Sand and Cinema: The Miami Gay & Lesbian Fest Wraps in South Beach
by Jonny Leahan
Last week, the HBO Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival concluded after 10 days of non-stop parties, sun, and screenings. The sixth such annual event, the fest ran from April 23 - May 2, and although the bulk of the festival took place in South Beach, there were also screenings in Downtown Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, as the programs continue to expand.
The festival kicked off with the East Coast Premiere of Richard Day's "Straight-Jacket," starring Matt Letscher ("Good Morning Miami") as Guy Stone and Carrie Preston as Sally. The hyper-stylized film takes place in 1950s Hollywood, and follows leading actor and heartthrob Guy Stone on his quest to have the best of both worlds -- a closeted career in movies and a healthy sex life with plenty of men. "I've always been struck by how the Rock Hudson story would make the perfect Rock Hudson movie," said writer/director Richard Day. "A strapping, sex-crazed bachelor with a glamorous career has a secret he must keep from his virginal gal at all costs? It writes itself..."
After the screening, the gala continued across the street as VIPs gathered for Absolut cocktails, great food, and lots of mingling between filmmakers, industry types, and fans of the festival. Director Talmadge Heyward was there talking up his new documentary "Key West: City of Colors." The film chronicles the creation of the world's largest rainbow flag, stretching 1.25 miles, constructed by the flag's original creator Gilbert Baker.
"My crew and I were working in Key West on another project when we were told about this momentous event," said Heyward. "We knew that this had to be caught on film. What we didn't know was the rich history of Key West, it has a long history of diversity, and the flag represented that diversity. The challenge," he explained, "was to meld these two stories together, so it's sort of like building a house; the flag became the framework and the history wrapped around building of the flag."
The following evening, a surprise screening of Rodney Evans' "Brother to Brother" played to a sold-out house, even after the popcorn fire in the theater delayed the screening by about 45 minutes. The film takes place during the Harlem Renaissance through the recollections of Bruce Nugent, who founded the literary journal "Fire!!" with Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Wallace Thurman. As an old man, Nugent meets a gay, African-American teenager in a homeless shelter and they embark on a strange trip through his inspiring and historical past. The film won the award for best fiction feature at the festival.
Afterwards, those who didn't head to the bars caught the midnight screening of "The Raspberry Reich," directed by the controversial filmmaker Canadian Bruce LaBruce, who brought us "Hustler White" and "Skin Flick." The high camp satire explores the relationship between pornography and terrorism, and features plenty of realistic, if not real, sex scenes. At the center of the story is Gudrun, the sole female member of the radical group The Raspberry Reich, who hatches a scheme to kidnap the son of Germany's wealthiest banker and have him videotaped as "straight" terrorists use him to free themselves from heterosexual repression.
A far less explicit film about pornography was Marco Filiberti's Sirkian melodrama "Adored: Diary of a Male Porn Star." At the funeral of his wealthy father, Italian porn icon Riki Kandinsky (Filiberti) reconnects with his brother Federico (Urbano Barberini).
When the conservative brother visits Riki at home to discuss details of the estate, he meets his friend Luna and makes the startling discovery of Riki's porn eminence. In an attempt to deal with this revelation, he visits Riki on the set of his latest porn flick, and gradually their relationship is healed. Understanding the potential impact of fatherhood for someone who has become wrapped up in his own life, Federico tries to help Riki adopt a child, and the drama unfolds.
In addition to dozens of other features, the festival screened an excellent selection of shorts. One standout was Eric Rognard's "Oedipe-(n+1)" which was featured in the international shorts section. The film, set in a futuristic world, mixes Greek myth and modern science fiction, evoking "Gattica" and "Blade Runner." This truly unique entry from France won the best short prize at the festival.
The fest also hosted the PlanetOut.com Short Movie Awards for the third consecutive year, which gave cash prizes in five categories. Among the honored films was Colette Burson's "The Little Black Boot," which was the grand prize winner, and Cam Archer's "Bobbycrush," which won first prize in the experimental section. Tony Osso's "Stand By" received first prize in the drama section, and Gregory Duke's "The Night Life" nabbed first prize in animation. Written and produced by Canadian Steve Hutton, it features top-notch digital animation by Michael De Beer.
"I figured an animated vampire story or film-noir would be cool," said Hutton, "but [director] Gregory Duke wanted a zombie film, so I wrote a gay zombie vampire film-noir comedy. The biggest challenge with animation is that it's so much work for one person," he continued. "The animator does the cinematography, set decoration, costume design, and all the physical acting by himself. Now that 'The Night Life' is having so much success, I'm sure Michael will get the recognition he deserves."
Other festival awards included best documentary to Murray Nossel's "Paternal Instinct," which follows a gay New York couple on their quest for a biological child. The audience favorite award went to Franco Zeffirelli's "Callas Forever," inspired by opera star Maria Callas, featuring Fanny Ardant as Maris and Jeremy Irons as Larry, a gay has-been punk rock manager.
Overall, the filmmakers were very pleased with the Miami audiences. "We could not have paid an audience for a better reaction," said Michael Warwick, producer of "Straight-Jacket." "This was our first gay festival showing, and all of us, Richard [Day], Jack Plotnick, Miss Coco Peru, and myself were overwhelmed and touched by the strong reaction of the audience."
"It was just hugely gratifying to finally see the film as a whole play so well before its intended audience," said Day. "People loved Adam Greer and his thoughtful performance as Rick, and by the film's final scenes the audience's level of engagement had risen to the point where they were laughing continuously, and even applauded after the climactic scene's big dramatic moment."
Heyward was similarly pleased, noting: "We can't say enough about the response, not only from the festival directors but from the audience. Always this film ['Key West: City of Colors'] touches a place in everyone, whether straight or gay, about hope and acceptance. From the organization to the treatment of the filmmakers and the selection of films, the MGLFF is really becoming one of the premier festivals in the country."
Commenting to indieWIRE about the economics of gay filmmaking in general, Day said: "You constantly hear the same refrain from gay audiences and distributors alike -- why can't we get any decent-looking gay movies with competent acting, writing, and directing?," he says. "The answer is that there's no money available to make them. Those distribution companies and channels only pick up queer films after they've been made, and then at prices hilariously below what it cost to produce them. It's a good deal for these companies in the short-term, but it also pretty much assures that no professional-level gay films will ever exist, which blunts demand and slows the market's expansion. My hope, though, is that these favorable economics have caused gay companies to build a theatrical, DVD, and cable pipeline which will now clamor to be fed."
The festival closed with the East Coast premiere of Angela Robinson's "D.E.B.S.," produced by Andrea Sperling, who was the recipient of the Wolfe Career Achievement Award prior to the screening. The film started out as a short, winning the PlanetOut.com Grand Prize at last year's fest, and is now a full-blown action feature that draws inspiration from shows like "Charlie's Angels" and films like "Austin Powers."