Arthur Knight Hammer calls it "Bearidise" -- the red-brick mansion in tiny Milesburg, Pa., that he's made a club and sanctuary for gay men who don't meet a buff standard of attractiveness. As depicted in David D'Agostino's short documentary "Arthur Knight Hammer: King of the Bears," dozens of mostly chubby and hirsute guys partake of an open-ended house party with lots of food, drinks, dancing and tickling. And a hot tub.
But Hammer's calling also includes heavy Bible study. As he says in the film of his spiritual journey, "I realized I had invented my own Christianity." Exploring Hammer's unique millenarian worldview is part of the fascination of "King of the Bears," a 45-minute work-in-progress that D'Agostino screens Feb. 8 at Film Kitchen. Also screening are shorts by Israel Vasquez and Maria Bleahu.
D'Agostino, 30, grew up near Milesburg (located northeast of State College), and, in fact, at age 11 had visited the manse, pre-Bearidise. (It's a long, and innocent, story.) As an adult he reconnected with Hammer. He spent five years shooting footage, supplementing his own film-and-art education at Boston's School of the Museum of Fine Art with help from a volunteer professional crew. "King" also smartly incorporates footage shot over the years by Hammer himself.
A documentarian couldn't request a better subject than the gray-haired and goateed computer consultant, a merry fellow who weeps while lecturing on the book of Revelation. And D'Agostino evinces sharp editing and a keenly unconventional eye for shots like overhead sequences of Hammer swimming in his backyard pool.
Unlike some documentarians, D'Agostino carefully sets up some shots for maximum visual effect. "As Werner Herzog would say, I'm less interested in capturing reality and more interestined in capturing poetic truth," he says.
Film Kitchen 8 p.m. Tue., Feb. 8. Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Ave., N. Oakland. $6. 412-681-9500