Film has the ability to transform the way we see the world. That notion is part of the mission of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), but it is the heartbeat of any film screening or collection of filmed narratives. This moving medium takes us inside cultures, societies and the multiple facets of the human experience. Doing so long enough leads to notable anniversaries. This year marks the fifth anniversary of The Downtown Dayton LGBT Film Festival, presented by the Downtown Priority Board.
Although the festival is still a relatively new event, this looks to be a banner year. Chosen from over 100 titles that showcase the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, 18 movies (5 features, 13 shorts) are on tap between Friday, September 24 and Sunday, September 26 at the Neon Movies in downtown Dayton.
I Killed My Mother, the opening night film, was a critical and audience favorite at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, earning the CICAE Award, the Prix Regards Jeune, and the SACO Prize (Directors’ Fortnight). In addition, it snagged a Best Foreign Film nomination from the Cesar Awards (the French Oscars) and the prestigious Jay Scott Prize from TIFF. Directed by 19-year-old Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan, this semi-autobiographical account dramatically captures the tensions between a young gay man (played by Dolan) and his mother (Anne Dorval). It is an emotionally charged coming of age story, the likes of which we rarely see in the world of feature films, and Dolan appears to be extending his remarkable run with a follow-up film, Heartbeats, that is currently on the international film festival circuit. This screening, which will be held at 7:30 p.m. and is sponsored by PFLAG Dayton, will be preceded by the premiere of a Canadian short film, The Young Prime Minister. In addition, an opening night after party, sponsored by Lisa Hanauer and Sue Spiegel, will be held at the Color of Energy Gallery in the Oregon District.
On Saturday, festivities begin at 3 p.m. with Top Drawer Shorts, a collection of short, wide-ranging films from around the world sponsored by The Human Race Theatre Company. Later that evening at 7:15 p.m., the Greater Dayton LGBT Center will sponsor A Marine Story, a tale of a decorated Ma-rine officer who unex-pectedly returns home from war. Starring Dreya Weber of The Gym-nast, A Marine Story addresses the topical theme of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” At 9:30 p.m., MJ’s Cafe and performers John, Joe and Justin will sponsor Violet Tendencies, a new comedy directed by Casper Andreas and written by Jesse Archer starring Mindy Cohn (Facts of Life). The screening will be preceded by the short film I’d Rather Be Looking At Porn.
On Sunday, the documentary Stonewall Uprising will be shown at 3 p.m. Sponsored by Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, the film details the beginning of the Gay Rights Movement as told by those who were there during the summer of 1969. This screening will be preceded by two short films: Gay Pool Party: 1968 and Last Address. The festival will close with Undertow at 5:15 p.m. Written and directed by Javier Fuentes-Leon and sponsored by Square One Salon & Spa, Undertow is a ghost story set on the Peruvian seaside that focuses on a married fisherman struggling to reconcile his love for an ostracized photographer with his own active role in a homophobic community. The film received the Audience Award for Best “World Cinema” at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
In addition, four guest artists from New York and Los Angeles will attend the festival: the aforementioned Andreas, Sarah Louise Lilley and Jessica Provenz (star/producer and writer/producer respectively of Nothing Happened which will be featured in Top Drawer Shorts) and Heath Daniels (writer, star and producer of Go-Go Reject which will be featured in Top Drawer Shorts).
“You don’t have to be a part of the LGBT community to appreciate the work,” said festival curator Jonathan McNeal in a press statement. “Though the films thematically speak to our lives and our struggles, they also stand on their own as wonderful pieces of art. I hope the community at large realizes that everyone is welcome to come and enjoy these films. You don’t have to be Irish to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day. You don’t have to be Greek to enjoy the Greek Festival. Likewise, you don’t have to be gay to enjoy the 5th annual Downtown Dayton LGBT Film Festival.”
Larger festivals, like TIFF, have to walk a programming tightrope. There must be events that can be embraced by the general public and those exclusively for press and industry professionals. For what might be considered special interest festivals, a slightly different parallel exists in the need to cater to the niche market, but also attract members of the greater community. The goal is to create an appealing program that decimates the differences – a true celebration of the powerful allure of film and film culture. With five years experience, the Downtown Dayton LGBT Film Festival looks like it has found a universal formula. (tt stern-enzi)