Tampa – Margaret Murray remembers the early years of the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. It was long before the film fan became the organization’s executive director—for the second time. It was in the early 1990s when the festival was only three or four years old and she experienced LGBT cinema with a fresh, wide-eyed perspective.
“It seemed like this glamorous exciting event, and it was,” Murray said. “There were protestors out there every single day of the film festival. We had to have a heavy police presence to protect us.”
What a difference a two and a half decades can make. As TIGLFF prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary, it celebrates strong support from the City of Tampa, it’s mayor, the city council and elected officials from across the bay in Pinellas County. Protestors these days are non-existent, and the nine-day festival, which runs Oct. 3-11 at the Tampa Theatre and freeFall Theatre, will mark its silver anniversary with parties, amazing films and an outreach to LGBT youth.
“We have two big street parties on opening weekend,” Murray said. “They are open to everyone and our opening night film, Blackbird, is free.”
This is the third year TIGLFF has offered its opening night screening for free—and that practice has boosted attendance and participation throughout the rest of the festival.
The opening night street party begins at 6 p.m. Oct. 3 with food trucks, beer trucks and outdoor bars ready to serve festival attendees, and the free film starts at 8p.m. The party continues from 10 p.m. to midnight on Franklin Street in front of the theater.
The party continues the next evening, Oct. 4, when TIGLFF presents director and author John Waters with a Lifetime Achievement Award for cinematic achievement. Waters will perform his one-man show, This Filthy World: Filthier and Dirtier at Tampa Theatre and then sign copies of his book at the Mondo Trasho Street Party outside the theater.
“John will have his book, Carsick, available outside,” Murray said. “This is huge for us and we want to let as many people as possible come enjoy the film festival.”
While the party is going on outside, another offering will take place inside. Comedian and screenwriter Del Shores of Sordid Lives fame will attend Naked. Sordid. Reality.—a film about his stand-up career. Shores is expected to do some of his stand-up after the screening.
A youthful outreach
Twenty-five years is a long run for any event. TIGLFF started small and has grown to a world-class festival in more than two decades, but it needs the next generation of LGBTs and allies to keep it going. That’s why it is reaching out to Tampa Bay’s youth. While everyone is welcome at the free opening night film, anyone 18 years old and younger can attend any of the films—age appropriate of course—for free this year.
“We sat in on a panel with St. Petersburg City Councilman Steve Kornell and people from Gay Straight Alliances, GLSEN and Metro Wellness to see how we can reach out to gay youth,” Murray said. “Our board member Ashley Brundage has also helped us a lot with this outreach.”
The goal is to bring younger LGBTs to the theater to experience the festival and hopefully get involved as the festival continues to grow.
On Oct. 4, TIGLFF’s Queer Youth Program begins at 10 a.m. with a free showing of G.B.F. followed by a Show & Tell with filmmaker Lucas Omar, a complimentary lunch, music and activities geared specifically for LGBT youth. The program ends at 1 p.m.
Reflecting on history
Throughout the year, TIGLFF holds monthly screenings. This year, the organization has featured some of the more classic films featured in previous festivals. That feeling of nostalgia continues into the nine-day celebration of LGBT cinema as TIGLFF hosts a special panel Oct. 5, at 2:45 p.m.
“We have a screening of Letter to Anita,” Murray said. “After that movie, we have a free panel discussion to talk about why it’s so important that organizations achieve and preserve LGBT history. This film talks about the Letter to Anita campaign that had a huge impact on the entire state. We need to make sure we document those things.”
Panelists scheduled to participate at the Tampa Theatre include Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith, filmmaker Andrea Myerson, USF special collections’ Merrell Dickey and Watermark founder Tom Dyer.
“Everyone who lives locally—or internationally—is invited to attend,” Murray said. “We have invited a lot of familiar faces to come back to the festival and the opening party and we have had a large community help us over the years. There will be a reunion feel, I think, throughout the festival.”
The two sides of tech
A lot has changed since those early days of the festival. When it began in 1989, there were no restaurants or bars downtown near the Tampa Theatre and Murray remembers bringing food to the projectionist, who couldn’t leave his post.
“This was back in the days of 35 mm film and we had to carry 20 70-pound films every day,” Murray recalled. “Now you have DVDs, streaming movies and digital downloads.”
Now, films arrive via email inboxes or in small boxes of DVDs, making set up and screenings much easier to manage.
But with that technology comes competition. Many LGBT films are available on Netflix or other online sources. But the experience of those films just isn’t the same on the home television or laptop, Murray said.
“Part of it is that you can’t always get these films with friends,” Murray said. “You can’t always watch with a lot of friends or have a party afterward. I think that’s one important aspect. The other is just being able to sit and see a film that you wouldn’t necessarily watch on Netflix—maybe a documentary before or after a larger feature that you came to see.”
Murray added that the home-viewing experience also lacks the interaction with the film’s stars and creators, which is a big component of TIGLFF.
“This year we really offer a wide range of films,” Murray said. “And we’re bringing 10-12 filmmakers to speak to our audience. It is truly an experience, and we offer the party atmosphere to accompany the great films.”
Reaching across the bay
It’s not lost on the TIGLFF board that two major metropolitan areas are interested in each years’ slate of films. The festival pulls fans from Tampa and St. Petersburg. While it’s true that the hub of activity surrounding TIGLFF each year is the Tampa Theatre, there is an ongoing effort to reach into Pinellas County each October.
“So much of our audience is in St. Pete now that when we do our website analytics, half of it is St. Pete visitors and the other half is Tampa,” Murray said. “It’s a really close split and it’s something we need to explore.”
That’s why TIGLFF has partnered with freeFall Theatre in St. Petersburg this year, where nearly 20% of this year’s lineup will be screened.
“We showed our first film there back in February and the response was incredible,” Murray said of the partnership. “I programmed an outdoor film series there called Movies That Move and I saw the beautiful chapel they have there that isn’t used that often. It was the first pick for our monthly film series. It’s a really beautiful campus and a venue that was suited for showing films. It made perfect sense.”
Films will be shown at the theater at 6099 Central Avenue Oct. 5 through Oct. 9.
Films will also be screened at the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts.
“It’s important that we leverage our resources,” Murray said. “It makes sense for us to be at certain venues, so the films we’re showing at the museum are documentaries on Susan Sontag and Alice Walker on Oct. 9.”
For a full lineup of films and a schedule of events, visit TIGLFF.com or pick up an official program distributed at LGBT establishments around Tampa Bay.
TIGLFF 2014 Schedule Highlights
Friday, Oct. 3
6 p.m.-Midnight: Street party in front of the Tampa Theatre
8 p.m.: Blackbird—free screening of opening film
Saturday, Oct. 4
10 a.m.-1 p.m.: Free Queer Youth & Allies Celebration featuring G.B.F.
6:30 p.m.: John Waters Live
8 p.m.-Midnight: Mondo Trasho Party
9 p.m.: Naked. Sordid. Reality. featuring Del Shores live
Sunday, Oct. 5
2:45 p.m.: Letter to Anita followed by LGBT retrospective panelist discussion
Wednesday, Oct. 8
6-8 p.m.: Celebrate 20 years of Watermark at The Crumb & Cork
9 p.m. Open Up to Me
Thursday, Oct. 9
6:30 p.m. Susan Sontag and Alice Walker documentaries at St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Art
Saturday, Oct. 11
7:30-9 p.m. Closing Night Reception
9 p.m. Eat With Me