Palm Springs LGBTQ+ film festival, Cinema Diverse, returns with online streaming, drive-in screenings
Cinema Diverse, the Palm Springs LGBTQ+ film festival, is back for 2020 with all-new virtual and drive-in movie experiences.
The festival, happening Sept. 11-30, will stream most film selections for home viewing but will also offer drive-in selections in the parking lot of the Palm Springs Cultural Center. The center, which usually hosts film festivals, farmers’ markets, live performances, art installations and a lecture series, jumped on the drive-in trend this summer and has screens films since July.
Some of the films you can expect to see at Cinema Diverse are the documentaries "A Worm In The Heart," focusing on the lives and stories of the diverse communities across Russia, and "Expect A Miracle" which centers on a hospice care house amid the AIDS crisis in San Diego during the '80s.
Feature films include "Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story" about a science fiction-obsessed woman living in isolation, and "Monsoon," which follows a young British-Vietnamese man returning to his birth country with his brother for the first time.
An all-access streaming pass for the festival is $179 per household, while a six-pack pass is available for $75 and individual films are $13.50. Drive-in events are $10 to $50.
Michael Green, the executive director of the Palm Springs Cultural Center, discussed the challenges in streaming film selections, the complexity of a film festival in a drive-in format and how the festival might be affected in the future, ahead of Opening Night.
The following interview was edited for length and clarity.
THE DESERT SUN: There's a combination of streaming and drive-in screenings for this year's festival. What made you decide to incorporate the two?
MICHAEL GREEN: We wanted to have a festival this year and not just skip it. With all of the COVID issues, those are the best two options for having a festival. We looked at ways to do streaming and different ways to get a grant, and with that we were able to get our streaming put together.
Because (Palm Springs Cultural Center) has been doing the drive-in all summer, we figured it was natural to add in some drive-in screenings.
Film festivals aren't known for drive-ins, so it feels a little unprecedented. It seems difficult to gauge reactions and interact with people who see the films. Will the drive-in experience affect that?
It's going to in a couple of cases and in other cases it's not. Friday night is opening night and we're doing a world premiere of the film, "Out Of Body," and the filmmakers and actors are coming out for this screening. But other than introducing them, we can't do live Q&As or anything like that because people are in their cars. We've asked them to do a little custom intro for the movie. They'll chat a little bit about making the movie and some of the issues associated with it before the movie starts.
For our closing night film, "Luz," on Sept. 20, (director Jon Garcia) is going to do a special intro for us chatting about making that movie. On Sept. 18, we're doing a film by (local filmmakers) P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes, who just did "House of Cardin," (a documentary about fashion icon Pierre Cardin). (Their latest is) a doc of (actress) Nora Burns, and it's one of her one-woman shows called "David's Friend." Nora is actually flying out from New York for the screening. She'll be there live and will come up to share anecdotes from the one-woman show and she's a real character, so I'm sure she'll entertain everyone.
Were there any issues with attaining the rights to stream any of the films?
We do have some geographical targeting; if you're a Canadian snowbird, unfortunately you're not going to be able to stream the films this year. For all of the films we're working with distributors on, they require we have geographical targeting in place. For some of the short films, people were not as concerned about the geographical targeting, but we're putting it in place for all the films.
Are there any other challenges in putting on a streaming and drive-in festival?
The film festivals are very personal experiences for me. There's so much involved in the interaction between myself, the filmmakers and the actors. It's harder because you don't have that to a degree. What you do have is the opportunity to present content to people they would not otherwise be able to see. They're still able to see these films on the festival circuit that might not get distribution. Most shorts don't get wide distribution. That's what it's about — being able to share that unique content is a lot of what our mission is.
How did the submission process work this year?
Our submissions start in the beginning of February and went through before COVID-19 and in the middle of COVID-19. The challenge all of us will have next year is nobody is making films. I have a lot of filmmakers we know through Cinema Diverse that are the first to tell you their projects are completely on hold, because all the elements of film from location to putting the production teams together — all of that is impossible right now.
My fear is that next year is going to be the year film festivals have slim pickings. This year, we had a really good assortment of great films. We tried to be careful with our budget this year because we aren't sure how much our audience is going to embrace streaming. We were really careful to look at it, and we don't have as many films between the streaming and drive-in as we normally would at Cinema Diverse. It's not the volume it would have been in a normal year because sponsorship is down. When you're doing a drive-in or streaming, the tickets aren't per person they're per household. That can cut your income in half or by quarters. It's a much more fragile economic model we're working with.
Did you notice any surprising subject matter this year?
We have two different films about Vietnam experiences. "Song Lang" is a period piece and is set right after everyone left Saigon and it fell. People living in that period during all the sanctions and communism took over Vietnam. It was a difficult time, but it's about that time and the impact on traditional Vietnamese culture and the arts.
The other one, "Monsoon," is interesting — it's the opposite. It's a modern take from someone who was boat-lifted out of Saigon with his parents as a child and is going back to Vietnam with his brother to spread his parents' ashes. He has absolutely no memory of being in VIetnam because he was 3 years old when his parents left. He was raised in London and considers himself British. He hardly speaks the language and has translators. It's a completely different experience.
It's fascinating to see these two films, and it's something our audience in Palm Springs is going to appreciate because a lot of us lived during Vietnam, or at least a portion of it.
As far as the LGBTQ films that have come in from around the world, how do those look in terms of what the community was dealing with before COVID-19?
There are a lot of features and shorts dealing with a lot of the things in the former Russian countries and a lot of immigration issues (for people) who are escaping Syria or Iran. There's a great film we have about teenage gay kids who left Iran as children and now they're in different countries in Northern Europe dealing with that cultural change. They're also dealing with the fact they might not get asylum and they may get deported back to Iran. It's pretty serious stuff.
How do you think Cinema Diverse will be affected in the future?
I think streaming is going to continue for all forms of movie entertainment, it's not going to go away. Some people will choose to consume that way, and I think that will have a role in film festivals and isn't going to disappear completely. The drive-ins, we'll have to see. They've been a phenomenon purely resulted from COVID, so we'll have to see what role they play going forward. But we've noticed with the drive-ins that people are craving ways to have entertainment outside the home.
If you go
What: Cinema Diverse
Where: Streaming on cinemadiversethepalmspringslgbtqfilmfestival.festivee.com and drive-in screenings at Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Rd., Palm Springs
When: Sept. 11-30
How much: $179 for an all-access streaming pass, $75 for a six-pack streaming pass, $13.50 for individual films. Drive-in screenings are $10 to $50
Information: (760) 325-6565
Desert Sun reporter Brian Blueskye covers arts and entertainment. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @bblueskye. Support local news, subscribe to The Desert Sun.