October 13, 2011 at 1:29 pm EDT | by Joey DiGuglielmo
‘Den’ of doom

‘Into the Lion’s Den’
Sunday at 9 p.m.
Lisner Auditorium
730 21st St., N.W.
82 mins.
After party at Tonic
2036 G St., N.W.
Reel Affirmations


From left, Ronnie Kroell, Kristen-Alexzander Griffith and Jesse Archer in 'Into the Lion's Den.' (Photo courtesy Breaking Glass Pictures)

Gay actor Kristen-Alexzander Griffith doesn’t like thrillers and horror movies. The Broadway vet can’t stand to watch them.

“I hate them, I really hate them,” he says during a phone chat from his home in New York. “I’m impatient, so I can’t stand the suspense, the tense music. It drives me nuts. My boyfriend loves it and is always trying to get me to watch them, but I’m like, ‘Forget it.'”

But watching and starring in such movies are two different things, of course. Griffith (who toured with “Rent”) is one of the three leads in the Breaking Glass feature “Into the Lion’s Den,” which will have its world premiere at Reel Affirmations Sunday at 9 p.m. at the Lisner Auditorium on the George Washington University campus. The cast and crew are planning to attend.

His friend Ronnie Kroell, who plays Michael in the film, told him they were having trouble casting the role of Ted, the youngest of a trio of gay friends who carry the film. Griffith recorded an audition with his MacBook camera and sent it. He got the role the next day.

“I’ll be honest, the first thing I asked when Ronnie called was what about the black guy,” Griffith, who’s black, says. “In every movie, that’s the joke. The black character dies or runs away. I said, ‘Listen, I’m not doing it if the black person dies.’ So I read the script and knew right away this was something different. I thought this would be something different for the black gay community and it wasn’t a coming out story, we’ve seen a lot of that. I think this will have very strong appeal. I never heard of a gay action thriller. It’s definitely a conversation starter.”

Only a few staffers at Breaking Glass have seen the film, which was shot in Hatfield, Pa., over 10 days in June on a $75,000 budget. It tells of three gay friends — Johnny (Jesse Archer), Michael (Kroell) and Ted (Griffith) — bored with life in West Hollywood who embark on a cross-country road trip and stop at a secluded, backwoods bar called the Lion’s Den to celebrate their last night on the road. Mayhem ensues. The promos promise a “bold, uncompromising thriller that plunges into the depths of human depravity.”

The three actors and the director all say the largely unchartered topical territory in gay writer Philip Malaczewski’s script was appealing.

“I was like, ‘Oh, this has some interesting potential,'” Lantz says during a phone interview from his Philadelphia office. “There are some torture scenes in the movie that I thought were pretty shocking. I’m a straight man and even I thought the story was very compelling and something I hadn’t seen before.”

Kroell says the movie starts as “a heartwarming story of three friends looking for something more” from life and “takes a dark turn for the worst.” Though the three leads are gay characters all played by gay actors, Kroell says it’s more a thriller than a gay story.

“The writing is genius,” he says. “It’s kind of like ‘Jeepers Creepers’ or ‘Joyride’ with a gay cast.”

Lantz says it’s, “Not a gore fest, more a mental fest. A few things are more mental than physical.”

Archer, an author and actor famous for his indie work in gay-themed movies like “Eating Out: Drama Camp” and “A Four Letter Word,” is the only cast member who doesn’t shy away from giving away the ending (which we’ll refrain from sharing in full).

“I get raped and slobbered on and it’s not CGI,” he says with a laugh during a phone chat from his home in Australia where he’s living for a year with his boyfriend. “It’s the darkest thing I’ve done by far.”

Archer says some of the more harrowing scenes were tough to film but working with good actors helped “take him there.”

Might some of them be hot in a twisted, kinky way?

“Oh, it’s definitely hot,” he says.

Archer says he doesn’t mind stereotypically gay characters.

“I’m kind of the slutty queen in this,” he says. “I nailed it. … Maybe some day I’ll get really brave and play a straight part. Straight actors say that all the time about gay roles, like it’s really brave of them to play gay, so maybe I’ll do it too.”

Joe Bilancio, programming director for the festival, says even though he’s only seen a rough cut of the movie, he thinks locals are in for a treat and something off the beaten path.

“A thriller such as this is a great way to expand on the offerings and with the cast and crew, it’s sure to be a great film,” he says.

The three actors say despite the dark subject matter and harried shooting pace, they had fun on the project.

“There was lots of vodka and pizza and nights where we just sat around and laughed,” Kroell says. “It felt like we really were on a road trip at times.”

And seeing the final results will be almost as much a surprise to them. Lantz was still tweaking in post-production as late as this week.

They’ve each seen rough cuts but nothing finished.

Kroell says even if it doesn’t end up being a masterpiece for the ages, he’s confident enough in Lantz and Malaczewski to think audiences will surely find it compelling.

“There are those films, of course, that are so bad you can’t turn away,” he says. “And in some ways, I like a little tongue in cheek with my horror. You know a little bit of cheese is fun in those movies like ‘Demon Night.’ … But I really think this will be effectively suspenseful. There’s enough depth in the script, which was well written, that I don’t think anyone will leave thinking this is a failure.”

D.C.’s gay film festival rebounds after tumultuous off year

This year is the 20th Reel Affirmations Festival, staged by One in Ten, an organization founded in 1990.

The festival showcases films that give visibility to LGBT people on film and video. There are a few new things happening this time around as the festival rebounds after being forced to scrap its event last year and a planned-but-then-cancelled spring fest this year.

There is a new Embassy Screening Series featuring screenings at the Embassy of Israel (3514 International Drive, N.W., Embassy of France (4101 Reservoir Rd., N.W.) and the Goethe Institut (814 7th St., N.W.). Reservations to these screenings must be made in advance.

“We’re very proud of this,” Larry Guillemette, festival chair and director of development and external relations, says of the series.

There are also $5 screenings at 5 p.m. at the West End Cinema (23rd St., N.W.) on Monday (“Our Lips are Sealed” and “Change”), Tuesday (“Photos of Angie” and “Bullied”) and Wednesday (“This is What Love in Action Looks Like”).

These screenings are this year’s youth programming. Guillemette says they’ve always tried to have some kind of discounted or free screenings for youth.

There will also be official after parties each night, replacing the Absolut pavillion of previous years.

“We’ve tried to reach out to our partner in the city … and we’ve gotten a great response,” says Guillemette of the parties.

The annual Women and Filmmakers’ Brunch, during which “Hannah and the Hasbian” will be screened, will be held at the U.S. Navy Memorial Heritage Center Theater (701 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.) at 11 a.m. on Sunday.

The other venues include the Atlas Center for the Arts (1333 H St., N.E.), The Documentary Center at George Washington University, Globe Theater (1927 Florida Ave., N.W.), GWU Amphitheatre and Lisner Auditorium (730 21st St., N.W.).

Many directors and actors will be at the festival for the screenings of their films.

Directors Casper Andreas (“Going Down in La La Land”), Sonali Gulati (“I AM”) and Rolla Selbak (“Three Veils”) will be present for Q&As after the screenings of their films.

Director Michelle Pollion, executive producer Kelly Burkhardt and producer Paul Fitzgerald will do a Q&A after their film, “Regrets” screens and executive producer Lews Tice and actor Derek Villanuvea will do one after their film, “Longhorns.”

Ticket prices range from $5 to $40 for individual screenings and there are package deals available as well.

For a complete list of films and times and to purchase tickets to screenings, visit reelaffirmations.org.

— Juliette Ebner



Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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