Knowing how to produce the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival is easier after 20 years. Getting it accomplished each year with the same passionate attention to detail is the challenge. "As far as making it happen, it's like baking the perfect cake," said Chuck Henson, now in his third year as the festival's executive director. "You know where all the ingredients are, you have the recipe right in front of you, but whether it comes out right takes a lot of love and patience to make sure it does." This year marks a milestone for Tampa Bay's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community — and their straight supporters — by celebrating 20 years of the festival presenting their culture on-screen. Twenty years may have seemed unlikely when the festival began in 1990, when proposed gay rights ordinances in Tampa and Hillsborough County were heated issues. This year's celebration reflects how far society has come since then. "It's a giant responsibility," Henson said. "There are huge expectations of what this year will be. When this event is over, I want people to feel that we not only met those expectations but exceeded them."
The festival begins at 6 tonight with a red carpet entrance to Tampa Theatre hosted by social butterfly Sterling Powell. Among the expected guests he'll interview are national entertainment reporter Steve Kmetko, director Rob Williams (Make the Yuletide Gay) and numerous Tampa Bay media types.
At 7 p.m., Kmetko will emcee a 20-year festival retrospective, which will include remarks by Tampa Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio.
The opening night film, An Englishman in New York, at 7:30 p.m., brings the festival full circle from its 1990 debut. That year showcased the 1975 film The Naked Civil Servant, based on the novel by Quentin Crisp and starring John Hurt (Alien, Midnight Express) as the outspoken author and raconteur. Englishman in New York is its 2009 sequel, again starring Hurt, focused on Crisp's final years.
"I get goose bumps when I think how cool it is that 20 years later we're able to screen this film on opening night," Henson said.
Six weekend film highlights
Make the Yuletide Gay is a cheery comedy about a college student (Keith Jordan) spending Christmas with his Midwestern relatives, who are unaware that he's gay. Maybe this will be the year he tells them. The surprising arrival of his boyfriend (Adamo Ruggiero) makes it a tough subject to avoid. Director Rob Williams will conduct a Q&A afterward. (Friday, 7 p.m.)
The Baby Formula is a comical look at lesbian partners (Angela Vint, Megan Fahlenbock) put through the scientific wringer by their efforts to have a baby. (Friday, 9 p.m.)
Hannah Free stars Sharon Gless (TV's Cagney & Lacey) in the title role as an aging lesbian living in a nursing home with her comatose lover, looking back at their lives together. (Saturday, 7 p.m.)
Hollywood, je t'aime follows a gay, loveless Parisian (Eric Debets) during an impromptu vacation in Los Angeles, which isn't the star-studded paradise he expected. (Saturday, 9 p.m.)
Standing N Truth: Breaking the Silence is Tim Daniels' award-winning documentary on African-Americans struggling with sexual identity and HIV/AIDS. (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Training Rules is a documentary focused on Penn State University women's basketball coach Rene Portland, whose team rule banning lesbianism raised legal issues. Steve Kmetko will moderate a panel discussion on homophobia in sports after the film. (Sunday, 3 p.m.)
The festival continues weekdays with evening shows at Tampa Theatre and Muvico BayWalk 20 in St. Petersburg (including Tuesday's 9:15 p.m. screening of Her Name Was Steven, a profile of former Largo City Manager Susan Stanton, whose sex change led to her dismissal.) For a complete schedule of films, visit the festival Web site at tiglff.com.
Want to party?
Kmetko hosts Friday night's 20th anniversary Gala Party at Ritz Ybor, 1503 E Seventh Ave. in Ybor City. The fun begins at 9 p.m. with complimentary signature cocktails until 11, free food and entertainment until 3 a.m. Black tie fashion is preferred until midnight, when the party is "come as you are." Tickets are $50, available at the festival Web site.
Saturday night, the festival hosts Chillounge Night, with a designated party area on Franklin Street Mall outside Tampa Theatre. Festivities begin at 6 p.m. and end at 11. Tickets are $20, allowing entrance to the party and a festival film screening.
That's not all, folks!
The festival continues through Oct. 18 with more parties (including the Surge and Sugar shindigs in Ybor City on Oct. 17), movies (Shamim Sarif's I Can't Think Straight is a winner, and the closing film, Big Gay Musical, looks fun) and special events.
Check our next issue of Weekend for a rundown of highlights.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.