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Mooning over the
Miami LGBT film festival

Mooning over the
Miami LGBT film festival


Writer Harriette Yahr heads to SoFlo and tells us what movies are making waves on the festival circuit.

Sun, fun, movies, queer flamenco dancers: The Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival finished its ninth run Sunday night, May 6. Audiences were treated not only to a solid program of 29 features and a record 71 shorts, but the kind of ramped-up hospitality that's put Miami in the top tier of the LGBT festival circuit.

Highlights on the flick front were Latin-themed pics, lesbian offerings, several premieres, and the PlanetOut Short Film Awards. Standout fiestas included the opening-night gala that lit up the Miami skyline in festival-theme orange, a "centerpiece" street fair, and plenty of after-parties to make this cinema celebration worth the ticket--and the trip. Over 120 out-of-town filmmakers attended, with lively post-screening Q&As adding a welcome dose of intellectual curiosity to the mix.

What better place than the fictional home of Nip/Tuck to premiere a film about the quest for eternal youth? Opening night brought The Picture of Dorian Gray--Oscar Wilde's classic tale about youth and beauty obsession gone mad, updated by director Duncan Roy from the Victorian England setting of yore to 1980s New York City. David Gallagher, who plays Simon on 7th Heaven, stars as Gray in an adaptation that left the Miami audience sympathetic to its themes of vanity/aging/artifice and intrigued by its dark art-world setting, yet with nothing great to say. With any adaptation, if we've read the book, we're interested in whether we're able to let all we've experienced in our imagination go and take in the story anew--will what we see on the screen be more compelling, or less? Roy's Gray was indeed compelling, as it elicited strong love/hate reactions. And though Miami's take was thumbs-down on the whole, Roy stood by his cinematic vision, citing the artistic risks he took and suggesting that people "read [Wilde's] book, then they'll be able to appreciate the film."

2 Minutes Later is that rare gay and lesbian film that's actually gay and lesbian. Director Robert Gaston's second feature is part mystery, part tale of unexpected friendship--a semi-closeted insurance adjuster hooks up with a no-nonsense lesbian private eye (who does her dicking-around in high heels) to solve the mysterious vanishing of his twin brother. So were boys and girls equally captivated? It's hard to say: Everyone enjoyed the pic that the Miami festival guide called "a happily queer CSI: Philadelphia," but it screened against The Gymnast--a strong lesbian draw that has nabbed several LGBT festival awards. To Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival programmer Kelly Burkhardt, who attended the Miami screening, Gaston's low-budget caper with male and female queer leads is a festival programmer's delight: "Typically, it's pulling teeth to get men and women into the same screenings. 2 Minutes Later is a welcomed change."

For sex on the screen--specifically, straight porn-turned-lesbian style--there was Triple X Selects:The Best of Lezsploitation, a clip reel culled from several sexploitation films spanning the mid '60s to early '80s--think Bare Behind Bars or Daughters of Lesbos. The footage compiled by aficionado Michelle Johnson (a.k.a. DJ Triple X), featuring the likes of sinning nuns, Swedish wildcats, and sexed-up inmates, was originally created for a male audience but is now flipped for lesbian pleasure. What Lezsploitation does well is remind us that arousal is in the mind of the beholder, and that the production and consumption of erotic images is complicated subject matter. Something amazing about Lezsploitation was the contextualization by Johnson that accompanied the clips: She took the sex-versus-exploitation thread head-on, while emphasizing her love of the groovy soundtrack that inspired the clips to begin with. Also of note were--lest we forget--the women's bodies that were once celebrated as sexy, with small breasts and pubic hair to boot. Wolfe Video will release Lezsploitation later in the year as part of its Vintage Classic Collection.

Hot Latin guys, love, sex, real estate: East Side Story, directed by Carlos Portugal, was a perfect fit for Miami. The film tells the tale of Diego, a closeted Latino working in his family's Mexican restaurant, who falls in love with Wesley, a hunky closeted realtor. Others in the "Peliculas en Espanol" program included the U.S. premiere of Los Dos Lados de la Cama (TheTwo Sides of the Bed)--director Emilio Martinez-Lazaro's sequel to The Other Side of the Bed, his last romp about modern relationships. Some characters from its forebear are finally ready to commit, but...their girlfriends have other thoughts in mind. For musical fans, bursts of song and dance accompany the narrative (far too many for my liking). The upbeat Madrid vibe and bisexual "love who you love" message makes the ride worth it.

