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David Graves is really passionate about horror films—so passionate, in fact, that he has convinced the Camelot Theatres at the Palm Springs Cultural Center to present horror-film double-features most Friday nights through the end of the year.

The Art of Darkness series debuts this Friday, Oct. 11, with The Innocents at 6 p.m., and A Tale of Two Sisters at 8 p.m. I had to ask Graves: Why so passionate about horror?

“Well, I’m basically a very fearful person,” he said with a laugh. “My passion for horror films started very early, and it may be because that’s just a familiar space for me, but I find that (horror) sharpens all of your senses. … You know, fear is the oldest, deepest emotion that we have; it’s a lizard-brain thing. It was part of our survival. Watching horror movies is sort of the modern equivalent of cavemen setting around a fire telling each other spooky stories. … It’s a safe way to experience fear and (learn to) understand what you fear.”

Graves spent much of his career in film production—he was the assistant costume designer on a little film you may have heard of called Titanic—and considers himself a “huge movie buff.” He said he’s dreamed of doing a horror-film series for years, and it came to fruition after he discussed it with Rick Seeley, a longtime friend.

It turns out Seeley is the president of the board of the Palm Springs Cultural Center. Seeley loved the idea, as did Michael Green, the center’s executive director. Thus, Art of Darkness was born.

“I feel like this is an element that’s missing in the cultural life here,” Graves said. “There are horror-film festivals everywhere all over the country and all over the world; on any given week, and you’ll find one somewhere. It was something that I wanted to bring to the community—and to deepen people’s understanding of what horror is.”

Graves pointed out that horror isn’t just a genre—it’s an emotion. He said the Art of Darkness series goes beyond slasher films and explores horror at a deeper level.

“Many films that aren’t, strictly speaking, horror films still have horrific elements and have various different moods on that spectrum,” he said. “The critical sphere has been taking horror films much more seriously over the last 20 years. This is great, but I want to bring some of this to the local audience and say, ‘Look deeper at these things. Look at the substance and what they are about instead of looking at the surface, and let go of the idea that a horror film equals a slasher film’—because it doesn’t.”

Series-opener The Innocents, with a screenplay by William Archibald and Truman Capote, came out in 1961 and is described thusly on IMDb: “A young governess for two children becomes convinced that the house and grounds are haunted.”

“It’s really visually stunning, but it’s also very creepy and unsettling—and ultimately, it’s ambiguous,” Graves said. “It’s first movie that really, truly scared me. I was about 10 or 11 years old. My parents put it on, and everyone—my sister and my parents—fell asleep. I was watching the whole thing sort of by myself, and it really, really, unsettled me. And I loved it.”

While tickets to individual films in the series are $10, attendees who want to see both portions of the double-feature get in for $15. I asked Graves why he decided to present the Art of Darkness series via double-features.

“It’s a more interesting way to present these films thematically,” he said. “The whole idea was to present films that, on the surface, aren’t necessarily related, but that resonate with each other. … A Tale of Two Sisters, the second film on (the first) double-feature, is a stunning, hauntingly beautiful, really creepy Korean ghost story from the early ’00s. Both it and The Innocents are ambiguous, because they’re ghost stories—but is the ghost real, or is it the person imagining it or projecting it?

“(On Nov. 1), we’re showing remakes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing, which are interesting, because the original films from the ’50s were both products of post-war, Cold War paranoia. The fact that they were remade in the late ’70s and early ’80s … (gives them) different context in a different thematic background. One of the great things about horror films is that they really are a mirror of the time that they were born in.”

Graves said he hopes the Art of Darkness series becomes a regular fall occurrence at the Cultural Center.

“I’ve got at least three years’ worth of these pairings that I’ve plotted out,” he said. “I’ve been ruminating about this for years, and it was just a question of choosing what we wanted to launch it with.”

The Art of Darkness series takes place most Fridays through the end of December at the Camelot Theatres at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets to the individual films, at 6 and 8 p.m., are $10; admission to both films costs $15. For tickets or more information, call 760-325-6565, or visit psculturalcenter.org.

Published in Previews and Features

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