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FilmOut San Diego: Ringo Le and his "Big Gay Love"

SAN DIEGO, California -- "Big Gay Love" is FilmOut San Diego's official San Diego Pride screener for July.

The comedy written and directed by Ringo Le will be shown at 7 pm Wednesday at Landmark Hillcrest Cinemas, 3965 Fifth Ave. in San Diego, CA 92013.

Jonathan Lisecki, who was so hilarious in the FilmOut favorite "Gayby," stars as Bob, a successful party planner in LA who is totally insecure about his body image while trying to cope in a plastic world measured by six-pack abs and the hotness factor. He dreams of buying a beautiful home and settling down ... even if that means being alone. But his world is turned upside down when he meets Andy (Nicholas Brendon), a hunky and handsome chef who loves the real Bob hidden under those unflattering clothes. But will Bob's insecurities ruin a good thing? And will his Mom (Ann Walker) drive him crazy?

Ringo Le speaks with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News about his indie movie, which debuted last year on the film festival circuit.

SDGLN: Why was it important to you to make this movie?

It was important to make “Big Gay Love” for two reasons. The first is because I wanted to reframe the narrative about body image in gay culture. The second is about the dichotomy in gay culture between being forever young, or growing up and being committed.

SDGLN: What or who was the inspiration for the storyline?

The inspiration for the storyline stems from my desire for gay men to love themselves for who they are, not from what some highly photoshopped image in a magazine tells them to be.

SDGLN: What do you want audiences to remember about the film after they leave the theater?

Audience members can take away whatever they want. But I want them to walk away loving themselves and accepting themselves for who they are.

SDGLN: How did you come to cast Jonathan Lesecki (“Gayby”) as the lead, and why was he perfect for the role?

Jonathan Lisecki and I became fast friends at Outfest Los Angeles in 2012 when his film “Gayby” showed there. I thought of him as a friend and a filmmaker first. Originally I was just glad to get the opportunity to trade notes with him on making a gay themed film. But his performance in “Gayby” was just scene stealing and I thought he could be good for this role. The whole time my casting directors were casting the film, I always thought of Jonathan in the back of my mind. He has an old fashioned 1920s movie star presence about him. And the more I got to know him while skyping because he lived in New York while I was in LA, I just thought this guy is certainly the next Nathan Lane or Harvey Fierstein! He has a unique brand all his own and I hope he showcases it in many more upcoming work.

SDGLN: You got a lovely performance out of Ann Walker, so how did you manage to snag her for the role of the wacky mother?

Ann Walker is such a gem! I am surprised not many more filmmakers are snatching her up to put in their films because they should! I was very fortunate to get to work with Ann Walker from my casting directors David Zimmerman and Stanzi Stokes.

The first day Ann showed up on set she was upset at me because I wanted to turn her into a Hollywood blonde. The wig the make-up department bought was too short and Ann came up to me with the wig and said “honey, you want me in this? This is just sad.” But I had to explain to Ann that it was because her character relishes the days of being a USO showgirl in Vietnam and being swooned by men, she longs for those days which isn’t unlike another facet of gay men who are afraid of aging. So that was Ann’s character. A beautiful buxom blonde in a gay man’s body and potty mouthed! Haha.

SDGLN: Your family fled Vietnam when you were a baby, and your first film “Saigon Love Story” (2006) was shot in your homeland. And with “Big Gay Love,” your first American film, you continue to use Vietnam as a backdrop to your story. Can you speak about how important it is to you to pay homage to your homeland? Even if it tragically results in you being falsely accused by some Vietnamese-Americans of being a communist sympathizer.

Well you’ve certainly done your research! Yes, it’s funny you mention it because Vietnam has been such a huge part of my life because it is the semblance of who I am, but I don’t let it define me.

