The best film festival I ever ate

By Alonso Duralde

Originally published on Advocate.com May 18 2006 11:00 PM ET

Thursday, April 27 

Why is a woman flying from Los Angeles to Miami in April
wearing fur?
This is just one of the questions
going through my mind as I board a cross-country
flight that will take me to the eighth annual Miami
Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, which I’m attending as
both a correspondent for The Advocate and as a
participant. Last year I wrote a goofy little tome for
Advocate Books called 101 Must-See Movies for Gay
Men,
and with the encouragement of Miami filmfest
codirectors Carol Coombes and Jaie LaPlante—and the
technical expertise of my friend Dave Kittredge, a
supremely talented editor and filmmaker—I now
have a discussion and clip show that I’ll be
premiering in Miami.

But all that lies
ahead of me. Right now I’m boarding a plane behind a
fur-clad woman. Other questions going through my mind
include, Is it some kind of awful travel karma that
ensures that a crying baby is guaranteed to be
sitting within three seats of me?
and Is it
George W. Bush’s fault that the back-punishing
seats in American Airlines’ coach class now
violate the Geneva Convention?
 

By the time I
reach Miami—where L.A.–based
publicist-around-town Jim Dobson, who handles P.R. for
the Miami fest, is waiting to take me to my
hotel—I want nothing more than to take a hot bath and
collapse. Lucky for me, the festival is putting me up
in South Beach’s historic Park Central Hotel,
and my room comes complete with a bathtub spacious enough
for my bodacious ampleness. I take a hot soak, I put
on a bathrobe, and I’m ready for bed. Until I
look through my toiletry kit and realize I forgot to
pack Tylenol PM, earplugs, and other sleepy-time
necessities. Cursing myself, I get dressed, trudge
downstairs, and ask the front desk guy where the
closest 24-hour drugstore is. “Two blocks over, and
five blocks down,” he tells me, in a voice that
suggests that I’m just spitting distance away.

Not quite. For
one thing, even though it’s round midnight on a
Thursday, it’s very popular around here to rev
one’s apparently muffler-free motorcycle while
zipping around Ocean Drive. (Did I mention that my
cross-country flight left me with a pounding headache on top
of my back-and-shoulder misery?) Also, even though
it’s late, it’s hot in Miami.
Like damp, sticky, moist, muggy hot. Mind you, I grew up in
Georgia, went to college in Tennessee, and spent most of the
’90s in Texas, so I’m no stranger to
humidity. Living in California for seven years,
however, has stripped me of my capacity to deal with it, so
I feel like Shelley Winters in The Poseidon
Adventure,
slogging through a solid wall of water
in a baggy ball gown. And then there’s the homeless
guy who decided to let me pass him so he could walk behind
me for several blocks, but I just look at that as an
incentive to practice some power walking. I get to the
store and buy what I need. I take a cab back to the
hotel, but any convenience is outweighed by the
driver’s insistence on blasting reggaeton at
full volume. A broken man, I make my way upstairs and
finally get to sleep.

Friday, April 28 

I wake up
refreshed, all homicidal thoughts towards motorcyclists and
dancing cabbies banished from my mind. After a quick visit
to the press check-in, Dobson and I grab lunch at News
Café, one of South Beach’s many sidewalk
cafés. We’re very near Eighth and Ocean, an
address that I later discover resonates with viewers
of an MTV reality show I’ve never seen. Fashion
Week has just ended in Miami, and among the people who walk
past as we eat is Nick “Heck, yeah, I’m
gonna win this thing” Verreos from Project
Runway.
(In case you didn’t watch the
show—he didn’t.) Also walking past are
the beautiful people of South Beach, and I realize an
odd paradigm about Miami: All the men look gay here. At
first I think it’s just because I’m in
town for the gay film festival or because I work for
The Advocate or whatever, but no, the men
here—at least some of whom are actually
straight—have all adopted the West Hollywood/Palm
Springs universal gay resort look. Tank tops, long shorts,
sandals, overinflated chests and arms (with skinny
legs), and orangey tans are all the norm here. Do the
straight dudes who have adopted this look realize how
queer they look? Or is it just that the standards of Miami
Beach read as faggy to out-of-towners?

It’s a
mystery. And one I don’t plan on solving today
because it’s still crazy humid. I should be
sightseeing or swimming or something, but I am
humidity’s bitch, and I spend the afternoon in my
air-conditioned hotel room.

That night, after
a festival-sponsored cocktail party—just a quick walk
from the Versace mansion—I head to the fest’s
host theater to check out François Ozon’s
powerful new film, Time to Leave, about a gay
photographer who finds out he has very little time left to
live. Part of my work this weekend will be to
interview the film’s star, Melvil Poupaud, so I
need to check out the goods. I’ll be writing more
about it later for the magazine, but suffice it to say
that the film continues Ozon’s tradition of
being one of the most powerful and unpredictable
filmmakers, queer or otherwise, working today.

