Aren’t most film festivals pretty queer already? Isn’t the film industry full of ‘mos?
That may be the case, but according to Queer Lounge executive director Ellen Huang, the ‘mos don’t always know where to find each other. Huang, a former feature film executive in LA (where she worked for Helen Hunt’s company), founded Queer Lounge three years ago after attending Cannes and realizing many queer execs working in the mainstream could use what she calls “a home away from home to further their professional networking and careers.”
Huang also noticed a lack of interaction between queers working in the mainstream film industry and those in indie film. The Queer Lounge mandate is “to bring cross-awareness of queer film and filmmakers to broad audiences — gay and not gay,” states Huang via e-mail, as she works around-the-clock to prepare for the local debut of Queer Lounge at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). “Additionally, it’s to provide opportunities and events to network and strengthen the ties between queer filmmakers, producers, editors, acquisitions people, etc, while bridging the queer film community with the mainstream industry.”
Launched at the Sundance Film Festival three years ago as what was intended to be a one-off event, Queer Lounge took off, instantly drawing a crowd. Offering a mix of panels and parties Queer Lounge provided an antidote to the sense of alienation that queer filmmakers and industry-types often encounter at large mainstream film festivals, while simultaneously attracting a smattering of celebs including Toni Collette, Naomi Watts, John Waters and Gus Van Sant. Professional party-girl Paris Hilton even dropped by, surely lured by the fact that, as Huang asserts, “Queers throw the best parties — everyone knows that!”
As we also know, where celebrities go, media follows, resulting in mainstream press for queer-oriented films that otherwise would have flown under the radar. “Because of Queer Lounge, top publications and news services for the first time covered a high-profile mainstream film festival from the perspective of queer films,” recounts Huang. “That kind of exposure is invaluable.”
Buoyed by its success at Sundance, Huang is excited about bringing Queer Lounge to TIFF for the first time. TIFF’s status as one of the top film festivals in the world makes it a crucial launching pad for queer films into the mainstream and Huang cites the twin successes of Brokeback Mountain and Capote last year as an important reason for Queer Lounge to be here. Queer Lounge’s presence at the festival will assist queer films and film-makers make deals, gain audiences and attract press attention.
Queer Lounge’s Canadian coming out looks to be quite the affair, launching with a series of high profile parties and events, most of which are open to the public — another key difference between Queer Lounge and the invite-only nature typical of most TIFF parties.
A highlight will be the panel discussion on the bound-to-be-controversial boho-porno Shortbus, featuring director John Cameron Mitchell, producer Howard Gertler and local luminary Sook-Yin Lee (for more on the film turn to page 6 of this supplement).
Other panels include Post-Brokeback: New Horizons In Financing LGBT Film and a discussion with Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox (Yossi And Jagger, Walk On Water), back at TIFF with his new film Bubble, a love story between two men — one Israeli, one Palestinian.
But as Paris knows, it’s the parties that matter. Queer Lounge hosts two of the three coolest queer parties this year. The Shortbus premiere party and concert on Sun, Sep 10 at the Phoenix boasts an eclectic lineup including Lee and her director (if we’re lucky he’ll break out the Hedwig tunes) along with performances by Gentleman Reg and Kids On TV among others (both Reg and KOTV’s John Caffery appear in film). The Shortbus party in Cannes was reportedly a sexy, debauched affair so expect an unforgettable evening. Then Hawksley Workman performs at the Bubble premiere party and concert on Sep 11 at the Phoenix. (The third big queer party is the annual Gay Flambé — last year Michael Stipe dropped by. This year the party is on Thu, Sep 14 and hosted by a trio of local queer institutions: Xtra, Inside Out and Buddies In Bad Times Theatre.)
An industry vet, Huang knows the truth of the mantra, “It’s who you know,” and she regards the Queer Lounge soirées as “parties with a purpose,” where emerging filmmakers can, “get exposure to the talent, to the key people in the film industry who can make a difference in your career and get your film made.”
Huang feels it’s all about facilitating and promoting. “When I hear stories of people saying they met a producer, or someone who financed and distributed their film at Queer Lounge, I feel proud of what it’s achieving,” she says.
“One-of-a-kind-fantastic,” is how Huang sums up Queer Lounge, capturing both the spirit and intent of the event, with just the right touch of Hollywood hyperbole.