When the Pikes Peak Lavender Film Festival first lit up movie screens here, "the town had a horrible reputation around the world in the gay community," remembers festival director Alma Cremonesi. When you mentioned Colorado Springs, she says, talk immediately turned to the notorious Amendment 2 or Focus on the Family.
"It was heartbreaking to us, as LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people, to see what was happening here, because this had been one of the warmest, nicest places you'd ever want to live during the '60s and '70s," she says. "Everybody was interested in you, and embraced you, and encouraged you to be part of the community. And then all of a sudden, we were inundated by this terrible hatred and we wanted to do something about that."
What they did was create a festival they hoped would not only entertain, but educate. This year that hope continues as the three-day festival brings nine feature films and nine shorts to Colorado College's Armstrong Hall and Cornerstone Arts Center.
"First, I hope that LGBT people will feel validated," says Cremonesi. "And secondly, I hope they learn just how many friends we have in Colorado Springs."
For straight viewers, Cremonesi hopes the films can help them see LGBT people more fully.
"Years ago, if there was a gay character in a movie, he usually was swishy and had a high voice, those kinds of things," she says. "Now if you watch the films in the Pikes Peak Lavender Film Festival, you see the complexity of human beings and you see the complexity of gay people."
Cremonesi points to a variety of factors influencing these changes from films like Brokeback Mountain to people like Mike Jones, who outed New Life Church founder Ted Haggard.
"For people who are kind of on the edge who don't necessarily embrace gay people, but who want to understand more this is a good place to start," she says.
What they'll find at the festival are a variety of films from the U.S. and a couple foreign countries that include LGBT characters ranging from school-age kids to adults, from cheerleaders to religious leaders.
"In some of the films, the lesbian or the gay man is central to the story, and sometimes they're just very peripheral," says Cremonesi, who laughs as she adds, "A lot of people thought we were showing porn when we first started. Because whenever you say 'gay' or 'lesbian,' they think of sex. But of course, that's not the case at all. These really are films with a lot of taste."
But good taste doesn't preclude partying, and Cremonesi says the festival will offer plenty of that as well. In addition to Q&As with filmmakers and cast members, the festival will feature an opening-night reception with food, wine and beer, plus after-parties on Saturday at the Underground (110 N. Nevada Ave.) and Sunday at Metropolis (1201 W. Colorado Ave.).
"That Colorado Springs hosts the longest-running LGBT film festival in Colorado makes a difference," says Cremonesi. "So if you feel strongly about that that you wish Colorado Springs had a more balanced or better image then this might be something you want to support and enjoy."
Five Lavender flicks in which you can immerse yourself
Friday, Sept. 19, 8 p.m.
Steam, the festival's opening night feature, tells three stories, each spotlighting a woman at a different life juncture. There's a college-aged lesbian (Kate Siegel) struggling to break from her controlling family, a woman at midlife (Ally Sheedy) finding new strength (and a younger boyfriend) following a divorce, and an older woman (Ruby Dee) finding love again after the death of her husband. The stories intersect only when the women meet to unwind in the same steam room, but they work together because of their shared theme of transition. At two hours, Steam runs a tad long, but uses the time to bring each story to a satisfying conclusion.
Saturday, Sept. 20, 3:45 p.m.
As the festival's only Colorado-made movie, The Sensei does its best to represent. Much in this deeply sincere film will feel familiar to locals. It's set in a tiny Colorado town amidst the AIDS hysteria of the '80s, and follows a gay teenager (Mike O'Laskey) who's beaten by local rednecks. When the town's karate studio declines his application, he secretly goes into training with a martial arts master (D. Lee Inosanto, also the writer and director) who's been similarly rejected because she's a woman. The picture tends toward overexplanation, and its opening and closing sequences feel forced, but much of the rest rings true.
Call Me Troy
Sunday, Sept. 21, noon
Using interviews, archival footage and photos, this inspiring documentary tells the life story of preacher, activist and visionary Troy D. Perry. Following his coming out, a suicide attempt and the realization that he could be gay and be loved by God, the former Pentecostal minister founded the Metropolitan Community Church in 1968. (The denomination's member congregations now number in the hundreds worldwide.) Call Me Troy gives a glimpse not only into Perry's personal history and the church's beginning, but also into the history of the gay rights movement, including California's Briggs initiative, Anita Bryant and orange juice, the AIDS crisis, same-sex marriage and more.
Sunday, Sept. 21, 2:30 p.m.
Anyone who's ever felt different will appreciate Ready? OK!, an utterly enjoyable dramedy about a boy (Lurie Poston) who's convinced he belongs on his Catholic school's cheer squad. While the eternally optimistic 10-year-old never doubts himself despite the nuns' rule book, his stressed-out single mom (Carrie Preston) grapples over his interest. A wayward uncle, a tough-talking grandma and an insightful gay neighbor round out the superb cast. While it may sound sappy, writer-director James Vasquez's film manages to be fresh, funny, smart and even a touch edgy. Think Little Miss Sunshine meets Bring It On. Anyway you flip it, it's F-U-N!
Sunday, Sept. 21, 7:45 p.m.
Ruby Blue follows a gruff English widower (Bob Hoskins) fighting regrets and the lure of alcohol after his wife's death. As he struggles with his darker impulses, he finds himself stuck babysitting a neighbor girl, befriending a young street thug and being drawn under the spell of the delightfully buoyant French woman (Josiane Balasko, playing a transsexual) who lives next door. As she coaxes him out of his funk with her cooking, he starts to enjoy the child's company and finds purpose in mentoring the young man. When the lives of the characters converge in a crisis, the film becomes a subtle, yet effective, cautionary tale about the dangers of acting on misconceptions.