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Sundance Diary:
The Final Countdown

Sundance Diary:
The Final Countdown

Smith_ingram

On his last day in Park City, Advocate arts and entertainment editor Alonso Duralde has close encounters with lesbians--the television kind and the Mississippi kind--and amused bear icon Kevin Smith

I realize, in looking at my early entries, that I've been doing a lot of bellyaching about the altitude and the attitude at Sundance, so let me lay this one on you: After Saturday's PlanetOut Queer Brunch, I was making my way down Main Street with some friends when it suddenly started snowing. And we're talking big, fat flakes, the kind that cover hats and mittens and stylish black parkas. These giant snowflakes were scattered about by the wind, the kind of wind that blows snow onto your tongue and that inspires writers to use the word wafting. Bear in mind, I've spent most of my life living in Atlanta or Dallas or Los Angeles, three places where snow occurs rarely or never, so I'm totally unjaded about this particular brand of precipitation. For that one moment, the din of deal-making and product-whoring and scene-making was drowned out by my own internal soundtrack of Vince Guaraldi.

Monday, January 23

8:35 A.M.: I wake up feeling more rested than I have since arriving in Utah, and decide to dash over to the Eccles to see if I can snag a press ticket for the 9:15 A.M. screening of writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait's new comedy Stay. I don't know much about the movie, but my buddy Jack Plotnick (Girls Will Be Girls) is in the cast. And besides, I've always been a fan of Goldthwait's directorial debut, Shakes the Clown.

9:13 A.M.: Holy mother of Robert Redford, I make it on time and I get a ticket. I give Jack a big hug downstairs before dashing up to the balcony to find a decent seat. As I get settled in, my cell phone rings--it's devoted reading-attender Dave Kittredge, who's calling me from about 25 seats to my right, so I pick up my stuff and join him for the screening. Stay turns out to be a hilarious and shocking comedy about a woman who finds herself haunted by a bizarre sexual moment in her past (and I'm not telling you what it is) when her fiancee demands that there be "no secrets" between them. The first two thirds of the movie are consistently, gut-bustingly hilarious, but there's a chunk of fairly serious drama to get through before a funny, happy ending. A return to the editing room to smooth out the abrupt shift in tone could easily turn Stay into a much-talked-about outrageous comedy for grown-ups. (And Jack, incidentally, gives an exceptional performance as the heroine's meth-abusing straight brother.)

10:55 A.M.: I'm chatting with indie producer and acquisitions exec Eric d'Arbeloff (Super Size Me) in the Eccles lobby before I realize that I need to make tracks, and pronto, to the Prospector Square to catch the world premiere of Small Town Gay Bar. I had told my festival chum (and the film's director) Malcolm Ingram that I'd be there by 11, and at this point I'm going to have to dash to make it by 11:30, when the movie starts.

11:29 A.M.: One seemingly endless bus ride later, I go running into the lobby of the Prospector. I can't find the usually helpful publicist Jim Dobson anywhere with my ticket, but I spot Malcolm in the lobby and just follow him into the house. I plop down into an aisle seat in what turns out to be an islet of cool lesbians--archivist Kim Yutani, whom I've known since she worked on Gregg Araki's Totally F***ed Up, is sitting two seats to my left; and behind me are filmmaker Silas Howard (director-star of By Hook or by Crook and former guitarist for Tribe 8) as well as producers Steak House and Valerie Stadler. Their short film What I Love About Dying is screening before Small Town Gay Bar, and it's a moving and funny salute to Kris Kovick, a legend in San Francisco's spoken-word scene whose sense of intelligence and irreverence carries her through to her own death of breast cancer. After the short ends, it's time for the feature, and I hope for one last time that I like the movie, because I've had a great time hanging with Ingram and his boyfriend, Chris, and I really don't want to have to go the "Hey, congratulations on getting it finished" route. (Another thing to say to someone whose movie you don't like, per festival veteran Jenni Olson, is "You must feel so excited right now.")

1:00 P.M.: No need for euphemisms--I'm blown away by Small Town Gay Bar. Maybe I was expecting something sort of whimsical or "inspiring," but Ingram has crafted an ode to what we really mean when we call ourselves a "gay community." Looking at two bars in Mississippi--one that's about to be sold and one that's about to reopen--the film shows us how, for people who live in rural areas, the local gay bar is the only place where people can go to be themselves and find other people with whom they have any kind of kinship.

And in addition to introducing us to the drag queens and butch dykes you might expect to see in a documentary with this title, Ingram takes his camera into the belly of the beast, interviewing religious hatemongers Fred Phelps (who gets just enough screen time to become wholly ridiculous, not that he wasn't already) and Tim Wildmon. In perhaps the film's funniest sequence, Wildmon--whose father Donald founded the American Family Association, where Wildmon fils also toils--professes a live-and-let-live philosophy about gays while the film's queer interviewees remember how Donald Wildmon and other AFA members would write down license plate numbers of cars that visited gay bars, then would read those numbers on the radio the next day. Ultimately, Small Town Gay Bar is a powerful portrait of gay men and lesbians who refuse to decamp for gay meccas like New York, San Francisco, or even Dallas: They choose to stay and fight--to lead the lives they want to lead in the place they've always known as home.

