Reel Pride is undeniably more than just a film festival. This is a venue where films that wouldn’t be shown anywhere else in Fresno are seen, but Reel Pride also offers people a chance to meet and enjoy the company of other members of the LGBT community in a healthy, proactive, inclusive environment. What is even more distinctive about this four day film event is that it is not overtly political, yet it succeeds at supporting LBGT people and changing their image in the eyes of those outside the community in a quieter, but no less impacting way. For some, it can be a life changing experience.
Reel Pride provides social event where real people can meet others who share their experiences. Some people embrace this wholeheartedly, while others are a bit more hesitant at first.
Film goers Francisco Solaria and Oy Homfombaph both turned out to enjoy the festival this year. First-time festival attendee Francisco said his first impression of the festival was that it was "welcoming and comfortable" even though he was initially reluctant to attend. Francisco explained he’d repeatedly heard positive things about the festival but had never made a point of attending until Oy invited him.
Oy, a film enthusiast, has been coming to the festival for the last four years. "I come out for the films and to support the gay community," said Oy, "I just feel comfortable." Oy said she is "very selective" about film and added that the films just keep, "getting better and better."
Oy’s experience also illustrates how a grassroots community event like this has the power to change people outside of the LGBT community. "We bring our straight friends and they love it. I brought a friend to the festival last year, a white guy who didn’t know much about gay life. He saw a movie and he was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know you had a life and love. I always thought being gay was about sex’. I said, ‘Of course, we’re normal; we’re just like you!’"
Much like Oy, Sabastian Ardemagni, a fourth year festival patron cites that crowds turn out for more than just the films. "The films are the main thing to come for, but there’s also the energy and the crowds. It’s so nice to be in a really positive, light environment with other gay people." He also adds that he can’t love every film no matter how hard he tries. "I saw part of a movie about Indian lesbians making curry in Glasgow Scotland. I walked out towards the end. I guess I feel there’s some disparity among gay films; that you sort of have to like every gay film just because of its content."
Still, many supporters of the festival assert that the event encourages them to watch films about subject matter that isn’t familiar to them with positive personal and community results. Five year Reel Pride volunteer, Ron Wilson says, "I think all the films have an impact one way or another. I may not always like the message, but they all have a message. It’s important that we broaden our horizons, that the guys look at the girl films and the girls look at the guy films." He adds, "I think it’s just as important that all of us look at what I call the plus films. I knew nothing, and I mean I knew nothing about the transgender community until I saw some of these films. They really give us the education we need amongst ourselves and with this education comes acceptance. As long as there’s ignorance around us nothing changes."
One of the most notable changes in the Reel Pride film audience over recent years has been the increasing numbers of younger patrons and Gay Straight Alliance involvement. Central High School G.S.A. President Kayla Jennings came to Reel Pride for the first time this year. "I really like the fact that the people who directed and acted in the films were gay. You don’t see that very often in the mainstream media." Kayla also noted that she and other young people who turn out for the festival are often simply encouraged by seeing the adult festival attendees. "It’s so good to see people who are successful, in long lasting relationships and realize that we don’t have to become a stereotype. The older lesbian couples…I just thought they were adorable." She added laughing, "Oh, and the gay guys, they were great too!"
It’s easy to simply think about this local event as another addition to a burgeoning Fresno art scene, or maybe just as a reason to dress up and go out, but Reel Pride clearly operates as an environment that changes the way people think about LBGT issues. As Kayla sums it up," I believe that being around other gay people, teens or adults, people of all ages, shows you the whole spectrum of our culture. But, more than anything, it shows you that you are not alone." Even if that wasn’t our first goal in creating or supporting an event like this, it certainly is more than enough reason to preserve it for years to come.