For all its claims of sophistication and open-mindedness, Miami continues to be, in many ways, about as cosmopolitan as Podunk. "We were inspired by the fact that other places have been doing this for a long time," says Robert Rosenberg, a noted filmmaker and director of the first annual Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. "People I talk to around the country can't believe this is the first one. They just assumed we already had one."
Miami did, in fact, have a gay/les film fest. In 1993 and 1996 Queer Flickering Light screened a handful of movies dealing with same-sex issues. But those outings were weekend affairs with limited infrastructure. "This is the successor festival," explains Rosenberg, who programmed the second QFL with its founder, Donald Chauncey. "We folded [QFL] to start over because we wanted a new organization that could be incorporated, with membership and funding." He adds with a chuckle that fundraising is a bit easier when the event is not called Queer Flickering Light.
Spanning five days, this fest will serve up eleven feature films, five programs of documentaries and shorts, and several ancillary activities. Most of the directors (including two from Spain and one from Germany) and some of the stars will be on hand to talk about their work. The screenings will take place at the Colony Theater and the Alliance Cinema.
All of the material should appeal to most gay-and-lesbian-film fans. The festival has no intention of being exclusionary, except to the dumbed-down gloss of Hollywood, which has only helped its cause. Rosenberg says charitably: "There's a bunch of [Hollywood movies] with secondary characters who are gay. It's almost a cliche to have a gay man as the best friend of the female lead. We can be more cutting edge because of Hollywood."
About half of the festival's feature entries will be distributed to larger audiences. Among those is the event's opener, Bedrooms and Hallways, directed by Rose Troche of Go Fish fame and starring Simon Callow (Four Weddings and a Funeral) and Hugo Weaving (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). Troche will join several of her colleagues at seminars and panel discussions throughout the event.
Much of what will appear, however, is too cutting edge to make any sort of commercial dent. "Especially with the shorts and the documentaries," says Rosenberg. "If you don't see them now, you might never see them. And both of the feature films from Spain lack distributors."
Although almost all of the films Rosenberg and company have selected through years of tracking, talking to connections, and, mostly, watching movies, are intriguing, a few stand out: Entwined is described as the first lesbian film made in Miami; El Grieto en el Cielo (The Scream in the Sky), a campy comedy, features local fave Maria Conchita Alonso; and Sex/Life in L.A., by German documentarian Jochen Hick, examines the lives of nine men who make their livings, one way or another, from sex.
Rosenberg, an Emmy winner with numerous films under his belt, came to Miami from New York City about six years ago. "This is a unique town," he notes. "It's seen around the world as a gay mecca, yet it's underdeveloped in terms of roots and institutions. It's a tourist town. But people are starting to say, 'This is our town. We live here.' The people from New York, the children of Cuban and Latin American immigrants who want to live an out life here, are demanding more things."
Regardless of the festival's appeal to its obvious audience and to other cineastes and filmmakers, another one will happen next year thanks to grants and contributions, as well as a fiscally conservative approach. "The overall cultural scene is shifting to be more sophisticated," Rosenberg says. "Of course we're gay-friendly, but we also want to attract the hip, cool, straight crowd."