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Long before newsfeeds, Facebook, 24-hour news networks and even beepers, people got their information from things like news magazines. It may sound like crazy talk, but it’s true.

One of these news magazines—one which has played a vital role in the LGBT community—is The Advocate. It was started as a newsletter by an activist group following a police raid on a Los Angeles gay bar, the Black Cat Tavern, on Jan. 1, 1967—a couple of years before the Stonewall riots in New York City. The newsletter covered the demonstrations against police brutality; later that year, the newsletter was transformed into a newspaper.

The history of The Advocate since those first days is the subject of a new documentary—and it’s one of the highlights of Cinema Diverse, the local LGBT film festival, which will take place at the Camelot Theatres at the Palm Springs Cultural Center Sept. 20-23, with a “bonus weekend” taking place at Mary Pickford Is D’Place in Cathedral City the following weekend.

“This year, Cinema Diverse is opening with A Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate Celebrates 50 Years,” said Michael Green, the Cinema Diverse festival director and the executive director of the Palm Springs Cultural Center. “This is going to be a really cool story to share with the audience on opening night. It is a retrospective of the 50 years from the start of the magazine up to the current day.

“It’s a huge historic piece and important. Laverne Cox is narrating it, and the music is provided by Melissa Etheridge. … It covers the pre-Stonewall era from the Los Angeles perspective, the AIDS crisis, marriage equality and up to present day. It’s even more powerful to those of us who have lived in the Palm Springs area during that time and have seen the changes that have occurred.”

A Long Road to Freedom is just one of the documentaries included in the Cinema Diverse schedule. “There’s a huge variety of documentaries this year. We have a film about gay comics and another about gay (erotic) comic-book illustrators and so many more,” Green said.

Cinema Diverse, of course, has offerings going beyond documentaries.

“We have several great musicals this year,” Green said. “They cover a variety of subjects, both as feature films and as shorts. Musicals are great. Even though the characters may have troubles throughout, the endings are usually very uplifting. We also have horror films this year; you could classify them as thriller-type films that are pretty good.”

Why is it important to include films like thrillers/horror movies in an LGBT film festival?

“Movies focused on LGBTQ characters … the audience can relate to,” Green said. “We are also screening Devil’s Path, a real psychological thriller by Matthew Montgomery, a popular LGBTQ actor. People who are familiar with him will be really excited to see it.

“As always, we have some really good foreign films, like A Moment in the Reeds, from Finland. It’s a fun and beautiful story.”

Movies by local filmmakers are a key part of Cinema Diverse.

“We have a local film (producer) named Marc Smolowitz. His most recent film is called 50 Years of Fabulous. It’s all about the Imperial Council from its inception and over the last 50 years,” Green said; the Imperial Court System is a series of organizations that raise money for charitable causes. “Again, it’s a historical film that touches Palm Springs and a story that’s close to home to anyone who is familiar with the Imperial Court System. … Since Marc is local, this makes the film even more special.”

One of the films Green is most excited about is 1985, based on a renowned short film with the same name.

“It’s about the very beginning of the AIDS crisis and a young, closeted guy who goes home to Texas,” Green said. “It’s a very poignant film. It’s filmed largely in black and white. It’s a very powerful.” Gotham’s Cory Michael Smith is the star.

“As in previous years, there will be a lot of filmmakers and actors here to represent their films. There are more films this year than previously, both features and shorts,” Green said.

Cinema Diverse takes place Thursday, Sept. 20, through Sunday, Sept. 23, and Friday and Saturday, Sept. 28 and 29. Individual screenings are $13.25, while an all-festival pass costs $159. For tickets and more information, including a festival schedule, visit the Cinema Diverse website.

Published in Previews and Features

The year was 2008. The economy was imploding; Coldplay’s Viva la Vida was the No. 1 album in the world; and United States voters elected a guy named Barack Obama as president.

Meanwhile, here in the Coachella Valley, the Palm Springs Cultural Center held the first Cinema Diverse, the valley’s LGBT film festival.

The 10th anniversary edition of the festival takes place Sept. 21-24.

Michael Green is the festival director and the executive director of the Cultural Center. He talked about the process he goes through to select films for the festival.

