Queer film festivals go beyond offering a forum for cinema

Diverse and complex, South Florida’s LGBTQ community enjoys a full calendar throughout the year. The wide array of activities and events — from pool parties and bar crawls to educational conferences, charity balls and even long-distance cycling — reflect the varied tastes and interests of the audience. But as far as identity-based events go, the region’s well-established queer film festivals go beyond offering an alternative forum for watching cinema. People eagerly anticipate the cool after parties and beautiful scenery that mark an event that has also helped define and shape the local community.

Festivalgoers — a smaller sampling of the broader LGBTQ community — gather to experience the culture and creativity. But they also go for the sheer entertainment provided by the films and the event itself, as after screenings, actors, screenwriters and directors often participate in panel discussions that provide wonderful insight. Those involved in filmmaking and movie lovers get the chance to connect as they explore the world of gay and lesbian cinema.

In recent years, the flourishing local festival circuit has gained international clout, becoming a social hub, as well as a place to exchange ideas.

“The trend in film festivals is more about actively engaging your audience. You have to be more than just a place to watch films,” says Victor Gimenez, executive director of the recently rebranded OUTshine Film Festival (formerly MiFo LGBT Film Festival), which hosts the 19th annual Miami edition April 21–30, and the Fort Lauderdale edition October 6–15.

Each film has something to offer, since they are created with love and passion.” — Dmitry Zhitov

Besides inviting filmmakers and talent to participate in Q&As with the public, he adds, “we also create panel discussions with experts on specific topics; for example bringing in healthcare professionals to educate about the current state of HIV/AIDS research and treatment; or lawyers to inform about pertinent legislation of the day.”

As the festivals continue to evolve toward greater interaction between the audience and the films, organizers have expanded the event’s social offerings, too. Planned for the upcoming Miami edition are an opening night film screening and party at the historic Scottish Rite Temple, an awards brunch at the Biltmore Hotel, the women’s spotlight and closing night parties at venues throughout Miami Beach. These events offer attendees the delightful opportunity to meet and mingle with celebrities and artists.

Miami-based producer and director Dmitry Zhitov, who has toured the film festival circuit extensively, says that many of his friends in New York and Los Angles are eager to submit their features to OUTshine. “[It is] welcoming and takes good care of them,” he says.

“Each film has something to offer, since they are created with love and passion,” Zhitov explains. “People come to open their horizons because you do learn a lot from these films.”

Carol Wartenberg and Laura Hohnecker attended the Fort Lauderdale edition of the festival last year with Hohnecker’s 23-year-old nephew from Wisconsin, Ryan, who recently came out.

“It was very cool to be there as older lesbians and to have our young gay nephew with us. We were able to use the festival as a good way to get to know each other better. We talked a lot about some of the things we saw in the films,” says Wartenberg, a psychologist in Wilton Manors. “It really brought us closer.”

These kinds of connections — prompted by the international and culturally diverse movies presented, which offer historical and contemporary perspectives on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender experience — are the essence of the film festival circuit. It is an experience that stimulates the senses in almost every way.