It's a movie about overcoming inhibitions that challenges sexual boundaries and it contains a strangely erotic phone-sex masturbation scene that comically involves what to do with a spunky sock. So, yeah, it makes a certain amount of sense to 26-year-old gay filmmaker Kyle Patrick Alvarez to premiere his first movie, Easier With Practice, in Las Vegas at the six-day 11th annual Cinevegas, which kicked off June 10.
"Vegas is a city that markets itself off of sex and sin, so having a film that does deal with sex in the way this one does seems to fit," said Alvarez, whose movie is based on a nonfiction essay in GQ by writer Davy Rothbart about his phone-only romance with a stranger named Nicole that climaxes in their eventual, surprising meeting. "The festival, like my film, is edgy in an interesting way."
Indeed, this year's Cinevegas is shaping as such a showcase for a remarkably diverse array of GLBT-themed pictures as well as a special honor for Jon Voight, this year's Marquee Award recipient for a body of work that includes, as his first major role, that of the naive male hustler in Midnight Cowboy . The lineup promises to be the queerest ever at Cinevegas and shows how far it's come since 2004, when the young event's gay quotient included a screening of the Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely and a showing of Before Night Falls, about gay Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas, in conjunction with honoring director Julian Schnabel.
"I think the film that's probably going to make the biggest splash at this year's festival for the gay community is the film Beautiful Darling ," said artistic director Trevor Groth, who doubles as programming director for the Sundance Film Festival. "It's a documentary about Candy Darling, the transgender actress who worked with Andy Warhol. She was an iconic figure in that day and I love seeing all the archival footage of the scene and the pop art and the glamour. I get swept up in it every time I see it and I think it's going to be a real discovery at the festival."
Another documentary that delves into the same era to some extent is It Came From Kuchar , an intriguing look into the lives of gay filmmaking twins George and Mike Kuchar, who are scheduled to attend the movie's three Vegas screenings and receive the festival's Vanguard Director award. The Kuchars are legendary schlockmeisters whose low-budget cult films starring their friends, neighbors, relatives, and students were the quintessence of the 1960s and 1970s "underground cinema" movement, but director Jennifer M. Kroot brings the decidedly weird duo into the present day as well through extensive interviews with the likes of Pink Flamingos auteur John Waters, who credits them as a major inspiration.
Alvarez had submitted Easier With Practice to Sundance and was asked by Groth to instead premiere it at Cinevegas. The young director, who quit a gig as Warren Beatty's assistant to pursue the making of the $1 million picture, is grateful, hoping that the Vegas audiences will enjoy the first entry of a career in which he is eager to examine issues of sexuality in a variety of ways.
"Some of the films I loved growing up always dealt with gay issues but never immediately, films like Chuck and Buck and Mysterious Skin ," said Alvarez, whose partner of five years, Gary Barbosa, is also his art director.
Whether the main character of Easier With Practice is gay is an important question mark in the film, but another movie at this year's Cinevegas, Humpday, features a pair of definitely straight college buddies in Seattle who dare one another to make a gay porno together for a Seattle alt-weekly newspaper contest. The surprise of the film, which won director Lynn Shelton a special jury prize at Sundance this year, is how deftly it allows the two male leads' difficulties with engaging in same-sex relations to be insightful about their views of masculinity without devolving into homophobia.
Beyond the full-length films, Cinevegas will also showcase a cluster of gay-related short films including:
* A four-minute film made in college by Milk star James Franco called The Feast of Stephen, based on the hyper-homoerotic poem by Anthony Hecht
* The woman-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown-thanks-to-her-crazy-shrink tale Countertransference, which won Best Dramatic Short at the 2008 Outfest
* Nancy Boy, about a neo-Nazi tormented by gay desire
* The Transformation of Genesis P-Orridge, a true story about a transgender woman's desire to look identical to her deceased transgender lover
* The Young and Evil, about a self-destructive gay teen bent on acquiring HIV who aggressively pursues an AIDS prevention counselor
Cinevegas runs June 10-15 at the Brenden Theatres at the Palms Hotel-Casino. For more information and for tickets, visit Cinevegas.com .