“I work with all the independent film distributors who specialize in LGBT films, as well as others,” he said. “I pretty much screen films year-around. Films also come in to us from directors, many we have worked with before. We don’t show anything that is out commercially.”

Palm Springs’ proximity to Hollywood is a boon to Cinema Diverse.

“It’s wonderful,” Green said. “The beauty of being so close is (many of) the filmmakers come out to the festival. We have been so fortunate the past few years, where we have up to 80 percent representation … by someone involved in the film itself.”

This is the 10th Cinema Diverse—and Green has made big plans to celebrate the milestone. The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin is going to be the opening-night movie on Thursday, Sept. 21, and Tales of the City scribe Armistead Maupin himself will be in attendance. Copies of his new memoir will also be available, before the official release date in October.

“Luckily, Armistead loves Palm Springs, and his schedule worked out so he can come here to be a part of the festival,” Green said. “We are working with (Palm Springs store) Just Fabulous to help out, where people can purchase his new book and have it signed.”

Beyond opening night, Cinema Diverse will have many highlights, Green said.

“We are going to have a couple of special 10th anniversary screenings from Here Media,” he said. “Sheltered is one of the first movies produced by Here Media 10 years ago. This is only available in this festival—no others. Here Media is one the festival’s sponsors, so we are hoping to have not just the director, but the cast, too, on Saturday (Sept. 23).

“We are also going to be having a documentary called Laughing Matters … The Men,” featuring various gay comedians—which was filmed at Palm Springs Pride. “Not only is this a 10th anniversary screening, but the director, Andrea Meyerson, has a new short named One Way Street, which will also be screening at the festival. We love to do a lot of shorts at Cinema Diverse.”

The festival is also expanding to a second weekend, sort of: While Cinema Diverse will take place at the Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs, the Mary Pickford Theatre in Cathedral City will host the Best of Fest on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 29 and 30.

“Last year, we expanded what we were doing (by hosting films at the Desert Cinema, the former IMAX theater) in Cathedral City,” Green said. “This year, Cathedral City asked us to return. We asked the Mary Pickford, and they were very interested. We also decided this year to move this part of the festival to the week after, so it wouldn’t pull away from the festival consistency. The Best of Fest will show the best films and help accommodate film-goers who may have missed the first showings during the festival.”

Cinema Diverse includes every genre of LGBT-related films one can imagine. However, Green admitted a fondness for the festival’s slate of documentaries.

“This year, we have most of our documentaries focusing on the LGBTQ communities in various places around the world,” Green said. “Films from Iraq, Iran, Russia or South Africa work as a reminder that we are so fortunate to live in our bubble of Palm Springs. It’s a reminder how dangerous the rest of the world is, and how there is still so much work to be done to make the world a safe place.”

Cinema Diverse takes place Thursday, Sept. 21, through Sunday, Sept. 24, at the Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. The Best of Fest takes place Friday and Saturday, Sept. 29 and 30, at the Mary Pickford Theatre, 36850 Pickfair St., in Cathedral City. Pass prices vary; individual screenings are $13.25. For more information, visit cinemadiverse.org.

Published in Previews and Features

Ron Celona says films like Uniquely Nasty, which document the persecution of LGBT Americans, are important—because you never know what the future may bring.

“Anything is possible when it comes to the presidential election and that turn of events,” says Celona, the artistic director of Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre. “In individual states, they’re still trying to overturn (laws protecting LGBT rights). There are still discriminatory things happening.”

This why Celona worked so hard to bring the film Uniquely Nasty: The U.S. Government’s War on Gays to town, for two showings at CV Rep on Wednesday, Sept. 9. The 30-minute documentary, narrated and reported by Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff, tells three stories that show how the U.S. government persecuted and discriminated against LGBT Americans in the 20th century.

The screenings at CV Rep will be followed by panel discussions featuring locals George Zander, of Equality California; and Andy Linsky, a member of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation board. They’ll be joined by Isikoff and Charles Francis, the president of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. 

