Our Cinema, Ourselves

Just what we need: another film festival. As if we weren't already drowning in them. Miami Film Festival. South Beach Film Festival. Latin American Film Festival. Italian Film Festival. Brazilian Film Festival. Anti Film Festival. And the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, which runs for approximately seventeen weeks, being international and all.

Okay, cineastes, fasten your seat belts for the inaugural Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, scheduled for March 1999, but which tonight holds what its organizers are terming a "Coming-Out Party" -- feel free to roll your eyes -- at the Colony Theater. On the bill: a double whammy of Thom Fitzgerald's 1997 fiction feature The Hanging Garden and Tina Di Feliciantonio and Jane C. Wagner's twelve-minute 1997 documentary 2 or 3 Things but Nothing for Sure (about lesbian writer Dorothy Allison). To hear the new fest's executive director Robert Rosenberg explain it, we really need this one.

"First, there's an awful lot of film and video product by and about gays and lesbians that just doesn't get seen in a place like Miami," he begins, talking a mile a minute, "which has a limited number of art-house venues. Second, the community here is really hungry for these kinds of images about ourselves. Third, it seems that every other major city in this country has an ongoing gay and lesbian film festival: San Francisco, L.A., and New York, of course, but there are also smaller ones in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Chicago. And people think, 'Well, why doesn't Miami have one? South Beach is like, you know, gay mecca 101."

Well, Miami had a gay and lesbian film fest in the past, as Rosenberg hastens to point out: Queer Flickering Light, presented in 1993 and 1996 under the auspices of the Alliance for Media Arts. But Rosenberg notes that he and Don Chauncy, who ran Queer Flickering Light, "wanted to make the festival a separate nonprofit institution," one that was independent from the Alliance. "We would like to create a cultural institution for Miami that is from the gay community and speaks to and about the gay community," explains the 42-year-old Rosenberg, who moved here in 1994 after working as a professional festival programmer, arts curator, and filmmaker. His 1986 documentary about the history of the gay and lesbian movement in the United States, Before Stonewall, won an Emmy for Best Historical Documentary.

According to Rosenberg, in addition to feature-length fictional films, the festival plans to present documentaries, videos, and shorts. He envisions next March's ten-day wingding being much more than a mere group gathering in the dark to gape passively at a movie screen. "The general framework for the festival is to try to bring down as many -- if not all -- of the filmmakers for the major films that we're showing, to have them be here for a Q&A at the individual screenings and to take part in panels," he says in another speed-of-light explanation, "so that it becomes more of an active, mind-opening kind of experience where the artists and the people who view the art get to interact in a thoughtful way."

Tonight's bash, which includes a prescreening cocktail reception and postscreening dinner for filmmaker Fitzgerald, initiates what Rosenberg calls a "one-year rollout" for the festival, during which time its principals will attempt to establish visibility and amass a war chest. "We'd like to have programs throughout the year, maybe some special screenings." He imagines the festival becoming "a gay tourist event, which is also how we want to market it." Gangway, Carnival and Royal Caribbean!

-- Michael Yockel

The Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival's Coming-Out Party takes place Thursday, April 30, at 8:00 at the Colony Theater, 1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. Tickets for the film cost $15. Call 534-9924 for info about the cocktail reception and dinner.