Update: Something Queer This Year

UPDATE: Theatrically released in Autumn from Roadside Attractions, SAVE ME tells the touching story of two gay lovers set within an ex-gay ministry in the Southwestern United States.

Jenni Olsen and Stephen Gutwillig

Mark Fichandler and Craig Chester

Park City, Jan 22. At Sundance, if it’s Sunday, then it’s probably time for the Queer Brunch. Started in 1998, the Queer Brunch has turned into one of the most trustworthy event for scrambled eggs, watered-down cocktails and festival gossip. Hosted by here! [www.heretv.com] and Outfest [www.outfest.org], the Queer Brunch, according to Outfest Director Stephen Gutwillig, “is the singular queer family gathering at Sundance. It creates a dependable space for hundreds and hundreds of queers and their friends to meet in an atmosphere where no one has to worry about not getting in.”

The Queer Brunch has differentiated itself from other parties in two ways. There is no door policy — everyone, even straight people are welcome — and the event doesn’t take place on Main Street. THE JOY OF LIFE [www.joyoflifemovie.com] Filmmaker Jenni Olsen, one the Brunch’s founders, remembers how it came about. “In 1996, I spoke with Morgan Rumpf, the then head of Outfest and we both wanted to do some sort of queer party. We teamed up with ITVS and each chipped in about $100 for bagels and stuff. And since we couldn’t afford a venue on Main Street, we found the Grub Steak Restaurant, which only wanted $7.25 a person to cater. That year we had about 50 people. Now it seems like everyone wants in.”

Notable at this year’s Queer Brunch was the cast of SAVE ME (including Chad Allen [www.chadallenonline.com], Robert Gant [www.robertgant.com] and Judith Light [www.judithlight.com]). SAVE ME, which premiered Sunday night, is one of the few gay features here at Sundance. Craig Chester [www.craigchester.com], who wrote the screenplay, remembers the film’s decade long journey: “Seeing the movie last night was like I had been waiting to exhale for 10 years. After I wrote the first draft 11 years ago, the film took a lenghty trip, first under development with Fox Searchlight for 3 years,” and then on to other producers and writers before ending up with director Robert Cary. For Chester, “the soul and heart of our version is still intact, having survived all these people putting their hands on it.”

Mark Fichandler and Craig Chester

SAVE ME — about a gay man dealing with drug and sex addiction being forced into Christian recovery center — was based on Chester’s own experience going undercover into a gay “Reparative Therapy” group. “In some ways,” Chester reflects, “in the last 10 years since I wrote it, the film has become even more relevant with the rise of the Christian right.”

Originally in Sundance in 1991 as the lead in Tom Kalin’s artful murder piece SWOON [en.wikipedia.org], Chester remembers that “I’ve been here with six films with gay topics.” How has Sundance changed? For Chester, “When it started it was more queer, but now it is more gay. Early films came out of gay and AIDS activism. But now, with gay cable television and so much more product out there, the necessity of a gay film is less clear.”

The religious oppression facing gay people was very clear for Daniel G. Karslake, the director of the documentary FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO [www.forthebibletellsmeso.org]. Exploring how gay men and lesbians have suffered under the theological bullying of the Christian right, the documentary draws in people as diverse as the openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson [www.nhepiscopal.org], Archbishop Desmond Tutu [en.wikipedia.org], and lesbian minister Irene Monroe [thewitness.org]. But at the premiere, the filmmakers welcomed on to the Park City stage a different kind of celebrity, Missouri Senator Richard Gephardt [en.wikipedia.org], who appears in the film with his out lesbian daughter Chrissy Gephardt.

Peter Bowen

Senior Editor, Filmmaker Magazine