Sunday, April 26, 2009

"Saving the Boom" -- News Coverage

I wanted to share two incredible stories from Friday’s Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot with you. The first is by Ashley Breeding, who wrote a wonderful piece about the history of Laguna’s landmark Boom Boom Room and the new documentary “Saving the Boom.” “Saving the Boom” will screen this Tuesday, April 28th at 2:00 pm in Newport Beach at the Newport Beach Film Festival. For tickets and information go to:

The second story is by filmmaker extraordinaire, John Keitel. It’s a First Person essay about his coming out, his relationship with his mother and the historical significance of Laguna Beach and the Boom. Both of these are must reads.

The stories are below in their entirety, and I have also included the links. Please forward to your email list for your friends to enjoy
Thank you and we hope to see you at the screening on Tuesday!

Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot
Friday, April 24, 2009

Battle of the Boom Room

Filmmaker John Keitel sits in the Garden of Love and Peace below the Coast Inn and the former Boom Boom Room. Keitel's movie, "Saving the Boom," documents the campaign to save the legendary gay bar as well as the adjacent Coast Inn and garden.
New documentary on campaign to save iconic gay nightclub will be shown at the Newport Beach Film Festival

By Ashley Breeding

For filmmaker John Keitel, the Boom Boom Room was more than a gay hangout: It was a place of community, and the battle to save it is personal.

The second screening of Keitel’s “Saving the Boom,” a 2008 film documentary about efforts to keep the iconic gay bar — and the gay community in Laguna Beach — alive, will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Edwards Island 4 cinema during the 2009 Newport Beach Film Festival.

The film premiered last summer at Outfest, a popular gay and lesbian film festival in Los Angeles. Since that time, Keitel the film’s producer and a former Laguna resident, has updated the film with additional footage, which we will be viewed for the first time next week.

Although the Boom closed on Labor Day of 2007, despite immense efforts to keep it open, Keitel said the film still conveys an important message to this day.

“My objective was not just to save the Boom, but to make a film about a place that played a significant role in people’s lives, including my own, and to touch those people,” he said. “So little is known about gay history, so this gave me an opportunity to talk with people in the gay and lesbian community about their own stories, and to see what history is there and how we should honor it.”

The documentary follows Save the Boom leader Fred Karger and his volunteer group during their year-and-a-half effort to raise awareness and prevent the Boom from closing its doors after 60 years of service.

Interviews include those with former Laguna mayor Bob Gentry — one of the first openly gay elected officials in the U.S. — who’s served as a role model to so many who followed him, and current city council member and Boom supporter, Kelly Boyd, now the city’s mayor.

The establishment, originally named The South Seas, was purchased by business tycoon Steven Udvar-Hazy (ranked by Forbes in 2009 as the world’s 305th richest person), who planned to turn the corner building on South Coast Highway and Mountain Road into a boutique hotel and five-star restaurant.

Keitel and his crew document Save the Boom’s civil rights movement, through their march on Century City and upon Udvar-Hazy, collection of petitions to present to city council, and even to the movie premiere of “Ocean’s Thirteen,” where they protested to Brad Pitt and George Clooney, who had been rumored to be silent partners of Hazy’s and the Boom.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the documentary is the casting of “The Men of Laguna Beach” calendar, which showcased the city’s 20 hottest men and was used to raise funds for the cause. Celebrities and Boom-goers like Nicole and Heather Tom also partook.

Former Coastline Pilot reporter Josh Aden tried out and made the top 10.

Karger said he is thankful to Keitel, a longtime friend, for making his cause the focus of one of his projects.

“It brings attention to the cause, which is still going,” he said. “Through this documentary, you can see [our] passion behind it, as well as the need for a gay and lesbian place to socialize.

“It wasn’t just a bar to us, but a community center, where we could go and be accepted. We’re not giving up until we get it back.

”Keitel said the film was also a way for him to honor what Laguna meant to him, particularly the Garden of Peace and Love, where his own mother’s ashes were scattered, and where those of so many who were struck by the AIDS crisis were laid to rest.

His other documentary, “Prodigal Sons,” which tells the emotional and touching story of a transsexual named Kim, will also premiere at the festival on Monday.


Remembering Mom, honoring the Boom
By John Keitel

The first time I visited Laguna Beach was during spring break freshman year. It was 1983, and I had come west from Chicago for college. I was with my very straight, very “SoCal” roommate and best friend from Pasadena, and we were on our way to visit his high school girlfriend at her parents’ beach house.

The moment we swung off the 405 onto Laguna Canyon Road in his yellow pickup, I knew I was somewhere special. It was still a two-lane road back then that skirted strawberry fields and ponds close enough to touch, and the record winter rains of that January had given way to emerald hills that swayed in the late March breeze. As I looked out at the Pacific from their living room perched on the bluff above West Street beach, I had no idea just how important to me this place would become.

