Festival celebrating 30 years of films, community

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

The Connecticut LGBT Film Festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary, starting this Friday night.

At first blush, it would seem as the need for a LGBT event like the festival, which is organized by Out Film CT and runs from June 2 to 9 in Hartford, wouldn’t be needed since there has been more inclusivity in the world of arts and entertainment. LGBT characters pop up in major TV shows (heck, the new companion on “Dr. Who” is a lesbian.)

But festival director Shane Engstrom agreed that there has been a lot of progress in terms of LGBT rights . However, he said, “I think events that have happened recently like the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando (in which 50 people at a gay night club were gunned down), which happened on the closing night of the film festival last year, underlines the importance of community events that celebrate diversity and provide a safe space.”

With 30 years under its belt, Engstrom said the LGBT Film Festival is now the state’s longest running film festival, said Engstrom.

Films are carefully picked each year for the annual event.

Engstrom explained films are selected by a committee, whose members watch them throughout the year (with a bit of a break in August/ September). This year, he said, the selection committee viewed over 400 films.

Sometimes, Engstrom said, the films are viewed by the committee as a whole. Thanks to advances in technology, though, some members are now able watch the films at home.

Engstrom said the members of the committee select films using several criteria. First of all, they determine how the films appeal to the individual committee members. Then the films are judged on how they might appeal to the audience. Finally, the films are judged based on their quality.

Around April, Engstrom said, the committee will meet to hammer out the final lineup for the festival. Certain films, he said, will float to the top and become obvious choices. There also will be an attempt to balance out the variety of films being present. “We try to select films that represent all different parts of the community,” said Engstrom. There also is an attempt to pick films that reflect a different theme for each night.

Although the festival is directed toward the LGBT community, Engstrom, “It’s certainly a festival that’s open to everyone. We encourage all members of the community to attend.”

There are some films with broader appeal beyond the LGBT community, said Engstrom. For instance, “A Date for Mad Mary” (shown on Saturday, June 3) has a plot that is prototypical romantic comedy. The primary character has just gotten out of jail. She comes home to prepare to be her best friend’s maid of honor. This means she has to find a date for the wedding. After several disastrous dates with men, and this is where the plot turns, she realizes that perhaps her best date for the wedding is not a man but a woman.

“It’s a comedy,” said Engstrom. “It’s fun.”

This year’s “Centerpiece” film, which will be shown on Wednesday, June 7, also has a broader appeal, said Engstrom. “Hello Again” is a film based on a Broadway musical. It stars Tony Award winning Audra McDonald, Martha Plimpton (from the TV show “Raising Hope”), Cheyenne Jackson (from the show “American Horror Story”), T.R. Knight (from TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy”) and Jenna Ushkowitz (from the show, “Glee”). The film is a compilation of stories about fleeting relationships. About 70 percent of the stories are about heterosexual couples, while the remainder are LGBT, said Engstrom. But since it’s a musical, he said it was felt the film fit the festival.

(The Centerpiece film also includes a reception prior the film.)

Another film with broader appeal, said Engstrom, is the documentary, “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin.” The film, which is shown Friday, June 8 at 7 p.m. Cinestudio at Trinity College, Hartford,  is about the author of the book “Tales of the City,” which was later turned into a popular television show. “It’s an interesting history of LGBT history told through the eyes of Amristead,” said Engstrom.

Overall, said Engstrom, the selections for the film festival are a “mix of everything.”

As for his personal favorite in the festival, Engstrom cited the film, “Center of My World (Die Mitte der Welt),” which opens the festival on Friday, June 2 at 7:30 p.m.

“It’s very cool,” said Engstrom.

“It’s very nuanced and with multi-layered storytelling about a son who is coming back from school to his unconventional family…,” said Engstrom. The son returns to finds that his mother and sister are not speaking to each other, but he doesn’t know why. Meanwhile, he finds himself falling in love with a new boy at school.

“It’s a story about family secrets, love, and developing love,” said Engstrom.

The director of “Center of My World,” Jakob Erwa, also will be on hand at the LGBT Film Festival to talk about the film afterward.

The presence of directors and other activities such as the Centerpiece reception and a performance by the Hartford Gay Men’s Chorus on June 8 are integral aspects of the festival, said Engstrom. They are also important as the world of entertainment has evolved.

Engstrom said web services such as Netflix and Hulu make it possible for fans to watch films without leaving the house. For many younger audience members, this is how they’ve learned to watch films.

By presenting entertainment and opportunities to meet the creative forces behind the films, such as directors and actors, Engstrom said festival organizers have helped make it more of a community event. The festival is not about simply turning on the projector and letting the film play, he said.

“That extra something is what sets the festival apart,” said Engstrom.

The Connecticut LGBT Film Festival Dates opens Friday, June 2, Cinestudio, Trinity College campus in Hartford. It closes Saturday, June 10. Films are also shown at Real Art Ways, the Spotlight Theatres at Front Street, and Wadsworth Atheneum.

Tickets for the opening night or the closing night, which includes a party (each night priced separately) are $20 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors. Admission for other nights is $10 for general admission and $8 for student and seniors. There is a two for one admission on Thursday, June 8.

Festipasses and three-show passes also are available.

For complete LGBT Film Festival information and a schedule of the films, go to www.OutFilmCT.org.

The film ‘Center of My World’ will be shown to open the The Connecticut LGBT Film Festival in Hartford Friday night.