Sunday, September 1, 2013

INTERVIEW: James Figueroa – Fresno Reel Pride Film Festival

Article written by Chris Jarvis for Gay Central Valley
The Fresno Reel Pride Film Festival is the 6th largest such festival in the nation, and one of the oldest. This year marks the 24th year of the festival, offering up a wide variety (about 50) of LGBT themed films to the Fresno area. These are films those in Fresno will likely never get to see here on the big screen. This year the festival is offering movies from 12 countries, including Poland, Spain, Israel, Cuba, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Australia, Finland and of course, the United States. 

Every year the Reel Pride Festival offers up one of the largest LGBT events of the year, bringing the LGBT and straight community together for a shared appreciation of film and art. Fresno partners with the Seattle area to choose and share films, bringing many eyes and ears to the project. 

The festival runs from September 18th through September 22nd. Films will be screened at three venues, The Tower Theater , Severance Dance Studio and The Voice Shop . Tickets for all screenings, at all venues, will be available at the Tower Theater on the day the films are screening (not before, but you can purchase individual tickets online at the Reel Pride website before the festival starts), but if you’re running late, there will also be tickets available at the door for films at Severance or Voice Shop on the day they are screening.

The best way to enjoy the festival is to purchase a membership, which is offered at various levels. The first level, VIP, is $90 and gets you into all the films at the festival, plus the Opening and Closing Night parties. Higher levels afford you extras such as admission to other parties, discounted prices throughout the year for special screenings and VIP parking and seating. You can also see the films by purchasing individual tickets for each screening on the day of the event at the Tower Theater, which are $10 each. So if you plan to spend a decent amount of time at the festival, the memberships are the way to go, and definitely save you money in the long run. You can download the form online to sign up for a membership. (Fresno Reel Pride is a nonprofit organization and your contributions are tax deductible)

James Figueroa, President and Festival Director, sat down with me to talk about the films screening at this year’s event.

G.B.F. , or Gay Best Friend, is the film opening the festival on Wednesday, September 18th.  Michael J Willet, the star of the film and a Fresno native, will be at the screening. 

“It’s a fun film to start off the festival with,” James tells me. “It’s a high school age comedy, a coming out story with a twist. It kind of plays like Mean Girls.”

The film also stars Megan Mullally of “Will and Grace” and Natasha Lyonne of “Orange Is The New Black”. 

“Megan Mullaly’s one liners really make the film,” James adds. 
The festival is still negotiating with other stars to be at the premier.

“This year we’ll have one of the largest contingents of filmmakers and stars that we’ve had in recent years,” James explained, “We’ll have a lot of invited guests this year.”

Thursday highlights some of the international films being screened this year, one of which James is especially fond of. 

“I think Melting Away is going to be the sleeper hit of this festival. Basically the story is about a young man who prefers to be identified as a woman and his parents kick him out of the house. The story takes place years later, when he comes back into their lives as a woman.”

Melting Away is a film from Israel, in Hebrew with English subtitles. 

Friday opens with Free Fall, touted as the German answer to Brokeback Mountain. It’s an emotionally charged drama about two German police cadets who get involved in a passionate affair. 

Also on Friday is a woman’s focus film, Who's Afraid of Vagina Wolf, a comedy with actors from True Blood and The L Word. The film focuses on Anna, who works on producing a lesbian remake of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, in which she can star opposite the woman she has a crush on.   

One unique addition to the Film Festival this year is a completely free screening. On Friday, September 20th, at The Voice Shop, Positivity, a collection of short films focused on HIV and AIDS will be shown at no cost. 

“We’re seeing such an increase in HIV infection in the youth in this area,” James said, “that the board felt it was important to find informative films to remind people about this issue. This is hopefully our way of informing and reminding the youth what can happen.” 

This FREE screening is sponsored by We C.A.R.E., which offers support and counseling services for people with HIV/AIDS .

“They’ll be there with information and we’re going to leave the venue open after the film so they’ll be there to talk in groups or individually about the issue. It’ll be an open forum.”

Following this free screening, and on the same theme, the movie Test will screen at the Tower Theater at 9:30pm. 

“Test is another of my favorites. It has to do with the AIDS crisis in the mid 1980’s. It follows a young dancer when the first AIDS test becomes available. The backstory involves one of the big ballet performing companies in San Francisco. It’s a small troupe of dancers, and you get to see the full performances from start to finish.”

Closing out the Friday lineup is a very interesting, very adult film,  Interior Leather Bar

“Interior Leather Bar is a mockumentary made by James Franco. There’s a rumored 40 missing minutes from the classic film Cruising , where Al Pacino went into the club to see what was going on. The rumor is the ratings counsel made them cut out these scenes to avoid an X rating. This is their interpretation of what they think it might have been.”