It’s the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., that catalyzed the making of the film, says Lisa Linsky, an attorney with McDermott Will and Emery, in New York City; she’ll be the moderator of Wednesday’s panel discussions. (Side note: She’s also a friend of Celona’s from high school; their recent re-connection, long story short, led to these Palm Springs screenings.) Linsky’s firm has been doing pro-bono work for the Mattachine Society—an “archive activism” organization focusing on LGBT history—for three years, obtaining historical government documents to tell forgotten and/or under-publicized stories about the U.S. government’s discriminatory treatment of LGBT citizens going back to the 1940s. Some of this research was used for an amicus brief that was submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court as the nine justices considered the recent gay-marriage issue. As we all know, the court ruled 5-4 in June that marriage equality was the law of the land.

Back before that historic decision, in January, Linsky took part in a program that showed off some of her firm’s findings for the Mattachine Society. Isikoff was in the audience.

“He expressed fascination, and said he wanted to do a documentary about the work,” Linsky says. “Two weeks later, the documentary was green-lit by Yahoo.”

The documentary was posted on Yahoo News in June, shortly before the 5-4 decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case was announced. Linsky says the documentary has received well more than a million views thus far.

One story told in Uniquely Nasty focuses on Wyoming U.S. Sen. Lester Hunt. In 1953, Democratic senator’s son was arrested and accused of soliciting sex from an uncover male police officer. Republicans, including notorious red-scare Sen. Joseph McCarthy, threatened to publicize the arrest if Hunt didn’t decline to run for re-election and resign his seat. At first, Hunt refused the demands of his opposing senators—but he later became so distraught over the matter than he took his own life, on June 19, 1954.

Linsky says the goal of the documentary is to educate young people, and hold government accountable for its past wrongdoings.

“Our overarching objective is to inform people about this work (by the Mattachine Society), the nature of the work, and why it’s significant,” she says.

While the country seems to be definitively moving in a direction toward widespread LGBT acceptance, that does not mean there won’t be setbacks, especially when it comes to the actions of local, state and federal governments, Celona says—and that’s why it’s important to learn about the history told in Uniquely Nasty.

“How do we deal with what the future will bring?” he asked.

Screenings of Uniquely Nasty: The U.S. Government’s War on Gays, followed by panel discussions, take place at Wednesday, Sept. 9, at the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre, 69930 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. A public screening takes place at 6 p.m., with a by-invitation screening at 8 p.m. Admission is free, but seats are limited and will fill up. To RSVP, call 760-296-2966, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Watch the film at Yahoo News, or scroll down to the Media section below.

Published in Previews and Features

Palm Springs is well-known for its star-studded International Film Festival, held every January. However, the city also hosts a well-regarded annual LGBTQ film festival, known as Cinema Diverse—and it’s taking place at the Camelot Theatres Sept. 17-20.

Local comedian Shann Carr has been affiliated with the festival since its start, beginning as a volunteer eight years ago.

“Every city in America had an LGBTQ film festival, and Palm Springs is known for having its very own international film festival, and we were the only town without an LGBTQ film festival,” she said. “For a gay town, that’s pretty surprising.”

Through the years, Carr has seen trends in festival submissions come and go from year to year. For example, she said films on the subjects of gay marriage and equality are starting to wane.

“You watch the crest of what’s on the front-burner of our community at the given time. In the past couple of years, it’s been all gay marriage and babies,” she said. “… Now, it’s, ‘Enough about the weddings! Enough about gay rights!’ Right as we gained marriage equality, those submissions dropped right down. Television and film is how a lot of the world learned that gay people aren’t scary people. It really is about education.”

What’s a current trend in festival submissions?

“The transgender issue has now come up,” she said. “… I haven’t seen a lot of (the films focusing on transgender issues), but I know there are a handful of them, as well as some shorts. Last year, one of the most talked-about shorts was called Brace, and it was about a transgender man who was at a bar, and this guy started liking him, and they started liking each other—and then the other guy found out the man was transgender.”

Carr has seen the festival’s Opening Night centerpiece film, Eisenstein in Guanajuato.

“The opening film is amazing. It’s about a Russian gay man, and it’s beautiful,” she said. “He speaks with a thick Russian accent throughout the entire film, and so much amazing stuff comes out of it. It’s a story about a Russian filmmaker in the ’30s who comes through the United States and learns he can make a film for next to nothing in Mexico. He spends a visa period filming 200 miles of film and discovering his sexuality—and he’s a virgin at 33. There’s a bit of frontal nudity, and as a lesbian watching it, I thought, ‘Innocent, playful penis!’ It was a beautiful, interesting, artistic penis.”

