The 29-year-old Pittsburgh International LGBT Film Festival brings little-seen, world-class independent films to downtown’s Harris Theater.
PHOTO COURTESY REEL Q
Holding a film festival focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender themes was a lot different in 1985.
When Rich Cummings launched a spin-off of a Pittsburgh Gay Community Center film series, “Having the fest was a very political thing to do,” says Mitchell Leib. “Years ago, the festival was picketed. That doesn’t happen anymore.”
Leib is the executive director of what now is called Reel Q, The Pittsburgh International LGBT Film Festival. Now in its 29th year, the festival is North America’s fifth-oldest continuously running gay film festival; it began nine years after the first, San Francisco’s Frameline. Reel Q is an all-volunteer organization, and in addition to running the festival, it presents or co-sponsors screenings year-round.
About 20 programs, including narrative films, documentaries and collections of shorts, will be screened from Oct. 10-18 at the Harris Theater, downtown. Although many LGBT filmmakers will be represented, subject matter is the most important quality for a Reel Q selection, Leib says.
“I’ve had issues where we have an LGBT filmmaker [who’s] making a film that doesn’t have an LGBT theme,” he says. “I just feel the theme is more important; that’s what we’re there for.
“We’ve also really been trying to look at the bisexual and transgender segment of the population. They’re the really under-represented portion.”
Though visibility of LGBT characters in film and television has risen, many of the films screened at Reel Q otherwise wouldn’t be seen in Pittsburgh. Leib compares these movies to those shown at other area film festivals, such as the Silk Screen Asian American Film Festival or The Pittsburgh Jewish Film Festival, in that they don’t have the marketing muscle to reach a wide audience. “They’re really small, independent films,” he says, “so you might see [them] through [Pittsburgh] Filmmakers, but you’re not going to see [them] at a mainstream theater.”
Reel Q will open with a screening of “Blackbird,” a Southern-set drama based on the novel of the same name by Larry Duplechan. “It’s the story of . . . [a] gay high-school student coming to grips with his sexuality,” says Leib, who notes that the film equally is about the lead character’s family and friends and their struggles. “Blackbird” is the first film featuring actress Mo’Nique since her Oscar-winning performance in “Precious.”
The Brazilian film “The Way He Looks” will close the festival on Oct. 18. Described by Leib as “one of the sweetest, most wonderful films” he’s seen, it is a coming-of-age story centered on a blind boy struggling to define his sexuality. “The Way He Looks” was a hit at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival.
Other films in the Reel Q lineup include: the documentary “Out in the Night,” which investigates the mishandling of a 2006 crime involving a group of young black women; “Eat with Me,” a comedy about a mother coming to terms with her son’s sexual orientation; “Tru Love,” about an unlikely friendship between two women; and “52 Tuesdays,” an award-winner at both Sundance and Berlin that follows the relationship between a teenager and her biological mother as the mother transitions from female to male.
While the rise of Netflix and other video-on-demand services has given independent films a greater platform than ever before, audiences continue to attend festivals such as Reel Q for the communal experience, Leib says.
“The sense of community is still there . . . I still think it’s important to watch films with your peers and not watch them at home on your sofa.”
Reel Q Festival at the Harris Theater, 809 Liberty Ave., downtown; Oct. 10-18; reelq.org