From Wikipedia…
The MPA originally gave Cruising an X rating. Friedkin (director) deleted 40 minutes of footage from the original cut before he secured an R rating. The deleted footage, according to Friedkin, consisted entirely of footage from the clubs in which portions of the film were shot and consisted of "[a]bsolutely graphic sexuality.... When Friedkin sought to restore the missing footage for the film's DVD release, he discovered that United Artists no longer had it.

Interior Leather Bar is a graphic film. It will be shown at 11PM on Friday, September 20th and you must be 18 years old to attend this screening. The festival will be checking IDs. 

Once again, short films are featured at the festival. Early on Saturday the festival highlights both  Fun In Girls Shorts at 12:30pm and  Fun In Boys Shorts at 2:30pm. Both offer a variety of short films for women and men.  And on Sunday, the festival offers a new theme for film shorts with Transcendent Shorts, short films all with transgender themes. The festival made a concerted effort towards a closer look at transgender films this year. 

“We showed Trans last year, and this year Melting Away and the Transcendent Shorts are specific to the transgender community, and there are transgender themes mixed in throughout the other films as well. Also,” James added, “for the first year, to my knowledge, our programming team has a transgender person on it.”

Another women’s film is Lesbiana A Parallel Revolution , focusing on an important part of lesbian history which sprung up inside the women’s movement starting in the 1970’s. This film shows at 2:30pm on Saturday. 

Later that afternoon, at 4:30pm at the Tower Theater is I Am Divine, a documentary about the legendary drag superstar Divine, aka Harris Glenn Milstead, brought to the world by filmmaker John Waters. Waters and many others who knew Divine are interviewed for the film.

“It shows Divine from before he was Divine, through creating Divine and up until his death. It’s a great documentary on how big of a person Divine really was.”  

The youth highlight film this year is Geography Club, a high school set piece about a group of LGBT kids who pretend to be holding meetings for a geography club when in actuality it’s a GSA. The film follows a sixteen year old boy who uses dates with girls to hide his passion for the school’s football star. 

Birthday Cake is a men’s focus film airing at 9:30pm on Saturday night. It follows two Los Angeles dads awkwardly planning their daughter’s over inflated birthday party.

“It’s a fun film. It shows all the drama that goes on trying to plan the perfect birthday party.”

Sunday’s schedule starts with Valentine Road, a story many will remember. In 2008, Larry King, a 15 year old boy, asked another boy in school to be his valentine. The next day Larry was shot and killed at school by that boy. It became a national news story at the height of the bullying crisis. 

“It’s a great documentary that shows what happened to the people in this community as a result.” 

From the director of Sordid Lives comes the GLAAD award winning comedy  Southern Baptist Sissies, with Leslie Jordan. 

“Southern Baptist Sissies is the filming of a stage play that takes place in a southern gospel church. It follows a choir in which the majority of them are gay.”

The Happy Sad closes out the festival on Sunday night at 8pm. 

“Happy Sad follows four characters, a gay couple and a heterosexual couple that decide to have open relationships. It’s a relationship film that’s won a lot of awards. It follows what happens to these couples as they change the rules of their relationships.”  

As always, the Festival includes several parties, which are restricted based on membership. (See details below)

“The Opening Night Gala takes place after our first film on opening night. It happens in the Painted Table space which is right there connected to the Tower Theater.”

The Opening Night Gala is open to Members and Sponsors, another reason to purchase a Festival Membership, rather than buying individual tickets. This party runs from 9:30pm-Midnight.
A Filmmakers Reception takes place on Saturday September 21st from 6-8PM at Vini Vidi Vici . Filmmakers and stars who are in town will be at the event, which takes place on the back patio. This party is open only to Director’s Club Members and above, as well as Sponsors.

There will be a Brunch at the Painted Table on Sunday morning from 11am-12:30pm. Brunch is also only available for Director’s Club Members and above, as well as Sponsors. 

The Closing Night Gala takes place at the Painted Table on Sunday night, after the final film, from 10pm-Midnight. All Members and Sponsors can attend the Closing Night Gala.

James summed up the festival in closing…

“We’re at 50 films again this year and we promise that the majority of these films you will not see anywhere else in Fresno, so this is your one shot. Especially the shorts, you’ll never see those again. These films may not all be to your liking, but give them a try. We don’t pick films just because we need a male title, or a transgender title. I’ve given the programmers a blank slate and told them to bring fifty quality films, not so many youth films, so many women’s films, just bring me 50 good films.”

The films listed in this article are only some of the many, many films you can see at this year’s Reel Pride Festival. Please check out their official website for more information, and the complete film schedule for a listing of all films offered this year.

Stay tuned to Gay Central Valley Blog as we’ll keep you updated on the festival and post previews of all films as the festival starts.   Gay Central Valley will also be handling concessions for the event this year, so stop by and see us, grab a snack, pick up a Rainbow Delegation bracelet and enjoy the Reel Pride Film Festival…

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