The Rise and Fall of The New Queer Cinema? Re-Assessing The State of Gay & Lesbian Film
by Eugene Hernandez
The phrase “New Queer Cinema” has long been associated with a landmark panel on January 25, 1992 here at the Sundance Film Festival. According to one attendee, the gathering brought together Christine Vachon, Gregg Araki, Todd Haynes, Derek Jarman, Jennie Livingston, Tom Kalin, Christopher Munch, Isaac Julien, and Marlon Riggs, among others, for a conversation that was moderated by writer B. Ruby Rich. Eleven years later, at a panel yesterday here at the Sundance Film Festival, Rich returned to re-assess the state of gay and lesbian film.
“Every movement has its moment,” Rich explained in her opening remarks, seated on a panel with Anne Stockwell from The Advocate, Strand Releasing co-president Marcus Hu, writer of “Soldier’s Girl” Ron Nyswaner, “Camp” writer/director Todd Graff, and producer Andrea Sperling. “Every movement has its beginning and end,” Rich continued, adding that she feels that in the case of queer cinema today, this is “certainly a different moment — not better or worse.”
“Gays and lesbians were hungry to see themselves on screen,” offered Marcus Hu (who produced and released “The Living End” and later co-founded Strand), considering the birth of the movement, “We came up with our own ways to do it.”
This summer, I spoke to Hu about the topic for another article. “I’d actually call the article, ‘The Rise and Fall of The New Queer Cinema,'” he said in July.
The queer films made in the early ’90s featured more experimentation, explained Andrea Sperling (whose producing credits include “The Living End,” “Desert Blue,” and “Pumpkin”) during the panel. “The stories seemed to be new,” she said at the panel. Today, she continued, the stories are “more and more mainstream, there does not seem to be as much experimentation.”
“To have panelists at the Golden Globes is not something that would have happened 10 years ago,” said Rich, referring to the fact that 1992 New Queer Cinema panel participants Christine Vachon and Todd Haynes were unable to participate in Monday’s discussion due to their Globes nominations for “Far From Heaven.”
“With gay representation so readily available on TV, cable, etc., filmmakers aren’t up to creating the edgy gay imagery like Araki, Haynes, and Jarman,” continued Hu during our conversation in July. “Now it’s more like the mainstreaming of gay imagery, more like a homogenized version of gay lives.”
Four queer features were screened in competition at Sundance in 1992, along with a pair of queer movies in the Festival’s premiere section. “Without question,” explained the description of the panel in the 1992 Sundance Festival catalog, “Gay filmmaking is at the leading edge of the American independent-filmmaking movement in terms of innovation and aesthetic risk taking.”
Rich said that the most exciting queer films right now are coming from outside the United States. She singled out “Lan Yu” from China, “Madame Sata” from Brazil, Diego Lerman’s “Tan de Repente” from Argentina, and Monica Stanbrini’s “Gasoline,” which was recently acquired by Strand.
Among the queer-themed films screening at Sundance this year are Michael Burke’s “The Mudge Boy,” Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s “Party Monster,” Jane Anderson’s “Normal,” Mark Rucker’s “Die Mommie Die,” Todd Graff’s “Camp,” Thom Fitzgerald’s “The Event,” “Soldier’s Girl,” and Duncan Roy’s “AKA.”
If Sundance attendees need further proof that queer cinema is firmly established here in Park City, they should look no further than the growth of the festival’s annual Queer Brunch, sponsored by Outfest and PlanetOut.com (along with Fine Line, ITVS, Power Up, Sundance Channel, Wolfe Video, and indieWIRE), which welcomes gay and lesbian attendees (and straight friends) at Sundance. This year’s event, the seventh annual Sunday morning brunch, was the largest yet, filling the Grubsteak Resaturant to capacity with nearly 400 attendees at the casual affair, among them a large group of celebrities including Macaulay Culkin, Olympia Dukakis, Chloe Sevigny, Seth Green, Sarah Polley, and Illeana Douglas, among others.
“Queer film always seems to be at a crossroads, and I think that is perhaps the nature of outsider art,” assessed Outfest Executive Director Stephen Gutwillig in a conversation with indieWIRE following the panel. But he cautioned, “Those of us waiting for the next wave of the new queer cinema, with its inherent promise and new voices and gritty, guerrilla homemade qualities, are possibly out of step with what a lot of our audiences seem to be responding to at film festivals and in the mainstream … that’s the challenge that many of us face, and we have a hard time.”
Concluding on a positive note, he said, “The contribution that queer independent film makes to what I guess you would call the independent mainstream is both profound and now permanent.”
What do you think about the current state of queer cinema?