Strange Fruit

Take that, Anita Bryant! The Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival is reclaiming the orange

Think pink? Try orange.

In a subtle attempt to remind audiences of the county's most infamous and contemptible act of homophobia, organizers of this year's Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival have appropriated the state's official fruit — in the sweet and sunny form of an orange slice — for the ninth annual fest, which runs April 27 through May 6 in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

"We're reclaiming the orange," says MGLFF director Carol Coombes, referring to Anita Bryant, who toiled as the spokeswoman for the Florida Citrus Commission in the late Seventies, when she led efforts to slam the closet door shut on Miami-Dade County's gay and lesbian community.

Both Sides of the Bed: I love you, but you're standing on my foot
Both Sides of the Bed: I love you, but you're standing on my foot

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April 27 through May 6 at Regal South Beach Cinema in Miami Beach, the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, the Colony Theatre in Miami Beach, Sunrise Cinemas at Gateway in Fort Lauderdale, and the Flamingo South Beach in Miami. Visit www.mglff.com for a complete schedule.

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The festival logo commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Bible-thumper's sadly successful "Save Our Children" crusade to repeal the county's 1977 human rights ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But the actions of the "Paper Roses" pop singer and TV pitchwoman, who got pied by a gay activist while campaigning in Iowa, led to a national orange juice boycott. She subsequently lost her Florida Citrus Commission gig. Bryant's show biz career quickly spluttered, and her marriage to Miami DJ Bob Green later crumbled. Thirty years on, an unrepentant Bryant — who continues to praise the lord and damn homosexuality on her MySpace page — still remains an icon of hate and intolerance, having recently been unflatteringly name-checked during an episode of Studio 60 on Sunset Strip.

The MGLFF logo and its Bryant-featuring trailer serve "as a celebration of how far we've come," Coombes explains. The county undid much of the damage caused by Bryant by once again banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in 1998, one year before the MGLFF loudly and proudly came into existence.

Harking back to those darker days in the county's history, San Francisco-based director Jay Rosenblatt's ten-minute refresher course on Bryant, I Just Wanted to Be Somebody, combines news footage of Bryant's anti-gay campaign with home movie clips obtained from the Florida Moving Image Archive. It screens April 28.

"She was such a polarizing figure in the late Seventies," says Rosenblatt, who lived in Seattle at the time. "Gay people I've spoken to describe her campaign as a second Stonewall. It mobilized so many people to come out of the closet. But it also was the beginning of the oppression of gay people by the Christian right."

Rosenblatt's all for the MGLFF co-opting the state fruit for political gain. "It's always empowering when a group appropriates an image that's been used against it," he says.

But the connection between the logo and Bryant is lost upon Andrew Meadows, the spokesman for the Florida Department of Citrus. "Florida and citrus are pretty much inseparable," says Meadows. "There are plenty of instances when groups have used citrus in their logos."

But how many groups employ the orange as a symbol of equal rights? "Any time citrus gets exposure, we're proud of it," says Meadows, refusing to bite. "I'm not sure we as an organization have any thoughts on that. I'm not looking at [the MGLFF logo] in a political context."

Neither is Kirk Arthur, the field director at Save Dade, a nonprofit group dedicated to fighting discrimination against the county's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. "People see an orange as a symbol of Florida, and I don't think they'll make a connection with Anita Bryant or gay rights," Arthur says.

"If you think about it, many of our state legislators, especially in the Republican Party, cut their teeth with Bryant's campaign. Bashing gays is a great way to stay in power — they know that siding with the gay community will not win them votes. From that perspective, Anita Bryant's legacy lives on. But the orange is our state symbol. Everyone drinks orange juice. You can't say anything bad about an orange."

This year's fest marks the British-born Coombes's first as festival director since succeeding Jaie Laplante, who is now whetting appetites as the associate director of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Coombes also continues to program the lineup, a job she was hired to do when she joined the MGLFF in 2002 from the London International Film Festival and the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.

While she says to expect the "same old, same old" from the MGLFF — regional, national and world premieres, big bashes, filmmaker tributes — Coombes is conducting a few experiments this year with an eye on future development and boosting attendance beyond last year's 13,000.

For starters, anybody sympathetic to Anita Bryant and her cause should steer clear of Española Way on May 2. Otherwise they might find themselves running screaming from South Beach at the sight of the Wrestling Roosters Girls and other entertainers helping MGLFF attendees live it up after the Centerpiece Gala screening of Anger Me, a documentuary paying homage to the work of experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger. Expect art installations, avant-garde film screenings — even yoga lessons for those inspired to assume the scorpion pose after watching clips from Anger's Scorpio Rising— during the MGLFF's first-ever street party, dubbed "WayOUT." Unfortunately the 80-year-old Anger had to decline the MGLFF's invitation to join in the fun — he's under doctor's order not to travel.

"It's all very queer, and I love it," Coombes says of the event, which was organized by Miami Beach Cinematheque curator Dana Keith. "It's taken a long time to plan — we started last August — and we're doing a lot of things that we have never done before. We hope the weather stays well."

