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Don't Slam Sundance

Don't Slam Sundance


The excitement around this year's Sundance Film Festival has been muted by talk of boycott in response to Mormon efforts to pass Proposition 8. Director and Sundance veteran Gregg Araki explains why he thinks turning your back on the film festival is exactly the wrong approach.

Like many, I was outraged by the campaign of lies that Yes on 8 flooded the airwaves with last fall. We are so easily lulled into complacency living here in "life is good" Los Angeles (or any progressive city, for that matter), that having our civil rights stripped away was both a kick in the gut and a wake-up call. Since Prop. 8's passage, I've marched the streets, avoided El Coyote (easy, since the food sucks anyway), and was one of the few in the industry calling for the resignation of Richard Raddon, the Los Angeles Film Festival director who contributed $1,500 to Yes on 8. I spoke out not as an act of vengeance but because I truly believed Raddon should take responsibility for his actions and step down. It had nothing to do with his Mormonism and everything to do with the fact that he wasn't just some shlub working at Fox or a junior agent at CAA; he was the director of a nonprofit festival whose stated mandate is to "promote tolerance." He shouldn't be giving money to a group that fosters ignorance and bigotry against any minority. Period.

That said, the proposed boycott of Sundance is a completely different situation. First off, there is no direct connection between the festival and the Yes on 8 haters. Sundance, by circumstance, happens to be located in a deeply red state and therefore does business with Prop. 8-supporting vendors there (Cinemark runs the Holiday Village cinemas). In fact, the festival already has announced that no film will screen exclusively at the Holiday Village, so you could conceivably still boycott Cinemark and not miss a single movie in the program. And for those suggesting the festival be moved to a more gay-friendly state obviously, they don't realize the strategic and logistical impossibility of that option.

But more important, a Sundance boycott would end up being a profound disservice to the gay civil rights movement as a whole. I don't think anyone can deny that visibility is a crucial aspect of our struggle for equality. And Sundance, with its mission to champion diversity, has always been especially supportive of LGBT films and filmmakers. My film The Living End , Todd Haynes's Poison , Tom Kalin's Swoon , Rose Troche's Go Fish , Jim Fall's Trick , and many, many more all had their premieres at Sundance. And the festival is not just about the snow, crowds, and agents running around schmoozing on cell phones. It's also about the critical mass of media covering the event, which makes it a place where films and filmmakers can be discovered-so their voices are actually heard amid the miasma of popular culture. I've often said that the New Queer Cinema movement of the early 1990s wouldn't have existed without the media writing about it-and Sundance is what brought those films, filmmakers, and journalists together in the first place.

What's most heartening of all, though, is the fact that Sundance's quest to promote diversity is actually working. Over the years I've had many people, often from remote, oppressive small towns, tell me how they came out of the closet because of some film of mine. I even noticed a few of these folks out pounding the pavement at the recent massive No on 8 rally in L.A. The bottom line is that those people would never even have heard about those films without Sundance. And that's how a movement is made, little by little, with hearts and minds being opened one at a time. Keep chipping away, soldiering on. And, for God's sake, don't let rage make you so blind you wind up attacking our most devoted and dedicated allies!

The Best of the FestA few reasons to dust off the snowshoes and head to Utah

Although there's still talk of a potential boycott of the Sundance Film Festival, programmers have chosen many gay films for the festival's 2009 lineup. One of the year's most high-profile gay movies will debut at the festival: I Love You Phillip Morris , the true story of imprisoned con artist Steven Jay Russell (Jim Carrey), whose love for cellmate Phillip (Ewan McGregor) led him to pull off four (fleetingly) successful jailbreaks. Will the film take the lowbrow road and make a running joke of gays and prison sex? It's directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the screenwriters of cult favorite Bad Santa, so here's hoping it'll be a smart, acerbic comedy instead.

If the thought of Carrey in a same-sex clinch doesn't quite set gay hearts aflutter, there's Dare , the story of a nerdy high school kid whose lust for his bad-boy classmate finds unexpected reciprocation. Director Adam Salky adapted the story from his short film (part of Boys Life 5); then the bad boy was O.C. hunk Michael Cassidy, and now it's Friday Night Lights star Zach Gilford.

The other high-profile gay movie of the festival is La Mission , starring Benjamin Bratt in a film written and directed by his brother Peter. The former Law & Order detective plays a macho Latino father living in San Francisco's Mission district who can't accept his teenage son's homosexuality.

There are plenty of gay names behind the camera at this year's festival, including the director Adam Elliot (who thanked his partner on-screen while accepting a short-film Oscar in 2004). His comedy Mary and Max is the festival's unconventional opening-night premiere: a Claymation comedy voiced by Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman and narrated by Barry Humphries (a.k.a. Dame Edna). For those in the mood for something darker, there's The Informers , directed by Gregor Jordan and adapted from Bret Easton Ellis's novel about a decadent Los Angeles crowd of intersecting people (including Winona Ryder, Billy Bob Thornton, and Brad Renfro in his final role), one of whom may be a vampire.

Director R.J. Cutler was granted unparalleled access for his behind-the-scenes documentary The September Issue , which chronicles the yearlong effort required by the Vogue staff (and its iconic editor Anna Wintour) to assemble the September issue, considered the "fall fashion bible" of the industry. Discerning festivalgoers should seek out the shorts program for Jenni Olson's 575 Castro St. , which plays the audiotape Harvey Milk recorded to be made available in the event of his assassination, and Julian Breece's sure-to-be-controversial The Young and Evil , about a gay black teenager who attempts to seduce an HIV-positive man into infecting him with the virus.

Finally, there's Humpday , described as "a farcical comedy about straight male bonding gone a little too far." How far remains to be seen, but we're reserving our hopes in that arena for Rudo and Cursi , which reteams Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna as soccer rivals. Sadly, the potential for an Y Tu Mama Tambien reenactment may be tempered by the fact that the two play brothers -- then again, it is Sundance. -- Kyle Buchanan

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Gregg Araki