Cinema Diverse filmmakers show Palm Springs audiences reality on and off screen

Time and money. There’s never enough of either in the world of independent filmmaking.

During a Q&A with the audience after two film screenings Saturday night at Cinema Diverse, both filmmaking teams provided insight into the challenges, rewards and motivations of their craft. A lack of financing and the time it buys topped their list of challenges.

“Strip,” the short film by Michael Jortner of Palm Springs, was shot in four days,while the feature-length “Turtle Hill, Brooklyn” by Brian W. Seibert and Ricardo Valdez of New York City was shot during eight 12-hour days. In comparison, Hollywood-produced features often take weeks, sometimes months to complete.

“Turtle Hill, Brooklyn” was filmed entirely in the home of Seibert and Valdez, who are life partners as well as a writing and acting team.

When asked what he was working on next, Jortner said his team was discussing future projects and added he is more than willing to film in local homes. It got a few laughs and a few offers from desert homeowners. It underscored the point that the creativity and ingenuity required for making an independent film clearly go beyond writing, directing and acting.

Despite the technical and logistic challenges, when an indie film is done well it entertains, stimulates and provokes its audience.  And these festival entries did that.

“Strip” gave us a fun, sexy, stylish look at what some will do for the one they love, when a woman in a bar invites an attractive man up to her hotel room where her husband is waiting for him. As titillating as that premise is, it also makes you consider how relationships and places can be confining or freeing in varying degrees. An intriguing notion moviegoers took away from the film is the idea that what happens in Vegas doesn’t always  stay in Vegas.

“Turtle Hill” explored how a lack of communication between partners potentially can wreck a relationship. The story takes place during a 30th birthday party for Will, the main character. Quirky, loving and celebratory friends crowd the home Will shares with his boyfriend Mateo, and there’s a lot of amusing, realistic chatting — about politics, drugs, personal histories and connections, and how to make pinatas.   Everyone talks — making the film a bit too long — except Will and Mateo. That comes at the end when the party is over and it becomes evident again there’s only the two of them in the relationship — as it is in most relationships, right?

I won’t reveal the ending for those who haven’t seen it. But see both films if you have a chance. They spotlight LGBT characters and situations you likely have not seen on the screen before. That’s one of the great gifts of independent films — they don’t have to follow a blockbuster formula and can tell us, as Will repeatedly asks his boyfriend in the feature, something new.

Cinema Diverse concludes today. For the film and event schedule, go to Tickets are $13. Camelot Theatres box office, 2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs.



Palm Springs LGBT film festival opens with happy ‘accident’ and heart transplant

If you’re a self-help junkie as I am — striving to be and do better — you probably believe the adage that there are no accidents. We’re supposed to learn something from every seemingly unintentional thing that happens in our lives, right? Yeah, and those things we call “accidents” are really gifts. Lastly, if Oprah says it — and I’m almost certain she has at some point — then it’s now carved in stone and some of our heads as truth. Period.

Well last night at Cinema Diverse I was among the happy recipients of organizer Michael Green’s “accident.” I’m referring to “Mariquita,” the short film that opened the fifth annual gay and lesbian film festival in Palm Springs. Prior to the screening, Green told the audience that he had intended to show a different film, “Margarita,” but a typo in an email to the filmmaker had different results.

The short we saw instead was about a 10-year-old boy in Miami, Fla., who announces that he’s gay during a family birthday party. You never actually see the kid, who with video camera in tow records the preparations for the party and part of the event itself.

What begins as a mass of jarring, in-and-out-of-focus images – just imagine a 10-year-old with a camera — slowly builds to a subtle but emotionally powerful message about anti-gay bullying and the pure wisdom of youth. This all happens in 13 minutes, which is great for viewers but must’ve been challenging for the filmmaker.

The only downside, surprisingly, is that the party prep part of the film may have gone on a bit too long.

After seeing the short, some wondered if the story was scripted or the actual story of a 10-year-old boy and his mother (Wow, the mother’s quiet strength and resolve to protect her son will make you teary-eyed.). It was that “real.”  Either way, the filmmaking was clever and highly effective.

Another smart approach to storytelling was on display with the feature, “Yossi,” that followed the short. It was a sequel to 2003′s “Yossi & Jagger,” a love story between two male Israeli soldiers.

“Yossi” picks up the story 10 years after Jagger’s death. The main character has lost the love of his life and is just going through the motions of life. He’s a young doctor who goes to the work (often sleeping at the hospital) and goes home. Sounds kinda boring, right? It’s not — because the lead actor and director make you, the viewer, empathize with and become Yossi. For example, when Yossi is lumbering along the hospital corridors, he’s shot from behind — as if it’s the viewer moving through his day. When he meets an arrogant hookup, you feel Yossi’s awkwardness and slight struggle between self-respect and the need for human contact.

Thoughout the first half of the film you’re hoping something significant is going to happen for this guy; you just don’t know what it could be.

Then, one day Yossi sees Jagger’s mother in the hospital waiting room and the reason he’s emotionally comatose is unveiled (for those who didn’t see the first film). He seeks and gets closure by fulfilling a goal of Jagger’s, and then he begins to live again. He gets a little help from a group of young Israeli soldiers he picks up at a convenient mart — picks up, as in gives them a ride after they’re stranded.

During the drive there’s chatter about music. Yossi prefers Mahler but isn’t married to listening to it, while most of the young guys want Middle Eastern hip-hop. Except the one sitting in the middle of the backseat. He knows classical music and so much more, as revealed when Yossi (we) notices his confident gaze in the rearview mirror.

What follows provides some of the lighter, funnier, poignant moments of the film. The young soldier allows Yossi, who also allows himself, to be completely vulnerable. By doing so, he finally mends his broken heart and becomes himself. Not the guy he was in the first film — that guy was uncomfortable with his gayness. The second film gives us the Yossi that Jagger believed in and loved, instead.

OK, I suspect I’ve shared too much for those who haven’t seen these films. They were both good movies and a strong start to what promises to be an entertaining and provocative Cinema Diverse.

The festival continues through Sunday. Tickets are $13. See the film and event schedule at





LGBT film festival begins fifth year today

When the film “Yossi & Jagger” was made nine years ago, it captured what was then a nightmare for “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” supporters.

Set at the Lebanese-Israeli border, the film explores military life for Israeli soldiers on the frontline. Despite harsh weather conditions and the tension of possible battle, love blooms for two of the men (title characters) stationed at an outpost.

Their discreet affair is presented as a psychological study of how very different men – one more comfortable with his gayness and planning a future together than the other – maneuver through a potentially life-and-death, homophobic situation that one fears mirrors life outside the army. The story doesn’t end well.

Spoiler alert: The title of the sequel that will be screened tonight as the opening-night Cinema Diverse film is simply “Yossi.” Now a doctor in Tel Aviv, Yossi is a closeted and lonely man trying to cope with his personal loss until he meets a group of soldiers who re-ignite his passion for life.

It seems a fitting, albeit unplanned, tribute to the repeal of ban on gays in the military (DADT), which marks its one-year anniversary today.

“Yossi” will follow the short film “Mariquita,” which follows the antics of a 10-year-old boy in Miami, Fla., who announces to his  family that he’s gay. The screening begins at 7 p.m. at Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs. Tickets are $13.

Cinema Diverse continues through Sunday with about 23 features and many short films. For the full schedule of films and after-parties, go to