LGBT Film Fests Prepare for Trying Times, New Directions

January 17, 2009
Representatives from the country's major LGBT film festivals gathered on Saturday in Park City for a discussion about adapting to fit a changing economy, declining sponsorship and new media. Despite uncertain times, one thing was certain: The LGBT film fest is not going away. The festival leaders convened at the GLAAD-hosted Queer Lounge for a panel entitled "Trying Times: The future of LGBT Film Festivals," which featured producer/director Lesli Klainberg, the interim executive director of New York City's Newsfest; Kirsten Schaffer, deputy executive director of Los Angeles' Outfest; Jennifer Morris, director of programming at San Francisco's Frameline, Carol Coombes, associate artistic director of the Philadelphia Film Festival and Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival; Paul Rachman, East Coast director of Slamdance, a festival inclusive of LGBT films; and Orly Ravid, co-founder of American Vision and VP acquisitions of Senator Entertainment. "Let's start with the conceit that we believe there should be LGBT film festivals," said Klainberg. LGBT festivals are particularly important in the rural areas and smaller cities where homophobia continues to be rampant, said Schaffer. But there was also an acknowledgment that we are in an environment where all festivals are facing declining sponsorships, forcing them to make judicious decisions to continue operating. Newfest will be trimming its program down from 12 days to eight as it makes a highly-anticipated move to screening at the School of Visual Arts theater. Morris says that due to the economic crunch, Frameline will streamline while phasing out some of its programs. "We are all embracing for what the environment is bringing," she said. Schaffer added that Outfest has put its regular Wednesday screenings on hiatus, while it will likely reduce the number of programs screened at its June fest by approximately 15%. "It is a scary time," Schaffer said. "It's also a great time for opportunity. We can't be stagnant." Schaffer says that to survive the festivals must look at the media environment and change accordingly. "We have to grow and change who we are." Ravid suggests new financial models will need to take place for the festivals to survive, and that the festivals should work together as a consortium to acquire films, attain sponsorship and create ancillary revenue through methods such as online distribution.