Every year like clockwork—like big, gay clockwork—the Southwest Gay and Lesbian Film Festival returns to New Mexico. This year marks the sixth annual outing for the increasingly popular festival. For a week in early fall, the arts organization known as Closet Cinema takes over theaters in two New Mexico cities, unspooling a collection of entertaining features, essential shorts, must-see documentaries and must-attend parties (always with the parties).
Less than a week to go, however, and SG&LFF director and programmer Roberto Appicciafoco isn’t in party mode just yet. The festival’s opening night party gets underway in four short days and he’s still waiting on 30 film prints to arrive at his office. Still, he insists, “so far, so good.”
In fact, Appicciafoco could be accused of understating just how spectacular things are going with this year’s festival, lined up to run Friday, Sept. 26, through Thursday, Oct. 2. Between 2006 and 2007, the festival experienced its biggest jump in attendance, climbing 30 percent in its fifth year. As a result, the 2008 iteration has added more films and more venues in which to show them. “Basically, we were trying to deal with sold-out screenings in our showcase,” says Appicciafoco. “Last year, we had to turn away close to 100 people for our opening night film. [Turnaways] have been happening on and off for the last two years.” Adding the Winrock 6 Theater near Uptown to the list of venues—which now includes the Guild Cinema in Nob Hill, the South Broadway Cultural Center in Barelas and the UA DeVargas in Santa Fe—makes for some intelligent growth. The 300 seats Winrock adds to the festival this year should ensure everyone who wants to get in will be able to.
That’s a good thing, given the great events Appicciafoco and his staff of mostly volunteers have lined up. On Saturday, for example, Albuquerque’s South Broadway Cultural Center will spotlight the international showpiece film XXY from Argentina. “It’s gotten a theatrical release and has been hitting film festivals all over the place. It’s a phenomenal film,” raves Appicciafoco of the drama about an intersex teenager weighing the choices of “corrective” gender assignment surgery. Thanks to help from SBCC’s Instituto Cervantes and the City of Albuquerque, one of the film’s main actors, Martín Piroyansky, will fly in from Argentina to attend the screening and participate in a Q&A with audience members.
This year, there will also be a full day of female-centric films, labeled “Mucha Muchachas,” taking place at Winrock on Sunday. Director Lee Friedlander will be there showing off his new film Out at the Wedding, a racy comedy about Alex (Andrea Marcellus), a New York gal who returns to her small hometown in South Carolina for her sister’s wedding. Too scared to bring her African-American fiancé with her, Alex drags her gay best friend along. This sparks some misguided rumors that Alex is actually a lesbian. Unexpected support from her parents forces Alex to keep up the homosexual charade while figuring out how to un-come out to her family. The day of all-lesbian film has been popular in Santa Fe for several years, and organizers decided it was time to bring the event to Albuquerque for a run.
Since 2005, in fact, Santa Fe has been a key element in the festival. “It’s important to be doing it in both cities,” Appicciafoco says. “That way it’s truly a Southwest Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and not just an Albuquerque Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Santa Fe is definitely a satellite. Albuquerque is our core audience. Instead of having people come down here—which many people still do—we’re shipping movies up to them.”
In addition to the 50-plus films and still-growing list of guest stars, the festival will be thick with parties and get-togethers. The ever-popular Queer Brunch returns to Zinc Wine Bar and Bistro. The Women in Film party is scheduled for Imbibe. The opening night party takes place at Laru Ni Hati. Closing night is at O’Niell’s. Even Downtown’s Launchpad has entered the mix this year. The festival is screening a documentary about legendary gay punk band Pansy Division and Launchpad is hosting the after-party with a lineup of local bands paying tribute to the queercore pioneers.
Despite a downturn in the economy, sponsorship for the festival is at its highest level—a factor the festival’s founder chalks up to longevity. “Five years is the cutoff point. That’s when the market outside of your state starts to take you seriously.” As proof, one of this year’s new Award Sponsors is the City of Tempe Convention and Visitors Bureau. According to Appicciafoco, Arizona has a strong gay community but doesn’t yet have its own gay film festival. So does that mean New Mexico’s homegrown Gay and Lesbian Film Festival is ready to branch out to other Southwestern cities? With venues gearing up, tickets flying out of the box office and those 30 film prints still at the mercy of Federal Express, Appicciafoco doesn’t even hesitate: “Uh, no.”