Monday, August 20, 2012

INTERVIEW: James Figueroa - Fresno Reel Pride Film Festival


Written by Chris Jarvis - Gay Central Valley
 
The 23rd year of the Fresno Reel Pride film festival kicks off on Wednesday, September 19th and runs through Sunday September 23rd. Reel Pride started on the Fresno State campus back in 1990. It's an amazing feat to have an LGBT Film Festival go for 23 years in Fresno. Add to that the fact that Reel Pride is the third largest festival in California, the sixth oldest and around the fifteenth largest in the nation , and you begin to understand the monumental achievement of this project.

Reel Pride Mission Statement...The mission of Fresno Reel Pride is to increase the awareness of the gay and lesbian community through the exhibition of films and videos exploring gay and lesbian themes at an annual festival in Fresno. Fresno Reel Pride, through the universal appeal of movies, works to produce a major cultural event for the entire Central Valley community designed to enhance community acceptance and understanding while adding to the diversity of a culturally rich city.

When the economy crashed about three years ago, many film festivals suffered and some disappeared all together. Others ended up merging with a neighbor to form a regional festival. There's no doubt the economy has taken its toll, but the importance of LGBT film festivals cannot be understated. For many young people, LGBT festivals are their first exposure to a world they're not sure exists outside their heads. We've come a long way in terms of media exposure, but these festivals are a beacon of light to those struggling with LGBT identities. 

Although Reel Pride was successful financially when the economic downturn first struck, it was apparent afterwards that they would have to supplement to survive. Fortunately for the Fresno festival, previous boards had the foresight to create emergency funds and back up plans, which became a lifesaver during tough economic times. The Fresno audience and sponsors, however, have continued their support of Reel Pride. Although some sponsors have not been able to do as much as in previous years, no sponsors have said no and new ones have been added.

I sat down with James Figueroa, Festival Director for Reel Pride and President of the Board Of Directors, to talk about the upcoming festival, the films, the parties and the evolving story and legacy of Fresno Reel Pride.
Chris Jarvis: Tell me a little about your history with the Fresno Reel Pride Festival.

James Figueroa: I started out as just a person in the audience. I enjoyed it for a couple of years and then I tapped on a shoulder and said I'd like to get involved. I got a phone call the next year asking me to sit in on the meeting, not knowing what that meant. It turned out to be their host committee meeting, which is about getting everyone geared up for the next festival. 

CJ: So you started there, and then what?

JF: I was on the host committee for a couple of years before they asked me to join the board. Then I took on Membership Director for about 5 years. Then I became President of the Board and shadowed Jon Carroll, who was Festival Director, to learn the ropes as he got ready to leave, and then eventually took over his position.

CJ: Is Jon still with Reel Pride?

JF: Jon is now program Director.

CJ: Tell me how your programming works.

JF: Jon handles programming for us remotely, he's in San Francisco now.  We also decided, for economic reasons, to team up with another festival for programming. We talked to other festivals and they were all struggling also so we said, let's pool our resources and program jointly. So we're working with the Seattle Film Festival on that. 

CJ: Do you pick the same films?

JF: Almost. We work together to create the buying power of two festivals instead of one. Seattle falls about a month after ours. So if we both want the same film, we can negotiate easier for it. They're about the same size audience as us, even though they're a fifteen day festival.

CJ: How many films did you look at this year?

JF: The programming team looked at 200-300 films. 

CJ: And what's the process for whittling that down to the 50 films you screen?

JF: When I took over as Festival Director I asked the departments, how do you pick the films? They said they had an outline.  They said they need a men's centerpiece film, a women's centerpiece, a transgender film, a youth film, etc. So they were kind of picking according to category.  So I said we need throw the grid out and just find 50 good films, I don't care where they fall. Starting last year, that's what we did.

CJ: Your lineup looks quite varied. I see films here from Iran, Uganda, India and Finland. I see trans films, youth films and comedies and dramas.  

JF: Yes, what happened was once they had a list of 50 great films, then the process was easy to choose a good guy film, a good women's film, and on and on. So they had more freedom to find good films, then worked backwards at the categories and it was still all there. 

"Bearcity 2", with Kathy Najimi, follows familiar characters and a few new ones as they head to Provincetown, on Cape Cod, for Bear Week!
CJ: Tell me about some of the films.

JF: We've got three transgender films this year. We wanted to feature one, specifically, which is titled TRANS. The story speaks of one person but actually follows five, and one of the five people is a person from Clovis. (Note: The Clovis person featured in TRANS is Chloe Anne Lacey, born Justin Brian Lacey, a transgender kid from Clovis who tragically ended her life in September of 2010)

CJ: Did you know that when you were looking at the film?

JF: The film is very new and wasn't even on our radar. Then I got a message on Facebook from Allison, who is Chloe's mother. She asked me to look at the film. So that's how we found it. And Allison wants to be very involved.

"TRANS"... "TRANS" is an extraordinary documentary feature about men and women...and all the variations in between. It is about the Transgender Community, perhaps the most misunderstood and mistreated minority in America and around the world. 
CJ: There are other local connections?

