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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The arrival of autumn in Albuquerque can only mean three things: chile is roasting, balloons are aloft and some of the fiercest films from all over the world are showing at a theater near you, courtesy of the Southwest Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.

Perhaps the biggest film at this year’s festival is “Three” from acclaimed German director Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run,” “The International”). “I’m very excited about that (film),” said festival director Roberto Appicciafoco. “It’s a wonderful piece focusing on bisexuality, which is so rare to see a narrative feature film about. Of course, being attached to the director’s name gives it that much more oomph.”

Another standout film is “Gun Hill Road,” which, according to the festival program, was “an official selection of both the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and Frameline35 (the San Francisco International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival).” Starring Esai Morales, Judy Reyes and ingénue Harmony Santana, “Gun Hill Road” tells the story of a Hispanic father returning home to the Bronx from a stint in prison, only to discover that his son Michael is becoming his daughter Vanessa, as she undergoes her transition from male to female.

Ninth Annual Southwest Gay & Lesbian Film FestivalWHEN: Today through Thursday, Oct. 13

WHERE: The Guild Cinema (3405 E. Central), National Hispanic Cultural Center Bank of America Theatre (1701 Fourth SW) and Southwest Film Center (lower level of the UNM Student Union, Room 1003)

HOW MUCH: $10 general, $9 Closet Cinema members. Four-movie punch card $30, eight-movie punch card $60. $100 full film festival pass for all events and screenings. Tickets at Self Serve, 3904-B E. Central. Call 265-5815 or 243-1870 or visit www.closetcinema.org

Appicciafoco is pleased that two of the major films in this year’s festival are bringing bisexuality and transgenderism to the forefront. “I’m hoping it’s something that continues,” he said. “Transgender and bisexual films always have the least amount of production for whatever reason, but now we see more of those stories coming out.”

Similarly “Circumstance,” a film that has gained a lot of attention in the international community, deals with a topic rarely seen or addressed – that is, a romantic relationship between two young women growing up in the Middle East. “As far as dealing with homosexuality in modern Iran, this is a first for (the festival),” said Appicciafoco. “The chances of seeing movies of that nature, for many reasons, are very hard to come by.”

Meanwhile, “Mary Lou,” the festival’s international centerpiece, has sponsorship from the Consulate General of Israel. According to Appicciafoco, “They’ve always been a very strong supporter. I just kept hearing all these wonderful things about the film. We had ‘The Bubble’ a few years ago as our opening night film; (‘Mary Lou’ is from) the same director, Eytan Fox. (It’s being called) the Israeli ‘Glee,’ but it’s much more than that. It’s more complex: the music is incredible, and the visuals just knock you out.”

One of the biggest LGBT stories of 2010 was country singer Chely Wright’s decision to come out as a lesbian. Wright’s revelation and its impact are both addressed in the documentary “Wish Me Away.” Audiences have been responding to the film in a big way.

“It’s one of the few films that had a full standing ovation at the Castro Theatre,” said Appicciafoco.

“I remember seeing her on a talk show (discussing) her coming out process and how very difficult it was. If you love country music, then you’re gonna love this. If you don’t, I think you’re going to walk away with a lot more understanding of the courage and the strength it took for her to go through all that.”

Courage and strength are two traits needed for any person to feel safe enough to come out, but it’s especially necessary for LGBT teens, particularly when one’s identity is not warmly received at first. “This Is What Love in Action Looks Like” deals with one such teen.

In 2005, Zach Stark’s parents sent the young man away to Love in Action, a fundamentalist Christian group that claimed to be able to “cure” homosexuality. Stark wrote a blog while he was there, and his blog entries quickly reached the outside world; they, in turn, led to community protests of “Love in Action.”

Appicciafoco spoke in glowing terms about the film and its significance. “With everything that’s been happening, with the whole bullying issue, you want to see something that turns a negative into something positive. I think again it’s one of those things that we look for: positive stories.”

Although obviously enthusiastic about the program for this year’s festival, Appicciafoco is downright effusive when asked about the future, particularly about 2012, when the festival will celebrate its 10th anniversary. “I’ve already been making my notes for next year,” Appicciafoco said.

“There are festivals that have tons of bells and whistles to them, but the thing that’s always been the most important (to me) is strong programming. In the end, a film festival is about the film. It’s about the experience for the audience and the stories that we’re telling. So as soon as this one’s over, we’re on board for next year, seeing how to expand certain things and still stay focused on the mission of bringing in important films here to New Mexico.”

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