OutFilm CT’s Centerpiece Film “Gay Chorus Deep South” screens on June 5.
By: Audrey Cole/TRT Reporter—
HARTFORD, Conn.—OutFilm CT, Connecticut’s longest-running LGBTQ film festival, is taking an all-inclusive approach to addressing and raising awareness for critical issues, according to the festival’s director.
“There is absolutely a need for more festivals like ours to encourage discourse and education throughout society,” said OutFilm CT’s director Shane Engstrom. “We have a long history of partnering with other festivals, film programs, educational institutions, and arts groups to promote diversity.”
In a political climate that has been outwardly prejudicial and hostile to members of the transgender community, OutFilm CT is tackling it head-on.
“At this moment in history, when the transgender community is being attacked both politically and physically, it has never been more important to stand with the transgender community to tell their stories loud and clear,” said Engstrom. “Our goal is to shine a light on their experience so that people recognize the impacts of prejudice and ignorance in our society today, while also celebrating their lives and accomplishments.”
The festival aims to encourage discussions and “inspire actions” that go beyond the festival itself Engstrom noted.
“Film has always been a medium for political discourse,” he said. “It’s impossible to tell the story of a transgender child being banned from a restroom or an LGBT immigrant fearing a potential death sentence through deportation without getting a little political.”
This year’s spotlight film, Gay Chorus Deep South does just that, according to the description on the festival’s website.
“Following the divisive 2016 presidential election and a wave of anti-LGBTQ laws in southern states, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus embarks on a tour of the American Deep South to try to set the record straight about LGBTQ people,” the fest’s site read. “With allies in the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, they use music to bring a message of love, hope, and acceptance to communities and individuals confronting intolerance. The journey brings them into people’s homes, churches and concert halls, and reveals the powerful backstories of several chorus members and their leader. This is a celebration of the power of music to unite us in a time of “otherness,” and an unflinching look at the influence religion has in contemporary American society.”
Educating others is a part of the process essential for progress.
“As we see in the film Gay Chorus Deep South, which is this year’s centerpiece film, sometimes those discussions need to transcend borders, religious backgrounds, and geographic and political boundaries,” Engstrom said.
Lauded as the most diverse film festival in the region, the screening process is rigorous and ever growing in its membership.
“The films are viewed throughout the year by a screening committee which is open to all,” explained Engstrom of its selection process. “There is broad diversity in opinion, and we welcome diverse voices to join the group. Each film is rated by committee members as they’re watched, which helps us focus on the best of the best and guides our discussion as we decide which films to show.”
Not only are a wide variety of genres selected, but the committee also focuses on giving a voice to those who are often not provided a platform in the mainstream LGBTQ movement.
“We try to balance the program with foreign and English-language films, comedies and dramas, that will appeal to a wide range of tastes, while telling the stories of those groups that are under-represented in mainstream cinema,” said the director.
Engstrom also encourages and welcomes the public to volunteer to ensure its ever-expanding diversity, especially members of the transgender community and youth.
“As an all-volunteer organization, we can always use more help, so we encourage participation from as many diverse voices as possible,” he said. “We would particularly benefit from some additional volunteers from the youth and transgender communities, so if you’re interested in watching movies and sharing your opinions, please let us know at the festival!”
And, as is their overall approach, diversity is the overall theme that Engstrom said will be noticeable at the fest but it goes beyond that concept.
“And not just lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer diversity,” he said. “You’ll find diversity in themes, in film styles, and in perspectives. With the addition of our first ‘International Shorts’ and ‘Youth Shorts’ programs this year, we’re expanding the discussion beyond our borders and opening the conversation to the leaders of tomorrow.”
Though the director takes his role seriously and there are “important issues tackled,” he said, Engstrom also recognizes the importance of the audience having a good time.
“While many of the films we show are serious and tackle important issues, many others are just plain fun and entertaining,” Engstrom noted. “And in today’s climate, there’s a lot to be said for just kicking back and having fun at the movies.”
As Engstrom described the film fest as “community through storytelling,” he hopes to build on that community too.
“We also hope that everyone who attends has a chance to meet someone new, share their opinions, listen to others’ perspectives, and form some new bonds that will help keep the LGBTQ community strong,” he said.
OutFilm CT takes place from May 31 – June 8. The fest’s centerpiece film Gay Chorus Deep will be screened on June 5. For a complete lineup of films this year, visit outfilmct.org.