Malcolm Ingram's Small Town Gay Bar is the documentary equivalent of a Xeroxed, stapled 'zine: Its homemade scruffiness provides much of the charm. In the best punk tradition, it's all about self-expression and passion rather than slickness. Kevin Smith produced this Sundance sleeper, which takes a bemused, affectionate look at the small-town Southern gay bars that serve as life-affirming oases of queer-friendliness in a vast sea of intolerance. Homosexuality went mainstream ages ago, but countless burgs in the Deep South lag decades behind the curve. For blue-collar gays in shapeless jeans and faded sweatshirts, these bars function as much more than places to meet friends, drink beer, and scope out potential lovers; they're life preservers for Southern gays drowning in the Bible belt's small-mindedness and backward sexual politics.

Ingram's autumnal homage to the pluck and resilience of small-town gays focuses primarily on two Mississippi bars: Rumors, a humble little dive in the process of changing ownership, and Crossroads, a party spot that its colorful owner tried to transform into a sprawling, carnival-esque "Crossroad Estates," complete with underground fighting matches, Native American vendors, and school buses on the front lawn that doubled as makeshift mini-motels. At Crossroads, patrons intoxicated with freedom and acceptance quickly established a level of decadence that made Sodom and Gomorrah look like an afternoon at Bible camp.


Ingram interviews Fred Phelps of "God Hates Fags" infamy as well as Tim Wildmon of the American Family Association to give audiences an idea of the prejudice the film's subjects face, but the overall tone is hopeful, optimistic, and wry, with an undercurrent of melancholy and nostalgia. Small Town Gay Bar tends to hammer home the same points about community over and over, but it also has a keen eye for the casual heroism and minor-key poetry of small-town life among those with big-city sexual orientations.

Key features: An amusingly profane introduction from Ingram and self-described "friend of the gay community" Kevin Smith joins an affectionate, detail-oriented Ingram commentary and compelling deleted scenes.