Monday afternoon at Sundance's Filmmakers Lounge, GLAAD held a panel to discuss "Keep the Lights On," the latest drama from Ira Sachs playing in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. The event, dubbed "What Modern Queer Cinema Looks Like" (moderated by New York Magazine's Kyle Buchanan), was quick to address the state of the New Queer Cinema; a term established at a Sundance panel twenty years ago. Returning from the original panel was critic B. Ruby Rich, writer of the original Sight and Sound articles on the New Queer Cinema movement.
Rich and Sachs sat on the panel with "Keep the Lights On" actor Zachary Booth, co-writer Mauricio Zacharias, and cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis.
The panel eventually became a conversation about "Keep the Lights On," with plenty of expected questions ("What was it like being naked on set?" "What was it like to smoke those fake drugs?"), but the most important part of the conversation came early on, when the filmmakers discussed the evolution of queer films, and where "Keep the Lights On" belongs in their history.
"People often ask me why the New Queer Cinema started," Rich said. "And I always say four things: AIDS, Reagan, the invention of the camcorder, and cheap rent… 'Keep the Lights On' is very much a film from after that moment, and Ira's film is inventing a new kind of New Queer Cinema."
"Queer cinema has, in general, been in the weeds for a while," said Buchanan. "I think with this film and also with 'Weekend,' from last year, we're moving past the coming out story and moving onto relationships. It's an evolution which might be a reflection of what the gay community is fighting for right now."
"Once there was a name for New Queer Cinema," Sachs added, "it seemed like there should be some kind of trajectory in some ways. A lot of what changed in New Queer Cinema is similar to what has happened in independent cinema, so it's very interesting to be at Sundance discussing both. In independent cinema, there was a point where we really were independent. And then it became a genre, and then it became a genre that could be perpetuated by the economics of the industry, so it became an industry term. And I think that's the same thing that happened in queer cinema, because it's the kind of thing that should be an industry, but there is no apparatus for it to perpetuate itself. So we have to find a way to be able to tell these stories, as well as find a way to get audiences to see them."
"I had the pleasure of seeing "How to Survive a Plague," Rich said just before she had to leave, "And to my great astonishment, midway through the film, when AIDS was still fatal, a beautiful young man turns to the camera and says, 'Will the last person in Chelsea please shut the lights off before you leave.' I think it's so fitting that Ira's film is called 'Keep the Lights On' and I think it's a great message for us and a great way to think about the period we just passed and the period we are entering."