BEVERLY HILLS — It's 1963 in a Barcelona hotel. Sitting in a bathtub, John Lennon stops playing harmonica and asks Beatles' manager Brian Epstein to scrub his back.
It's an ambiguous request, a moment ripe with possibility, as imagined by director Christopher Munch in "The Hours and Times." His film is one of the 192 films, documentaries and shorts in the 10th annual Los Angeles International Gay and Lesbian Film and Video Festival showing at the Directors Guild of America.
Opening today and running through July 18, the festival has spent the past decade showcasing gay filmmakers, battling with Hollywood and providing a forum for such movies as "The Hours and Times," which will be shown Wednesday.
Not much is known about the alleged relationship between the young Lennon and his manager. What is fact is that before the phenomenon called Beatlemania consumed their lives, the two spent several days in Spain alone.
It was during this trip, the film suggests, when a romantic interlude may have occurred. Away from Liverpool, their fans and family, the two vacation, ostensibly to give Lennon some rest but with the unspoken purpose of seeing what might happen between them.
"I had been aware about this friendship in a vague sort of way. It seemed to express an emotional intensity that I could bring a voice to," said Munch, a 30-year-old filmmaker based in Los Angeles. "The film is fictional, but I hope it's consistent with the spirit of their friendship."
Although "The Hours and Times" received a special jury prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival and is scheduled to open July 29 for a one-week run at the Nuart, Munch said he thought it was important that the film play at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film and Video Festival.
"It might have escaped the gay audience. We hope that by doing this festival in advance to our run, that more people will know about it," Munch said.
Such words are music to the ears of Larry Horne, the festival's founder and executive director, who has struggled to persuade Hollywood executives and independent filmmakers that films shown at the festival are not stigmatized or difficult to market as a result of appearing there.
"This changed when producers and distributors realized that the gay market is not to be taken lightly," Horne said. For example, the producers of the opening-night feature "Swoon" wanted the movie's Los Angeles premiere to be at the festival (it will be released in theaters in September). "They said: 'This film is about a gay issue. We want to reach a certain kind of audience and develop it.' "
Horne points to other filmmakers whose careers received a boost from appearing at the festival: Gus Van Sant's film "Mala Noche" first gained attention at the 1986 festival and Jennie Livingston's "Paris Is Burning" was a hit on the gay and lesbian film festival circuit in 1990.
The 1991 festival was particularly disappointing, Horne said, with producers and distributors withholding four major films--ironically, Van Sant's "My Own Private Idaho" and an encore performance of "Paris Is Burning," as well as Isaac Julien's "Young Soul Rebels" and Percy Adlon's "Salmonberries." Reasons ranged from not wanting the films identified as "gay films" to wanting them to premiere elsewhere.
"Hollywood hasn't done much to help the festival," Horne said. "I didn't know it would be a continuing struggle (to book the films). I thought once it was established, there would be a base of support to keep it going."
This year, Gregg Araki, who had two of his earlier films played at the festival, said he didn't want his newest film, "The Living End," shown because he's already screened it at other festivals. Director Temistocles Lopez's "Chain of Desire," a film about bisexual and homosexual relationships, was pulled by its producer after "a massive amount of discussion and faxing and questions like, 'Was this going to help the film or pigeonhole it?' " Horne said.
But producer Brian Cox said the decision "had nothing to do with the festival. It was our own marketing strategy about when we wanted to bring this film out. We're saving our premiere for the Montreal Film Festival in August."
Getting films for the local festival isn't Horne's only concern. In a year in which "The Silence of the Lambs," "JFK" and "Basic Instinct" all had gay or bisexual villains, Horne said he wonders if Hollywood has improved in its portrayals of homosexuals since the festival started 10 years ago, despite the number of gays who work in the movie business.
"Gay people are skittish, usually because they're concerned for their jobs and the Hollywood machinery accepting them," Horne said. "But they (should) ask a couple of soul-searching questions: How am I going to help make a $25-million movie about a gay couple? What is it about my own homophobia that is trying to keep the status quo?"