Carr said there is something she wishes there was less of at the festival: the divide between the sexes. However, she conceded the divide is real.

“I didn’t want to see a men’s compilation and a women’s compilation,” she said. “As I took a handful of people into a screening … as soon as the guys got down to it for a sex scene, the women were like, ‘Do I have to watch this?’ The guys are all like, ‘LET’S GO! WOO HOO! … As much as I was trying to push them into that progress, they weren’t having it at all.”

Considering all the positive changes taking place in the LGBTQ community, I asked Carr whether an LGBTQ film festival will still be necessary and needed in a decade.

“I think so, because humans are like this, and animals are like this: They see their reflection, and they want to belong, be affirmed, be enlightened,” she said. “… It’s an explanation of the changes we’re seeing, but I don’t see us completely going to the cliff and falling over. Ethnic groups still want to see each other and congregate with each other.”

Cinema Diverse takes place from Thursday, Sept. 17, through Sunday, Sept. 20, primarily at the Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets range from $13 for individual screenings to $159 for an all-festival pass. For tickets or more information, call 760-325-6565, or visit cinemadiverse.org.

Published in Previews and Features

The Camelot Theatres are the home of one helluva LGBT film festival this weekend.

Cinema Diverse, the annual Palm Springs Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, takes place at the Camelot this Thursday through Sunday, and it’s packed with compelling independent films, all of which have a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered theme.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Compelling independent film” is often code for “well-meaning but mediocre.” However, those of us at Independent World Headquarters can personally vouch for these three films, because we’ve watched them, or at least know enough about them to know they’re worthy. (Unfortunately, unless you’ve managed to clone yourself, you’ll only be able to catch two of these three films this weekend—because two of them overlap.)

Cinema Diverse, featuring a wide variety of LGBT features and shorts from the morning through night, takes place Thursday, Sept. 19, through Sunday, Sept. 22, with all screenings at the Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs. All-access passes including the opening night reception are $169; all-access passes sans the reception are $149. Individual tickets for most screenings are $13, although the Southern Baptist Sissies opening screening is $15; or $35 for both the film and the opening-night reception. (More on that in a minute.)

Get a complete schedule and ticket info at cinemadiverse.org. Summaries of the three films we recommend are below; scroll down to view trailers for each.

Southern Baptist Sissies

5:30 p.m. reception; 7 p.m. screening, Thursday, Sept. 19

OK, this is the one we have not seen, but the trailer is so compelling, and the cast is so incredible (Leslie Jordan!) that we’re recommending it. This is a filmed theatrical performance of Del Shores’ renowned play about four gay boys who grow up in the Southern Baptist Church. Each of the young men deals with his sexuality—and his religion, which strictly forbids it—in a different way. At turns hilarious and poignant, this is a play/film you’ll want to see. As a special treat, Shores and some of the cast members will appear at a pre-film reception to kick off the festival.

Hot Guys With Guns

7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 20

Danny Lohman (Marc Anthony Samuel) is a struggling actor who is taking private-investigator lessons to help him get a gig. However, when his slacker ex-boyfriend, Pip (Brian McArdle), becomes a victim of a robbery at a sex party, he and Pip—with the help of Danny’s crusty PI teacher (Alan Blumenfeld)—decide they should investigate. The film is touching, implausible, hilarious and downright enjoyable—with a fair amount of male eye candy.

Heterosexual Jill

7:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 20

Michelle Ehlen writes, directs and stars in this amusing and quirky film—it’s sort of a sequel to Ehlen’s Butch Jamie—centering on Jamie, an actress (Ehlen) who is in the cast of an odd film starring a cat. (Ehlen’s costumes are hilarious.) Her ex-girlfriend, Jill (Jen McPherson), is part of an ex-lesbian support group—and Jill then decides, somewhat neurotically, to date Jamie to prove she is no longer attracted to women. A subplot follows two of Jamie’s cast members—a gay man and a straight woman—who are lusting over the same man. And then something weird happens when Jamie accidentally sees a penis. I know this description doesn’t make sense at all, but trust me: It works. Go see it.

Published in Previews and Features