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Check-in at the Lounge
A preview of queer Sundance 2008

by Lawrence Ferber . Contributing Writer

Gay writer Armistead Maupin and Queer Lounge founder Ellen Huang.
Another January, another insane, glamorous, media-saturated brouhaha known as the Sundance Film Festival. From Jan. 17-27, Park City, Utah, an affluent ski resort town, will be transformed into a buzzing circuit of movies at theaters and makeshift screening facilities, parties, swag, schmooze, VIPs/celebs and queerness. Sundance (www.sundance.org/festival) has launched a notable spate of indie LGBT films and filmmakers — the “New Queer Cinema” movement of the 1990s saw its genesis and celebration here — over its history, and continues to be a must-attend event for LGBT film festival programmers across the nation, distributors, filmmakers and, of course, movie lovers.

This year, the festival is screening a couple of essential queer titles from its Sundance Collection UCLA Archive: the late Derek Jarman’s “Edward II,” (the filmmaker is also celebrated in Isaac Julien’s new documentary, “Derek”) and Gregg Araki’s “The Living End.” Director Tom Kalin returns with “Savage Grace” — based on a headline-grabbing true story, starring Julianne Moore as the mother of a gay son — his first film since landmark New Queer Cinema gem, “Swoon.” The concurrent Slamdance festival (www.slamdance.com) also boasts a handful of LGBT-interest features and shorts, including “Pageant,” a documentary about contestants competing for the Miss Gay USA title.

The Queer Lounge, founded in 2004 as a central meeting point for LGBT filmmakers and industry, returns again with its best-ever location on the Main Street strip, close to the main box office (address: 608 Main St.). Its website (queerlounge.org) features listings of queer events and parties and a rundown of LGBT-interest titles. This year, one highlight includes an exhibition of posters of past Sundance LGBT films curated by Jenni Olsen. To discuss what the Lounge has in store for its fourth edition, some of the films to look out for and some Sundance tips and dish, I spoke with lounge founder Ellen Huang.

Strangely, last year there was a drought of gay titles at Sundance. How does this year compare?

“There was a dearth. And I would say this year we’re not getting a lot of gay content again or central LGBT characters [either], but to me this is an unprecedented year in which some of the filmmakers who came of age in the 90s have matured and they’re all back. It’s one thing to have Christine Vachon in one year, but to have everyone like Alan Ball, Gregg Araki and Derek Jarman is getting a tribute through Isaac Julien! Tilda Swinton will be here. All of those people who contributed to the Queer New Wave have matured and are coming back.”

What is a Queer Lounge first for 2008?
“We’re on Main Street! We probably have the best digs ever. I think another is Queer Lounge has become a part of GLAAD, a larger organization — we realized our missions are very parallel.”

Members of the gay favorite Scissor Sisters and Alan Cumming (middle) hang out at Sundance’s Queer Lounge.
There has been some quite hot, and infamous, swag in the Queer Lounge party bags in the past. Any hints regarding the swag this year?

“I don’t think we’re going to have ‘Manties’ as we did in the past — male versions of panties. Probably more green-geared type of stuff. We have a collaboration with Absolut Vodka and their partner Live Earth. They’re calling it the Green Screen Lounge, where they will show films that were commissioned to be shown at the Al Gore Live Earth concerts around the world. Sixty shorts, showing on a loop. It’s about how film can raise consciousness — and more people to drink Absolut in the Queer Lounge. (laughs)”

What films have you most excited this year?
“I’m looking forward to ‘The Guitar’ by Robert Redford’s daughter, Amy, about a girl who learns she has cancer and explores the many things she can do with the remaining time she has left and one of those is having an affair with a pizza delivery girl and a UPS man. I believe it’s her first feature and an interesting thing to explore. Bruce LaBruce’s new film, ‘Otto: Or, Up With Dead People’ is about a gay zombie recruited into the anti-capitalist revolution. ‘The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,’ [an adaptation of Michael Chabon’s novel that features a bisexual love triangle]. ‘Savage Grace’ — it’s about a man who is gay who has a strange relationship with his mother and ends up murdering her. And ‘Be Like Others,’ a really interesting documentary about gay and lesbian Iranians who undergo sex changes because it’s easier to live as the opposite sex than as gay in the society.”

What is the most ridiculous new lounge you’ve heard about that will debut in 2008? There are more every year!

“I hate to bash other people’s lounges! Let’s say this – there was a lounge that is allegedly on Main Street that basically used a sponsor that didn’t give them permission to use their name. There are a lot of shady events people in the world.”

And the gayest Queer Lounge party of 2008 will be?
“Homos Away From Home. It’s always fun because it gets so queer that gay boys and girls are making out with each other. In the past we’ve had John Cameron Mitchell DJing and sang happy birthday to Alan Cumming. And our kickoff party we’re doing on Saturday the 19th and I’m having The Donnas play. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

And finally, for festival newcomers: your Park City restaurant recommendations?
“I would eat sandwiches until you can save up enough money for Grappa or 350 Main. They’re very good but also very expensive. Or A Taste of Saigon in a little mall a few steps away from the QL.”

info: See www.queerlounge.org for more information.

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