Reinvention can sometimes be seen as an ugly word, especially when it is applied to something that has a rich history full of tradition, but in the world of cinema, reinvention is the very thing that breathes life and keeps film fresh and relevant. After 25 years of following the same formula, the TampaBay International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, or TIGLFF, is at a point where they are reinventing the way they present the festival to the community.
For the first time in TIGLFF’s 26 year history, the festival will not center around the well-known Tampa Theatre. In May 2015, TIGLFF announced that they would be moving the main events – the opening, closing and several high profile films – to The Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg.
“That was really a mutual decision between the Tampa Theatre and TIGLFF,” TIGLFF’s interim executive director Scott Skyberg says. “You know, they have been with us since day one, and they’ve cut us a lot of breaks. We are very thankful and they are very thankful to have had us be a part of the theater, but at this time we just do not have the ability to host the festival at the Tampa Theatre.”
Much of the decision to move the host venue revolved around cost and the size of the Tampa Theatre.
“They are one of the larger venues in the area for a theater that we can use for an independent film festival,” says Skyberg. “They are a 1,400-seat theater, and for us to put 1,400 people in the seats has not been the trend over the last couple of years.”
Instead of the four or five larger venues, they opted for nearly a dozen smaller ones, more than any year before. The venues are across Tampa, St. Petersburg and Gulfport.
“All festivals across the nation are having a similar situation as our festival here in Tampa. They are making sure they are not vendor specific,” Skyberg says.
TIGLFF had a unique film-festival situation in having a fixed home for the last 25 years at the Tampa Theatre.
“There are festivals across the country that don’t, and they are spread across the community quite regularly, but each festival is going through a bit of redefining themselves to make sure that they stay relevant, and that they are a strong component in the community.
“There will be Tampa venues; in fact we are spread out across the Tampa Bay area,” Skyberg says. “We are in 11 different venues this year, so we really have just taken the festival and brought it back out to the community. We are making sure we are evenly spread through the area, but there won’t be any films at the Tampa Theatre this year.”
Even with the Tampa Theatre on the sidelines for TIGLFF’s 26th season, that doesn’t mean the relationship between the theater and the festival is done.
“Will we be at the Tampa Theatre again in the future? We think so,” Skyberg says. “We have a real strong relationship with the Tampa Theatre, and we hope that in the future we can both come together and maybe have an opening night or maybe do our closing night. Maybe we open in St. Pete and close in Tampa, or vice-versa, that is definitely doable. So it is very likely we see TIGLFF at the Tampa Theatre in the future.”
Another change coming to TIGLFF was announced back in March of this year. TIGLFF will require all venues to have gender neutral bathrooms. This announcement came to light during a heated Florida Legislature argument over transgender people using restrooms based on their birth genders.
“We want everyone to feel equal and accepted at these TIGLFF venues and events,” Skyberg says.
These changes to the festival come at a time when TIGLFF is in a transition within their leadership. Previous executive director Martha Murray took a position outside of TIGLFF and Skyberg stepped in as interim executive director at the end of June. Don’t expect a surprise announcement at the festival as to who the permanent executive director will be.
“The board will look at appointing a permanent executive director after the festival in December,” Skyberg says.
Relevancy of film festivals
In a time where movies are readily accessible, with Netflix and Amazon Prime (among other outlets), and easily obtained – a simple Google search of “free movies” brings up more than 500 million returns –many question whatthe point of going to an LGBT film festival is.
“Originally [film festivals] were started to show independent films, but I think from an LGBT genre standpoint, it was about social change,” Skyberg says.
LGBT film festivals were not just about seeing movies with characters we could identify with, but it was also a way to get our stories out to the public and have our concerns heard.
“So it allows someone to go watch an LGBT film, maybe they’re uncomfortable with it or maybe they’re ok with it, but they finally understand that, ‘hey these people are normal and they are a part of everyday life and they are no different than who I am’, and that is what has really allowed for the social change. I think it’s been a big part of why we have marriage equality finally in 2015,” Skyberg says.
If the films are becoming more available and equality is moving forward then why still have them?
“There is a lot more access to get films today, but that doesn’t necessarily increase the quality of the films being made,” says KJ Mohr, TIGLFF’s program director.
While you still have plenty of LGBT choices on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus or any of the other dozens of movie streaming services available online, there is still no guarantee as to how good those films are going to be, and you never know how long you’ll have to wait until it’s added to your service and you can actually see them.
“These are all great films that you can’t just see anywhere,” says Mohr. “They may eventually come to Netflix but this will be your first chance to see them.”
In some cases, the films shown at LGBT film festivals are the only chance you’ll ever get to see them.
“A lot of films do the circuit of LGBT film festivals and that’s the only place these movies get seen,” says Mohr. “I think these festivals are still a needed venue because independent filmmakers whose work may not even be seen in the arthouses can be shown, and people who wouldn’t think to go looking for these films can know about them.”
The most important reason for having LGBT film festivals may not even be the films themselves.
“The main thing with festivals like ours is they are about community,” says Mohr. “It’s not just the art aspect of it; it’s about coming together, and queer film festivals are one of the few venues left, like Pride, that we know we are going to come together each year and see people and meet people in the community.”
One thing you get from a festival like TIGLFF that you won’t get from watching at home is the social interaction.
“I’ve heard stories of people meeting there significant other or strong friends at these kinds of festivals,” Skyberg says. “That’s one of the ties to the event; it’s all about the experience. It’s a good mix of both a social engagement and experiencing a new film.”
