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Marriage equality gets twisted treatment in 'With This Ring'



New York-based filmmaker Mike Jacoby is looking to catch a second wave of success with his 2011 short film set to show in Tucson at the second annual LGBT film festival Out in the Desert.

Jacoby’s film, “With This Ring,” has been nominated for Best Drama at the festival and has already achieved more than a modicum of success in its past two years on the festival circuit.

The film, which unveils an increasingly volatile relationship between a recently divorced man and an aloof stranger he spends the night with, was named an official selection at the 26th Annual Fort Lauderdale Film Festival and the Out Twin Cities Film Festival.

The film’s plot darkly satirizes the inevitability that divorce will accompany gay marriage’s legalization, and was inspired by a decision made with executive producer George Zuber to “turn the whole idea of gay marriage upside down,” Jacoby said. Its unconventional storyline immediately proved controversial among some members of the gay community.

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“The older generations were shocked and in some cases, really upset by it, like ‘Why would you take this topic, where we’ve come so far, and make a joke out of it?’” Jacoby said. The younger demographic, including lead actor Justin Misenhelder, was much more receptive to the dramatic course of the film, he added.

“I liked the fact that it was a gay noir film, but it took a different side of what you usually see in the gay arena when it comes to short films,” said Misenhelder, who plays the role of the divorcee. The brief two-day shoot required Misenhelder and co-star Greg Engbrecht to become comfortable with each other, despite being virtual strangers, and although the film focuses solely on the two of them, they said that stage fright wasn’t an issue.

“I’ve never had a problem being intimate with anyone on camera,” Misenhelder said. “I think it just depends on who you’re with. Especially if you have the scene with just one person, you kind of really just have each other.”

Following the film’s festival appearances, Jacoby and the cast and crew immersed themselves in other projects, and “With This Ring” seemed to lose momentum. Misenhelder, convinced the film was “too good” to fall by the wayside, started inquiring into other festivals after watching a series of short films focused on the gay community that he said were subpar.

“I just thought to myself … there’s no reason why we can’t achieve more than what we have with this film,” Misenhelder said.

“With This Ring” was one of 624 international submissions to Out in the Desert 2013, according to festival director Joe Sprague. A jury panel then narrowed the selections down to 164 feature-length and short films, which will be screened in genre-based categories.

Filmmakers and other VIPs will be in attendance every night of the festival to hold question-and-answer sessions and discussions about the films, Sprague said. Winners will be announced on Jan. 27, the final night of the festival.

“I saw the competition and I think it’s fierce,” Jacoby said. “I don’t have any preconceived notions that we’ll be winning. There are really amazing-looking films there.”

While defying the norm is accepted and even encouraged in today’s filmmaking community, Jacoby said he is thankful both the public and the professional circuit are becoming increasingly open-minded.

“I think there continues to be the same bubblegum, silly, queer stereotypical films,” Jacoby said. “But there are a whole lot more films that like to take a chance … that like to explain subject matter that 10 years ago nobody would even talk about.”

And while “With This Ring” does act as a cautionary tale against believing in happily ever after, Jacoby and Misenhelder both said they wholeheartedly support marriage equality — as long as there’s a disclaimer attached.

“We’ve [the gay community] always had to make our own traditions because we’ve been told that we can’t be part of norms,” Jacoby said. “So why were we so anxious to pick up and be just like everybody else, when not being like everyone else is something we take great pride in?”

To watch the film, visit Jacoby’s production company, LookOut Films, on Vimeo, or attend its screening at the festival on Jan. 26.

If You Go: Tucson’s International LGBT Film Festival, Out in the Desert 2013, Jan. 23 through Jan. 27 at Fluxx Studio and Gallery, 414 E. 9th St. For ticket prices and the full film schedule, visit outinthedesertff.org or call (520) 207-8358.


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