Looking to get away from the hectic vibe of Sundance and find a relaxing oasis conveniently located right on Park City’s Main Street? If so, Queer Lounge, a moviemaker-friendly space for both gay and gay-friendly festival-goers, might be just what you need. A program of GLAAD, the Queer Lounge made its Sundance debut in 2004 and, ever since, has featured an impressive array of renowned guest speakers and provided an informal forum for stimulating movie-making conversation

MM caught up with Queer Lounge founder Ellen Huang to discuss this year’s festitivies.

Kyle Rupprecht (MM): How did Queer Lounge initially get started?

Ellen Huang (EH): The idea started when, as a feature film executive, I went to film festivals like Sundance and Cannes, and at Cannes, they had international pavilions—areas dedicated to specific countries, like the American Pavilion, Irish Pavilion, etc.—where their countrymen could gather, engage in panel discussions and pick up material promoting films from their country. I thought, ‘Why not a gay and lesbian pavilion?’ And the best place seemed to be at Sundance where some of the most seminal lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) films have been launched like Hedwig and the Angry Inch and The Times of Harvey Milk, and so many LGBT filmmakers, press and industry execs network.

MM: What does Queer Lounge offer moviemakers attending Sundance?

EH: First, it offers a queer-friendly networking space. During the day, Queer Lounge offers a hospitality area open to the public where people can access HP computers and free Wi-Fi, watch clips from LGBT festival films, grab snacks and coffee, journalists can do interviews and blog and attendees can pick up a Queer Lounge program guide of all the LGBT-inclusive films at Sundance and Slamdance. Then there are filmmaker panels in the afternoon on film industry and LGBT issues which are open to the public and press. Our sponsor ABSOLUT® VODKA has the first floor area where it’s offering drinks for a donation to a charity—this year it’s the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, and last year, it was Live Earth. At night, we host private events where organizations or films have sponsored parties. We also have our own three official parties, Thank GLAAD It’s Friday, the Opening Weekend party, and the closing night “Homos Away from Home,” a revival of the original queer party at Sundance from the early 1990s.

MM: Who are some of the guest speakers that have visited Queer Lounge in the past?

EH: We’ve had a wide range, and it depends on the films screening at Sundance and Slamdance, so Armistead Maupin, the author, came in to do a panel on his film adaptation of his book, The Night Listener. We’ve had directors Don Roos, Craig Lucas, Gus Van Sant and producer Christine Vachon. Joan Chen, who played the mother of a lesbian in Saving Face, talked about that film, and we have had several industry executives specializing in areas from film marketing to distribution talk about those aspects of the business.

We’ve also had actors including Naomi Watts, Toni Collette, John Cameron Mitchell, Dave Matthews, Nick Nolte, Alan Cumming, Anne Heche and Virginia Madsen visit the lounge.

MM: What are some of the events/panels you have scheduled for this year?

EH: This year may just be our biggest year yet with a great crop of events and panels. There’s a press conference with stars Jim Carrey, Ewan McGregor and Rodrigo Santoro of the Sundance premiere I Love you Phillip Morris. We have a stellar group of panels, including “Navigating Hollywood with LGBT Content” that will include producer Christine Vachon, film and TV producer David Permut and Ryan Werner of IFC Films. Also, actor Benjamin Bratt and his brother Peter Bratt will be talking about their latest film, La MISSION, and addressing issues of homophobia in communities of color. We also have a panel co-produced by Film Independent on launching your film career with many of this year’s Sundance films including Amreeka, Children of Invention and Slamdance’s Weather Girl and I Sell the Dead.

Plus we have wide-ranging film parties, from Film Independent, the Swedish Consulate, Alliance of Women Directors, Visual Communications and Center for Asian American Media. Our own parties will feature former-Heatherette designer turned pop-diva, Richie Rich, with additional performances by Golden Animals, Tokyo Diiva and DJ Kevin Haskins of Love and Rockets.

What makes Queer Lounge stand out from other festival-geared programs in Park City?
Well, first it’s unique because Queer Lounge promotes LGBT films and filmmakers, and otherwise, we’re different because we’re “selling” a cause as opposed to a product. We’re also a non-profit and a program of the national organization the Gay& Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) which advocates for fair and accurate inclusion of LGBT people in all media. There are many corporate-geared lounges during Sundance, promoting products, and we’re really about bringing awareness of the LGBT community through film. Plus, we’re open to the public, not just VIPs, during the days to promote our cause. Raising LGBT visibility is so important at such a critical industry event – I’ve often said if non-profits can sell their missions as much as Starbucks sells their coffee, the world would change.
MM: How do you think Queer Lounge enhances the Sundance experience?

EH: It facilitates networking for LGBT filmmakers, and although Queer Lounge is also known for great parties, there’s a cause there too—party with a purpose. And this year, we’re excited to be continuing and broadening our LGBT panels. Having been in the film industry, I know that some of the best contacts are made at film festivals in fun environments, when your guard is down and everyone’s braving the cold, it’s easier to approach talent or high-powered producers, and the professional relationships last. What’s great is that for LGBT filmmakers who are often at LGBT film festivals—Sundance is that gateway to mainstream audiences and helps them get exposure to the elements they may need to get an independent film off the ground. Park City is a place where LGBT filmmakers can rub elbows with top talent whose attachment to a project will get the film made, financiers, producers or below-the-line people who can help or speak with a top-level journalist who can write an article on a sleeper festival film. Only at Sundance does the confluence of all of this happen at such a high level.

MM: What is the ultimate goal of Queer Lounge?

EH: To ultimately broaden the audiences for LGBT film. When people see LGBT characters and stories on screen, it can lead to a greater understanding of the common ground we all share. Queer Lounge offers promotion of LGBT-inclusive films through the media and festival-buzz, high-level networking for LGBT filmmakers and panels featuring the top talent in indie-movie making. Sundance, I’ve heard, is harder to get into than Harvard, and we advocate that all LGBT filmmakers raise the level of their game and quality of projects because if you can get in, Sundance could be the tipping point to a big career and larger audiences.