When Liza Minnelli is on your cruise ship, you know you’re someplace special.
“Ok, that’s not really Liza,” you say to yourself as you watch her croon out “New York, New York” and “Sarah Lee” in the top deck lounge of the Norwegian Pearl. “Liza’s not that tall.”
In fact, it’s Mark Payne, one of the finest impersonators ever to don a red sequined dress and signature shaggy black wig. Mark is yet one more fascinating person we met during the Pride of the Ocean LGBT film festival, which wrapped its final night with a gala party featuring Mark’s jaw-dropping performance as Ms. Minnelli, alongside the sublime burlesque performance of Heather Coutts, who proved that Diamond’s are a Girl’s Best Friend, even if just as pasty nipple covers! Yowwwwza. Even the ship’s mostly Filipino bar staff were stopped in their tracks.
This party was just one more success feather in the collective caps of Pride of the Ocean organizers. But the biggest feather, without question, remains their ability to program a really remarkable LGBT film festival and make it successful on a cruise ship. And I mean successful.
And lest you think having a Liza impersonator on such a cruise is just a gimmick: Mark is a filmmaker whose biographical documentary Get Happy was a past festival selection, and whose partner Michael Shilub, a California lawyer, was a panelist during the festival’s marriage eqauliaty discussion which followed the showing of Stephen Israel’s beautiful film, I Do.
How to measure that? The fact that I have 109 new BFFs (there were 110 participants in the 2013 festival, including filmmakers and audience members) is one measure of success. The “contained” cruise ship environment ensures that for seven days, participants can find each other in settings that make it easy to engage and discuss the many film topics—topics which serve as wonderful conversation starters.
On most cruises—even most gay group cruises—you’re not likely to start a conversation with a stranger by saying:
- “How does a trans-person successfully navigate dating?”
- “I think his body was plenty-hot-enough to be hired as a go-go boy!”
- “What conversations about HIV is your 20-something generation actually having?”
- “That film about the minor entrapping his elderly neighbor was intense!”
- “My wife and I recently went mattress shopping and she tried to get me to spoon her on the demo beds.”
But on Pride of the Ocean, I found myself engaged in these conversations and many, many more. From many the short films-in-progress, to the now successful features like Yoruba Richen’s moving The New Black and Stephen Israel’s beautiful I Do, the films were universally thought-provoking and engaging.
Kudos go to festival programmer John Scagliotti for curating a broad selection of films, and to Susi Walsh for facilitating successful CineSLAM sessions with lots of fascinating discussion and Q&A.
For 2014, Pride of the Ocean will run three shipboard festivals:
- The first will sail on Norwegian Sky from Miami to the Bahamas for a “weekend sampler,” including a film by a Bahamian filmmaker. Dates are January 31 – Feb. 3.
- The second is slated to sail June 1-8, 2014, from New York City to Bermuda, onboard the Norwegian Breakaway, with a general festival theme of “Selma, Seneca Falls, and Stonewall: films that made a difference.”
- The third will be a sail around Hawaii onboard the Pride of America, from October 11 – 18.
*Note: the author sailed as a guest of Pride of the Ocean organizers. This content and all opinions are the author’s own, and have not been advance-reviewed by Pride of the Ocean. The author’s shipboard accommodations were standard “ocean view,” and you can read his review of the Norwegian Pearl by clicking here.