Respect the board

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Filmmaker Israel Luna gambles with his supernatural indie thriller ‘The Ouija Experiment,’ a remake of his own earlier film ‘Is Anybody There?’

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Israel Luna learned quickly when he was in junior high this lesson: There are three rules when it comes to playing with a Ouija board. Luna’s phase — or rather, his creepy curiosity— lasted long enough for him to turn his own paranormal activities into the basis for his new movie, The Ouija Experiment.

Rule No. 1: Never ask the spirit how it died.

“Ouija is actually a remake,” Luna, formerly based in Dallas but now making his home in San Francisco, says. “It was originally shot in 2001 as Is Anybody There?, which had low production quality. [Then we realized] we had access to all this cool equipment, so we remade one of our own movies!”

Not that he spent a fortune on the remake. Luna and his crew worked on the movie for nine days and with a budget of just $1,000, but he knew the story could be shot on the cheap and still look good. Without the need of a special effects monster, Luna felt the tone created a scarier environment by suggesting more than showing.

Four friends, gathered to play on a Ouija, encounter three spirits who instill a sense of suspicion in the gamers. The “found footage” of them playing gives it a Blair Witch feel, but Luna says the film is based on his own actual experiences with the board. And those were kinda scary.

“When I had the rules, I knew this would be easy to write basing it on the real things I experienced,” he says. “My own scariest moment is in the movie. We were playing with a friend who didn’t believe in it and asked it to prove itself. The board spelled out BDRM, and later we saw a picture of his wife and girl face down in his bedroom. He got really upset by that.”

Rule No. 2: Never ask a spirit how
you are going to die.

With the success of his film Ticked Off Trannies With Knives, Luna felt some pressure to come up with a big follow-up. He knew this would be the movie that gets compared to TOTWK, though he is working on a companion piece for that. With Ouija, he’s managing expectations.

“This is not at the scale of Ticked, but I hope people see it as a different kind of movie,” he says. “This was just an experience in shooting a quickie project.”

That was the plan, at least. But after seeing the finished product, he became dubious about Ouija. At first.

“I was nervous before the Dallas screening [this month] so I called my producer, Toni Miller,” he says. “We agreed that we didn’t think the movie was very scary. And we weren’t thrilled at all by that.”

But the audience reaction contradicted Luna and Miller’s fears. Then he took the film to screen in his home town.

“I screened it in Wellington when I went home for Thanksgiving and there were so many screams! It wasn’t until then I realized I might have something,” Luna says.

Rule No. 3: Most importantly, do not stop
playing without saying goodbye.

Despite the success of TOTWK on the festival circuit, it didn’t help Luna’s bottom line all that much. More money was going out than coming in, so taking a note from Kevin Smith’s model for Red State, Luna decided to show the film himself. He says his plan poses the $64,000 question.

“You’ve caught me at a big change in my career,” he admits. “I am going to experiment with this and I think I’m going to be four-walling the movie. We’ll book the theater, screen the film and come out ahead.”

The only trick at this point is marketing and getting exposure. Luna wants to take the movie to smaller towns without indie art houses. If all goes according to plan, the movie goes into release in February — just as he wants it.

“We got a small chunk of money the last time around, but this is the fight for indie filmmakers,” he says. “I’m kind of excited but I’m kind of scared. I don’t know what I’m doing!”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

And then there was one: ‘Top Chef’ recap

Tre Wilcox

OK, gay Dallas foodies — our heroes are falling fast. Last night on Top Chef: All-Stars, Dallas chef Tre Wilcox was told to pack his knives and go after preparing an al dente, mushy risotto in an Italian cuisine challenge. (By the way, Tre, they were right: Risotto needs to cascade like creamy polenta, not plop like over-cooked grits.) That means there are no gays and only one Texan — last season’s fan favorite Tiffany Derry — remaining in the mix. And I have a feeling about her …

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Survivor’ winner Fabio goes gay … sort of

We watched that dunderheaded surfer dude, Fabio — the nickname for Jud Briza — win the latest installment of Survivor: Nicaragua and thought, “Not the smartest penny in the piggy bank. And he wants to be an actor! Doing what?” Well, apparently the answer is: a gay horror-slasher chickenfest. The trailer, which features Fabio and other lightly muscled twinks walking around in their tighty-whities, weilding knives and playing grab-ass by the pool. 1313: Nightmare Mansion looks dreadful, and Fabio looks terrible in it.

But, yeah, we’ll probably Netflix it when we can. You know, for research.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives,’ ‘March On’ and more at Austin gay film fest this weekend

If you’re in Austin this weekend, you may want to stop by the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, site of the 23rd Annual Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Fest.

Gay Dallas filmmaker Israel Luna’s controversial “Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives” is showing at 9:45 tonight, and will be followed by a talkback discussion.

And at noon Sunday, Dallas activist Laura McFerrin’s documentary about last year’s National Equality March, “March On,” will make its world premiere. We’ve heard  most if not all of the folks whose stories are featured in “March On” will be on hand for the screening.