First for “Big Gay Love” I wanted Betty’s character to be a Vietnam War-era USO showgirl, not to pay homage to Vietnam in particular, but to pay reverence to a huge cornerstone in American history that relates to going from innocence to experience. And that mirrors the gay rights movement. If you look at the history of American civil disobedience in reference to the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and the gay rights movement, there are many similarities. I was just at a screening of Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” the other day and he talked about his growing up where there wasn’t one day where he didn’t see news coverage of the Vietnam War. It was the first televised war that changed hearts and minds. And with gay marriage rights, it is the same with the news coverage we see on a daily basis of humans wanting to be treated respectfully by peaceably having the law recognize their inalienable rights.

As for the second part of your question, I think with the culmination of the success of my first film there were some in the Vietnamese-American community who wanted to use it as a platform for their own personal politics, which I do not agree with and think is very sad. After my first film, I came to a place where I became friends with the biggest pop stars in Vietnam and those who saw that bridge-building of our friendship as a political tool were very malicious and misinformed. The purpose of art is to find commonalities among people. Not divide people. The very essence of art is prayer. It is a wish fulfillment to bring people together. And that is what my art is about. If you understand me you understand that is the very essence of who I am.

SDGLN: Speaking of Vietnam, do your films get shown there? And if so, are they censored in any way? We read about how Vietnam’s LGBT community is becoming more vocal and visible, but efforts to legalize gay marriage failed in June. Where do you think LGBT rights are headed in Vietnam, and Asia in general?

Yes, my first film “Saigon Love Story” was distributed in theaters across Vietnam and quite successfully, too. But I have not been back there in six years so I do not know the exact climate nor assume that I know.

SDGLN: What’s next for you?

I want stretch myself as a filmmaker and not be complacent. So my next film will be a martial arts film that combines Eastern philosophy with Western elements. It is about a movie star who sets sail to shoot a film in Asia thinking he’s conquered it all only to realize that he’s got yet a lot to learn about desire and materialism.

Also when I was 28 I was given an autobiography from a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist who has moved from innocence to experience from having covered so many important American milestones from Kennedy’s assassination to enlisting to go to Vietnam as a UPI photographer. I am only now at a place where I feel like I have the hindsight and context to understand all that. I feel like that is really important not only from a dramatic narrative perspective, but from a historical perspective as well. Great art doesn’t mean anything unless it helps create a cultural discourse. And that’s what I hope to do through my filmmaking.

SDGLN: What is something your fans don’t know about you?

I was raised a Buddhist, and filmmaking for me is like being in a state of meditation. I meditate on hoping humans can reach the highest potential of themselves and to end war and differences. I meditate to look for inspiration to make films to bring my friends to the highest expression of themselves. For isn’t that the purpose of why we are on this Earth? We are constantly trying to find our purpose and the best way there is through living the most authentic expression of ourselves.

SDGLN: If you were granted three wishes, what would you ask for and why?

I wish for humans to be less selfish. I wish that people listened more than they talk. I wish that we can understand each other better through compassion.

THE DETAILS

"Big Gay Love" screens at 7 pm Wednesday at Landmark Hillcrest Cinemas, 3965 Fifth Ave. in San Diego, CA 92013. Tickets are $10 at the door or HERE. A Q&A session will follow the screening.

The post-movie reception will be at Harvey Milk's American Diner.

The FilmOut board is advising patrons that seating is limited to 250 people, a sizable downgrade from the spacious 700-seat North Park Theatre.

For those who do not purchase their seats in advance, tickets will be sold first-come, first-served at a FilmOut table at the cinema. The Landmark Hillcrest box office will not be selling FilmOut tickets, since FilmOut is leasing one of the movie theaters for the night.

The Village Hillcrest Parking Garage, which has entrances on Fifth Avenue, Sixth Avenue and Washington Street, will provide free parking for the first three hours, but the parking ticket must be validated at the theater.

Meanwhile, the FilmOut board has announced that the 17th annual LGBT Film Festival will be May 29-31 at the North Park Theatre. Monthly screenings have already been set at the Landmark Hillcrest on Aug. 20, Sept. 24, Oct. 22, Nov. 19 and Dec. 17.

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Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at ken@sdgln.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.