Four-hundred miles away in Palo Alto, the news that year of Robert Gentry’s election in Laguna Beach as one of the country’s first openly gay elected officials seeped into my fraternity boy consciousness and gave me a sense of hope and possibility that I hadn’t realized I lacked.

When I returned to pursue my master’s at USC film school in 1988, Laguna became my weekend destination of choice, and its gay heart — the Boom — the iconic bar of my youth.

Like so many others, I found love, friendship and acceptance among the sandy, tattered pool tables and rambling open-air rooms. I even met one of my first boyfriends there and with him made my first feature film. The name we chose for our production company was Boom Pictures.

My relationship with Laguna took an unexpected turn in 1991 when my mother followed me from Chicago to Leisure World in Laguna Hills. The youngest of seven children, I had come to California to chart my own course, so at first I was reluctant to embrace what I viewed as my mom’s encroachment. But nearing 70, she had been diagnosed with an emphysema-like disease, and she could no longer take the brutal winters or humid summers.

Over the next decade, my reluctance melted, and Laguna came to mean so much more to me than I could have ever imagined on that day I first encountered it.

Surrounded by the familiarity of my youth, it became my refuge from L.A., and a place I could still be my mom’s baby as her breath grew shorter. Heading out for a Saturday night, I can still hear her asking, “Where you going, honey, the Boom?” Even she was in on it.

When she passed six days before my 35th birthday, I took solace in being able to be with her, holding her hand as she took her final breath and we said goodbye. I remember sheepishly setting the pine box containing her ashes on the table next to me at the Zinc Cafe for one last meal together before heading north on PCH. I took the long way home that day.

It would be seven years until I saw Laguna again.

Fred Karger was a guy I’d met during my Laguna years. He had grown up in the suburb just next to mine back in Illinois, and we shared a hometown camaraderie.

So when I received his first e-mail blast about the Boom’s sale and imminent closing in June 2006, I gave it a dutiful read. It was slated for redevelopment as a boutique hotel and restaurant. Just what Laguna needed. It was another sad passing, but it had been so long since I’d been down there. And I was determined to keep the past in the past.

When I bumped into Fred at a party a few days later, I expressed my regrets and wished him luck. But Fred’s not just any guy. In my regrets he heard resignation, and anyone who knows Fred knows that’s not a good answer. Before I knew it, I was heading down the 405 again, camera in tow to document Fred’s efforts to save the Boom. It was Fourth of July weekend, and I was back in Laguna.

The strawberry fields were single-family homes, Laguna Canyon Road a four-lane highway with a towering toll road cutting through the San Joaquin Hills above it.

Quaint oceanfront trailer parks had given way to five-diamond resorts, and the youth-oriented surf culture had become just another set piece for reality TV.

The earthy charms that had made Laguna an oasis of inclusiveness on the Orange County coast had become its main draw, and many people, the gays included, had been priced out of the market.

Armed with an arsenal of strategies honed during a career in politics, Fred succeeded in extending the Boom’s life span by one year. Documentaries have a way of hijacking a filmmaker’s life, and this was no different.

Every time I found myself heading south for another petition drive, protest, or City Council meeting, I secretly cursed Fred and his moxie. His “Men of Laguna Beach Calendar” contest was hatched, I’m convinced, just to keep me hooked.

It worked. Over the weeks that turned into months I found myself rediscovering Laguna. People I had somehow missed my first time around were eager to share their own Boom histories with the audience my camera promised. And places I had been countless times before offered up new surprises.

Nestled on the bluff below the Boom, The Garden of Peace & Love had been there the whole time. I must have passed it a million times on my way to the beach at the foot of Mountain Avenue. But the vagaries of youth blinded me to a lot of things, and the garden was one of them.

Founded by Michele Martinay in the 1980s, it began as an impromptu AIDS memorial. With the ocean surf crashing just beneath it and under the watchful care of Michele, it evolved into a hallowed ground where all Lagunans could memorialize loved ones of any stripe. I realized that my film was no longer just about a bar but about a history and the community that history had launched and nurtured.

It was also inexplicably and inescapably about Mom. The pine box where she resided had become an interesting if macabre conversation piece back home in L.A.

Ironically, her only request had been that she not end up in my closet. For more than eight years, I had been looking for an answer to a question I had been unwilling to ask. In saving the Boom, I found my answer.

With the bar and dance floor already shuttered for months above us, my siblings and I gathered at the foot of Mountain with our mom one last time. We added her name to those that had come before, painted on rocks and etched in wood, and gave her the ocean view she had always wanted.

As the breeze carried her away, I caught a glimpse of the boy that I had been. I wondered if he had become the man she had intended. I wondered if Laguna was still the town it wanted to be.

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