Screening room A fledgling filmmaker shows his wares
Jeff Anderson stood in front of a two-thirds-full theater Saturday night, fidgeting with his San Diego Film Festival ID badge. The badge, which had previously hung from a chain around his neck, became a manipulative of sorts, helping Anderson channel his nerves during a brief Q and A with the audience that had just screened his new film, Now You Know. The weekend-long film festival, which showcased more than 70 indie films, was the first official outing for Now You Know (previous showings had been from tape and for smaller audiences) that Anderson not only wrote and directed but also stars in.
A New Joy-zee boy with California good looks, Anderson's best known for his role as Randal Graves in the 1994 slacker classic, Clerks. It was high school pal Kevin Smith who persuaded Anderson to audition for Clerks and it's perhaps on Smith's coattails that Anderson's cruising these days. For those of you who've spent the last few years under a rock, the bearded Smith has written, directed and acted in a cadre of chatty, geeky buddy pics such as Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and the aforementioned Clerks. Smith also makes a brief, token appearance in Now You Know, and his influence lurks throughout the film in the form of perverse, tasteless humor, juxtaposed with a conflicted guy/girl relationship.
If you weren't among the 200 or so attendees at Now You Know's world premiere Saturday night, here's a brief synopsis of the film: “On the eve of his bachelor party, the would-be groom learns his fiancée wants to cancel their wedding. A hilarious story unfolds about love, friendships and the basic insanity of relationships.”
Overall, it's a harmless flick, except for a couple of questionable homosexual jokes and the overwhelming presence of alcohol-something that wouldn't be an issue except for the way the actors drink it. Dialog is punctuated by constant swigs from a bottle and during lengthy chats between characters, you can't help but fixate on the persistent swigging ‘til it practically occludes dialog. (Anderson later revealed that it was actually watered down apple juice in the bottles.)
After the film, Anderson invited two of his actors-Todd Babcock and Heather Paige Kent-to join him at the front of the theater. Anderson did the requisite round of thank-yous to his crew and to the movie's investors and then opened up to questions.
“Was the film shot on location?” was the first question. (It takes place in New Jersey).
Van Nuys, actually, replied Anderson. “We looked long and hard for a street that looked like Jersey,” he said, quite pleased with the selected locale's East Coast likeness.
“What happens next?” came a voice from the front row (like most independent films, Now You Know will be confined to the festival circuit unless someone picks it up for wider release).
“I need you people to storm the distributors,” Anderson said. “We try and sell the movie, or we just hold it for ourselves and show it every now and then,” he laughed, glancing over at one of his investors. “We want to make Dan his money back.”
Then came a string of expected questions from the film schoolers in the crowd: What did Anderson like better, writing or directing (“writing”); was it hard to direct and star in the film (“yes”); what was it like when Smith saw the movie? (“like showing it to my dad,” said Anderson).
“What about the budget?” someone asked.
“The figure you have in your head,” Anderson replied, “cut it in half.” But, he explained, what he couldn't offer his actors in their paychecks, he made up for in food. “I sampled food trucks the week before and I picked out the best food truck I could afford,” he said.
“Everybody knew you weren't going to have stardust sprinkled on you as you walked on the set,” added Babcock, who's had a string of bit parts in TV and film. “It was like, ‘Sure, I'll provide my own costume.'”
After a couple more queries came that expected wrap-up question that would allow Anderson to move on to the after party at the Hyatt: What's he got planned next?
“I have no next project,” said Anderson. “Maybe something with Kevin Smith.”
“I'm developing my next soon-to-be-cancelled TV show,” said Kent, who starred in CBS' short-lived series Get a Life.
And for Babcock? “My next stop is the Exxon on the way back to L.A.,” he said with a slight pause and a grin, “before my seventh callback for JAG.”
Layered identities Black-and gay-and damn proud of it
Acceptance can be a rare commodity for someone who's Black and gay. Living in the Black community for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) African Americans usually means being subjected to endless anti-gay expletives. And gay communities, as culturally inclusive as they may seem, have racial issues like the rest of America.
Black and gay, however, was the thing to be at the inaugural LGBT Ebony Pride Festival. Billed as “A Soul Enlightenment,” the event provided a unique atmosphere where Black people who happen to be gay could express themselves freely without fear of public backlash.