I run into my
favorite festival fun folks—critic B. Ruby Rich and
Strand Releasing copresident Marcus Hu—and we
all decide to grab dinner afterwards. Melvil joins us,
as Strand is the U.S. distributor for the Ozon film,
as well as Kennedy (a fest volunteer who’s driving
the Frenchman around during his Miami visit) and
Dobson. Dobson—as always, a man with
connections—has snagged us a table at Wish, the
restaurant in The Hotel, which boasts design by Todd
Oldham.

You know those
dinners that stretch on for hours? Not that you’re
eating the whole time, but you’re having a
conversation that never dies down, so you wind up
being at the table much longer than usual? The Spanish call
this sobremesa, and it’s one of my favorite
things about getting together with my family. This is
one of those dinners. We talk a lot about movies,
obviously—Melvil, who seems indifferent to a lot of
contemporary filmmakers, shocks us all by telling us that he
and many people in France think that one of
today’s most important and thought-provoking
filmmakers is Mr. Twist Ending himself, M. Night
Shyamalan—but also about a variety of other topics.
The food is all extraordinary, but the talk even more
so. Finally, at around 1 a.m. or so, we realize that
we’re one of the last groups in the restaurant and
hesitantly call it a night.

Saturday, April 29 

After another
great night’s sleep, I meet up with Marcus and Melvil
for breakfast at Puerto Saguas, which Dobson has
highly recommended. The restaurant serves a delicious
and reasonably priced breakfast, including
“Cuban toast” (a lengthy section of baked
bread split lengthwise and packed with butter) and a
reverse of the American way of serving
coffee—the cups come filled most of the way with warm
milk, and we get little pitchers of hot coffee to pour
in. When we enter, we see Ruby already there, chatting
with documentary filmmaker Lesli Klainberg, who’s
at the festival with Fabulous! The Story of Queer
Cinema.
(Full disclosure: I’m interviewed
in it. So are Ruby and Marcus, for that matter.)

After eating,
Marcus and Melvil and I walk through Miami Beach to the
theater, where I’ll be doing a tech run-through for
my 101 Must-See Movies program later in the
day. The humidity, thankfully, has cleared up, so even
though it’s a lengthy walk, it’s not a death
march. While Miami Beach is undeniably touristy,
there’s a unique local flavor here, thanks
greatly to the huge Cuban population. Even with the
occasional beach-towel-and-flip-flops souvenir store, Miami
Beach doesn’t look like any other seaside area
I’ve ever visited.

The tech
run-through goes smoothly. There’s a moment of panic
when it becomes apparent that the festival’s
somewhat vintage-y DVD players won’t
freeze-frame when paused, but the tech guys get new players
in no time at all, and everything is set to roll.

While waiting for
the DVD player issue to be resolved, I duck into a
“Meet the Festival Programmers” panel
discussion. Having been a programmer myself—at
Dallas’s USA Film Festival—I enjoy hearing the
Miami folks give answers to the questions I often wish
someone had bothered to ask me. Carol Coombes talks
about how each individual film requires lengthy
negotiations and has a unique set of
complications—Will the movie be done on time?
Has the distributor decided not to do any more
festivals? Are they locked into a premiere at another
festival at the same time? People tend to think that
festival directors have every movie in the world
sitting in front of them, and it’s just a matter of
saying, “I want that one and that one, but not
that one.” Trust me, it’s lots more
complicated than that.

Before my
presentation, there’s a screening of Fabulous!
I’ve watched the film on TV, but I’m
morbidly curious to see what my absurdly large head
looks like on the big screen. (And I’m not just being
self-conscious, mind you—I’ve literally had to
order headgear from a Web site called
BigHatStore.com.) The audience loves the film, and I guess
the cinematographer took pity on me, since I don’t
wind up looking like one-fourth of Mt. Rushmore during
my interviews.

Then I do my
101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men show, and
frankly, it’s all a blur to me. But people are
effusive afterward, so I hope that means that it went
well. Melvil tells me, after seeing the clip of Ryan
Dunn putting a condom-covered toy car up his nether regions
in Jackass: The Movie, that he understands why
I included the film in my book. And a quick shout-out
to Miami’s Books and Books for handling my
postscreening book signing.

And then
it’s off to another festival dinner, this time at
Tamara, on the back patio of the National Hotel. Ruby
observes that the lush foliage of the hotel’s
back courtyard is very reminiscent of Cuba, and since
she’s one of the few people I know who’s
actually been there, I take her word for it.
Tonight’s dinner takes place at a huge table, so I
can’t begin to ID everyone, but in addition to
the previous night’s folks, we’re joined
by the gregarious Jaie LaPlante, Another Gay Movie
costar and executive producer Jonah Blechman, and by a
cadre from the film Boy Culture, including
actor Darryl Stephens of Noah’s Arc fame,
producer Steven Israel, and writer-director (and
Advocate columnist) Q. Allan Brocka. Once
again, great food, great conversation. Part of me
always feels like an interloper at the grown-ups’
table at events like these, but we all have a blast.
Afterwards, the streets of Miami Beach are jammed with
tourists and taxis, so Darryl and I decide to forgo
grabbing a taxi and to walk back to our hotel. We’ve
never met prior to this evening, but the chat flows
freely, and before we know it, we’re back at
the Park Central.

