PARK CITY When openly gay filmmaker Gus Van Sant sent a film to the Sundance Film Festival years ago, he had high hopes of getting it screened at the prestigious event. However, the director whose credits include films like "Good Will Hunting" was rejected, he said, because the festival already had a lesbian-themed film.
Times are changing.
Of the 200 films at this year's festival, gay films and filmmakers are well-represented. More than 30 feature and short films have gay or lesbian themes, including films like "Kinky Boots," "The Night Listener," "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," "Small Town Gay Bar" and "All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise." Even Van Sant's landmark gay film "Mala Noche" is making a return engagement.
"They used to say, 'We can only have one gay film,' " said Ellen Huang, founder of the hip Sundance hangout Queer Lounge. "Now, you see that 10 percent of the films at Sundance are gay-themed."
Gay and straight industry filmmakers are calling it a phenomenon. With the success of "Brokeback Mountain" and what some have dubbed the "Gay Globes," the future of gay films will see a more open-minded (and successful) market.
"People respond to powerful stories. Other than in this state, people do not view it to be a controversial film," HBO producer John Hoffman said of "Brokeback Mountain." "I think the world's changing. There's been tremendous changing in the past 10 years. So much of this is a non-issue."
Hoffman produced the documentary "All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise" along with producer and director Shari Cookson. In the film, 500 families board the first-ever cruise for gay and lesbian families, chartered by life partners Rosie and Kelli O'Donnell.
"It's something you don't see in the public forum," Cookson said of gay and lesbian families. It's a time in the history of America, she said, "when people need to talk about this."
The film shows a one-of-a-kind vacation for the families, but they are confronted by protesters after a week free of hate and intolerance.
Gregg Kaminsky of R Family Lines co-founded the gay family cruise line with Kelli O'Donnell. Kaminsky said he is still surprised to see anti-gay protesters in some parts of this country, "including," he said in reference to Salt Lake City, "down the hill here."
Huang, who started Queer Lounge in 2004 as a networking and meeting place for gay and gay-friendly filmmakers, said she's never nervous about coming to Park City. "Park City is sort of its own planet." There were three protesters last year, which she called insignificant, but actions like theater owner Larry Miller's decision to pull "Brokeback Mountain" out of the Jordan Commons theater are what sways opinions.
"What happens when Larry Miller pulls a film like that, it tends to bruise the image of the state."
Gay films are helping to broaden perspectives in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community as well, said James Kochi, 37, one of the characters in "All Aboard!"
Kochi and partner Clay Patane, 34, hope to have a child of their own and went on the cruise to hear of gay parents' successes and struggles.
"We didn't know what it was like to be a gay parent," Kochi said. "We thought this will be a learning experience."
"It's the American dream and we want it too," Patane said. The two live in Pasadena, Calif., and came to Sundance for the screening of "All Aboard!"
As people mingled around the Queer Lounge, one sporting a T-shirt saying "Gay is the new black," Patane agreed that gay filmmaking is seeing a swell. "It's the hot topic right now."
And as Queer Lounge expands to the Toronto Film Festival and hopefully the Cannes Film Festival, Huang says the lounge will help facilitate the empowerment of gay filmmakers.
"It becomes so not a big deal anymore. You're going to have gay skateboarders and gay neo-Nazis. But we want to see that. We want to see gay filmmakers portray that in all different ways."