You don't have to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender to attend the 29th annual Tampa Bay International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. Once I would have added "but it helps," half in jest, but that's not so true anymore.
In the '70s, open-minded straight people who liked to party went to gay discos, as you can see in the documentary Studio 54 (8:15 p.m. Oct. 7). Today, known as "allies" of the LGBTQ community, straights will go to TIGLFF with or without their gay friends, just to see good movies.
And there are plenty of good ones this year. I've seen more than half of the 31 features (there also are 31 shorts — is Baskin-Robbins a sponsor?), with very few disappointments.
There's more content out there — more to choose from — and more interest in telling LGBTQ stories. That makes the job of KJ Mohr, the film festival's director of programming, more difficult but ultimately more rewarding.
She sees society changing with "straight allies a lot more interested in gay stories these days." But she cautioned that she spends summers in small-town Wisconsin, which reminds her that the whole country hasn't progressed at the same speed. And there are still 70 nations where being openly gay or transgender is a prison or death sentence.
Formerly involved with the Chicago-based Women in the Director's Chair, Mohr noted proudly that 59 percent of this year's festival offerings were directed by women — "and that includes some that are stories about gay men."
It also includes my favorite of the films I've previewed: the Brazilian horror movie Good Manners (8:45 p.m. Oct. 8), which was co-directed by a man and a woman (Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas). It begins as a lesbian love story — until the moon is full.
Mohr is excited about the many actors and filmmakers who will be attending the festival with their work. Getting to meet them is another incentive for audiences, she pointed out, besides seeing the films with an enthusiastic crowd you can't fit into your living room.
Among the visitors are Lakeland filmmaker Kevin O'Brien, who's bringing his cast and crew from At the End of the Day (11:45 a.m. Oct. 6), which was filmed in Central Florida.
Others expected include: director Ryan Lonergan and actor Garrett McKechnie (Kill the Monsters, 9:15 p.m. Oct. 6); actor-writer Lisa Cordileone and director Sonia Sebastián (Freelancers Anonymous, 6 p.m. Oct. 7); director Jules Rosskam (documentary centerpiece Paternal Rites, 5:30 p.m. Oct. 10); and director Andrew Fleming (Ideal Home starring Paul Rudd, 8 p.m. Oct. 13, AMC Sundial).
And at the freeFall Theatre: director Kevin McCarthy (Transgeek, 5:30 p.m. Oct. 12); actor-writer Jeffrey Johns and others (Still Waiting in the Wings, 7:45 p.m. Oct. 12); and director Laura Madalinski (Two in the Bush: A Love Story, 5:30 p.m. Oct. 13).
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In addition, there will be a panel discussion following the narrative centerpiece, Mapplethorpe from director Ondi Timoner and starring Matt Smith (7:45 p.m. Oct. 10).
The late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe is one of several celebrities being profiled in the festival's films. There are dramatizations, such as Mapplethorpe and opening night feature Wild Nights with Emily, starring Molly Shannon as poet Emily Dickinson (7:15 p.m. Oct. 5). Documentaries also take a look at queer or ally celebrities, with Making Montgomery Clift (11:30 a.m. Oct. 7); Every Act of Life, about St. Pete native and playwright Terrence McNally (11:15 a.m. Oct. 13, freeFall Theatre); and the film festival's free youth program, Believer, about Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds (11:30 a.m. Oct. 13, Tampa Museum of Art).
Behind all the effort currently directed toward the 29th TIGLFF, Mohr said she feels "renewed energy and momentum" building toward next year's Big 3-0.
For more information, including ticket prices, pick up a program around Tampa Bay or visit tiglff.com.
(All screenings mentioned are at the Tampa Theatre, unless noted otherwise.) — email@example.com
If you go
This year's Tampa Bay International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival runs Oct. 5 through Oct. 13 and has 31 features and 31 shorts.
General admission tickets are $15; $50 for four pack.
For the schedule and more information, visit tiglff.com.
Frisky Friday party
Ladies take over this year's TIGLFF opening night celebration for a dance party flashing back to the days of neon makeup and big hair. $15/adv, $20/door. Hilton Hotel Downtown Tampa, 211 N Tampa St., Tampa. (813) 879-4220. 9 p.m.-1 a.m. Oct. 5.