Tick Tock Lullaby tells the charming tale of lesbian couple Sasha and Maya, who are on a quest to find Mr. Right (or, rather, Mr. Right Sperm) as their window of reproductive opportunity ticks away. British filmmaker Lisa Gornick was on hand to accompany her film's East Coast premiere (she last attended Miami with her debut feature, Do I Love You?). Artfully crafted, with leads Gornick and Rachel Cassidy on mark, Tick Tock Lullaby delivers.

Other chick-flick standouts were The Chinese Botanist's Daughter, a lush epic directed by Dai Sijie that could pop off the screen at any mainstream fest; and Four Minutes, by director Chris Kraus, set in a women's prison in Germany, where a young inmate and elderly woman unravel their secret pasts. Four Minutes isn't a lesbian Oz; it's much more. And Itty Bitty Titty Committee, Jamie Babbit's rebel-arousing call to action for womyn of all cup sizes, made its East Coast premiere.

Now back to the men, the out men. If you were a fan of Slutty Summer, or if you like the idea of gay actors actually playing gay roles, you won't want to miss A Four Letter Word, Casper Andreas's new film about love (and sex) Chelsea-style, cowritten by Jesse Archer, who plays the lovable slut, Luke. There's some witty lines in it and smart conversations you don't hear every day in films--like a debate over the difference between loving sex and sex addiction--and definitely some hot guys (the naked yoga scene was memorable), but flat execution and some off-the-mark performances drag the film down into the head instead of the heart. Still, the Miami men loved its light, fey humor feel.

The Curiosity of Chance by director Russell P. Marleau is an excellent coming-of-age film perfect for the inner teenager in all of us. Think of it as a queer Pretty in Pink. Chance Marquis is an out and eccentric 16-year-old who rallies an unusual team of friends--outcasts, drag queens, and a straight jock he's crushed out on--to triumph over his high school's resident homophobic bully. (Marleau and the adorable "jock," Brett Chukerman from Eating Out 2, attended the screening.) TheCuriosity of Chance gets my vote for a GLAAD Media Award and should be required viewing in high schools everywhere, for the tolerance and fun of it.

Just as gay culture has migrated north from South Beach to Fort Lauderdale, so has the festival, in part. Eight films were screened this year at Lauderdale's very gay-friendly Gateway Theatre. Included in that mix was Lulu Gets a Facelift, an endearing portrait (directed by Marc Huestis) of San Francisco drag icon Lulu as he journeys through plastic surgery. Lulu is Dorian Gray's soul in the flesh, aging-drag queen style. Also here was the premiere of Hollywood KINK: Leather and SM in the Movies, a clip reel presented by Joshua Johnson of South Florida leather club goLeather. KINK connects some popular films to common perceptions, and misconceptions, about the leather and kink world.

Shorts, shorts, more fabulous shorts: The Miami festival screened a record number of shorts this year, expanding slots to accommodate what festival programmer Carol Coombes called "so many amazing queer short films from all around the world." Its programs included "What Girls Like," "What Boys Want," "Futura," and "Youth Truths," as well as SHOUT! The HBO GLBT Short Film Competition and the eighth annual PlanetOut Short Film Awards. Abbe Robinson took home the PlanetOut Grand Prize ($10,000) for Private Life. Catch these shorts and other Miami films as they make their way around the fest circuit; next stop: NewFest in New York City, starting May 31.

Festival winners were:

Jury Prize, Documentary: Red Without Blue (Brooke Sebold and Benita and Todd Sills, directors)

Audience Award, Documentary: Emile Norman--by His Own Design (Will Parrirnello)

Jury Prize, Fiction Feature: The Bubble (Eytan Fox)

Audience Award, Fiction Feature: (tie) The Bubble and The Chinese Botanist's Daughter (Sijie Dai)

Jury Prize, Short Film: Float (Kareem Mortimer)

Director Eytan Fox (The Bubble, Yossi and Jagger) was honored with a Career Achievement Award, sponsored by HBO.

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Harriette Yahr