A Gay Old Time at the Movies: Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and Beyond

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I was sitting at the bar of the Yarrow Hotel at Sundance, escaping, like many do, the inside of theaters and warming up with some sustenance of the alcoholic variety. The most low-key and unassuming spots always turn out to be where you meet the film industry power players, and this night it was a well-known distributor who was boozing alongside me. We ended up comparing notes about the festival's film selections.

I mentioned a queer film I really enjoyed called Keep the Lights On, a wonderful exploration of a relationship that came unhinged at the hands of meth addiction. My fellow imbiber heatedly agreed before adding, "And that's great, 'cause gay films usually really suck." I chose to not take the unintentional bait that was set up for me, but found myself half-nodding in agreement.

Gay films can really be bad. Not just run-of-the-mill bad or "got lost along the way" bad, but the kind of train wrecks where you hope there are no survivors, because life after that would probably be too impossible to bear. A former colleague of mine would describe this problem as "My girlfriend gave me a camera for Christmas, so I should make a movie" syndrome.

These aren't so-good-it's-bad films -- I am a big fan of schlock cinema,

but that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking bad ideas

that are badly made. Much like celebrities running amok without anyone

with the chutzpah to pull them aside and say, "What the fuck are you

doing," many queer filmmakers are working without a net or anyone to

tell them, "No, actually that's not a good idea." Maybe it's because fewer established filmmakers are willing to take a chance on a gay film. Maybe it's something else. Either way, guidance is tantamount

to success. So what inevitably happens is that each year there's a sea

of guidance-less cinematic shit, and among them a few treasures that are

floating along waiting to be saved.

That's where film festivals

come in. They rescue the good ones, and drag along some of the mediocre

ones for the ride. Whether they have a life going forward is up to the

rest of us as audiences.

Today, the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival

kicks off its 14th edition in South Beach with little fanfare. At one

point in its history it was one of the top ten LGBT festivals in the

country. Those days have long passed, though, as the last few

editions have seen declining attendance and little recognition for it

locally or abroad. While the organization is struggling to stay relevant

amidst other highly successful local LGBT events, this year's program

offers a gleam of hope for its future.

Films like Vito, Elliot Loves, and Mosquita & Mari are obvious choices for the festival, and strong ones with good buzz. Yet it's the inclusion of films like Jobriath AD, Speechless, and Angel that

are most encouraging, because they are films on subjects that don't

usually play well with traditional audiences: transgender identity, LGBT

Asia, and underground music, for example. Their inclusion shows the

festival is challenging Miami audiences to step up and out of their

comfort zone and tackle aspects of LGBT life they've historically chosen

to ignore at the cinema. While there are a number of films that look

promising (Unfit: Ward vs. Ward, Taboo Yardies, Taking a Chance on God and 30 Years From Here among them) my "don't miss" recommendation is the incredibly charming Codependent Lesbian Space Aliens Seeks Same,

a delightful ode to 1950s science fiction films that is exactly about

what the title implies, and is a sheer and simple delight.

While on the subject of queer cinema, here's one that needs to be added to your Netflix queue immediately. Pariah

is the stellar feature film debut from Dee Rees that premiered at the

2011 Sundance festival to universal acclaim. It is the coming out and

coming of age story of a young black lesbian in present day Brooklyn,

and arguably one of the greatest LGBT films of the last decade -- an

emotionally charged and unabashedly real look at a queer youth of color

finding herself. It's just been released on Blu-Ray, DVD, and OnDemand

from Focus Features, and I can't recommend it enough.

So go ahead and put the remote down (Drag Race will

be there when you return) and have a gay old time at the cinema. Will

all the movies be great? No -- no film festival can promise as much. But

much like a hookup on Grindr, you can't just judge it by the pictures.

Sometimes the biggest surprises are those that are unfurled in front of

your eyes.

--Kareem Tabsch, co-founder and co-director of O Cinema

Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami.

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