Queer Lounge expands reach at festival
January 21, 2009
It’s a sight that, even today, surprises some: two A-list actors talking openly about the stigma of playing gay lovers on screen. "There were a few people in my world who were like, ‘Do you want to do this?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely," Jim Carrey recalled at a press conference Monday for the Sundance film "I Love You Philip Morris."
Carrey plays a gay con artist who falls in love with his cellmate, played by Ewan McGregor. Their press conference, held at the Queer Lounge at 608 Main St., included the film’s writers, directors and actor Rodrigo Santoro, who plays another of Carrey’s gay lovers in the film.
Carrey said that, in his mind, the film is not about being gay as much as it is about being human. "You love who you love and love is love," Carrey continued.
But playing gay isn’t easy, even after audiences are used to seeing celebrities lip-locked on screen. "There’s a homophobic voice that rises up in me," Carrey admitted. "First, what will people think and second, ‘Will I like kissing Ewan and how will it affect me and Jenny?’"
McGregor added, "When you’re acting, you’re always looking for interesting stories . . . What was important to me is that the script was funny, but none of the humor came from it being two men."
The event, staged to resemble a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival, had Queer Lounge founder Ellen Huang smiling. The candor and humor of the actors reflected a change in the way people see gays, lesbians, transgender and bisexual people in the media, she said. "Now he’s one of us," she said of Carrey. "Now he’s family."
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The Queer Lounge, partnered with the advocacy group GLAAD for its sixth year, has aggressively tried to widen its reach to include more panels, parties and press events from outside its usual scope. So far, the Queer Lounge has hosted panels on women in film, moviemakers from the Asian Pacific and Latino communities, as well as a spate of gay-themed events. "We’re really crossing over with our parties," Huang said, including more nonprofit events. "When we cross-pollinate with other causes, it helps gay filmmakers throw a wider net."
Huang said she hasn’t heard much dissent from protestors or activists who wanted to boycott the Sundance Film Festival after a ban on same-sex marriage passed in California with some financial backing from the LDS Church. "I’m not hearing about protests or civil disobedience at the Cinemark," she said. "I assume that when the filmmakers got here, they decided to focus on film."
Getting into a festival like Sundance is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many filmmakers, Huang said, and their work can educate audiences on the queer experience. "Some of us are realizing the moment is just beginning," she said.
In recent years, Sundance has earned the moniker "gayest straight film festival in the world." Content made by gay filmmaker or films, like "Philip Morris," bring gay themes to audiences en masse, but some worry that Sundance and Cannes, so-called "straight" film festivals, often upstage festivals that show exclusively gay content.
Gay festivals in San Francisco, Miami and Philadelphia, have begun to feel the squeeze of the slow economy. "We’re doing fine, but we’re experiencing the downturn," said Kirsten Schaffer of Outfest. The festival has become "leaner and meaner," reducing its number of venues and screenings. "We’re trying to reconstruct film festivals so they’re helpful to audiences and filmmakers."
Slamdance co-founder Paul Rachman said that while his alternative independent film festival has been important in mainstreaming gay films, there’s more room for balance between mainstream and gay festivals. Slamdance, now in its 15th year, remains solvent in tight times, but smaller festivals may not be so lucky.
"It’s a scary time and we’re going to see what happens to gay and non-gay films alike," Schaffer said.