Queer Sundance

Sixteen films pushed the envelope at the annual film festival

by Lawrence Ferber

Brother to Brother

According to accounts both public and private, there’s always a share of audacious, barrier-breaking queer antics going down at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. In recent years, a gay movie director managed to lure a gaggle of Mormon high school boys to his condo’s Jacuzzi. A party for the film Party Monster made legendary status last year when a young local was stripped naked atop a platform and revelers (including real-life party monster James St. James) literally dipped their fingers into the honeypot. And the Sundance press office—populated by its share of homos—bestows an annual “Golden Toothbrush” award to the staffer who sleeps with the most people.

In 2004, however, most of the Sundance Festival’s queer boundary pushing and sexual indulgence was relegated onscreen via a spate of assured, original, and provocative gay works.

“They’re really taking chances, super pushing the boundaries,” says openly lesbian Sundance programmer Shari Frilot. “Last year the gay films were starting to become more continuous with other films—stories about the human experience that happened to be gay. The politics of queerness were not as in the front seat. This year’s films are harkening back to New Queer Cinema’s [heyday] in terms of really pushing the boundaries creatively, formally, and content wise—like [the incest-themed] Harry and Max, a film that’s even angering gay programmers! And it’s exciting, a serious sign of health in cinema.”

Here’s a rundown with the scoop on each of the queer offerings, including the distributor (if announced) and when you might see them playing near you. Of course, many of these flicks will pop up at upcoming gay film festivals.

Bright Young Things

Directed by Stephen Fry

Openly gay UK actor/writer Fry (Wilde) makes his directorial debut with this satirical tale of a young novelist caught up in the decadence, dandies, and very naughty parties of 1930s London. “I was just totally charmed,” Shari Frilot says. “I didn’t know there was an English version of Weimar Germany, so I was really excited to see that onscreen.” Acquired by THINKfilm.

Brother to Brother (pictured)

Directed by Rodney Evans

Evans sublimely interweaves the tales of two black men—elderly Bruce Nugent, who co-founded the literary journal Fire! with Langston Hughes, and young gay painter Perry Williams—during the Harlem Renaissance and today. Gorgeous cinematography, performances, and important revelations about gay black history and the present made this one of the fest’s most praised queer works—and winner of the special jury prize for dramatic feature.


Directed by Hector Babenco

Kiss of the Spider Woman/Pixote director Babenco returns to prison. Sao Paulo’s Carandiru prison is the setting for a story of the real-life 1992 massacre of over 100 prisoners, including drag queens and gay men. Madame Sata star Lazaro Ramos plays a jailed surfer, and heartthrob Rodrigo Santor (seen in Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle) plays the transvestite Lady Di. Sony Classics will unspool the film in Los Angeles and New York in May.


Directed by Angela Robinson

Finally, the female super agent genre receives a dyked-up overhaul. A clan of young female operatives (who dress in schoolgirl outfits) track down the legendary villainess Lucy Diamond—but one of the D.E.B.S. realizes that she would rather love Lucy than arrest her. D.E.B.S. began as a short film screened at Sundance 2003. After it received a tremendous response, Sony’s Screen Gems division backed the feature version.


Directed by Michael Clancy

Kelly Preston and Famke Janssen play a lesbian couple in this knee-slapping comedy-of-bad-manners about a dysfunctional family from hell convening after their patriarch kicks the bucket. There are even more queers hidden in the haystack, though. Comeback lady Debra Winger provides a hysterical, memorable performance. Acquired by Lions Gate Films for 2004 release.


Directed by Adi Barash and Ruthie Shatz

A somber documentary following two teenage Tel Aviv hustlers—illegal Palestinian Nino and Israeli-Arab pal Dudu—as they turn tricks, survive beatings by militia (scenes where they reveal gunshot scars from interrogations send shivers up the spine), and alternately cling to/fight with each other. This garden’s occupants are a universe away from the suicide bombers and soldiers so often seen in media.

Harry and Max

Directed by Christopher Munch

What if former Backstreet Boy Nick Carter and his younger brother, teenybopper idol Aaron Carter, were having an affair? Munch imagines the provocative possibilities without casting judgment. Bryce Johnson (also of Home of Phobia) stars as Harry, boy-band star gone solo, who takes a life-changing camping trip with younger brother Max (adorable Cole Williams, who last played gay in Boys Life 4’s “LTR”). Rain Phoenix co-stars. Curiously, Williams briefly worked alongside Aaron Carter on a scrapped film project last year called Camp Summerstage. Distribution negotiations are in progress.

