After 16 years of being a small, four-day event, the Carolina Theatre's North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival will expand to a 10-day extravaganza this year.
Carolina Theatre Senior Director Jim Carl says the festival made the decision to expand the 17th-annual festival last year around this time.
"It was getting to the point where there were not enough slots in four days to accommodate the films that we wanted to screen," says Carl. Selection committees were cutting films that should've been in the festival because of insufficient screening space.
"So, the idea was, let's go ahead and expand the festival and really be able to program as many titles as we want—and let the sky be the limit."
According to Carl, when the announcement was made at the festival last year, people were startled.
"So many other LGBT fests around the country are actually scaling back," he says. "And for us to go from four to 10 days was a very reassuring thing to a lot of other programmers at other LGBT fests." Carl says some festivals have scaled back to being a biannual event, meaning once every other year.
For this year's fest, 124 films are showing, a marked jump from the 82 films last year. There are only 33 features, but there are 89 shorts. In all, there will be 14 shorts programs, and they run the gamut: men's drama shorts, women's drama shorts, men's comedy shorts, women's comedy shorts, youth shorts, international shorts, men's Canadian shorts, even mixed transgender shorts.
As for the features, eclectic, LGBT-themed films in both fiction and nonfiction form include Yossi, the follow-up to Eytan Fox's male-Israeli-soldiers-in-love film Yossi and Jagger. For matures audiences only, there is the graphic but naturalistic I Want Your Love, about two San Francisco buddies/ roommates who must part ways when one moves back to Ohio. And, of course, there is a Sapphic science-fiction movie: Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same.
Two popular films from the '70s will also screen. On the 17th, a sing-along version of the John Travolta/ Olivia Newton-John musical Grease, complete with animated subtitles, screens. Also, the festival's new "Free Family Day" this Sunday morning includes The Muppet Movie. While this selection seems to be a well-timed riposte to Chick-fil-A, whose erstwhile corporate relationship to the Jim Henson Company precipitated the present controversy over the fast-food chain's stance on gay marriage, Carl insists that's not the case.
"I programmed The Muppet Movie back in March, long before any of this other stuff happened," says Carl. "So, it is just really coincidental—but good timing."
Among the intriguing documentaries is Wish Me Away, which chronicles the days leading up to Chely Wright's decision to publicly come out of the closet, and I Stand Corrected, about Jennifer Leitham's journey from being a male bassist in Doc Severinsen's Tonight Show band to a transsexual jazz musician. Perhaps the most highly anticipated movie is the road comedy Cloudburst, with Oscar-winning veterans Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker as an unruly, elderly lesbian couple running off to Canada to get married.
Local filmmakers will also get some multiple screen time at NCGLFF this year. Durham native Macky Alston will have his documentary Love Free or Die, on the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, screened at the fest. Todd Tinkham, a Durham filmmaker, will be screening Southland of the Heart. This film is also a road movie of sorts, about an abused, on-the-lam girl who skips town with her sick, older friend. They find a temporary home with two sisters who run a diner, where the girl works and finds love with another waitress.
Tinkham came up with the story for his full-length debut (estimated budget $5,000, shot in various North Carolina locations) while working with at-risk teens and finding young girls who often have relationships with one another. Tinkham is still amazed that his film got accepted into the festival, since the lesbian romance is just a small part of the film. Says Tinkham, "The fact that it's in the [NCGLFF] because of this relationship, I think that just shows me that perhaps gay and lesbian film festivals aren't any longer just about coming out, the struggle of their identity—although that's still important. But, you look at a movie like Cloudburst, which I really want to see: Although that's a lesbian relationship, what the movie is about isn't [a coming-out tale]. I think it's about similar things that mine's about."
Considering all the movies and events (Kathy Griffin performing at DPAC, karaoke at The Pinhook), the NCGLFF is out again to show that it's an all-inclusive, multifaceted happening, open to people whether they're in the LGBT community or not. It's especially open to those who are themselves open-minded.
"I would hope that everyone that supported Amendment 1 would see the North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival as hope for the future," says Carl. "I would also like to think that the North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival is something that the people of North Carolina can be proud of."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Festival strikes back."