Festival of FESTIVALS

By Rich, B. Ruby; Steele, Bruce C. | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), August 31, 1999 | Go to article overview

Festival of FESTIVALS


Rich, B. Ruby, Steele, Bruce C., The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


No longer just a footnote to Pride, lesbian and gay film fests are bringing exceptional cinema--and greater visibility--to towns across the continent

Just above Hollywood Boulevard on a cool summer evening, Tinseltown's gay and lesbian power players mingled with do-it-yourself festival programmers and zero-budget filmmakers from all over the country. Spilling out of the modern all-glass house into the backyard dominated by a shimmering pool lit from underwater, people such as Kirsten Schaffer and Justine Barda, who put together the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival out of a one-room office, were elbow to elbow with "industry" bigwigs. Among them: the party's host, Brace Cohen, producer of this fall's hotly anticipated Kevin Spacey drama American Beauty and a longtime board member of Outfest, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. This cross-section of talent focused on the nurturing of gay film was unprecedented--and so heady that Schaffer left her sunglasses by the pool after stripping down to her skivvies for a dip with representatives of New York City's Mix Festival.

The occasion was not just the opening weekend of the fest but also Outfest's Summit '99, the first-ever conference designed to share the trade secrets of gay and lesbian film festivals. "It was like boot camp for festival directors," Seattle's Barda says approvingly. "It was hard to believe that something like this hadn't happened before, since so many [gay and lesbian] festival directors come to their jobs without a lot of festival experience."

Summit '99--the brainchild of Sundance Film Festival programmer and Outfest board member John Cooper and Outfest codirectors of programming Shari Frilot and Shannon Kelley--included roundtable discussions on how to pamper filmmakers, seminars on new cinema and video technologies, and dialogue between small-town film programmers and big-time distributors, who often hold access to the popular movies that festivals rely on to draw audiences.

Was it useful? "It was a blast," says Summit '99 coordinator Loren Roberts. "At the final brunch Cooper asked, `Would any of you be interested in doing this again next year?' and every single hand in the place went up."

In many ways the conference seems the culmination of a decade of learning and remarkable growth by organizers, programmers, filmmakers, and audiences. But 1999's festival season is not over yet: In the hometown of the University of Texas, a street banner proclaims the approach of the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival, beginning August 27, and film programmers in Tampa, Fla., Seattle, and other cities are busy preparing their fall events.

As the millennium approaches, film festivals are as vital a part of the lesbian and gay social landscape as weekends in gay resorts or the annual pilgrimage to the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. In this age of cyber superconnectedness existing alongside real-world isolation, the festivals are still one key place where local gays and lesbians get together to affirm and reinvent themselves. They are a unique location, neither entirely public nor private, neither a bar nor a parade, where audience really and truly means community.

"Outfest is one of the few opportunities that gay and lesbian people from all pats of L.A. can cross lines that they don't usually cross," says outgoing Outfest executive director Morgan Rumpf. "You see the leather daddies in the lobby with members of the Coalition of Older Lesbians, and you think, These are two communities that may not mingle that often."

From early June through mid July, the three largest U.S. festivals--Outfest, New York's the New Festival, and the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, presented by Frameline--each draw tens of thousands of people to see hundreds of features and shorts and attract corporate sponsors ranging from giant alcohol companies and film studios to local car dealers and furniture stores. …

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