As they have done for the past seven years, seemingly against all odds in the conservative enclave of Colorado Springs, Lavender Film Festival organizers have selected a winning group of gay-, lesbian- and transgender-themed films for their annual event.
"We're still here!" says a dazed Alma Cremonesi, who has led the film's search committee since its inception.
This year's opening night gala will feature Why We Sing!, a celebratory feature-length documentary that explores the social and cultural power of gay, lesbian and transgender choral music. GALA (the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses) hosts an international festival once every four years, and this film was taped at the most recent gathering in Montreal, where some 5,000 singers converged.
Director Lawrence B. Dillon, also a tenor in the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, chose to focus on four groups. They include his own, the first to use the word "gay" in its name; Diverse Harmony from Seattle, a gay-straight alliance youth chorus; MUSE, Cincinnati's women's choir; and Transcendence Gospel Choir, the first all-transgender chorus.
Added to the mix are performance shots of choirs from Seattle, Paris, Hamburg, Denver and Washington, D.C., and a fascinating look at Tach'Shitim, a Jewish octet.
The screening of Why We Sing! will be preceded by a live concert from Out Loud: Colorado Springs Men's Chorus, formed last October by a group of eight men who practiced in the basement of downtown's First Congregational Church. In December, they sang for the first time in front of the congregation.
"We did "Seasons of Love' from Rent, and a version of "In the Bleak Midwinter.' We didn't have a conductor," remembers Guy McPherson, now board president of Out Loud. "The audience went wild."
The group decided to create a true community chorus and started rehearsals in January. Charlie Kurchinski of the Springs emerged as artistic director, and the choir's membership expanded.
On April 21, First Congregational Church overflowed with more than 800 audience members, including supporters from the Denver Men's Chorus, for Out Loud's first official concert. McPherson tears up as he remembers the power of that night.
"As we came up the stairs, they were chanting: "Be proud, Out Loud! Be proud, Out Loud!"
The evening was a triumph, ending with "Seasons of Love," which the chorus will sing at Lavender's opening night. They also plan to perform "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables, "I Am What I Am" from La Cage aux Folles, and a final song, "Why We Sing."
Just as the film explores these choral groups' roots in the peace, civil rights, feminist and gay rights movements of the '60s, '70s and '80s, McPherson understands the choruses' role as part of a social movement for acceptance. While the joy of song binds singers and audience, the experience "opens hearts and changes lives" through music, "a way of communicating that people are willing to listen to."
Out Loud's next public performance will be at First Congregational on Nov. 17-18.
Other highlights of the Lavender festival include a screening of Spain's Queens (Reinas), a slapstick romantic farce involving five indomitable middle-aged mothers coping with the drama surrounding their gay sons' impending participation in an historic public marriage ceremony.
Boy Culture, an American entry, offers strong performances by an ensemble cast, stylish filming and a lucid script that explores the inner-workings of a hustler, X, who's afraid he'll lose his edge if he allows himself to fall in love.
Not available for screening but heralded by press from other festivals are the coming-of-age tale A Very Serious Person, directed by and featuring Charles Busch; Looking for Cheyenne, a French social drama, and Puccini for Beginners, a romantic comedy about shifting sexual liaisons, structured as a three-act opera.
Seventh annual Pikes Peak Lavender Film Festival
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St.
Friday, Sept. 15, through Sunday, Sept. 17
For complete schedule and to buy tickets online, visit lavenderfilm.org. Tickets: $10-$12 for individual shows; $25 for opening night; $75 for full festival pass.
OUTtakes: A Queer Film Series
The Smokebrush Foundation has partnered with the Lavender Film Festival to screen a series of related films that won't be shown at the festival.
Follow My Voice: With the Music of Hedwig, a tribute to John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Thursday, Sept. 14, 7:30 p.m.
The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg
Saturday, Sept. 30, 6 p.m.
Each show will be held at the Smokebrush Gallery (218 W. Colorado Ave.), and tickets will be $5 at the door. For more information, visit smokebrush.org.