Austin Film Fest: Queer Filmmakers Panel

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The Austin Film Festival has officially come to a close, after bringing us a week and a half of great film. What the Austin Film Festival lacks in queerness, the Polari Film Festival—Austin’s LGBTQ film festival, hosted the week before the Austin Film Festival—surely makes up for. Regardless, there was a somewhat noticeable dearth in LGBTQ films at the Austin Film Festival—Dallas Buyers Club was a late addition to the list, and Gay Best Friend (G.B.F.) seemed to be the only one to fit the mold outright.

Fortunately, the Austin Film Festival hosted a panel of queer directors (with one straight director who had a gay character in his film) called “The Queer and Now: Challenges and Advantages of LGBT Cinema in 2013.” I was one of probably ten people in the audience for the Q&A, which was moderated by Polari’s Artistic Director, Curran Nualt.

The panel consisted of G.B.F. director Darren Stein; G.B.F. producer Richard Bever; Yen Tan, the director of Pit Stop; Ian Samplin, the director of Hunter; and Matthew Perkins, who directed Little Tin Man. Perkins was the straight man of the group—the rest identify as gay or queer.

Nualt, the moderator, opened the conversation with a question: “There’s an article on Indiewire that states that there are fewer LGBT films now than there were in the 90’s. Can you comment on that?” The conversation was off to a good start, with each panelist commenting on their own experiences as a filmmaker.

All of them agreed for the most part that there were no distinct advantages for being queer filmmakers or for making queer films; rather, they often find themselves pigeonholed by the market. LGBTQ films must fit a very specific mold—lots of sex, ‘twinks’ and very little plot—to be marketed by an LGBTQ-specific production company; LGBTQ films must eliminate the majority of these things in order to get picked up by a larger production company.

Stein and Bever, who worked on G.B.F., explained this conundrum perfectly: their film is an extremely witty teen film, full of innuendo and, yes, some make-out scenes. The things that make an R-rated movie—nudity and the F-bomb—are totally and completely absent from the film … yet, according to Stein and Bever, the film will likely get an R rating when it hits the big screen for being “too subversive.”

“The film is no more intense than a John Hughes film,” Stein said with a shrug. (I eventually saw the film, and he’s totally right.)

So here these directors find themselves stuck between being true to their stories and being able to have a shot at making it big. All of the panelists seemed to agree that casting actually gay actors to play gay characters was important to them; and that, in the end, they will continue to do what they do best: to make great films, ‘subversive’ or not.

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