Over the past six years, LGBT Fest has grown from a modest partnership between Stonewall Columbus and the long-running Columbus International Film + Video Festival to a separate offshoot of CIFVF with its own spot on the calendar and nearly a full week of programming at Columbus College of Art & Design and other venues. Much of the credit for the expansion goes to Lori Gum, program director for Stonewall Columbus, a self-professed cinemaniac who studied film at NYU and jumped at the opportunity to increase exposure for LGBT films in Columbus—in her spare time, between organizing Pride Weekend, overseeing Stonewall's outreach to veterans and the uninsured, generating events for Wild Goose Creative like a marathon reading of Moby Dick, and co-producing a new web series about queer ghost hunting.
After a few years of keeping eyes out for a good opportunity to work with Lori on the event, a serendipitous combination of good timing and excellent film programming provided one: Spa Night. Winner of the US Grand Jury Prize at Outfest and a Special Jury Prize at Sundance for its star, Joe Seo, the feature debut of writer-director Andrew Ahn about a young Asian-American man's sexual awakening is one of the best-received LGBT films of the year. Wex Film/Video Director David Filipi and Marketing and Outreach Manager Kellie Morgan worked with Lori to make Spa Night the Closing Night film for LGBT Fest 2016. It screens on Saturday, November 19.
Lori stopped by the Wex recently to share more about LGBT Fest, the 2016 program and why she's especially excited to show Spa Night here.
Tell us about the growth of LGBT Fest over the past few years.
[Former CIFVF director] Susan Halpern came to me in 2011 and said, "We have two or three LGBT films. Would Stonewall like to host a night?" We said sure. Me being me, of course I started a separate division the next year. Then the next year, I extended the fest to three nights, and the next year I extended it to five nights, and now this year it’s six nights of screenings. Last year, with so much going on at the same time as CIFVF, we were afraid we were splitting the audience. So when [CIFVF] moved from November to March, Jeremy [Henthorn, the current director of CIFVF] said, "Why don’t you stay where you are, so every few months we’ve got something going on?"
What sets LGBT Fest apart from some other film fests for the community?
One of the reasons we started this festival was to give a platform to emerging LGBT filmmakers. We’re not going to be Frameline; we’re not going to be Outfest. We want to get someone’s first, second or third film. Even by winning any festival, that helps them get into other festivals and fund their next film. We’re really happy that we’re in that niche. This is also a way to encourage local filmmakers to submit because it’s a juried film festival. I’d like to see local filmmakers submit more and more, but we don’t see a lot of them.
Another prong of this festival is to link our community with working LGBT filmmakers nationally. We have a meet-the-artist reception and everyone loves that night, and the films, especially the shorts, you are not going to see anywhere else.
Now, we’re also bringing in a much more diverse audience. One of the reasons we put a program of Dorothy Arzner films at the Drexel Theatre is because there’s a cineaste audience there, too. We don’t want to only reach the Stonewall audience or CCAD. We want more people to come and see this, and we’re using venues around town to try to do that.
How many films were submitted for this year?
We got in 67 submissions from 13 countries. We have a 13-member awards jury that’s very diverse and I have a mini jury that watches everything. These films are taking on nuanced, complex ideas. I think filmmakers are feeling confident enough to get out of a strictly chronological narrative and it’s really refreshing to me. And I don’t think a single person kills themselves in the entire festival. That pathos is no longer there, or that sense of punishment. There are some happy endings and, better yet, endings that are neither happy nor tragic.
Anything you're especially looking forward to sharing with an audience?
There is the documentary short I'm Fine. You see someone actually using film techniques and not dialogue to drive story, and it lets you make all these presumptions. It is so different, so new, so unique – it just blew us out of the water. And then we caught that it was made by Lucretia Knapp, who went to OSU and has ties to Columbus.
And, of course, Spa Night.
From the minute I started this LGBT Fest, my dream has been to collaborate with the Wexner. And for us, I think this is an inaugural move because our missions are very similar. To have the closing night film at the Wex—especially something like Spa Night, probably the hottest LGBT film on the festival circuit these days—and for you to be able to bring that to Columbus and collaborate with us, that’s how communities are supposed to do it. I couldn’t be more thrilled about that.