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Think Pink: Gay And Lesbian Film Season in the US
by Sandy Mandelberger, Festival Circuit Editor
Friday, June 5-----While June is still celebrated as “gay pride month” in North America, the LGBT (that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender for you neophytes) film calendar actually has become a year-round phenomenon, making every season a new reason to think pink. In all, there are close to 100 separate LGBT film festivals in the U.S. and Canada. The most well-known take place in such gay meccas as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and Chicago in the U.S. and Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal in Canada. California alone has 14 LGBT festival events, Queer Filmistan, devoted to gay South Asian cinema and Tranny Fest, focused on transgender films.
LGBT festivals are even held in some unlikely places. What is it like presenting a gay festival in conservative Oklahoma? According to Phillip Au, director of the OUT OK—Oklahoma Gay And Lesbian Film Festival“ we cannot rely on traditional means of advertising since the mainstream media either ignores us or shuns us. We get no financial support from the city or local agencies. Even finding a theater willing to house us has proven a challenge. But in the end, the rewards are great since the Festival provides a gay outlet for locals and, hopefully, opens up a few others to understanding our community a little better.”
In aggregate, the circuit creates a kind of alternative distribution for the many films that will not be picked up for traditional theatrical distribution. “We pretty much launch all our gay-themed titles on the festival circuit”, Jon Gerrans, co-president of Strand Releasing told me. “These festivals bring out the films’ target audience. LGBT festivals are now one our most useful tools in generating awareness. In many markets, the festival exposure may be the only exposure the film may get.”
“The circuit is definitely a viable alternative distribution track”, New York’s NewFest director Basil Tsiokos added. “With so few films getting wide releases, we encourage our filmmakers to use the momentum generated at the festivals to drive dvd sales, digital downloads and non-theatrical sales.”
The LGBT Film Festival season officially kicks off in April in Miami. This year, the Miami Gay And Lesbian Film Festival (www.mglff.com) celebrated its 10th anniversary in high style with film premieres and a rash of chic parties. Take the Festival’s opening night…..Festival Director Carol Coombes appeared on-stage in a pink mini-dress with thigh-high silver go-go boots that attracted as much delighted applause as the opening film, Breakfast With Scot. Afterwards, local tourist attraction Jungle Island was decked out in a fanciful “winter-wonderland-in-the-tropics” atmosphere (to match the film’s “home-for-the-holidays” theme).
Parties aside, films premiering in Miami were also of high calibre. When I Knew, is a touching collection of personal realization stories compiled by directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (Inside Deep Throat); Chris And Don: A Love Story, by Guido Santi and Tina Mascara, chronicles the decades-long relationship between writer Christopher Isherwood and painter Don Bachardy; Jerusalem Is Proud To Present by Israeli director Nitzan Gilady documents the attempts of queer activists to hold a gay pride march in the Holy City; The Secrets, a moving drama by Avi Nesher about two Jewish orthodox girls who discover they are attracted to one another; and Were The World Mine, the Festival closer, a swooning musical update of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by director Tom Gustafson. The festival also presented the Planet Out Short Movie Awards. Films were available for viewing on the Planet Out website (www.planetout.com) and were voted on by the public. Claudia Morgado Escanilla took home the Grand Prize for No Bikini, a delightful film about a little girl who passes as a boy at a summer swim camp.
The New York Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Film Festival (NewFest) celebrates its 20th anniversary this week, presenting a staggering lineup of nearly 250 films from over 30 countries. "Each year we try to make NewFest bigger and better," Basil Tsiokos, Artistic Director stated. “Aside from the films, parties and seminars, we’ve added the NewDraft Screenplay Competition & Reading Series, to bring attention to new LGBT screenplays.” Festival films were grouped into four different focus areas, including Activism/Repression, African American Images, The Early Days of AIDS, and Parenthood.
San Francisco has long cherished its reputation as America’s “gayest city”. It is also the home of Frameline: San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, which at 32 years, is the oldest event of its kind. The Festival runs from June 19 to 29, with over 230 films from 36 countries, including the first from Egypt (All My Life). The Festival opened with the UK film Affinity by Tim Fywell, telling the amour fou between a 19th century London heiress and a convicted woman prisoner. The Festival also honored its long-time director Michael Lumpkin (who after 28 years is saying adieu) with a special award and a retrospective of past discoveries, including Gus Van Sant’s Mala Noche (1986), Pedro Almodovar’s Law Of Desire (1987) and John Greyson’s Lilies. Frameline also is a major distributor of LGBT films and videos.
Outfest: Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (July 5-19) is arguably the circuit’s largest and most sophisticated event. The Festival celebrates its 25th anniversary this year in what will surely be a landmark year. Outfest offers year-round screening series, including a separate festival for LGBT filmmakers of color, and is also the only organization that is actively involved in film preservation of “lost” gay films from the past.
Festivals and their sponsoring organizations also have other ways of helping filmmakers. According to Sandi DuBowski, the producer of A Jihad For Love (about gay Muslims) and the director of Trembling Before God (about gay religious Jews), these organizations assist with making the films happen. “The Frameline Film & Video Completion Fund was one of the funders of A Jihad for Love, and they have funded over 100 works since 1990. The Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival created a Work-in-Progress Benefit screening of Jihad to help us complete the work. Outfest also helped with our Los Angeles Gala to raise funds for completion. Festivals now are helping incubate and ensure that groundbreaking work get made and produced.”
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