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Ariztical Plucks ‘Strange Fruit'

1 Jul, 2006 By: Holly J. Wagner

It's not easy being rainbow. For a company like Ariztical Entertainment, which focuses on alternative titles, a reputation as a provider of gay and lesbian films can make it hard to get recognition for a film with crossover potential.

“It's very difficult to have store buyers not say ‘OK, that's our gay film for the month,’ said Michael Shoel, president of Ariztical.

With a little luck, that could change with Strange Fruit, a murder mystery that reaches into familiar territory, then bites back with a twist. The DVD ($29.95) streets Sept. 19, pushed back from an original June 27 street date. It prebooks Aug. 15.

The film follows a gay black lawyer in New York who returns home to Louisiana to look into the murder of a longtime friend, also gay. It offers the common thread of prejudice and persecution, but not from the source audiences expect.

“I think it brings some depth to the line,” Shoel said. “It is one of our strongest titles this year. Most of our films are more comical or eroticism-driven. All of our films are mainstream — we don't do adult. But any time you find a film with good acting, a plot and a good storyline, it adds depth.”

It's also unusual because most of the main characters are gay black men, a population not often central to a movie.

“I expect that this film will cross over quite a bit more. There is a strong African-American market that we have not been reaching out to,” Shoel said.

While not everyone embraces gay- and lesbian-themed films, that helps target marketing.

“It's easier to focus where we are going to market when you are selling to a niche audience,” Shoel said. “Why spend money to promote ourselves to the Wal-Mart buyer when we know it's never going to happen?” While Ariztical looks for films that can reach a variety of viewers, Shoel said it never hurts when the film includes elements with sure-fire appeal for the core audience.

“I want some intellectual depth in the films,” he said. “[But] if it has really attractive men in it with their shirts off, I know it is going to sell more.”

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