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Sundance Preview

Sundance Preview

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The festival known for ground-breaking gay cinema has few queer titles this year, but gay filmmakers are out in force. Here's what to look out for.

Has Sundance gone postgay? It's hard to imagine, but this year's lineup for the landmark film festival raises that very question. Though the roster boasts perhaps more openly gay filmmakers than ever before, the number of programmed films featuring gay and lesbian content has dropped precipitously. Even Sundance stalwarts like Tommy O'Haver (Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss) and Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin) come bearing films with no gay content.

"The coming-out story is no longer the fresh story," explains John Cooper, director of programming for the festival, which runs January 18-28 in Park City, Utah. "Neither is what I call the 'gays are people too' story. Those movies are still going to be made, and I think they need to be made, but at the time, what's fresh, what makes your hair stand up?

For director Ian Iqbal Rashid, whose queer film Touch of Pink premiered at Sundance in 2004, it's not quite that simple. Rashid is bringing his sophomore feature, How She Move, to this year's festival, and though there's nothing overtly queer about the film's story line (which chronicles a high school student's unlikely interest in competitive step-dancing), he thinks there's more to it than just what's on the surface.

"I do believe that a film can have a queer sensibility without necessarily being explicitly about LGBT characters or story lines," he says. "But I also believe there's still a need for stories where queerness is named and explicitly articulated--and yes, I still believe there's a need for coming-out stories."

A substitute trend this year may be films exploring the hot-button intersection of homosexuality and religious faith--in particular Save Me, arguably the most high-profile gay movie at the festival. Directed by Robert Cary and cowritten by Craig Chester (creator of last year's Adam & Steve), the film features gay thesps Chad Allen and Robert Gant and is coproduced by their production company, Mythgarden. Save Me is set in a New Mexico "ex-gay" ministry, where an evangelical woman (Judith Light) finds herself drawn to one of the young men in a way that challenges her beliefs--especially when he falls in love with another man.

"I thought it was important in Save Me to create a place that wasn't horrific or extreme because I wanted to tell a story that had a sense of compassion for characters on both sides," says Cary. "I wanted to tell this story in a way that doesn't judge the characters before their actions speak for themselves."

For Allen, who had just finished the religious film End of the Spear, that evenhanded approach was particularly important. "There's nothing to be inherently afraid of when it comes to homosexuality," he says, "but how do we reconcile that with the religious doctrine we were taught when we were young?"

Gant agrees: "As a little boy I had excitement and enthusiasm about God. It's heartbreaking to see the extent to which, for many gay and lesbian folks, it gets subjugated. We're all equal participants in God's world and [have] the right to have a spiritual life."

That's also the premise of Daniel Karslake's For the Bible Tells Me So--the likely queer standout in the documentary lineup--which explores the ways conservative Christian groups use the Bible to justify antigay discrimination around the world. Among others, the film profiles V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church (and its global body, the Anglican Communion), and Chrissy Gephardt, the lesbian daughter of former U.S. representative Dick Gephardt. Both figures discuss their very public declarations of homosexuality and the ripple effect of their actions through politics, religion, and culture.

Ultimately, these films at Sundance will be hoping for a similar reach.

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Kyle Buchanan