Southwest Gay & Lesbian Film Festival 2005
In only its third year of existence, the Southwest Gay & Lesbian Film Festival has grown by leaps and bounds. You'd be hard-pressed to dismiss this year's epic offering as a tiny fringe festival that caters to a local minority. With its third annual outing, the festival has become the kind of all-inclusive arts gathering that bigger cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and Miami are lauded for. The festival also goes a long way toward establishing Albuquerque's gay, lesbian and transgender community as a mainstream economic, social and artistic force. In other words: It's huge, it's cool and it's probably good for your property values.
“It pretty much doubles every year,” says excited but (at the moment) exhausted Festival Director/Founder Roberto Appicciafoco. “The first year, we did three days. Last year, we did four days, three venues. This year, three venues, but a week long and two cities.”
What started out in 2003 as a weekend of films at the late, lamented Madstone Theatre now encompasses two cities (Albuquerque and Santa Fe), three venues (the Center for Contemporary Arts, The Guild Cinema and the SouthWest Film Center), seven days (Friday, Sept. 16, through Thursday, Sept 22) and 57 films (features, documentaries and shorts).
“This year I brought in a screening committee to help me through it,” admits the overworked Appicciafoco. “We were getting a lot more submissions this year. We put a submission system out there. The first year, basically everything was solicited. I only had 16 films. Last year [there were] 32 films. This year it's 57.”
Although the SWG&LFF has garnered enough of a name that filmmakers are scrambling to get in, Appicciafoco still likes the personal touch, searching out top films himself. “I went to Frameline this year, the San Francisco International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival,” says the director. “That's where I did my scouting and brought in about 70 percent of the rest of the films in the program. Every year I hit one of the big film festivals and I go scout, meet distribution companies, meet directors that are looking for distribution.” Appicciafoco says it's important to go to other film festivals, because “you get a whole feel as far as the buzz on films that haven't even been released."
Appicciafoco tries to visit at least one major film festival every year, searching for content. “Last year was OutFest in Los Angeles. This year was San Francisco. Hopefully next year I'm actually thinking about London.”
Since the festival is taking place in two cities, there will be two opening night films and two closing night films, all fine examples of the kind of films SWG&LFF is offering up. On Friday, Santa Fe viewers will see Côte d' Azur (a screwball French sex comedy) while Albuquerque patrons will view Wilby Wonderful (a bittersweet comedy about a small town that discovers its secluded beach a hot spot for gay activity). On Thursday, Santa Fe gets Unveiled (a gender issue drama about an Iranian woman searching for asylum) and Albuquerque gets Summer Storm (a German coming-of-age story about two best friends on a high school rowing team).
In addition to the 57 films, this year's festival is adding more social events for attendees.
“It's the first year that we're doing panel discussions,” says Appicciafoco. “We're doing one in each city. The one here in Albuquerque is being sponsored by the Media Arts Department [at UNM]. We're doing this “Trans Talk,” a discussion on transgendered issues. And then the one we're doing in Santa Fe, which takes place at the same time, is in conjunction with the screening of Ending AIDS. We've brought in medical professionals from the New Mexico area, and they're going to be discussing where we're at as far as an update on the search for a cure.”
But that's not all. SWG&LFF is also doing its first photography exhibit, to be displayed in Santa Fe's CCA gallery. In addition to the usual opening and closing night parties, this year's festival will feature assorted gatherings throughout the opening weekend. Sunday, Sept. 18, for example, is “Mucha Muchachas: A Day of Women in Film,” an all-day screening of femme films that will conclude with an evening of music, dancing and food at Santa Fe's Backroad Pizza.
One of Appicciafoco's favorite additions is the Festival Lounge in Nob Hill's Laru Ni Hati/Café Cubano. “This is the first year we're utilizing the Guild throughout the whole week, instead of just midnight movies. One of the things that I've always heard about, other than filmgoers are really into seeing films, what they like about the festival is the big social arena as well. So, what I wanted to do is kind of create that. The Guild has a very small lobby. Laru came on as a big sponsor this year, and we're utilizing their space next door as our festival lounge for the whole week. They'll be doing happy hour for us all week. They'll also be doing what is a first for us, a queer brunch on Sunday morning before our first film. So, definitely, everything has kind of filled itself out. There's definitely a lot more of pushing the social aspect.”
Still, with the festival's biggest version looming--volunteers to organize, parties to plan and film prints to hunt down--Appicciafoco isn't resting on his laurels. “With baby steps the festival just grows and includes more and more. There are still a lot of ideas out there I want to bring into the festival,” concludes Appicciafoco, all eyes to the future. “By the fifth year, I think we'll be able to hit the mark I'd like to see.”