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More Movies, Bigger Audiences: Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival Continues to Grow in its 7th Yea

More Movies, Bigger Audiences: Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival Continues to Grow in its 7th Yea

More Movies, Bigger Audiences: Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival Continues to Grow in its 7th Year

by Jonny Leahan

Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival opening night host Bea Arthur with pianist Billy Goldenberg (left) and festival director of operations, Jaie Laplante. Image courtesy of Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

With a record 84 films on the slate, and audiences up 20 percent, the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival wrapped this week, finishing strong in its seventh year. The ten-day festival, which ran from April 22 – May 1, has become one of the key festivals on the GLBT circuit, as the caliber of submissions continues to rise. “We have been delighted at the quality of films available to us,” Carol Coombes, the festival’s program director, told indieWIRE. “The festival continues to grow in strength, prestige and reputation each year, and I am personally very delighted that we have been able to platform a number of new and important films.”

The festival kicked off with an opening night gala hosted by the ultimate drag queen, 81-year-old Bea Arthur, who is an avid supporter of GLBT rights and AIDS research. The evening’s sold-out screening was “The Dying Gaul,” directed by Craig Lucas (“The Secret Lives of Dentists,” “Longtime Companion“), starring Patricia Clarkson, Campbell Scott and Peter Sarsgaard. Afterwards, DJ Oren Nizri rocked the Skylobby at the Bank of America Tower, while partygoers filled up on tasty treats and guzzled Absolut cocktails.

Among the standout feature films at the fest was the US premiere of Lionel Baier‘s “Garcon Stupide,” a cunning story about 20-year-old Loic (Pierre Chatagny), an emotionally challenged stud who is seeking to create some substance in his life. Chatagny’s raw performance as a small-town Swiss boy who has just moved to the vibrant city of Lausanne is fraught with longing, as Loic struggles to hold down a job at a chocolate factory while turning tricks at night. Whether they’re paying customers or strictly for fun, Loic is invariably emotionally detached from the experience, until an older man named Lionel responds to his online personal ad.

The man surprises Loic, throwing him off his usual routine, as he looks past the physical and insists on a connection. Although Loic doesn’t know how to respond at first, he is strangely drawn to Lionel, and slowly he begins to learn how to feel — and how to think beyond the surface of things. As he half-heartedly attempts to pursue interests like photography and art history, curious enough to grow but perhaps not bright enough to truly focus, Loic nonetheless begins to unfold into a whole human being, and the awkward transformation is a thing of complicated beauty.

Nick Wauters‘ “Ryan’s Life” also tells the story of a boy coming of age, but from a somewhat lighter perspective. “It’s a semi-autobiographical twenty-four minute comedy about a sixteen-year old kid who comes to the realization that he might be gay, and the first date he goes on.” Wauters told indieWIRE. “I wanted to do something fun, light-hearted and positive… to show a regular kid trying to find himself, going through all the problems a 16-year old goes through, but on top of it all, he also happens to be gay.”

Winners of the audience award “Little Man” director Nicole Conn, producer Daniel Jacobson and Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival program director Carol Coombes. Image courtesy of Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

“Ryan’s Life” has been such a crowd pleaser that when Meredith Kadlec from Here! TV saw the premiere last October, she asked Wauters to develop it into a series for the channel. “That’s something you dream of hearing,” says Wauters, “but you never think will actually happen. If I could, I would frame that moment and hang it on my wall. It was so surreal. I’ve spent the past few months writing the first season of the show, which I will also direct.”

In fact, there were a number of striking short films at the festival, and programming them is taken very seriously, with Planet Out sponsoring some very generous awards totaling $15,000. Among these, Abe Sylvia‘s “Feltch Sanders” won for best comedy, and had audiences roaring with laughter. The film, which takes place in the ’70s, tells the story of a couple of male private detectives named Feltch and Blossom who are searching for a wealthy man’s missing boy toy, and in the process find themselves confronting issues about their own relationship.

Shot on 16mm, the film’s most distinctive quality is its ’70s look. “Actually it was the format that inspired the film,” Sylvia told indieWIRE. “UCLA requires that all first years work with 16mm, which at the time, seemed to me looked like 1970s television. So since I couldn’t get my mind around 16’s inherent aesthetics, I decided to embrace them. I’ve since learned that 16 is quite beautiful, but at the time I let it dictate my choice of subject matter. Strangely enough, all the choices I made celebrating the uniqueness of 16 really served the quirkiness of the film.”

In addition to the shorts prizes, there were a number of juried awards. Best Fiction Feature went to Gregg Araki‘s brilliant “Mysterious Skin,” reviewed earlier this week in indieWIRE, starring Brady Corbet, Elisabeth Shue, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Best documentary went to Marion Lipschutz‘s “The Education of Shelby Knox,” about a 15-year-old girl’s transformation from a conservative Southern Baptist to a liberal Christian, as she fights for sex education and gay rights in small-town Texas.

The audience favorite feature went to Nicole Conn‘s “Little Man,” the true story of a boy who was born 100 days early, and his struggle to survive amidst family conflict. The audience favorite short went to Liz Lachman‘s “Getting to Know You,” about a cartoonist who can’t seem to find the right chemistry with the beautiful women she sleeps with.

Between the sold-out screenings, special presentations, and raucous parties, it’s clear that the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival has hit its stride. “I have to say, this festival was a blast,” says Wauters. “They really put on an amazing event, from the film selection, to the parties and receptions. There really was a sense of community, both among the audiences and the filmmakers.”

Sylvia agreed. “I had a blast in Miami,” he said. “I ended up having a really first-class adventure with the folks at the MGLFF, who showed me a great time. Good movies and cocktails poolside… What could be better?”

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