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 GLAAD,
Outfest Say Yes to Sundance

 GLAAD,
Outfest Say Yes to Sundance

Mormons poured millions of dollars into a successful effort to pass California's anti-gay marriage Proposition 8. And ever since the election, there's been talk among gay people about a ban on all things Utah, including the Park City-based Sundance Film Festival. But now two prominent gay groups -- the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and Outfest -- have announced that they will participate in the prestigious film showcase.

Mormons poured millions of dollars into a successful effort to pass California's anti-gay marriage Proposition 8. And, ever since then there's been talk among gay people about a ban on all things Utah, including the Park City-based Sundance Film Festival, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in January. But now two prominent gay groups -- the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and Outfest -- have announced that, despite calls for a boycott, they will participate in the prestigious film showcase.

"Some have suggested that staying away from Sundance will help make a statement that will help our cause," GLAAD president Neil Giuliano said in a statement released this week. Yet for many LGBT filmmakers, Sundance is their single most important opportunity to ensure their stories about our community reach a broad audience, and they are not in a position to stay away from that opportunity. We certainly respect those with a different view, but we believe we must be there, be visible, and ensure the LGBT community has a place to come together."

GLAAD runs the Queer Lounge, which launched in 2004 as a central hub for LGBT filmmakers at the festival. And Giuliano asserts that if GLAAD decided to pull out of Sundance and, as a result, didn't host the lounge, it would end up hurting gay and lesbian filmmakers more than it would the Mormon Church, whose members' donations accounted for more than 45% of the money raised by the Yes on 8 campaign.

Instead of a boycott of the festival, what seems to be gaining more ground is a boycott of specific businesses that donated to Yes on 8, including the Cinemark theater chain, whose CEO contributed $9,999. Sundance's director of programming, John Cooper, who married his partner of 19 years just days before the 2008 election, told Advocate.com that while dropping Cinemark as a screening venue for Sundance isn't an option, he would never pressure a filmmaker to screen a film or attend a Q&A at a Cinemark theater.

As of press time, none of the films in competition at Sundance from LGBT filmmakers are scheduled to screen at Park City's Cinemark theater.

"We share the anger at those in the state of Utah -- and across the country -- who were the principal financial backers of a measure that eliminated fundamental rights from gay and lesbian Californians," Giuliano said. "But the state of Utah is also home to many sincere and committed members of the LGBT community and our allies who stand with us on our quest for full equality. We are continuing with Queer Lounge with them in mind, and with a desire to not be rendered silent or invisible at one of the most important opportunities to increase our visibility in the entertainment industry and across the country."

Similarly, Outfest deputy executive director Kirsten Schaffer said a ban of Sundance wouldn't have the effect on the Mormon Church most people would hope for. What would suffer is the festival and filmmakers whose careers often take off as the result of Sundance. In fact, Sundance headquarters isn't even in Utah -- it's based in Los Angeles.

"We are disappointed and angry that individuals and businesses in Utah made financial contributions to the Yes on 8 campaign," said Schaffer, who will attend Sundance in support of the Outfest-sponsored Queer Brunch. "However, that is not cause to boycott Sundance, a nonprofit arts institution that has no direct connection to the Yes on 8 campaign and that has been a longtime champion of LGBT films and filmmakers. It is more important then ever for queer people to have a presence in Utah."

A boycott of Sundance, in fact, might just have the opposite effect on the Mormon Church. Film director C. Jay Cox, whose film Latter Days -- based in part on his experiences growing up a member of the church -- made headlines when it was banned from showing in some Utah cinemas a few years back, suggests that the Mormon Church might actually prefer the gay community boycott the film festival.

"I'm my experience, Mormons view Sundance as this invasion of liberal heathens into their righteous state," Cox told Advocate.com. "I'm mostly talking about the church hierarchy. But for the gays to boycott, these are people that they're morally opposed to. They'd just think, This is great."

Both Schaffer and Cox say that calling attention to individual businesses and donors who made contributions to Yes on 8 is a smarter approach than a ban of the entire festival.

Outfest, for one, features anywhere from three to 12 films each year after they premiere at Sundance, Schaffer said. Landmark films including The Eyes of Tammy Faye and Hedwig and the Angry Inch made their debuts at Sundance before going on to play at Outfest.

A boycott of the festival would also result in the cancellation of the Queer Brunch, which has long been a major fund-raiser for Outfest.

Regent Media, parent company of The Advocate and Advocate.com, will also return as the sponsor of the Queer Brunch.

"Instead of boycotting Sundance, this is an opportunity where the eyes of the media are all on Utah," Cox said. "Sundance offers a much greater opportunity for the gay community to draw focus."

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