“It’s a completely different experience watching something in a theater rather than watching on your computer or your phone,” Mohr says. “There’s just something about watching with an audience and getting the reaction from the audience, it’s just totally different.”
What’s coming to TIGLFF
This is by far one of the largest schedules in TIGLFF’s 26 year history. Along with expanding to 11 venues, the festival will have 88 films all together; 35 features and 53 shorts. The films will be from 25 different countries and is a “strong program with an equal mix of films about both women and men,” Skyberg says.
“We are opening with Casper Andreas’ Kiss Me, Kill Me,” Mohr says. “We have shown his past three films and our audience really loves him. His new one is kind of a film noir and features Gale Harold from Queer As Folk and Van Hansis (As The World Turns), who will be in attendance at the showing. It’s a really suspenseful and fun film for opening night.”
The opening night of Kiss Me, Kill Me will be Oct. 2 at The Palladium and is free to the public. Along with star Hansis, director Andreas and writer/producer David Michael Barrett will also be in attendance.
“Then we will be closing with Fourth Man Out,” Mohr says. “This is a new film and we are going to be one of the first places showing it.”
Fourth Man Out plays at The Palladium as well Oct. 10. The film’s producer, Lauren Avinoam, is scheduled to attend.
TIGLFF also has four shorts programs scheduled throughout the festival including a rooftop viewing at the Hotel Zamora overlooking St. Pete Beach and screenings that will feature two shorts from local filmmakers out of Sarasota; Lucas Omar’s Three and KT Curran’s When the Party Ends.
A few familiar films will be shown as well. The 1998 Film 54 starring Ryan Phillippe, Selma Hayek, Neve Campbell and Mike Myers will have a special director’s cut shown at the Carmike Oct. 9 and the 1978 classic, The Wiz, will be shown at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African History Museum Oct. 8.
One of the main events is the showing of Reel in the Closet, a documentary of never before seen home movies made by queer people dating back to the 1930s.
The documentary is followed by a panel discussion with the film’s director Stu Maddux, co-founder of the LGBT initiative at the University of South Florida Dr. David Johnson and curator of the university’s LGBT collections Matt Knight.
“One that I’m personally looking forward to is Nasty Baby, which was a hit at Sundance starring Kristin Wiig,” Mohr says.
More than just film
For TIGLFF, and all film festivals, to stay relevant and in people’s line of sight, they need to become more than just the films they present. They have to have that “added value” for the attendee.
“A way we are moving forward and staying relative is moving from being a ‘film festival’ and becoming more a rounded ‘art festival’ promoting equality and the community through multi-artistic expression, and I think you are going to see other film festivals work toward that,” says Skyberg.
One way TIGLFF’s expanding its scope is by bringing in multi-talented stars, both world known and local.
“We have the local talent of Tampa Bay favorite Matthew McGee and entertainer Scott Daniel doing The Scott and Patti Show,” says Skyberg. “We have Lea DeLaria coming of course, and she isn’t just film, she’s talent.”
DeLaria, best known for her role as Big Boo in Orange is the New Black, has been entertaining audiences for three decades as a stand-up comedian, actress and jazz musician. She was the first openly gay comic on late-night television in 1993 when she appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show and most recently released her album House of David, a compilation of David Bowie songs sung in the style of jazz.
“Lea [DeLaria] is not only doing comedy, she will also be doing some vocal and instrumental,” says Skyberg. “She is very good. I don’t think people realize just how talented she is.”
Another event outside of movie watching is the Reel Gay art exhibit.
“Reel Gay is an exhibit where several local artists are doing pieces of still art in reference to a classic LGBT film,” Skyberg says.
There will be artistic expressions of such films as The Birdcage, Wizard of Oz, Pink Flamingos and many more.
“Those will be on display on the opening night of the festival and available for purchase and proceeds will go to TIGLFF,” Skyberg says.
What does the future hold?
With technology moving at such a fast pace and so many things from the past feeling obsolete, what does the future hold for LGBT film festivals?
“I think it is going to be more about the communities,” says Skyberg. “For example, the venue we have out in Gulfport. The businesses, the bars and restaurants, have all come together and gotten involved. They have all gotten together to make sure the festival is exciting and relevant to them and their community.”
Skyberg also thinks that in order for film festivals to survive the future of the viewing environment, they need to get the youth out and involved.
“We will have a youth program in the morning Oct. 3. They will be hosting a film and a lunch for the youth,” Skyberg says. “We are also working with Metro Wellness and other local community centers to get the word out about the festival.”
TIGLFF is also offering anyone under the age of 18 to see any film (age appropriate of course) absolutely free.
“One of the things we have looked into doing is a competition with independent films where young filmmakers will be able to create their own films and submit them for competition and that will probably be later this year or a part of next year’s festival,” Skyberg says. “They are so creative with the ability to make amazing films just using their phones. The talent is there.”
When it comes down to it, maybe looking at streaming video as the enemy to film festivals isn’t the answer, perhaps incorporating it is the future.
“We have looked at this as an idea, streaming to those who prefer to stay at home,” Skyberg says. “I think you lose part of the experience of the festival, but at the same time those who would stream at home probably weren’t looking at coming out to the festival anyways and this would allow them to partake in those films that are pushing the social agenda but at the home. Maybe they could have a big house party and view the films.”