Last year's inaugural Southwest Gay and Lesbian Film Festival brought some 2,000 eager film fans to Madstone Theaters for a weekend of truly independent film. But the subsequent closing of the Madstone left the festival stranded without a venue.
“That's the first thing that everybody asks me: Is it gonna happen?” offers up Roberto Appicciafoco, the founder and driving force behind this alt film fest. “We had many challenges and that was one of them.”
Rest assured, the festival is returning--this very weekend, in fact. The festival has recovered from the loss of its freshman venue and has located not one but three venues in which to screen films its sophomore year. The 2004 festival--taking place Sept. 9-12--will be a citywide event, taking over screens at UNM's SouthWest Film Center, the Century 14 Downtown and the Guild Cinema in Nob Hill.
“The scale has more than doubled,” promises Appicciafoco, who nailed down 23 features and eight shorts from as far away as Thailand and as near as Truth or Consequences, N.M.
The Southwest Gay and Lesbian Film Festival is the centerpiece event of the Albuquerque-based nonprofit organization Closet Cinema. The organization has sponsored other film-based events, but it is the now-annual SG&LFF that is the group's pride and joy. The festival attempts to examine the diversity and uniqueness of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community worldwide. The features, documentaries and shorts were all selected from private screenings and open reviews at festivals in the film centers of Los Angeles and San Francisco by Appicciafoco himself.
“Last year, we had a lot of trickle-down from Santa Fe,” says Appicciafoco, who has worked on other film festivals such as Sundance and the Seattle International Film Festival. “We always wanted to call this the Southwest Gay and Lesbian Film Festival as opposed to the Albuquerque Film Festival. We want to spread our wings further north and around the state.”
Appicciafoco is justifiably proud of this year's lineup. Among his favorites is the local film The Truth or Consequences of Delmas Howe. The film is a study of internationally renowned artist Delmas Howe. Howe has exhibited his homoerotic paintings in New York and San Francisco, but has never had a major exhibition in his home state. “He's a controversial artist,” points out Appicciafoco. “His work also combines Southwestern themes and religious art.” The film itself, shot in T or C, shows “a small town dealing with a man whose work is controversial.” Ironically, a plan to set up a local exhibit of Howe's work in conjunction with the film festival fell through.
Appicciafoco is also predicting sellout crowds for The Graffiti Artist, a gritty Portland-based drama by filmmaker James Bolton (Eban and Charley). The film is a documentary-like examination of the Pacific Northwest's growing hip-hop scene, as embodied by one young artist struggling to find his own identity. Bolton, whose film has just been picked up for national distribution, is glad for the continued film fest exposure.
“It's been great. We've gotten into every major international film festival that we've submitted to--not just lesbian and gay festivals--which we love. It's nice that it's starting to cross over. The lines are starting to blur.”
Although Bolton's film has a gay undercurrent, much like the films of fellow northwesterner Gus Van Sant, it is only one element in the mix.
“The film goes beyond a gay theme,” says Bolton. “It's also about free speech. That takes it beyond just the gay and lesbian circle.”
As gay and lesbian-themed films and TV shows become more and more prominent (witness the phenomenon over “Will & Grace” and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”), alternative film festivals become more acceptable for mainstream Americans and represent an opportunity for gay and lesbian filmgoers to see a wider variety of perspectives than television has seen fit to offer. Bolton has witnessed an enthusiastic response to his film at both gay and straight film festivals.
“Every festival is a little different,” assesses Bolton. “People who are going to a gay and lesbian festival are going [expecting] to see something a little different. They get some surprises with this film. It's not your typical lesbian and gay film. Initially, we were unsure how audiences would respond to it. It's not about a gay graffiti artist. It's about a young man who's exploring his sexuality amid the hip-hop/graffiti backdrop. He's rejecting society and its lies. He finds freedom when he meets this other [graffiti artist]. It can be construed as gay, but its really about progressive sexuality.”
Of course, the festival isn't all angst and drama. This year, the festival will repeat its hugely popular midnight movie screenings with a double-shot of sexual strangeness at the Guild Cinema in Nob Hill. On Friday night, the theater will screen cult artist Bruce LaBruce's raunchy Raspberry Reich. This camp-filled satire is described as a “terrorist chic” porn film about some nymphomaniac terrorists who kidnap a hunky banker's son in hopes of freeing the world from “heterosexual repression.” No one under 18 will be admitted! On Saturday, SG&LFF will be joining forces with the Alibi for a screening of the outrageous Thai film The Adventures of Iron Pussy, which chronicles the world-saving efforts of a transsexual secret agent-
In addition to the many film offerings, SG&LFF will feature an exclusive opening night party at the Pulse/Blu nightclub on Sept. 9 and a closing night shindig Sept. 12 at the chic Liquid Lounge.
Tickets to individual films and full-festival passes are available at two retail locations: Alphaville Video (3408 Central SE) and Burning Paradise Video (800 Central SW). Full festival passes, which admit attendees to all screenings and parties are $75. Tickets to individual screenings are $9. Tickets to the opening night, centerpiece and closing night screenings are $10 for each night. You can get full information on all screenings and venues at www.closetcinema.org.