BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Organizers of the annual Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival say the success of this year’s festival — No. 13 — depends on much more than luck.
New festival board chairwoman Lily Saborit says many of this year’s 60 or so movies have a “Made in Miami” feel and were carefully chosen to reflect South Florida’s vast diversity.
“We have great foreign films, great lesbian films, gay films, young films not just for gay youth but for youth in general,” Saborit says. “We’re sharing stories about multiple cultures, multiple groups, and we’re keeping the film festival moving.”
Saborit says she and her life partner, Angela Nowland, have a personal stake in the festival’s success: Their daughters, Samantha, 20, and Rebecca, 17, have recently come out as lesbians.
“The festival is important to me, because it’s a platform to utilize film and stories to entertain, educate and inspire,” Saborit says. “The reason I got involved … is to make an impact, to help the next generation, kids like my daughters.”
Says Saborit: “We have some exciting world premieres, Florida premieres. We have great filmmakers coming into town who are going to be doing Q&As.”
Among the films to be shown at the festival, which runs through May 1 at various theaters throughout Miami-Dade County: Kick Off, a British import set at an afternoon soccer match; Going Down in La-La Land, about an actor in Los Angeles and written by former South Florida journalist Andy Zeffer; Daphne, a memoir based on the love life of author Daphne du Maurier and Fit, a drama about a British dance teacher and his students.
Presented by Miami-Dade County and HBO, this year’s festival features a new highlight: “Made in Miami” night on Tuesday in a drive-in setting at the new seventh-floor garage at 1111 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. Several world premieres will debut that night: Earwig directed by Max Emerson and Vincent J. Cardinal, former chairman of the theater-arts department at the University of Miami; Dipspit about a pair of straight male models living with a gay student on Ocean Drive directed by Emerson and Justin James; and Mariquita, a fictionalized story about a gay Coral Gables boy who comes out to his family at an aunt’s birthday party.
“I get emotional,” Saborit, 45, says speaking about Mariquita. “This story is from the perspective of a 10-year-old that had the courage to come out to his family in a very public way. A Hispanic family no less — how the family reacts to his openness in knowing that he’s gay at such an early age.
“It’s a powerful story that is relevant to today and continues to happen,” says Saborit, who lives with her family in Miami Springs. “It’s relevant here because there’s such a huge population of Hispanics that have to deal with kids’ coming out, and it’s so reflective of the culture. I’ve heard stories of kids who came out to their parents and were beaten with broomsticks. Maybe if we share that it’s not such a culture stigma, we can change some minds and open some hearts.”
The 14-minute Mariquita is produced and directed by South Florida married filmmakers Grela Orihuela and Bill Bilowit, who developed the concept and story based upon a boy he went to elementary school with in New York City during the 1960s.
“This childhood friend was flamboyantly gay,” Bilowit says. “This was in Greenwich Village. Where I grew up this was just part of life. In a sense, gay wasn’t just strictly defined as sexual preference. It was more a gender or a behavioral thing. After fifth grade, we went to different schools, and I lost track of him.”
Bilowit says that as adults he and his friend stumbled upon each other one more time, “and some years later I found out he died of AIDS.”
Mariquita — “Little Pansy” — is shot on video, documentary style through the eyes of the boy, played by Galt Mikesell. The audience hears him speak but never sees his face.
“It’s a story that I made up and shot in an extremely realistic way,” Bilowit says. “It was shot so that if it was put up on YouTube, people might think it was genuine. I’m making a point another way.”
Bilowit says he tossed around a film of this type for about two years and decided to make it after a string of highly publicized gay-teen suicides last fall.
“I know that children come out at very young ages, but it’s not an account I saw anywhere,” Bilowit says. “What actually got me into converting this idea was not the kids who committed suicide but seeing their parents on TV. Some of these parents seemed so completely surprised. It was hard for me to imagine something happens so sudden.”
Bilowit, who is not a parent, brought on two friends as co-producers: Miami artist Xavier Cortada and his partner of 15 years, Juan Carlos Espinosa, associate dean and fellow of the Honors College at Florida International University.
“It’s a movie that’s about truth, about tolerance and acceptance in the context of Miami-Dade County,” Cortada says. “What you see in the movie is a boy who’s completely comfortable with who he is in a world that’s uncomfortable with it. You see it unfold in a Coral Gables household where everyone is happy and comfortable and aloof, as long as it’s not discussed.”
Cortada, 46, says his favorite moment in Mariquita is the final scene.
“You would expect a hysterical response from the mother. That’s not what this film is about,” Cortada says. “The reason I’m involved … is because I want that openness, particularly by the mother, to be replicated in households all across America. I’m tired of seeing the video of the parents who lament the kids who were bullied or committed suicide.”
IF YOU GO
The 2011 Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival runs through May 1 at the Regal Cinemas, 1100 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Rd., and the Coral Gables Art Cinema, 260 Aragon Ave. Check the festival’s website, www.mglff.com to buy tickets and for up-to-date details including pricing.