Tampa's Gay And Lesbian Film Festival Celebrates 25 Years With Film Debut, Special Guests

Movie lovers, film aficionados, filmmakers and actors honing their craft in indie art films seen ‘round the globe descend on the Tampa Bay region each October for its annual salute to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender cinema.

Over the past 25 years, the critically acclaimed Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, or TIGLFF, has screened more than 1,000 diverse films and videos by, about and of interest to the LGBT community. It is a milestone accomplishment for an event that began as a 3-day local arts fundraiser in 1990.

But the festival’s fan base reaches far beyond the LGBT community.

“The 25th anniversary is a point of pride for everyone in Tampa,” says the festival’s Executive Director Margaret Murray. “We have had so much support from the city, other organizations, businesses and restaurants. We want to make sure everyone celebrates with us.”

This year’s celebration takes place Oct. 3-11 at artsy movie houses on both sides of Tampa Bay.

The Tampa Theatre at 711 Franklin St. in downtown Tampa has been the symbol of Tampa’s gay and lesbian film festival since it began. The magnificently restored 1,400-seat  theater built in 1926 remains the festival’s main venue.

This year TIGLFF has a new screening partner in Pinellas County: freeFall Theatre at 6099 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg. Open for about five years as a center for live art shows and theater productions, freeFall’s sprawling campus includes a 300-seat auditorium for movie screenings.
 
The greatly anticipated guest list includes legendary Hollywood actor/writer/director John Waters and award-winning filmmaker Rob Williams.

Waters, a well-known provocateur and champion of influential cult and queer films produced since the 1970s, will perform his acclaimed one-man show “This Filthy World: Filthier & Dirtier” at the Tampa Theatre at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 4.

TIGLFF plans to present the Baltimore native with a Lifetime Achievement Award in honor of 50 years of championing LGBT cinema.

After his performance, Waters will sign copies of his latest NY Times bestseller, “Carsick,’’ at the film festival’s Mondo Trasho party across the street from the theater.

A Refreshing Experience

Murray also is eager to talk about the return of Williams, a perennial crowd-pleasing filmmaker. Murray anticipates a rowdy, packed-house welcome for the Tampa premiere of “Out To Kill,” an edgy gay murder mystery filmed in the Tampa Bay area last year and directed by Williams.

“Someone in the audience asked him last year, ‘What would it take for you to film a movie in Tampa?’,” Murray says of Williams. 

It was an invitation Williams couldn’t pass up.

“It’s really the support I got from people at the film festival,” Williams tells 83 Degrees while on location to film the movie here. “It was actually two years ago. I said, ‘Sure, if you can hook me up with locations.’ I was bombarded with locations, homes and businesses.”

Unlike his experience in Hollywood, “in Tampa they actually followed through,” Williams says.

Williams hired a local production crew. He also selected most of the talent for the movie in the Tampa Bay area, with the exception of a few actors from LA and the East Coast.

The movie was filmed over nine days in November 2013. Most of the production took place in Tampa and one day in St. Petersburg. “The film commissioners in Tampa and St. Petersburg were very helpful,” Williams says.

Much of the movie was set in a former Ybor City cigar factory that has been converted to loft units.
 
“The people in the complex welcomed us with open arms,” Williams says. “I made a lot of new friends.”

“Out To Kill” was influenced by the Agatha Christie murder mystery, a genre Williams says he loves.

“I wanted to put a gay twist on the classic murder mystery,” Williams says.

He produced an 82-minute movie, which is expected to be released on DVD possibly as early as December.

Williams is eager to experience the energy of the audience and soak in their reaction to the film.
 
“Yes, I will be there. I wouldn’t miss it,” he says.

The Tampa Bay area now is high on Williams’ list of favorite movie locations.

“We would absolutely come back” to film another movie, Williams says. “It was such a refreshing experience.”

From Sundance To Tribeca To TX To FL

To get the sizzle started early, TIGLFF will host a film festival launch party on Sept. 4 at the Tampa Museum of Art adjacent to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in downtown Tampa. Admission to the party is $40.

On the first day of the festival, Oct. 3, a street party in front of the Tampa Theatre kicks off the celebration, with an opening night party to follow.

While Murray relishes the focus on this year’s festival, she is keenly aware of decisions yet to be made to make the Silver Anniversary celebration the best ever. Her goal is to stage a dazzling event with an annual budget of about $300,000.

It all begins with finding quality films with compelling storylines. Murray says the festival is devoted to showcasing premier LGBT inspired art films that have broad appeal.

“We look year round at all the different film festivals,” says Murray, who began serving her second stint as the film festival’s executive director in January. “The board asked me to stay on to run our 25th anniversary festival.’’ She held the same post from 1999 to 2002.

To come up with a film lineup to attract movie fans from across the country and abroad, TIGLFF staff members travel the country throughout the year in search of award-winning films and artistic works by prolific filmmakers.

This year TIGLFF representatives attended the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah; Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, South by Southwest in Austin; Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival; NewFest: the NYC LGBT Film Festival, also in New York City; and the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival — a good barometer for the kind of feature films, short-films and documentaries likely to be screened here in October.

Tampa’s gay and lesbian film festival began in 1990 as the Pride Film Festival as part of the Bay area’s Pride celebration to help three LGBT organizations raise funds for the arts. Shortly after, the fledging festival became the Suncoast Film Festival before it changed to its current name in the late 1990s.

Friends of the Festival Inc., a nonprofit foundation, was formed in 2005 to help shoulder the festival’s financial expenses and transform the once-a-year event to a year-round local celebration of LGBT cinema.

Keep Your Eyes On The Screen

FreeFall and Tampa Theatre are hosting the film festival’s monthly film series. In its ninth year, the monthly film series is focused this year on bringing back a select list of classic movies and award-winning films and documentaries seen over the 25-year history of the festival.
 
Among the list of crowd-pleasers are the box office smash “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”; “Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement,” a monumental story about the love affair and marriage behind the recent Supreme Court decision regarding marriage equality; and “Brother To Brother,” an award-winning drama set in the Harlem Renaissance era.

“Freefall is a big supporter of all of the arts in Tampa Bay,” says Matthew McGee, the community outreach director at freeFall. The monthly film series “is something we look forward to every month, plus a significant portion of our audience is the LGBT community.

“It was important for us to provide more outreach opportunities for the community and to work with Margaret (Murray) to showcase her movies. We thought it would be a good partnership.”

And so do city officials in Tampa and St. Petersburg. The juried film festival is the fifth largest gay and lesbian film festival in the country and longest running event of its kind in Florida. It attracts thousands of moviegoers and ignites an economic boost that ripples across nearby counties. 
 
The impact reaches beyond the film screenings and celebrity parties. The festival draws people to area hotels, city streets and entertainment districts, where they spend money at stores, shops, bars and restaurants.

“It is safe to say that as our longest-standing client relationship, TIGLFF has attracted hundreds of thousands of guests to Tampa Theatre over two-plus decades, many of whom are introduced to the movie palace for the first time through this festival,” say Tampa Theatre President and CEO John Bell.

Kenneth Knight is a freelance writer who lives in South Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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