First Published: Before August 2002
       This is an OutUK Archive Item and so some of the links and information may be out of date.
The 16th London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival has just ended, and for the first time OutUK was one of its two main sponsors. This year the festival screened a record number of films, had a record number of filmmakers attending, and sold the most tickets ever. Guy Hornsby from OutUK has been finding out what makes this event so special and how it's changed over the past 16 years from Festival Programmers Brian Robinson, Stewart Turnbull and Tricia Tuttle.

Brian: In 1986 there were 9 films screened over 5 days, and amongst the films shown were Parting Glances and Desert Hearts, 2 real classics of gay cinema. Since then both the audience and the filmmakers have matured in a really good way. Filmmakers have got the budgets that they really need, and the audiences have become more responsive to lesbian and gay films. It used to be that people were just desperate for any vision of a lesbian or gay man on the screen but now they are more discerning and they want to see films that deal with different aspects of their own lives.

It is not enough anymore to have a gay character who is troubled and there's not much else about them apart from that. Nowadays you tend to see all aspects of people's lives on the screen in all its glorious diversity.


Tricia: Having said all of that, I still think that some of the most popular films we show are classic romances, which often having a coming out element.

OutUK: There was a time when a majority of the films seemed to be about dying of AIDS, being unhappy or troubled, or getting dragged up. Now there seems to be a lot more films about happier people who just happen to be gay. People who maybe the audiences can relate to

Stewart: There's always a balance to strike between allowing the festival to become more commercial featuring films with bigger budgets and with higher production values, and including work that isn't in the mainstream and does deal with issues that maybe some of the bigger budget movies wouldn't go near. This year we have achieved a real balance with low budget and big budget films, we have avant-garde and experimental films, and a lot of very confident short films.

OutUK: So what's the criteria for choosing films?

Brian: I think I always look for a strong emotional reaction, a work that will entertain you, or challenge you, or provoke you. It should be a film that gives you something you won't get anywhere else. I do a lot of work with the archive section, and it is sometimes very difficult to track down a lot of the best material.

Sometimes it can take years to find a decent print of a film and we are very lucky that we do have such good access to great movies. We do reject a lot of films, because we are not in the business of putting on tired, low budget, unoriginal, uninteresting films. We want interesting, diverse, unusual and unpredictable movies.


OutUK: What are the highlights this year?

Tricia: Two of my favourites in the girls programme are I think some of the most original I have seen in a long time. They are By Hook or By Crook and Group. I have shown them to friends who have had very different views of them, they are definitely not for everyone. Both had really low budgets but really good ideas. They are both very original and intelligent films, but not exactly nicer than chocolate, either of them. There is that good range this year, and whatever you are looking for in a movie you'll really find it this year.

Stewart: One of my favourites is the Australian Film Crazy Richard, it's really complex and very funny. It's deals with serious things, but it is absolutely hilarious. It's a brilliant comment of the world of celebrity that we are so often consumed by, you know, the Pop Idol and Pop Star type of thing. It keeps you really guessing until the end.

The Cockettes is a wonderful documentary film that tells an absolutely fascinating story about a troupe of dragged up, drugged up hippies in San Francisco in the late 60's early 70's. It has some fascinating archive footage, stuff you haven't seen before, and it has shots of Divine and Sylvester, John Walters and Truman Capote.

The Cockettes

On the more serious side there's a film called Undetectable, it's an American film, about people who are on the combination therapy of drugs for HIV. Harrowing, Happy, Sad, Amazing really. There are a lot of films about HIV but this one is incredibly powerful.

OutUK: And the blockbusters are really the Opening and Closing Night Galas, and the two Centrepiece Screenings.

Stewart: L.I.E. is an amazing film it is very different from anything we have used before to open or close the festival before. This is a challenging film about some important issues, and it deals with those issues really well. It's about a boy of 15 who becomes involved with an older man, and it will be very interesting to see how the audiences respond to it. It's a subject that we have to be able to talk about, it's what the festival should be doing.

AKA is a British picture which is quite rare, and it's absolutely fascinating. The screen is cut into three, and it tells the story of a shy working-class lad from Romford, who get's kicked out of his home by his abusive father.


Tricia: Closing night is Julie Johnson, a very different type of movie. We tried to have it last year but it wasn't quite finished so we had to wait. What I'm glad about is that it is a perfect film to end the festival with. It has Courtney Love and Lili Taylor which is very appealing. It's a light-hearted film about breaking free and getting away from conventions, to become the person that you want to be. It's set in New Jersey which many people tell me has a sort of Essex Girls stereotype about it, and these girls are the American version of that really.

The other centrepiece is by Director Cheryl Dunye, we are screening some of her other movies at the festival too, including some short films. It's a fantastic piece of cinema called Stranger Inside, and it will be interesting for people to see this and some of her early work to see the difference, and see how she has mastered her art. It's also significant that she is the first out lesbian black American to make a second feature which I think says a lot about the state of production in the US, when she has such a great talent. The festival should be supporting her for that and drawing attention to the fact that it took four years to make this film, and get the funding.

OutUK: How much is this a gay and lesbian film festival, as opposed to a gay film festival and a lesbian film festival which take place at the same time.

Stranger Inside

Tricia: I think there is a segment of the audience of who only go to the boys films or only go to the girls films, but I think it's now becoming a minority of the audience. More and more people are seeing one or two films during the festival specifically because they are good films and not because they are either gay or lesbian movies.

Brian: The festival is really a very empowering experience for many people. It's a social event, as well as a cultural event . On a cultural level the cinema experience is what is at it's heart, you can see DVDs and Videos until the cows come home, but you will never replicate the experience of seeing a film in a packed house, sitting in the dark, with a really in-tune audience. And it's wonderful, you can't get it anywhere else, that kind of buzzy atmosphere with visiting directors. If you see a movie in a cinema multiplex a majority of the people there are often straight, they may have gay friends or family, but the straights laugh in all the wrong places.

You know you are at home at the Lesbian & Gay Film Festival because everyone is there for the same reason, and you are able to see the film as it is meant to be shown, alongside other people who appreciate movies and like you are getting the most out of them. The whole atmosphere of the festival is unique, it's very friendly, it's very inclusive.





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