The same goes for the MGLFF's first outdoor screening on May 4 at the Flamingo South Beach, the world premieres of director Casper Andreas's A Four Letter Word— a fun and frothy farce about gay clichés and sex addiction — and the winning HBO LGBT Script Writing Competition shorts.

As part of its mission to be a filmmaker-friendly festival, the MGLFF also will introduce ScriptLAB on May 5. Director/screenwriter Mary Guzman, whose short Do the Math screens the same day, will read her script Lost Dog in both English and Spanish. The hope is to drum up interest, and possible financial support for her project.

"We're doing it as an experiment," Coombes says. "I've been following this film project for five years. I like the script, but Mary needs help [getting financing]. Next year I hope to run it properly and have open submissions for scripts."

The MGLFF opens with director Duncan Roy's contemporary reworking of Oscar Wilde's The Portrait of Dorian Gray. It ends May 6 with The Chinese Botanist's Daughter, director Dai Sijie's modern-day exploration of lesbianism in the Socialist republic. Potential highlights include the documentary Saving Marriage, which examines the aftermath of Massachusetts' decision to allow same-sex couples to tie the knot; Red Without Blue, about identical twin brothers, one of whom decides to undergo a sex change; Nina's Heavenly Delights, a Scottish comedy that reveals what happens after a woman returns to Glasgow three years after bailing on her wedding; The Two Sides of the Bed, a sequel to director Emilio Martínez Lázaro's The Other Side of the Bed; and A Jihad for Love, a work-in-progress documentary about homosexuality in the Islamic world that is receiving a fundraising screening.

And what would the MGLFF be without an appearance by Jamie Babbit? The director of the breezy MGLFF 2000 entry But I'm a Cheerleader is back with Itty Bitty Titty Committee. Blessed with what will doubtless be the most memorable film title of 2007, Babbit's loud and boisterous tribute to the riot grrl movement takes great pleasure in ridiculing D-cup envy as it espouses feminist principles.

"It's very important for a movie [such as Itty Bitty Titty Committee] to have a place where people can see it and enjoy it," Babbit says. "Gay and lesbian film festivals are great as a place for the community to see what's happening in the community.

Project Greenlight winner (and whipping boy) Pete Jones bounces back after the failure of Stolen Summer with Outing Riley, a Brothers McMullen-like character study of an Irish-American architect debating how best to come out to his homophobic siblings. Jones — who's straight and lives in Chicago with his wife and three kids — wrote, directed, and starred in Outing Riley because he was tired of Hollywood depicting homosexuals as "flamboyant sidekicks," and not like the gay guys he watches football games with on Sunday afternoons.

"I'm anxious to see the reaction," says Jones, who will screen his comedy for the first time for a predominately gay audience at the MGLFF. "I've had test screenings where gay members in the audience have said they had not been able to relate to the story, that their experience of coming out was completely different. Others have completely related."

For the attention-span-challenged, the MGLFF does offer a couple of clip collections with such self-explanatory titles as Hollywood KINK and LEZPLOITATION-Triple X Selects.

There are 100 films this year — up from 89 in 2006, but the increase comes in the number of shorts, which has jumped from 59 to 70. Hence the decision to jack up the number of shorts programs from seven to ten.

"We had a huge amount of shorts submissions, many of which were excellent," Coombes explains. "I didn't want to pass on them. It's sensible to grow the shorts programs, especially as many work together thematically."

Joining such tried and true programs as the PlanetOut Short Movie Awards, What Boys Like and What Girls Like is Futura, a collection of sci fi-theme shorts by women directors. In one of the Futura shorts, The Gendercator, a lesbian falls asleep in 1973 and wakes up in 2048. Gays and lesbians no longer exist — they have been subjected to sex reassignment surgery.

"I think we see this happen in the larger culture — think of Children of Men, The Fountain," says the film's director, Catherine Crouch, whose Rip Van Winkle-inspired satire will receive its world premiere on May 5 as part of the program. "We're uncomfortable with our own time, and we'll wonder what will happen in the future. I've never made a sci-fi film before, but the story fit."

In a case of quality trumping quantity, the MGLFF will honor the career of Israeli director Eytan Fox, whose four feature films include Walk on Water and Yossi and Jagger, on May 5. The festival will also unveil Fox's searing new drama, The Bubble, which depicts an ill-fated gay love affair between an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian.

"He continues to make films with gay and lesbian storylines, and one of his constant themes is the Israeli-Palestinian struggle," Coombes explains. "He's looking for peace."

The New York-born, Jerusalem-raised Fox is somewhat amused at following in the footsteps of previous MGLFF career achievement award recipients Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin) and François Ozon (Swimming Pool).

"It's a little confusing," says the openly gay Fox, age 42, who co-wrote The Bubble with life partner Gal Uchovsky. "These awards go to older people. And you can even get anxious wondering if such an award means you're too old, that you're at the end of your career. But to be appreciated in this way is a nice thing to happen."

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