Sunday, April 30 

I head out with
the intention of snagging breakfast at Puerto Saguas
again, but just after I exit the hotel, I hear someone
calling my name. I look up, and sitting at the Park
Central’s outdoor Casablanca restaurant is
Malcolm Ingram, his mom, and his boyfriend. Readers of my
Sundance diary for this site may recall that Malcolm
directed the wonderful documentary Small Town Gay
Bar
and that he and his boyfriend, Chris, and I
quickly hit it off in Park City. I knew
Malcolm’s film was screening in the Miami fest, but
since he had to fly up to Birmingham to show the movie
at that city’s gay and lesbian festival, I
wasn’t sure when our paths would cross. It’s a
treat to see the boys again and to meet
Malcolm’s mom, to whom he came out just a few
months ago, when his movie made it into Sundance.
She’s a character and clearly very comfortable
with her son and his fella.

After breakfast
with the three of them, I make my way to the theater to
participate in the “Beyond Brokeback Mountain”
panel, in which I’m supposed to come up with
something substantial to say about the future of queer
cinema. Thankfully, the panel also includes Ruby, Lesli,
Marcus, and Another Gay Movie writer-director
Todd Stephens (his previous flicks include Gypsy
83
and Edge of Seventeen), so I hope I come
off at least pithy by association.

Then it’s
back to The Hotel to interview Melvil. There’s any
number of places we could have sat and done it, but I
suggest his room because I want to see what Todd
Oldham did with the interiors. It’s all very
groovy, of course, but dang, do those French guys like to
smoke. I always feel a little odd doing an interview
with someone with whom I’ve been talking for
several days—you never know when they’ve
already given you their best stuff over a
drink—but he’s got lots more to talk about.
Look for the interview in The Advocate this
summer.

I return to the
hotel to grab a late lunch–early dinner with Malcolm
and company—as well as a friendly, if overly
earnest, writer from A Bear’s Life magazine
who grills Malcolm and me about our thoughts regarding
being queer, bearded, and chubby—before we all
head to downtown Miami for the closing-night screening of
Another Gay Movie. The screening is held in the
Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, a gorgeous old
theater—I like to think that every major
American city managed to save at least one of them.

Before the movie
starts, the fest announces the winner of the jury
prizes. When they start talking about the documentary award,
it occurs to me for the first time that Malcolm could
win this thing. And he does! He goes onstage and is
charmingly flummoxed and at a loss for words. He
brings his mom onstage.The crowd loves it.

And then we watch
Another Gay Movie. It’s a incredibly
naughty and ribald gay spoof of American Pie,
Porky’s,
and any number of other hetero
gross-out T&A comedies. Only this one’s really,
really dirty. Hilarious, yes, but filthy. Not that
there’s anything wrong with that—except
that Malcolm’s mom is sitting just a few seats away
from me. Malcolm keeps turning to me during the
screening and saying, “My mom is here! My mom
is watching this movie!” He predicts a few of the
more shocking punch lines and warns her to avert her
eyes, but for the most part, she winds up getting
something of a queer baptism by fire.

We put
Malcolm’s mom in a cab afterward—whether
she’s traumatized by the movie or just tired
isn’t exactly clear. At the wonderful closing-night
party across the street—in a bank, complete with
bartenders in the teller cage and an open (and
presumably empty) vault—one gay Miami film patron
after another walks up to talk to Malcolm. And they all say
the same thing: (1) Congratulations on winning! I
loved your movie/acceptance speech! and (2) All during
that movie tonight, all I could think was,
Malcolm’s mother is watching this!

P.S. On my way
back to L.A., I stopped by the USA Film Festival in Dallas
to introduce some screenings of gay films (including
Sundance winner Quinceañera, the Parton-fanatic
documentary For the Love of Dolly, and
Malcolm’s Small Town Gay Bar) and to do a
Q&A with Fabulous! As always, I had a
blast, but there were two significant new venues I got to
experience. One was NorthPark Center’s new AMC
Theaters, and let’s just say that to call this
multiplex huh-yooge would be an understatement. The other
was the Hotel Belmont in Oak Cliff, a mid-century
motel that has been lovingly refurbished. It’s
the perfect balance of retro charm and modern
conveniences, for those of us who like to fantasize about
1950s-style auto travel but don’t want to
forfeit having wireless Internet service or
Kiehl’s products in the bathroom.