Reel Travel: When Journalist Dennis Hensley Vacations, He Looks for Dark Theaters, Drama, and Happy Endings

Article excerpt

I OFTEN GET GUFF FROM TRAVELING companions because I like to go to the movies when I'm on vacation. "We're in Maui," my now-ex-boyfriend once scoffed, "and you want to go sit in a dark room and watch Casino Royale?" Yes, I do. So there.

So it's no surprise that my favorite getaways often revolve around gay film festivals. They're a magical mix of three things I love: movies, travel, and gays. I've done festivals as a volunteer, a filmmaker, a journalist, and a regular patron, and, like watching Beyonces "Single Ladies" video, it never seems to get old. You can have my gay film festival lanyard when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

The love affair began in the early 1990s, when I signed up to volunteer at Outfest in my hometown of Los Angeles. It seemed like a great way to meet nice, smart, potentially datable guys. A favorite memory involves stealing kisses with a fellow volunteer in a storeroom at Outfest's main venue, the Directors Guild theater complex in West Hollywood, while unpacking promotional teddy bears for RSVP cruises. Fluffing those plush bears was to us what working that pottery wheel was to Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in Ghost. And just like Swayze's character in Ghost, the guy vanished into thin air not long afterward. Still, I'm a big proponent of film-lest flirtation because you always have an opening line: "Seen any full-frontal nudity lately? Want to?"

Since that first volunteer stint, Outfest has been my favorite time of the year--like Christmas, but instead of Santa you've got Bruce Vilanch hosting the big award show. Luckily, Outfest doesn't expect monogamy. In the last few years I've built trips around festivals in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Miami, and Austin. In Miami, the screenings are held just a few blocks from the gay beach, which comes in handy if a movie's a real downer, like say last year's Julianne Moore gut-churner Savage Grace. You can walk right into the ocean, never to be heard from again.

Festival screenings are often held in venues that are rich in history and spectacular in design, like the Castro Theatre in San Francisco (recently seen in Milk) and L.A.'s Orpheum, home of Outfest's star-studded opening-night blowout. This recently restored vaudeville-era movie palace hosted Judy Garland when she was still one of the Gumm Sisters: Talk about gay-icon history.

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Film festivals also offer a chance to meet the kinds of locals who might not hang out at bars and dance clubs. If you're lucky, you might be able to charm one into showing you the sights. …