JF: Yes, Chris Colfer, from Clovis, is in "Struck By Lightning" and there's also a person in a third film talking about Fresno.

"Struck My Lightning"...After being struck and killed by lightning, a young man recounts the way he blackmailed his fellow classmates into contributing to his literary magazine.
CJ: Are you getting more films from countries where LGBT rights are highly restricted?

JF: We have a film from Palestine that was filmed there. And during the screening process we got a film from China which is on our short list of backup films. What's interesting about this film is that China has  such a repressive society that the filmmaker had to film it commando style.  So he had all the actors ready to go and they'd shoot a scene for five or ten minutes and then get in their cars and run.

CJ: Can they show the film in China?

JF: Not right now. It starts elsewhere.

CJ: With foreign films do you also look at whether a film is subtitled or dubbed? How does the Fresno market react to that?

JF: The Fresno audience has gotten used to it. It's actually appreciated because we have a lot of hearing impaired audience members in Fresno.

"Facing Mirrors" is one of the festival films with a transgender theme, the first film from Iran on the subject...

"Call Me Kuchu" is a documentary from Uganda...
To be openly gay in Uganda is to risk imprisonment and death, yet brave men like David Katos, the country's first openly gay activist, have fought back. This heartbreaking and stirring documentary takes us inside this life and death struggle for human rights.


CJ: How is Reel Pride weathering the economic situation in America?

JF: Reel Pride has been effected, just like everyone else. We're very lucky with our sponsors. The sponsors want to make it happen and we want them involved, so we work around any needs. This festival is very much by the community and for the community. So we work with everyone to make that happen. We also have groups that want to participate but can't afford to be a financial sponsor, so they're going to be there to work the lobby for us, and that kind of thing.

CJ: Let's talk tickets and pricing. You have various levels, both festival passes and individual tickets. Tell me about that.

JF: Our entry level pass, or our V.I.P. pass is $90. That gives you all 50 films at the festival, as well as a special access line, which will be admitted to the theater before our general admission ticket sales. The next step up is $150 for the Director's Club. There are no theater lines for Director's Club and above members. Next is Director's Club Gold for $225 which offers more benefits throughout the year, including passes for our off season films. Above that is the Platinum level at $500, which offers gift baskets, drink tickets and other benefits. Our top level is the Producer's Circle for $1,200, which offers things like reserved parking and reserved seating.

Purchase your Reel Pride memberships HERE

CJ: Tell me about the importance of community involvement in the film festival.

JF: This festival can't happen without the community supporting it. We have a board of nine people that work on it for 11 months out of the year. About a month after this festival ends, we'll start working on 2013. We also have a team of around 25 people who make up our Host Committee. They come in about a couple of months before the festival. Then we also have a team of about 125 volunteers. So we have a team of about 160 people that put on this event, and they're all local.
And the community comes out and buys tickets and watches the films. If they don't, we don't have a festival. As long as the community supports us, we're not going anywhere.

Reel Pride Parties & Events...
There will be several Reel Pride Parties before and during the film festival, which are available to all current members and sponsors of the festival (single ticket buyers are not able to attend the parties).

There will be a Special Event Kickoff Party on Wednesday, August 22nd, which all current members and sponsors are invited to. The event is a fundraiser for Reel Pride's Outreach Program, which focuses on local schools, to get students involved. The party is catered and offers an extensive lineup of silent auction items to raise money for Reel Pride.

There will be a Reel Pride Outreach gathering at the Fresno LGBT Community Center on Saturday, September 1st...Please join us for a Reel Pride Outreach event! Come together to learn about this years film festival! Lots of good giveaways and information will be presented!  The presentation will provide details and information that is important to students/youth. All are welcome to attend. TWO OUTREACH PRESENTATIONS WILL BE HELD: 12 PM and 2 PM...Please RSVP by clicking on the Facebook Event link above...

One week before the festival there will be a private “invitation only” event at Engelmann Cellars, which will offer trailers, a detailed explanation of the film festival and wine tasting and appetizers. The first night of the festival there will also be a pre-party at Bobby Salazar's for members and sponsors.

There will be a Meet & Greet party on Saturday the 22nd, around 6PM. This party is at Vini Vidi Vici and is for Director's Club and up members. 

There will also be a special edition party at the North Tower Circle on Saturday, September 22nd (everyone is welcome to this event...free access to Reel Pride members) following the Women's Centerpiece Film "A Perfect Ending". The band Saucy Monky will be performing live and several actresses from the film, and the Producer, will be attending.

"A Perfect Ending"...Rebecca has a very unusual secret, one that not even her best friends know about. The last person on earth she expects to reveal it to is a high priced escort named Paris. What starts as a comedy of errors ends up a uniquely erotic journey. A PERFECT ENDING Trailer
Stay tuned to the Fresno Reel Pride Website for all details on this year's festival. 

Reel Pride, which is an all volunteer organization, also relies on outside volunteers to make each year's festival run smoothly. If you're interested in volunteering at this year's festival please contact them through their website . Volunteering for Reel Pride is generally a 2-3 hour day.

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