Two decades ago, when the Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival was launched, a prevailing AIDS crisis here and abroad imposed some AIDS-themed films as part of the slate, however minimal.
Made sense then.
When the festival — originally called the Honolulu Adam Baran Gay Video/Film Festival, named for an AIDS victim who was an deejay/veejay at Hula’s Bar & Lei Stand — kicks off next Thursday with a screening of “Clapham Junction” at the Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, a big community issue has been civil union rights.
Not surprisingly, this concern — along with themes of gay adoption, lesbian alliances, gay-bashing, sexting — could well be from today’s headlines.
Thus, the plate is richer and fuller with a palate of films that reflect life and define the challenges and changes on the gaydar today.
Some films are told with unmerciful honesty, unsettling brutality, explicit sexuality. Not to shock or entertain, but to enlighten. Curiously, cell phones are part of the landscape in the story-sharing.
I imagine it would be somewhat daring for commercial cinema to show some titles, particularly since we don’t have a free-standing art house for a select audience.
Enter, the Rainbow Film Festival.
“We are vigilant about being true to our mission statement which includes ‘raising awareness of the community at large about gay and lesbian culture, arts and lifestyle through film,’” said Jeffrey L. Davis executive director of the upcoming festival about intent and scope.
“Tolerance and discrimination has ebbed and flowed through the years and in today’s society that is not enough,” said Connie Florez, veteran filmfest organizer r and now a board member of the HGLCF – the Honolulu Gay and Lesbitan Cultural Foundation, which is dedicated to educate and enlighten about the gay and lesbian culture and instill pride and respect among the gay community. “The struggle for 100 percent equality is within reach and the final destiny.”
And she feels cinema and the performing arts have a universal theme — “to search for peace and equality for all.
Where other filmfests attract traditional audiences, the Rainbow blends hues and choices suitable for everyone but aims to depict relevant storytelling concentrating on alternative lifestyles often dismissed in the mainstream. Thus, some entries could easily divide, disturb and delight viewers — both gay and straight — and would not likely to exhibited without festival sponsorship.
One film, “Shank,” shows how sexting and texting can deliver tenderness and bliss despite some horrific detours.
“Clapham Junction” (see review, in a separate blog) follows the lives of five gays and is told in an unraveling and overlapping tapestry reminiscent of “Crash,” where the stories of Los Angeles folks collided in a compelling way.
Another work, “Weak Species,” depicts how obsessive, experimental and uncertain youths can change to survive.
Yet another title, “Ferron,” chronicles a musical troubadour who views people, however diverse their orientation, as one — and leads a charmed life singing and sharing her music.
For international flavor, “When Kiran Met Karan,” is a Bollywood story with karma — and a lesbian slant with soap opera tactics.
How has the festival matured and grown now that it leaps into its third decade? We asked Florez and Jeff Davis:
Q: Has the underlying goal of the festival — to raise awareness, increase tolerance, and ease discrimination against the gay community — changed or grown from the launch 20 years ago?
Florez: “Over the years, we have brought indie films that have become Academy Award-winning titles such as ‘Gods and Monsters,’ ‘Transamerica’ ‘Red Without Blue.’ In recent years, the digital world of filmmaking has increased the quantity and quality of films in many areas, such as transgender everyday lives, youth education, civil unions and the history of gay rights activism with major films like ‘Milk’ (the closing feature, at 5 p.m. May 24).”
Q: The slate offers dramas, musicals, comedies, to shed light to the straight community that emotions and challenges are the same, no matter what your orientation. Do play to a homogeneous audience of both gays and straights?
Lewis: "The festival has attracted an increased cross section of the community and we welcome everyone – we have worked with the Life Foundation, PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and Aqua Hotels and Resorts to cross promote and worked tirelessly to convince local grants organizations to support us."
Q: How do you select titles for the Rainbow Film Festival — and how did you land Dustin Lance Black for an appearance?
Davis: "We are vigilant about being true to our mission statement. We were recently offered a cash sponsorship to screen a strongly political film that did not fit ... and did not address any LGBTQ message so we turned the offer down even though we could certainly have used the money. Our goal is to maintain integrity and a clear focus (and not accept bribes).
Working closely with Chris Lee (a Honolulu-born Hollywood producer and founder of the Academy for Creative Media at the University of Hawaii) as a consultant to this year’s festival we took a-four step approach to reaching out to Dustin Lance Black. (Lee asked Lance, through his agent; Gregory House’s Jonathan Berliner asked Cleve Jones, who worked with Black on ‘Milk,’ a HereTV! Source here knew Lance and dialogue with Black directly sealed the deal). The Halekulani provided a room and Continental
Airlines provided airfare."
Q: The LGBTQ community here just suffered a setback with the civil union issue at the legislature. Amid the films scheduled, there are documentaries that put a face on this plight. What's your take on art imitating life?
regarding what's depicted in film vs. what's happening in our front yard?
Florez: "When you reflect where the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender and Queer) community was 20 years ago to today…the present-day setback with Hawaii civil union issue is only temporary. With each adversity our LGBTQ community rises to a greater calling to provide more urgency for tomorrow. Film transforms each person with hope. Film can be about healing a community, it can be about the diversity of our communities from different cultures, countries and societies around the world. The evolution of change is present each year. For example we are seeing the production values increasing each year and the character stories continuously improving with the quantity of LGBTQ films from Japan, Korea, China, India, Mexico and UK to name a few. We are even seeing the first ever complete video from a single cell phone! What next!"
Davis: "Unfortunately, homophobia is still a challenge in so many areas of the gay and lesbian community, mostly in a subtle manner but recently this homophobia has manifested in such a vitriolic and disturbing platform. In film, we attempt to screen a balanced and objective view — which means we have films that are positive and light and also films that show that domestic and physical abuse and hate crimes ... to broaden our message on education and abuse prevention."
FROM TWO VIEWPOINTS
Jeff F. Davis recommends:
1 — “Clapham Junction”
2 — “When Kiran Met Karen”
3 — “Soundless Wind Chime”
Connie Florez recommends:
1 — “Ferron”
2 — “Weak Species”
3 — “Shank”
RAINBOW FILM FESTIVAL
Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Academy of Arts
Opening night: 7 p.m. Thursday
“Clapham Junction,” with “Change We Need” short and a performance by the Tau Dance Theatre
Closing night: 5 p.m. May 24
“Milk,” with guest appearance by Oscar-winning screenwriter-executive producer Dustin Lance Black, with “Let’s Not Even Go There!” and “Beauty Brawl” shorts
$20 opening night
$10 single tickets
$100 VIP Pass for all films and Gayla Reception May 24, $75 Pass to all films, $45 Gayla reception only
Student and military passes available