Last night was the first night of the 22nd annual Reel Pride Festival. Like in years past, the festival draws in a diverse crowd from locals to out of town-ers, long time community supporters to first timers. Everyone with two common goals; enjoy some great films and reconnect with their community.
I talked to several people both outside the theater and inside the almost packed auditorium. Almost all were excited about the chance to reconnect with people and friends who they don’t get to see all that often. Again and again I was told that outside of Pride, this film festival is the highlight of the year.
As the crowd filled the room the buzz of anticipation and outright glee was almost palpable. There were shouted greetings, joyful reunions, hugs, waves and “You look great!”s from every corner.
It felt like a huge family reunion. And it should. For twenty two years this film festival has been bringing our community together for art and fellowship. No longer a small local event, the Reel Pride Festival brings people from all over the county. I was encouraged by the diversity in ages represented and by the warm welcome that even a new-to-town person, such as myself, received.
The movie itself was Dirty Girl and won’t be officially released to theaters until next month. Director Abe Sylvia’s first film is a love story, but not the typical one. It is a story about two teens, Danielle (Juno Temple) the high school slut and semi-closeted Clark, played with perfection by newcomer Jeremy Dozier, who find more than just an adventure when they road trip from Oklahoma to California in 1987. The script is well written with enough silliness to keep it light even while it deals with some very profound issues of family, love, bigotry, and faith.
The acting is superb, most notably with Mary Steenburgen who plays Clark’s mother, Peggy. While Danielle’s accent, high handed snark and overall Bitch attitude towed the line almost to the point of repetitive shrillness, the script did an outstanding job of dealing with Clark, his anxieties, his homophobic father, his sense of self worth, and his journey to self acceptance. The preaching, and there is a bit, against intolerance is almost heavy handed but there is just enough balance and some well timed sight gags that allow the movie to stay hopeful and sentimental.
But last night was more than just a good movie. It was about the experience. Over six hundred people all cheering, crying, and laughing together in a shared context of art…. Now, that’s something worth going to the Tower for. After the film both Abe Sylva and Jeremy Dozier came on stage and talked briefly about the film including the inspirational music of Melissa Manchester. And then, much to the delight of the audience, Melissa Manchester herself appeared and preformed two songs. The standing ovations went on and on.
As the crowd surged out of the theater, with many heading to the after party, you could hear people still humming the refrain of Manchester’s second song; “Whenever I call you friend.” It seemed the perfect note to end the night on; a song about a relationship that is loyal, sweet, and long lasting. Like the characters in Dirty Girl, our community is made up of those relationships as well.
If you have never been to a film festival, I strongly encourage you to remedy that fact in the next few days. Celebrating art is a wonderful thing. Celebrating art with your extended LGBT family,… that’s priceless. For more information about the Film Festival including a schedule of screenings…. Click here!