Gay-theme programming has made a rapid rise to general acceptance in the movie and television industries, and on the public stage as a whole. In the last month Boys Don't Cry, an arthouse feature based on the true story of a Nebraska teen, snagged a Best Actress Oscar for Hilary Swank, while If These Walls Could Talk, 2 pulled in the highest ratings for an HBO original movie in more than three years.
So it's timely that the second Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival opens on April 11. Building from last year's successful launch, this event offers an eclectic mix of features, shorts, documentaries, and video projects. Festival entries include features with Hollywood pedigrees, more adventurous fare from independents, as well as projects from Spain, France, Germany, Brazil, and a host of other nations.
Following the lead of larger G & L fests in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, festival director Robert Rosenberg plans a series of filmmaker panel discussions each day of the event, which runs through April 16, and parties for every night. "The idea is to provoke an interchange between the filmmakers and their audience," said Rosenberg in a recent interview with the New Times. "We want to create an environment where there's an exchange of ideas about filmmaking, as well as a place for community sharing" (see sidebar).
The sharing kicks off on Friday with the Florida premiere of Punks (see review this issue), a gay buddy comedy produced by hip-hop music mogul Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds. A blend of romance, comedy, and music, this look at black and Hispanic gays in L.A. will be followed by a discussion with writer/director Patrik-Ian Polk.
Hollywood also weighs in on April 14 with But I'm a Cheerleader (see review this issue), a comedy feature about a lesbian teen whisked off to a homo rehab boot camp with hilarious results. Cheerleader features a star-studded ensemble: RuPaul Charles, Cathy Moriarty, Bud Cort, Mink Stole, and Julie Delpy in a cameo role. Another comedy with Hollywood connections closes the festival on April 16. The Broken Hearts League makes its East Coast premiere after screening at this year's Sundance Film Festival in Utah. This first feature effort from writer/director Greg Berlanti, co-executive producer of the WB series Dawson's Creek, stars Dean Cain (best known the Man of Steel in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman). Both Berlanti and Cain, as well as producer Mickey Lidell, will attend the screening and be on hand for an audience discussion.
International film fare is another highlight this year, with an array of foreign films and a strong slate of Spanish-language projects. A brace of Spanish gay comedies includes Perdona Bonita, pero Lucas Me Quería a Mí (Excuse Me Sweetie, but Lucas Was in Love with Me), touted as "a giddy mix of high camp, black humor, and murder mystery." Directors Felix Sabroso and Dunia Ayaso will be at the screening and follow-up discussion on April 12. On April 15 Pon un Hombre en Tu Vida (Put a Man in Your Life), another Spanish comedy, puts a gender spin on the switched-identity concept when a male soccer coach and a female pop singer trade bodies but not libidos. Segunda Piel (Second Skin) features Spanish heartthrob Javier Bardem from Jamon, Jamon and Boca a Boca, as the homme fatale in a hot romantic triangle.
France is represented by Pourquoi Pas Moi? (Why Not Me?) on April 13. It's a tale of three lesbian pals and their gay male best friend who plan to come out to their parents during one farcical weekend in Barcelona. Director Stephane Giusti is scheduled to attend the screening and audience discussion that follows.
An ambitious historical biopic, Germany's The Einstein of Sex, screening April 14, follows the life of an early twentieth-century gay-rights activist, Magnus Hirschfeld. On April 15 Sweden's Show Me Love offers a sweet coming-of-age tale of two lesbian teens.
This year's selections are particularly strong on documentaries, headlining with a sneak preview April 12 of the feature-length Paragraph 175, the latest effort from two-time Academy Award-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Celluloid Closet and Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt). Narrated by actor and Miami Beach resident Rupert Everett, Paragraph 175 tells the story of homosexuals during the Holocaust. Epstein will attend the screening and take part in the discussion that follows.
The festival also features the world premiere of Chronicle of an Ordinance, from Miami's award-winning Cuban-American filmmaker Sergio Giral. Chronicle, scheduled for April 15, looks at the political and civil-rights struggle surrounding Miami's 1998 law banning discrimination by sexual orientation. Giral will attend the screening and audience discussion.
Another documentary highlight is the Florida premiere on April 15 of My Girlfriend Did It. The film addresses the little-discussed issue of lesbian battering. Screened in conjunction with Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it also features a follow-up panel discussion with experts on the subject.
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Fiction and documentary shorts get ample screen time, too, scheduled as companion pieces to nightly features or in lesbian and gay series on their own. Some adventurous fictional short projects include Back Story, a cross-dressing "almost operatic short musical film"; Rick and Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World, a stop-action boy-toy story; and Can I Be Your Bratwurst, Please?, starring gay-porn icon Jeff Stryker, who is scheduled to attend the screening and a reception that follows.
Short documentaries on the bill include My Femme Divine, a plaintive tale of love lost; and Scent Uva Butch, an adults-only homage "to the butch in all of us." The Most Unknowable Thing looks at the shifting currents of gay identity and family relations as a lesbian filmmaker follows the story of her gay brother and his struggle with HIV.
On video comes perhaps the festival's most intriguing offering: a three-part program of the innovative British television series Queer as Folk, a watershed drama about three gay men living in London. The U.S. premiere of Queer as Folk -- the Sequel is teamed with two screenings of earlier episodes.
This year's festival also includes a number of panel discussions and no small number of parties: seven in six days. Audience attendance is projected at 8000 for the six-day event, well above last year's 5000 mark. Festival officials call ticket sales "brisk," with an anticipated complete sellout of all events prior to opening night. Additional screenings are planned to accommodate high-demand films. For specific information of screening dates and times, call the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival at 305-534-9924, or check the Website at www.miamigaylesbianfilm.com.