeling as despairing when discussing them- likely due to the perspective a life altering illness can grant you.
In a sexually liberated and adventurous environment like the Dream Boat, focusing on these individuals is a bold decision – they are either in relationships, or desire to be in relationships, with the gay lifestyle they are chasing after acting as a counterpoint to the nude and heavily flirtatious environment on deck. The film manages to pull off the balancing act of accurately documenting the sexually charged nature of the cruise itself and how this contrasts with the lifestyle choices of the subjects; you will be equally subjected to pontifications as to whether gay men naturally desire “straight acting” attributes in their partners, as well as plenty of gratuitous footage of guys in fetish gear and jockstraps, never shying away from showing butts and bulges.
Dream Boat is an odd documentary, due to the constant juxtaposition of emotional traumas and personal battles with lingering footage of some of the wilder, more adventurous parties taking place on board. For me, despite the tonal dissonance, the film worked as an argument to show that for many gay men, there are complicated emotional obstacles (and unspoken physical obstacles) that can leave you feeling like you don’t intrinsically belong in the gay community – which leaves those that don’t share the desired physical and behavioural attributes feeling like outcasts in a community idealistically designed to make everybody feel welcome. It’s an important argument to be made, and Milewski manages to ensure that you will leave the film pondering the food for thought his film offers – more so than the ogling shots of the male physique.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Strand Releasing