Of course these are plenty of other films at the festival worth seeing, too. For example, we’re intrigued by “Faith of the Abomination,” about a lesbian couple (shown above) that went undercover and infiltrated an evangelical church in Austin a few years back.

For a full schedule, go here.

—  John Wright

Making use of a chance to educate

Instead of working to block controversial film, TENT wants to put transgender issues on the front burner at Austin film fest by sponsoring discussion of movie

Recently, Transgender Education Network of Texas has made a very difficult decision. We have been following  the controversy surrounding the film, “Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives.” We have been discussing the issue with Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival (AGLIFF) and both organizations believe that there needs to be dialog surrounding the film.

To that end, AGLIFF will bring the film to their well-attended festival in the fall, and TENT will facilitate a discussion afterward. This was not a decision we made lightly and we want to take a moment and clarify our position.

Many trans activists, as well as GLAAD, have been very vocal critics of this film and the “negative portrayal of trans people in it.”

The majority of our board has screened this film and, though many of us don’t think the film the greatest piece of celluloid art out there, we all pretty much agree that on its surface, it doesn’t portray trans folk too negatively.

Quite to the contrary, it shows drag queens (part of the trans community) fighting back against people who want to hurt them (and are very successful … at least physically).

I’d like to lay all of our cards on the table here. Originally, we were looking at this film to use as a fundraiser for TENT. After all, with all the controversy and shouting, it was bound to be a money-maker.

And we felt strongly that we needed to have a conversation around what was really making us angry; as an organization whose mission is to educate folks about the gender diverse, we felt an obligation to facilitate a conversation.

But after our second viewing and subsequent discussion, it became clear to many of us that using this film as a fundraiser would be adding more fuel to an already over-stoked fire.

We also felt that doing nothing was not an option either. You know, if folks didn’t raise a fuss about this film it may not have even made a ripple in our community.

As a matter of fact the controversy, arguments and protests have done more to pique the interest of viewers than any standard marketing that La Luna Entertainment had planned to do.

So, it is out there; we can’t do anything about that. So we feel it is necessary to talk about it.

We also feel that to have an intelligent discussion about the film, it is necessary to actually see it. Many of the protesters have not seen it and don’t plan to for fear of giving the appearance of condoning the film. We hope they change their minds when it comes to Austin.

Let’s take a moment to talk about what the critics are saying.

One of the biggest issues early on was the use of the murders of Angie Zapata and Jorge Mercado in the trailers marketing the film.

The film gives a nod to the “blacksploitation” films of the 1960s and is graphically violent, shot in high contrast and is very campy. The protesters (rightly, in my opinion) strongly objected to the use of the two very real and very tragic murders in the marketing of this admittedly violent and campy film.

The filmmaker listened to the critics and quickly removed those quotes. I didn’t see that trailer (it had already been pulled) and when I spoke to Israel Luna, the maker of the film, I said to him that had I seen the original trailer, I would probably be equally as offended.

I asked him if he understood that and he answered, “Yes, and that is why I removed those references.”

Although they have been removed from the trailer, this is still an issue that the critics hold on to as a reason to protest.

The other reason that the protesters and GLAAD would like to see the film banned is because “… it demeans actual transgender women who struggle for acceptance and respect in their day-to-day lives.”

We’re not so sure we agree with this statement.  Whereas drag queens are not indicative of all or even most of the gender diverse community, they are a part of the community and, I for one, am proud to stand side by side with them.

After all, it was the drag queens that hurled the first bottles to start the protest at Stonewall, a protest that launched a movement.
Now drag queens, by definition, are usually caricatures of women. We all know what it means to wear “drag queen” make-up, and few women wear the exaggerated make-up and clothing on the street in their day-to-day lives.

But that is the nature of being a drag queen; they are performers wearing a costume. And guess what?  They exist in real life. I know quite a few and are honored to call them friends.

In my opinion, the drag queens characterized in the film are pretty darn accurate. For the most part, I liked these characters. They were real!  Yes, I said it: Real.

Finally, there are a couple of criticisms that I may agree with. The first is the title.

I don’t condone the use of the “T” word; I don’t use the “T” word, and I advocate that no one use it.

The other criticism that has a bit of credence is the speed in which the film goes from a relatively realistic portrayal of horrendous violence perpetrated against these trans women to a “check your brains at the door” campiness. I have some real problems with that and would have a few suggestions for Mr. Luna for a re-edit if he wants to hear them.

But, all of those things aside, it is time to watch the film and talk about it.

It is for that reason that we are not blocking AGLIFF from bringing it to the film festival. In interest of full disclosure, we were given the opportunity to block it; if TENT said “no,” AGLIFF would not have brought it in.

But we feel strongly that this controversial film can open a dialog that can do a lot of good. So we said, bring it in and let us sponsor the discussion after. We hope to have the filmmaker, the critics, the supporters, and GLAAD all participate in this important discussion.

Lisa Scheps is executive director of Transgender Education Network of Texas, based in Austin. The talk-back will be held immediately after the screening of the film on Friday, Sept. 10 at 9:45 p.m. at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. Everyone is welcome to attend.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas