The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday December 6th

Film Festival Offers Outlet for Gays

Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

A local gay and lesbian film festival proved there's more to gay cinema than a marathon showing of "Will & Grace."

Held Aug. 9-12 at the historic Carolina Theatre in Durham, the sixth annual N.C. Gay and Lesbian Film Festival drew record ticket sales of almost 9,000, making it the largest festival of its kind in the South.

Cheryl Welsh, co-chairwoman of the steering committee for the N.C. Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, said the festival's 70 films covered a broad range of subjects and film genres.

"There were documentaries, comedies, animated shorts and hollywood-type films where girl meets girl and boy meets boy," Welsh said. "For instance, there was a documentary on the Boy Scouts called `Scout's Honor' and another called `Iron Ladies' about women's volleyball."

In the past, gay and lesbian film has often been characterized by sex-obbsessed stereotypes. But Welsh believes the industry has moved past relying on stock characters and has focused on issues pertinent to the gay community. "I'm sure that in past years some films have used stereotypes, but not in the films that were shown this weekend," Welsh said.

Max Mitchell, writer, producer and director of the comedy, "Get Your Stuff," sought to challenge society's notion of the stereotypical family with his take on gay parenthood. The Los Angeles resident's film was a recipient of one of this year's Emerging Film awards at the festival.

The film is a fictional account of two foster children who are sent to a gay couple's home as a social worker's last resort. "And these are the two worst foster children in L.A.," Mitchell said. "A friend of mine described the film to me as `The Bad Seed' meets `The Birdcage.'"

The idea of a successful gay couple filling the role of parents is something Mitchell said he has always liked. "`Get Your Stuff' originally began as a play that I wrote while I was working as a playwright in New York in 1986," he said. "People were very upset by it then -- the idea of gay couples being parents. People basically thought I was disgusting just for thinking of the idea.

"So much has changed now."

But many gay and lesbian filmmakers still face difficulties in securing deals with national theater distributors. "(They) simply aren't interested in gay and lesbian films unless there are big stars and borderline pornography, because those are the ones that sell tickets," Mitchell said.

"I am in the process of negotiating with a company for a smaller, straight-to-video deal, but, outside of film festivals, my film will not be seen in theaters," he added.

But Mitchell added that while major distribution deals might elude gay films with less shock value, the value of such film festivals is to provide an outlet for filmmakers to show their work.

"If you live in a place like Wichita and you're gay, there are no options for you to see these films in your town," he said. "But chances are, there's a gay and lesbian film festival nearby."

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