Although many attendees viewed Ebony Pride as a temporary Shangri-la of Black gay love, for others it was a sign of evolving times.
“I've been in San Diego for 17 years, and there has never been any event like this,” said Wayne Rufus. “When you look at the African American gay community, people are afraid because if you come out, you're ostracized in the Black community-and you're not necessarily welcome in the gay community. This year it seems like more people are coming out and taking ownership of the African American gay community.”
Sandra Clayborn, event co-organizer, said it was necessary because African Americans are not always properly represented in the annual San Diego Gay Pride celebration. “The regular pride celebration has no focus on African Americans. You're just there for the weekend,” said Clayborn. “For years we have not had a voice in the LGBT community. This festival, although it's very small, it has definitely brought visibility to us.”
The event also proved that there is truly no stereotype for being Black and gay. Among the crowd, dreadlocked couples could be seen embracing one another, alongside a few brothers and sisters dressed from head to toe in black leather.
Elaine McMullen-who looked like a dominatrix version of funk bassist Me'shell Ndegeocello, wearing Masai neck rings and combat boots-shed light on benefits of the leather community and S&M education. “It's erotic, a catharsis, and it allows us to involve ourselves in fantasies that are safe, with whomever elects to participate in those fantasies,” said McMullen. “I think that once we are all allowed to surrender, we will all grow.”
Speaking of surrender, also in attendance were members of the U.S. Armed Forces, who left their “don't ask don't tell” orders at the door. Army Reservist D-Lois was one such individual. According to D-Lois, there are more than a few gay Black folks in uniform-unbeknownst to their superiors-and Ebony Pride allowed for them to “come out” without fear. “It's nice to be able to come to an event and be around people just like yourself,” D-Lois said.
San Diego City Councilmember Toni Atkins was on hand to present an official resolution recognizing Ebony Pride-predictably, signed by every City Council member except George Stevens, the council's only African American. Needless to say, Stevens, who also has a solid record of being the council's most ardent anti-gay voice, was nowhere to be found.
Atkins, on the other hand, said the event was an important opportunity to recognize the diversity in the city's LGBT community.
“It isn't just the White community,” Atkins said. “We have Latinos, Africans Americans, and we really have to support this. This is about empowering a community within our community.... This is the first year and it's going to get bigger.”
Assemblymember Christine Kehoe, who was also present to show her support, said it reminded her of the early days of the city's annual gay pride celebration. “From little acorns mighty oaks grow. And this is a terrific start,” said Kehoe. “Festivals like this bring people together, and emphasize what we have in common.”
And of course, no Ebony Pride festival would be complete without a selection of ebony drag queens sashaying in the afternoon heat, wearing a colorful array of regal dresses, big hair and makeup-lots of it.
Empress 31 Cassandra Marie Stahl, one of the head queens in charge, represented the Imperial Court de San Diego, a transgender nonprofit organization that raises funds for local charities, such as HIV-AIDS hospices and food pantries. “We need to take ownership of our gender identity,” said Stahl. “Because of where we live in the [Black] community, it's not very accepted because of the church, so it's not something that's discussed. Sometimes we feel left out in other communities. At Ebony Pride, we can come together as one and see that there are others like us, too.”
And there were prizes to be won, such as the Lifetime Supply of Lube-courtesy of Condoms Now. To win the prize, one had to guess the number of lube packets inside of a large plastic bucket. CityBeat guessed 152 but did not win the lifetime supply.
Ebony Pride festivals occur annually in cities across the country, with the largest celebrations happening in Los Angles and Washington D.C.
Thanks to the National Minority AIDS Conference taking place in Anaheim, and the San Diego Gay Rodeo, only about 400 people turned out for the event. Black LGBT activists, however, said it was a landmark event that will set a precedent in San Diego for years to come.
“When you come from a community where you don't fit in, and you're not exactly accepted,” said Charles Beasley of the HIV Consumer Council, “being lesbian, gay, bisexual [or] transgender, this is a place you can come to and feel supported. This is a day to come out and celebrate our differences. This is a day to come out and celebrate who and what we are without judgment.”
-Victor A. Patton