The post-screening Q&A is a lovefest, especially when Ingram brings to the stage Lori and Ruby, the owners of Meridian, Miss., bar Different Seasons, whose grand reopening is featured in the film. The audience gives them, and the movie, a standing ovation, bringing Ingram to tears. (He later kvetches about having done so, but I tell him, "Oh, please. Everyone in that audience will be telling people, 'You should have been there; the director cried,' and they'll be mad they missed it.")

2:40 P.M.: After hanging out at Queer Lounge with Chris and Gay Bar producers Matt Gissing and Andre Canaparo, all of whom are jubilant over the film's enthusiastic reception, I make my way up Main Street for my scheduled interview with Ingram and the film's executive producer, Kevin Smith. Halfway there I find Ingram, Smith, and Jim Dobson making their way down the street to the Queer Lounge--where the interview will now be taking place--so I fall in with the group. Smith, whom I've interviewed for the magazine, shakes my hand while puffing on a cigarette. "No offense, but how can you smoke up here?" I ask. "I can barely breathe at this altitude."

"I need the cigarette to breathe at all, sir," he replies.

Let me tell you--if you ever wonder what it would have been like to walk through Memphis as part of Elvis Presley's entourage, walk down Main Street in Park City in the middle of the Sundance Film Festival with Kevin Smith. A hero to no-budget filmmakers everywhere since the success of Clerks, Smith is a god here. And a benevolent one too--no request for a photo or an autograph goes ignored. As you can imagine, getting him off the street and into the Queer Lounge takes some time.

While I wait for Ingram and Smith to do interviews with ABC and Q Television--I meet Chrisanne Eastwood, who's written for The Advocate in the past, but only now do I match her name with the spike-haired bespectacled lady in the Q promo pictures-- I chat with Kevin's wife, Jennifer, who met the writer-director when she interviewed him for USA Today. We talk about writing and about the Smiths' young daughter and various other topics, and I realize that she is indeed as bright and charming as Kevin always portrays her to be in his blog. At some point I also meet another Q personality, the very sexy and personable Honey Labrador, who's been a very present presence at all the queer events at Sundance.

As for my own interview with the boys, I'm saving it for the magazine, but I'll drop one little tidbit: It wasn't until Ingram came out, and identified himself as a bear, that Smith had ever heard of the whole "bear" concept. "Are you kidding me?" I ask him. "You're like a poster boy for the bear community, right up there with..."

"...that guy from Home Improvement," Ingram and I say simultaneously, referring to Family Feud host Richard Karn.

6 P.M..: It's the big Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination party at Queer Lounge for the announcement of the 2006 GLAAD Media Award nominees, and once again, it feels like the entire Queer Nation, Entertainment Division, is there. I run into my old pal (and Advocate contributor) Dennis Hensley, with Jack Plotnick, whose work in Stay I praise. The place starts getting more and more crowded, and something very bizarre happens--I'm asked to go stand on the red carpet and take a picture with GLAAD's new head dude: the Republican former mayor of Tempe, Ariz., Neil Giuliano. The camera has never been my friend, but I play along as best I can. And while I've had my occasional issues with GLAAD over the years--I still flinch over its persecution of Seriously, Dude, I'm Gay and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back--I must say that its party has the best (and most) food of any reception I've attended at Sundance. And any nonprofit that gives me decent hors d'oeuvres is OK in my book.

At one point I realize that Paris Is Burning director Jennie Livingston is standing behind me, so I pay homage and remind her about the night we spent in a country-western bar with Willi Ninja back in the early '90s when the two of them were on tour promoting the film. I step out for a second and run into Jenni Olson (hey, awesome dykes, what's with all the Jenni/Jennie/Jennys? I'll have to ask PlanetOut entertainment editor Jenny Stewart sometime), who introduces me to none other than Daniela Sea, the hot new cast member on the latest season of The L Word. ("Leave it to this show," my boyfriend noted when she first walked on-screen, "to find an androgynously butch woman who could still work as a couture model on the side.") The three of us get into a really interesting conversation about movies based on the work of Charles Bukowski, and suddenly I'm having one of those transcendent "Sundance moments" that people always want to experience here.

7:40 P.M.: I was hoping to say goodbye to Malcolm and Chris, but they're off at a Variety party over in Deer Valley, and I have to get back to my room and pack up so I can hop out of bed and catch my 6 A.M. airport shuttle.

7:50 P.M.: Or maybe not. My shuttle service just called to say oops, the person who took my reservation didn't write down whether I wanted a shared van or a personal driver, so now the van is full and all the personal drivers are booked, so too bad, and here's the number of another shuttle service. I call the other service and find out that their 6 A.M. van is packed, but they can still get me into the 5 A.M. van. My apologies to you guys at Here who invited me over for cocktails at 10:30; I have to pack all my sweaters and my Airborne and my souvenir T-shirts into my crappy old suitcase and get some sleep. So good night and farewell, Sundance--if I were younger and in better shape, I'd spend all day watching movies and all night drinking free sponsored cocktails, but there's just so much of you I can handle. But next year I'm going to see if I can find a chic little tote bag that carries a snappy little tank of oxygen, because, dang--I'm bushed.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Alonso Duralde