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Film Festivals  
 
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A random sampling of the festivals conveys a sense of their range and diversity: Tokyo's International Lesbian & Gay Film and Video Festival, Memphis's Twinkie Museum GLBT Film Festival, Cape Town's Out-in-Africa Film Festival, Calgary's Fairy Tales, Kalamazoo's Queer Arts Film Festival, Stockholm's Queer and Feminist Video & Film Festival, Bozeman, Montana's Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Questioning, Queer Film Festival, and Berkeley's East Bay Gay Asian Men's Film Festival.

Types of Festivals

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There is a considerable diversity of types of festivals within the queer film festival circuit. Over the years different types of specialty festivals have evolved, the most notable being the strong collection of experimental gay festivals spearheaded by MIX.

MIX: The New York Lesbian & Gay Experimental Film and Video Festival was founded by Jim Hubbard and Sarah Schulman in 1987. The festival is now firmly established as one of the leading gay festivals in the world and has been a pioneer in the fields of digital production, online film exhibition, and interactive multimedia.

The festival originated as an alternative to what was then called the New York Gay Film Festival (the word "lesbian" found its way into festival titles in the early 1980s, with "bi" and "trans" gaining some ground in the late 1990s). MIX has also evolved into a groundbreaking international franchise, spawning sister festivals such as MIX Brazil and MIX Mexico, as well as sponsoring a college touring program of MIX highlights.

The mid-1990s also saw the launch of the first Black GLBT Film Festival, in London, as well as an increasing effort on the part of the major queer festivals to address their constituencies of color in programming, staffing, and audience outreach efforts. Again showing its leadership in the field, MIX: The New York Experimental Lesbian & Gay Film Festival was the first of the queer festivals to have co-directors of color, bringing on Shari Frilot and Karim Ainouz in 1993.

Numerous lesbian specific festivals have also thrived over the years, the oldest being Cineffable, the Paris Lesbian Film Festival, established in 1988. The last five years or so has also seen a burgeoning trans festival movement; especially notable is London's International Transgender Film & Video Festival and San Francisco's Tranny Fest, both of which held their fourth festival in 2001. Olympia, Washington hosts Gender-Queer: Northwest Transgender and Intersex Film Festival.

San Francisco is also home to an annual Bi Film Festival while Sydney, Australia hosts an annual Queer Documentary Film Festival and Bologna presents an HIV/AIDS film festival.

Many of the larger glbtq film festivals also began taking the show on the road in the 1990s. The London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival began touring highlights programs to regional British cinemas as early as 1991. Berlin's Verzaubert festival tours to various German cities and Sao Paolo-based MIX Brazil tours across Brazil.

The most recent technological innovation for the festival circuit is the advent of the online queer film festival. Pioneered by MIX New York and PlanetOut's PopcornQ in 1998, the Online Queer Digifest lays claim to being the first such festival. Several of the larger gay film festivals have also begun showing clips and/or shorts on their web sites as an adjunct to their events. The PlanetOut Short Movie Awards is certainly the largest online festival with roughly 50 short films and videos being exhibited in the 2000 event.

The Eco-System

As the glbtq community has evolved and become more tolerated (even embraced) by mainstream society, so the festivals have thrived and flourished. Nonetheless, festival organizers are under immense pressure to justify their existence, as they are forced to compete with the wider availability of gay cinema in general--in theaters, on television, on home video and DVD, and now on the internet.

A frequent question posed in gay film festival panel discussions is "Are gay film festivals still necessary given the significant number of gay-themed films now seeing wider theatrical distribution?" The answer, of course, is simple: There is nothing like seeing a film at a gay film festival. It is an irreplaceable and unforgettable experience.

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