Haute Tension

Directed by Alexandre Aja

Hot on the tail of the ’70s-style horror movie revival (Wrong Turn, Texas Chainsaw Massacre) comes this jolting, super-gory French effort about a young lesbian who must save her best friend—and biggest crush—from a razor-wielding killer. GLAAD members might emerge from the theater with ruffled feathers, but this is one gleefully gruesome thrill ride. Due in 2004 from Lions Gate Films.

Home of Phobia

Directed by Ryan Shiraki

When Clay, a college freshman, is mistaken as gay, he decides to keep up the ruse to seduce a sorority girl—with sometimes havoc-wreaking effects. Un-PC and playfully facetious about identity politics, Home co-stars John Goodman as a nelly bartender who helps induct Clay in the art of faggotry.

In the Company of Women

Directed by Leslie Klainberg and Gini Reticker

Sundance programmer Frilot appears in this Independent Film Channel original documentary celebrating female filmmakers and their impact on Hollywood and indie cinema and culture. Subjects include B. Ruby Rich, Kimberly Peirce, Patricia Clarkson, Jodie Foster, Parker Posey, Mary Harron, Tilda Swinton, and Lili Taylor. Debuts March 18 on IFC.

Love in Thoughts

Directed by Achim on Borries

In 1927 Berlin, Guenther, a well-off prep school student, and working-class poet friend Paul spend a weekend at Guenther’s summerhouse with frisky sister Hilde. Their vacation soon swells into an explosion of polysexual sex, drugs, booze, confused emotions, and bloody consequences.

Raspberry Reich

Directed by Bruce LaBruce

Gay Canadian provocateur LaBruce blends art, porn, and politics in an überqueer film about left-wing German terrorists whose leader forces straight male members to have sex with each other to “prove their mettle as authentic revolutionaries.” Frilot credits Raspberry with boasting the most cumshots ever seen in a Sundance movie. From Strand Releasing.


Directed by Brian Dannely

When Mary’s boyfriend Dean proclaims that he is gay, a life-changing chain reaction is set off in their religious high school. This zingy comedy stars Mandy Moore as bitchy star student Hilary Faye. The film’s premiere was deluged with Moore’s sycophants. United Artists will release Saved beginning this month.


Directed by Jonathan Caouette

Caouette’s experimental feature about his queer life and troubled family incorporates video footage he has accumulated since childhood. “The great thing about Tarnation is this guy cut it on iMovie on an old Mac computer,” Frilot observes. “He says it cost $218. Of course, he’s been shooting it 20 years and the accounting is kind of slippery, but it’s undeniable that it’s a statement for super, super low-budget filmmaking.”

A Thousand Peace Clouds Encircle the Sky

Directed by Julian Hernandez

Shot in beautiful black and white, the poetic Clouds follows Mexico City teenager Gerardo as he wanders the streets in pursuit of a lover. Each man he encounters offers cash instead of love or connection, until Gerardo hooks up with—and loses—a guy who seems different. Can he track down this man again? Fun fact: Hernandez’s films often have lengthier titles than dialogue. Clouds’s original title is 13 words long. Acquired by Strand Releasing.

Touch of Pink

Directed by Ian Iqbal Rashid

Jimi Mistry stars as Alim, a gay Indian-Canadian living in London with the two men he loves: his boyfriend Giles (Kristen Holden-Ried) and Cary Grant’s apparition (Kyle MacLachlan). When Alim’s traditionalist mother, unaware of her son’s sexuality, visits, all sorts of antics transpire à la The Wedding Banquet (The Wedding Banghra?). Hollywood Reporter raved: “Touch of Pink has a touch of magic.” Sony Pictures Classics agreed, snatching up the film.

Lawrence Ferber reported from Sundance in the March 2003 OutSmart.


After seven years as a summer event, the Houston Gay & Lesbian Film Festival has moved to the fall. The dates are September 9–19. More info:


Lawrence Ferber

Lawrence Ferber is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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