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A Artist David Zamora Casas at Esperanza’s press conference in August Jim Mendiola sent to homes throughout the North Side. At the raucous public hearing that preceded the original vote against Esperanza City Council: “What they are doing is both unlawful, unhealthful, and more important than that, it is an abomination to God.” What Esperanza has been doing has been lawful and healthful enough to impress the city’s Department of Arts and Cultural Affairs. Under a system designed to insulate decisions from the whims of political patronage, grant requests are \(submitted to peer review panels that evaluate according to three criteria: artistic excellence, audience development, and administrative capability. By those standards, the Guadalupe proposal was ranked first in the category of multi-disciplinary activities. A further level of review, the Cultural Arts Board, affirmed support for an Esperanza grant. City Council action to single out that organization is incomprehensible, except as a response to political pressure. “The people who criticize us the most never look at the films,” notes Dennis Poplin, about the small but vocal group that scuttled city funding for Out at the Movies. As coordinator of the San Antonio Lesbian & Gay Media Project, Poplin spends much of the year scouting films. “There are so many films that deserve to be seen,” he sighs, regretting that his festi val lasts but four days each September. Poplin helped launch the Lesbian & Gay Media Project in the early nineties, when same-sex love was either demonized or invisible. The goal was and is to counter invidious images of those who diverge from heterosexual norms. Though a new “queer cinema” was being created by directors such as Todd Haynes and Gregg Araki, their work was unavailable in San Antonio theaters. It seemed natural and crucial to provide local audiences with access to films by, about, and of interest to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered people. Out at the Movies, claims Poplin, has stimulated interest in alternative films of various sorts, encouraging commercial exhibitors to bring not only more gay and lesbian features but also more independent films in general. Attendance has increased steadily, and numbered approximately 1500 in 1997. Audience surveys indicate about 10 percent were heterosexual. Women outnumbered men in a 60-40 ratio. Latinos constituted 60 percent of the audience, Anglos 30 percent. The festival is a frugal operation \(even before City Council elim$20,000 of private funding and the efforts of many volunteers. Poplin is confident that there will be an eighth Out at the Movies in 1999. An open-minded viewer who actually takes the trouble to examine the entries in this year’s edition can only marvel at the fuss. Offerings include not only the remarkable East Palace, West Palace but also Dakan \(billed as the first gay feature study of two promising young men whose love defies conventions and grieves their parents. Also scheduled is Relax … It’s Just Sex, a garrulous American comedy featuring Jennifer Tilly, Paul Winfield, and Seymour Cassell, that demonstrates that gay screenplays can be as tedious and witless as straight ones. Yet viewers in search of prurience would find easier satisfaction out at the cineplex than at Out at the Movies. “San Antonio has no human rights ordinance, no domestic partner benefits, no antigay discrimination laws,” observes Poplin. “And Out at the Movies is the only lesbianand gay-specific festival in the city.” But he acknowledges the active involvement of gays in San Antonio’s cultural life. “Fiesta is a gay holiday,” he contends. Poplin regrets the chilling effect of recent attacks on gay and lesbian film in decisions by a few local galleries not to exhibit certain works. He sees a connection between the crusade against gays and hostility toward liberals and artists. “The arts,” insists Poplin, “are crucial to how people connect, make change, push forward. We have to keep making sure that culture stays alive.” Steven G. Kellman is the Ashbel Smith Professor of Comparative Literature at U.T.S.A., and writes frequently for the Observer about film. ANDERSON COMPANY COFFEE TEA .SPICES TWO JEFFERSON SQUARE AUSTIN, TEXAS 78731 512-453-1533 Send me your list. Name Street City Zip OCTOBER 9, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29