Milking the moment


POSTED: Friday, May 22, 2009

The 20-year-old Rainbow Film Festival—one of the longest-running gay and lesbian film festivals in the country—is enjoying an infusion of fame and talent this weekend with the arrival of Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award-winning writer and executive producer of “;Milk.”;





        » Where: Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Academy of Arts

» When: Today through Sunday


» Tickets: $10 per film


» Call: 381-1952 or 388-8234; visit http://www.hglcf.org


» Dustin Lance Black's appearance: 5 p.m. Sunday. Cost is $50, $20 for film only.




Black describes himself as “;the biggest workaholic on the planet,”; so justifying a trip to Hawaii wasn't easy. But when enough people told him he was foolish to decline his first opportunity to visit the islands, he relented.

In addition to his appearance on Sunday, when he'll participate in a question and answer session following the screening of “;Milk,”; Black hopes to do something entirely new.

“;I kind of need a vacation, a little break,”; he admitted. “;I just want to lie on the beach.”;

True to form, Black conducted a telephone interview while pacing the sidewalk outside his favorite cafe in Los Angeles, where he tucks himself into a corner and writes, largely unnoticed and un-bothered—most of the time.

His list of honors and eloquent speech at the Academy Awards led to an onslaught of media attention that has him juggling a heavy schedule of interviews with the likes of National Public Radio and Anderson Cooper. But he isn't complaining. Fame has afforded him an attentive audience, and it's likely he will be able to pursue the projects close to his heart.

“;Politically, it means the stuff I've been doing for quite some time now has a bit of visibility to it,”; he said. “;In terms of creative work, I think it means that people are more apt to listen to my pitches. I don't know if it means they're going to buy them, necessarily, but they'll listen to something that might seem outside the box.”;

The result is “;What's Wrong With Virginia,”; an upcoming film starring Jennifer Connelly and Liam Neeson that he's wanted to direct for six years. In addition, he and “;Milk”; director Gus Van Sant will reunite for a screen version of Tom Wolfe's “;Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”; There's also a new HBO series in the works. After writing and producing the network's Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated “;Big Love”; since its inception, he joked that “;it was time to hand over the polygamist reigns.”;

An affable, articulate 34-year-old, Black grew up gay in a conservative Mormon family in San Antonio, where homophobic slurs taught him to keep his “;dark secret”; to himself, according to an NPR interview.

After graduating with honors from UCLA's School of Film and Television, Black began his career as an art director on commercials, and soon was directing documentaries, television shows and music videos. In addition to “;Big Love,”; some of his noteworthy projects have included “;On the Bus,”; about a trek to the Burning Man Festival, “;Something Close to Heaven”; and TLC's hit show “;Faking It.”;

Black remains an advocate for gay and lesbian film festivals because his career evolved on that circuit.

“;It afforded me the opportunity to make my films and tell my personal stories, and have a place to show them, because it's a struggle to show any movie when you're doing it on a small budget,”; he noted. Another benefit of such events is meeting other filmmakers, which proved fortuitous for Black when he met Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks, the producers of “;Milk,”; at a gay and lesbian film festival eight years earlier.

Getting someone of Black's caliber to Hawaii, where an Academy for Creative Media short from Kevyn Fong will precede “;Milk,”; is a bonus for resident filmmakers. “;I think it's a recognition of the growth and legitimacy of the festival,”; said producer Chris Lee. “;Lance is obviously a pioneer in his own way, and this is a pioneering festival. 'Milk' has come along at a very interesting time in the history of our country around what I consider a civil rights issue.”;

Black noted that popular films at gay and lesbian festivals tend to get picked up for wider distribution.

“;I think they're incredibly valuable for young filmmakers,”; Black said of events like the Rainbow Film Festival. “;It's a launching ground.”;