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A Gay Gala 

The annual LGBT film festival goes all out.

There won't be visitors from Planet Transsexual, but anybody else could show up at the eighth Wingspan FilmFest March 6-9 at the Loft Cinema. This annual lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender film festival is produced by Wingspan, Southern Arizona's LGBT community center, along with Tucson's progressive, grassroots video production company Pan Left.

This year, more than 50 films will be shown on both screens at the Loft. In addition, noted film scholar Richard Dyer, professor of film studies at Warwick University in the United Kingdom and visiting professor at New York University, will moderate a Saturday discussion of "Queer Noir"--dark, shadowy thrillers rich with threat and anxiety.

According to Dyer, members of the LGBT community are often portrayed on film as decadent, evil and negative, but at the same time, their screen incarnations can be fun, fabulous and well-dressed. He says this paradox is particularly obvious in films during and after World War II, the golden age of film noir, in characters like Joel Cairo, played by Peter Lorre, in The Maltese Falcon. Included in the discussion will be such issues as why gay characters appeared at that time and why there are relatively fewer lesbian characters.

Kent Burbank, Wingspan's executive director, is excited, and for good reason. Burbank has not only managed to land Dyer, but he's also sought out the expertise of Pan Left to assist in organizing and running the festival. That alliance has brought in Asian-American filmmaker Arthur Dong for the opening-night festivities. Dong, of Deep Focus Productions, has appeared at Sundance and, specializing in documentaries, was recently elected to the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Dong will screen his critically acclaimed film Family Fundamentals, which examines the cultural wars over homosexuality as experienced by three fundamentalist Christian families with gay adult children.

Dong has stated his motivation behind the film was a "desire to address the deep divide between the gay community and conservative religious rights groups by focusing on the universal theme of the family."

"I studied religion and gained more knowledge and respect about a topic I knew little about," he said. "I needed that understanding in order for me to critique it. I needed to understand it so that I can explore the minds and forces that I feel are oppressing my people."

Wingspan's Burbank has also been working with Michael Lumpkin as an advisor to ratchet up the festival's quality. Lumpkin is the director of the San Francisco LGBT festival and Frameline, the largest LGBT film company in the United States.

"San Francisco still is unique in that the community is large and unique enough to show films there no one else has ever seen," says Burbank. "We're not large enough in Tucson to do premieres; however, what we can do is to make our festivals have meaning and significance by providing a diversity of views through the use of experts in film and festival organizing.

"It's also becoming apparent that more and more mainstream films have gay characters in them. And this is a way for LGBT people here to reach out to our straight allies in the larger community and include them in the sharing of stories relevant to our lives that even a lot of educated people, so to speak, don't get. What better way than a weekend of film and fun to do that?"

On the agenda for the festival's opening night on Thursday is Dong's Family Fundamentals, followed by a reception. Later in the weekend come other films that center on the good, the bad and the ugly--yet sometimes funny--moments in familial relations. The theme of religion continues through Ordinary Sinner, Trembling and Questioning Faith on Saturday and Sunday, followed by a panel discussion on spirituality facilitated by Fenton Johnson Sunday afternoon.

Road Trip and Therapy are just that and more, in examining the metaphorical and fictional processes of therapy in healing psychic wounds. These films show at various times throughout the festival.

For those with an interest in lesbian dance-floor etiquette and gender-bending fun with baby butch heroes, tranny sailors, cross-dressers and femmes, be sure to catch the five shorts of Grrls and Bois on Friday and Saturday.

And to foster that sense of community, inclusion and awareness Burbank speaks of, everyone's invited.

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