by R. Kurt Osenlund
Jonah Blechman. It's a name not well known outside the gay film community. Within it however, the name is gaining the prominence and widespread recognition of funny men like Ben Stiller and young headliners like Zac Efron.
Though Blechman, 33, is nearly 15 years Efron's senior (and, in truth, far too individual to be compared to other actors), his hilarious, youthful performance in the envelope-pushing farce “Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild” - the 14th Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (PIGLFF)'s Opening Night selection, shown at the Prince Music Theater on Thursday, July 10 – could put him in the company of the hot “High School Musical” star, and make moviegoers of all communities remember his name.
Thanks to PIGLFF producer the Philadelphia Film Society (PFS, which has also presented the Philadelphia Film Festival every April for the past 17 years), it just might. For over a decade, the non-profit, member-supported organization has been bringing into the spotlight the best in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender cinema. PIGLFF is the largest festival of its kind on the East Coast (and the third largest in the country, trumped only by San Francisco and Los Angeles), attracting an average of 25,000 guests every July. Members of PFS expect a similar turnout this year.
“From July 10 to the 22 [the 13 days in which the 14th PIGLFF takes place], we're just gonna be festive, we're gonna have fun, and we're gonna watch films,” said PFS Development Director Thom Cardwell on Opening Night.
“Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild” (the follow-up to 2006's surprise hit “Another Gay Movie” from Philadelphia-based TLA Releasing) is the centerpiece of 2008's lineup. In the debauchery-filled comedy, Blechman reprises his role as Nico, the flamboyant, deliciously over-the-top member of a quartet of friends exploring their sexuality. As he did in the original, Blechman steals the show, displaying comedic and musical chops that look primed for Broadway (or, given Hollywood's current obsession with adapting musicals to the big screen, blockbusters). There's even a splendidly perverse dance number that probably has Fred Astaire spinning in his grave.
“We laughed a lot on set,” said Blechman, who was on hand for questions after the movie's premiere. “We laughed all the time. I mean look at that,” he said, motioning to the screen on which the film was just shown, “it was crazy.”
Also in attendance that evening were Blechman's co-stars Jake Mosser, Aaron Michael Davies and Will Wikle (TV's “Big Brother”), along with the film's producer Derek Curl and director/co-writer Todd Stephens (who also helmed “Another Gay Movie”). Noticeably absent though, was the lead cast of the original film, of which Blechman was the only member to return. In response to an audience question of why the others dropped out, Stephens acknowledged the current dilemma of Hollywood agents urging their clients not to take on too many gay parts.
“It's really sad,” said Stephens (below, right). “You'd think in this day and age of actors coming out, etcetera, agents wouldn't be so afraid of typecasting their actors. [Recasting the roles] was an exhaustive audition process for me and my casting director, but I' m thrilled with the result. These actors came up with things that you'd never expect and just brought it to the next level. That [was] the joy of making this film.”
The openly gay Blechman (above, left), who executive produced the picture and hand-picked many of Nico's exuberant outfits, confessed later that the adjustment of being the only returning star was tough, but ultimately rewarding.
“The most important thing was getting [the new cast] comfortable,” he said. “And as you see from the film, it worked.”
When asked if the sexual antics on screen were a reflection of what took place backstage, Blechman gave a devilish smile.
“It's just research,” he said, laughing. “I'm a method actor.”
“You could make another movie out of the backstage drama that took place making this film,” interrupted Stephens.
While Opening Night - which also featured an after party at Penn's Landing's Hyatt Regency, themed after “Another Gay Sequel”'s Ft. Lauderdale setting – has ended, the drama of PIGLFF 2008 has just begun. In addition to 176 films from 29 countries, there are plenty of events to come in the next week, including a live concert at the Trocadero Theatre from queer punk band Pansy Division and a dance party at Chancellor Street's Club Stir with 2008's Entertainer of the Year honoree Alec Mapa.
It all culminates with a “Closing Night Fantasy” celebration on Tuesday, July 22, when director Tom Gustafson's “Were the World Mine” - a gay take on Shakespeare's “A Midsummer Night's Dream” - will be shown, followed by a lavish bash at the Bell Atlantic Building's Top of the Tower. The night will top off another year of PFS bringing rising stars like Blechman to the forefront.
“Diversity, freshness, and excellence have been our watchwords this year,” said Associate Festival Programmer Scott Cranin in a written statement. “We've been scouring the globe for the finest in LGBT cinema, assembling one of our best programs ever.”
Echoes Cardwell, “Somehow each year...we seem to have enough support to offer all of you, the ticket buyers, an exciting, festive, and fun summer-in-the-city experience.”
For more information on tickets and showtimes for the 14th Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, visit phillyfests.com.
This is reprinted by the author from an article written for Inter-County News Group's OUT & ABOUT magazine.