Reel Pride LGBT Film Festival
Main Art Theatre, Royal Oak
Gay and lesbian films typically land on video store shelves. But it’s not because people won’t fork over 10 bucks to see them in a major theater. After all, last year’s tragic story of two gay sheepherders, “Brokeback Mountain,” raked in over $80 million.
“Studios are playing it safe more than ever,” Alonso Duralde said. “They are meant to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. They are money machines for the studios. So why take a risk?”
As the author of “101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men” and a former arts and entertainment editor of The Advocate, gay and lesbian film fests aren’t foreign to Duralde. He’s attended Los Angeles’ OutFest since the early ’90s.
“For a lot of audiences, particularly in places outside of L.A. and New York, the only way they’re going to see these kinds of movies is to see them at a festival,” Duralde said.
More than 40 LGBT-themed movies will be shown at Michigan’s fifth-annual gay and lesbian film festival, Reel Pride, from Oct. 13-20 at the Main Art Theatre in downtown Royal Oak. Stephanie Newman, events coordinator at Triangle Foundation, expects more than 5,000 people to attend the week-long event and said it will provide a sense of community to LGBT people who want to see depictions of people like themselves in a supportive environment.
“Reel Pride Michigan exists to enlighten, educate and entertain GLBT citizens in Michigan,” Newman said.
Gay and lesbian film festivals exhibit films which are often too edgy, not commercially polished or have a non-marketable message that may not cater to a mainstream audience, said Jenni Olson, an LGBT cinema history expert and author of several books including “The Queer Movie Poster Book.”
“Queer film festivals will always be unique as places for us to come together in a public venue and share a cultural experience,” Olson said.
Conquering queer stereotypes
For years, gay film has been pegged as low quality. Recent critically banished flicks like “Another Gay Movie,” a gay take on “American Pie,” and the slapstick comedy “Adam & Steve” have only enforced that perception.
“Eighty-five percent of all movies suck. There are more gay movies now. So do the math,” Duralde said.
While Olson agrees, she also believes gay audiences sometimes lower their standards, or can be more forgiving toward a LGBT film’s flaws, because they’re elated to see representations of themselves on the big screen.
“I often find that the films I love the most are not wildly popular with general LGBT audiences,” she said.
John Hartman, who has a bachelor’s degree in film from the University of Michigan, separates gay film into two categories: the big epic tragedy and the silly sex comedy.
“It gets tiring,” said Hartman, 22. “That’s probably why people get tired of watching these movies.”
Hartman and Duralde prefer mainstream films that don’t treat the gay characters as an atypical fixation but as just another character. Steve Carell’s role as a gay suicidal Proust scholar in the sleeper hit “Little Miss Sunshine” elated both film enthusiasts.
“(His character) was just perfect,” Olson said.
Duralde notes the subdued gay performance from Robin Williams in “The Night Listener,” where Williams’ obsessive character was “tangential to the main story.”
“Under The Tuscan Sun” stars Sandra Oh as an out-lesbian. Her character’s sexual orientation is never dwelled upon. In fact, her onscreen lesbian kiss occurs out in the open as no big deal.
“If we can get to a point where you can have gay characters in movies without sort of underlining them and flashing a light on them … then that’s a victory,” Duralde said.
Mainstream film marketing
But mainstream film personas like those in “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Under The Tuscan Sun” are few and far between, Duralde mentions. Earlier this year, Stanley Tucci played the gay sidekick of a fashion magazine mogul in “The Devil Wears Prada” and existed merely to offer some clever one-liners and teach Anne Hathaway’s ugly duckling-like character how to dress. Tucci’s role as “the fairy godfather to the heterosexual female heroine” fits one of several gay stereotypes, according to Duralde.
“For the most part they go for the easy, they go for the obvious and they go for the predictable,” he said.
There’s an easy answer for Hollywood’s lack of realistic queer characters in widely distributed films: money.
Although critics and viewers embraced “Brokeback Mountain,” the movie exploded with publicity not necessarily because of its quality, but because of the queer cowboy leads. And although straight sex in film doesn’t get hyped, the controversial film’s spit-lubed anal sex scene created a big hoopla.
“You can’t put a lead gay character in a movie without it generating some kind of weird buzz or hype about it being the gay movie,” Hartman said.
On television, the film was marketed through a trailer that played up the straight elements to appeal to a broader audience, Olson said. But this wasn’t the first time marketing tactics treated a gay storyline as nonexistent.
“This has been historically frustrating going all the way back to the poster for ‘Desert Hearts’ (from 1985),” said Olson, noting images of a minor male and minor female character on the film’s poster alongside the two leading lesbian characters. “Certainly there is an aspect of homophobia in many marketing decisions.”
With big-budget films, too much gay publicity might shoo audiences away, Hartman believes.
“Clearly we’ve come a long way, but there is still a long way to go,” Olson said.