You don’t often find directors of Christmas movies on the juries of Israeli film festivals, but Rob Williams, the director/writer/producer of Make the Yuletide Gay, isn’t your typical filmmaker.Williams will be on the jury this year of the TLVFest, the Tel Aviv LGBT International Film Festival, which runs from June 8-17 at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.
Founded in 2006, the festival is dedicated to presenting the best of contemporary lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender cinema from Israel and abroad. It will open with the premiere of Yariv Mozer’s Snails in the Rain , about a student who receives anonymous letters that change his life. The festival will show features and documentaries, as well as short films.
Eytan Fox’s recent hit film Cupcakes
, about friends who enter a Eurovision- like song contest, will be shown.
Williams founded Guest House Films, along with his partner, screenwriter Rodney Johnson, to create a light-hearted brand of gay cinema.
“Most gay movies have focused on the dark, unhappy aspects of gay life.
I’m not saying there’s not room for those kinds of movies,” he says in a phone interview from his Los Angeles office a few days before his trip to Israel. “When you look at Hollywood gay films, like Brokeback Mountain
, they’re great, and people are seeing them. But at the same time, how do they usually end? With a death. Mainstream audiences don’t get to see movies where gay characters have a happy ending. It’s always that the main character won’t be accepted by his family, won’t find true love. But we know in real life that it can happen. I wanted to direct a movie where people fall in love and it’s very positive.”
Williams, who grew up in a small town in Texas, graduated from Texas Christian University and then studied business at the University of Texas, moved to Los Angeles and worked in public relations. When he wrote a screenplay, Long-Term Relationship , a gay-themed romantic comedy, he decided to finance it himself and direct it.
“Even though I didn’t go to film school, I’m a film lover. Going to the movies was my film school,” he says.Long-Term Relationship
was a hit on the gay film festival circuit, and Williams and Guest House films have gone on to make five films in five years, with Williams writing, directing and producing all of them.Make the Yuletide Gay
, the company’s biggest hit so far, is a Christmas family comedy about an in- the-closet guy “who comes home over Christmas break, and then his boyfriend show ups. It’s a comedy of errors and misunderstandings. In end, he comes out to his parents. We wanted to make a feel-good comedy about coming out to your parents and put that out there. But I didn’t expect that people would respond the way they did. It actually inspired kids to come out to their parents. I’ve had people tell me at film festivals, ‘I watched this movie, and it gave me confidence to come out to my parents.’ Sometimes they say their parents knew; the parents say, ‘We were just waiting for you to tell us,’ and the parents still love them unconditionally,” he says.
Williams couldn’t be happier about this.
“It’s not something you set as a goal, but you realize this is what movies can do,” he explains.
Williams and his company are currently branching out in a big way.
They will be opening a theater dedicated to gay-themed movies that will be part of Krave Massive in Las Vegas, billed as the world’s largest gay nightclub, and “It might end up being the largest nightclub in the world,” he says.
He’s also at work on a new collection of gay short films. He’s already made two, entitled Blue Briefs
and Black Briefs
, although he hasn’t yet decided on the color for this anthology. And he’s also working on the screenplay for a new feature film.
His films are shown mainly at festivals and on DVD.
“You can reach the gay audience so easily at festivals,” he says. “I would tell aspiring filmmakers: ‘Find your niche. If you can have a career doing that, be happy.’” While Williams is happy with his own career and flattered to have been asked to serve on the jury at TLVFest and to have the opportunity to visit Israel – “I’ve heard a lot of great things about Tel Aviv” – his company got its start on a bittersweet note.
“When my father passed away, the money I got from his life insurance was what I used to start Guest House,” he says. “That was not what he would have wanted me to do with the money.”
But Williams is certainly pleased with the decision he made.
Showing his films at the Mumbai Gay Film Festival, Williams was approached by a man. “He told me that being at this film festival was the only time you could hold your boyfriend’s hand in public. He was so happy. He was just beaming with joy that they could see these films together,” he recounts.For details about TLVFest and to order tickets, go to http://www.tlvfest.com/en/