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The best film
festival I ever ate

The best film
festival I ever ate

Mglff

The recent Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival offered a tasty menu of international cinema. But those festival-sponsored dinners at South Beach restaurants were delicious too. Another festival diary by the Advocate's arts and entertainment editor.

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 Cafe, one of South Beach's many sidewalk cafes. 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 Francois 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 Quinceanera, 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.

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