Sarasota gears up for Fabulous Independent Film Festival at the Harvey Milk Festival

By : Krista DiTucci
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Film lovers in Sarasota will experience three days of LGBTQ cinema at Harvey Milk Festival’s sixth annual Fabulous Independent Film Festival, Sept.30-Oct. 2.

“Every single one of these films is so interesting in its own way,” Magida Diouri, festival programmer, says. “It’s remarkable. I really was looking for the best I could get for Sarasota – things that would not otherwise come here.”

Diouri began her work with the FIFF during its second year when she became Sarasota Film Society’s artistic director. After last year’s festival, Diouri asked Shannon Fortner, Harvey Milk Festival director, to take over the FIFF and make it part of the Harvey Milk Festival as a celebration of diversity.

“Cinema is very impactful,” Fortner says. “In doing an event honoring Harvey Milk, it has been interesting to see people’s reactions – their first response when they hear Harvey Milk’s name is usually, ‘Oh, like the movie Milk!’”

Fortner says she is happy to see new partnerships happening this year. The Sarasota Film Festival has formed a new relationship with the FIFF, a duo that is especially powerful considering the SFF features an LGBTQ film series within their festival.

“It just makes all the sense in the world to partner with the Harvey Milk Festival, especially with so many nonprofits fighting for the same dollar,” SFF producer John Secor says. “Now Shannon gets to experience my festival and I get to experience hers.”

“It is incumbent on us, especially those holding festivals or events for entertainment, to make the tent bigger and invite more people in,” Secor continues. “Our resources are only so big. By joining forces, we will be better able to serve even more people within our community.”

DreamLarge has also come on board as a presenter and sponsor. Additionally, The Clark West and Elliott Mitchell Family Foundation is partnering with the FIFF for the first time this year as a presenter and one of the largest sponsors.

“I’m embarrassed to say my partner (Clark West) and I were not involved in LGBT issues prior to partnering with the Harvey Milk Festival,” Elliott Mitchell says. “We were always private people; we had to be because of the corporate world we were in. The Harvey Milk Festival was taking place one year while we were at Starbucks downtown and we decided it’s time for us to give back. Now we are very involved in everything related to the Harvey Milk Festival.”

The Clark West and Elliott Mitchell Family Foundation serves as a resource center for the Sarasota LGBT community. The foundation provides HIV support groups and mental health counseling, and will soon offer free legal advice to assist with LGBT issues such as power of attorney and living wills.

“If you go to LGBT events in the community, you’ll see your friends – the people who run the place,” Mitchell says. “You won’t see the adult living at home alone with no social network or the elderly person whose partner has passed away and finds themselves going back into the life they walked away from 30 years earlier. Our efforts locally are to find people like this who aren’t actively involved in the LGBT community and reach out to them.”

The FIFF will feature seven LGBTQ films. The opening night on Sept. 30 will debut Closet Monster, a coming-of-age film following the life of a teenager during his first gay experience while guided by his spirit animal, Buffy the Hamster. West and Mitchell will present the film and discuss their work in the community.

“This festival occurs at a time of year when there’s not a lot going on, and it gives the opportunity to talk about film and the topics they include,” Mitchell says. “It brings the gay and straight communities together and creates dialogue, and it promotes the Harvey Milk Festival effort beyond just a once a year event.”

The film will commence at 7:30 at Burns Court Cinema. An after-party at MADE restaurant in downtown Sarasota will immediately follow and includes complementary light bites, drink specials, a deejay, and a special musical performance.

Mitchell says he believes the best quality films are at smaller theaters such as Burns Court Cinema. He says the films offered through FIFF are unique.

“These are the types of films you see in a community that is well-educated and diverse and has a lot of art and theater,” Mitchell says. “To me, this is just another great thing that happens in Sarasota for people to look forward to.”

The screening for Real Boy is a special outdoor feature sponsored by the SFF and FIFF. Secor says the SFF is providing equipment used for their monthly moonlight series to accommodate the outdoor film. Fortner says the film’s location will be finalized soon.

“Standing up announcing a film and seeing the joy of all the people sitting outside is a cool thing,” Secor says. “The picture quality is crystal clear and the sound is fantastic. It’s really awesome to be able to show this film in that type of setting.”

Real Boy is a documentary about a woman in transition. Secor says the film is well executed and helps broaden people’s understanding of what transgender individuals experience.

“Every town should definitely have an LGBTQ film festival,” Fortner says. “But here in Sarasota with New College and gender studies programs, it’s especially useful for this community. We want to allow people to explore and enjoy film.”

For tickets, sponsorships, volunteering, or general information about the FIFF, please visit

More info:

All films on Oct. 1-2 are $8.50 admission. Screening times and locations are as follows:

Closet Monster; Sept. 30, 7:30 p.m., Burns Court Cinema

Where Are You Going, Habibi?; Oct. 1, 1:00 p.m., Burns Court Cinema

Me, Myself and Her; Oct. 1, 3:30 p.m., Burns Court Cinema

Lazy Eye; Oct. 1, 6:00 p.m., Burns Court Cinema

Real Boy; Oct. 1, 8:00 p.m., TBA

Love Is All You Need; Oct. 2, 2:30 p.m., Burns Court Cinema

Hunky Dory; Oct. 2, 5:00 p.m., Burns Court Cinema

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