What Was It Like To Organize a LGBT Film Festival in Pgh During the 1980s?

We are proud to be the social media sponsor of the 32nd ReelQ LGBTQ Film Festival which starts this Friday, October 13 at the Harris Theater in Downtown Pittsburgh. To honor this cultural history, we interviewed two of the board members from early days. David Doorley was involved from 1987 onward. Laura Annibalini as involved as an attendee in the early 1990’s and joined the board in 1999.

ReelQ has some history documented on their website.

But I’ll be honest. It was difficult to find people connected to the early days of the film festival who were available and willing to be share their stories. We are losing access to important information, information that is increasingly relevant in this era of increasingly repressive policies targeting the LGBTQ community. This is bigger than AMPLIFY or my blog, it is about the real q history of the region and we have limited means to preserve it.


Your Name: Laura Annibalini

Your Age: 55

Your Pronouns: she, her

How do you describe your identity? Lesbian, gay, queer

The film society began in 1982 and the first festival was in 1986. Tell us about Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community in that four year period. What social and recreational opportunities were available? What types of films were produced?

I wasn’t in Pittsburgh during that 4 year period. I arrived in the ‘Burgh in 1992, went to my first festival that year – the Women’s Shorts program at what was then the Mini Fulton downtown.

The first Pittsburgh International Lesbian And Gay Film Festival – the organizations name at that time – was in 1985.

The society was founded with the support of then-GLCC (now Pgh Equality Center) and the Pittsburgh Filmmakers. How did those collaborations work?

Both organizations were invaluable to the film festival.

When I was on the Board of Directors (1999 through 2004), we rented office space at the GLCC when it was on Forward Avenue in Squirrel Hill. The office provided us with a central location for our archives, files, VHS tapes, etc.. We held our Board meetings in one of the Center’s conference rooms. Having office space there allowed us to connect with other LGBT groups that rented offices. And the GLCC always allowed us to put inserts in their mailings.

During my tenure on the BofD, Pittsburgh Filmakers allowed us to use their venues – The Harris Theater, The Melwood Screening Room. And they provided us with a projectionist at every screening. Their expertise was greatly appreciated. We literally couldn’t have done it without them.

What do you remember abour the first Film Society screening?

THE first Film Society screening – I was not in Pittsburgh in 1985.

What were your hopes for the festival, short and long term?

It was pre-internet. I wanted the Film Festival to be a safe, welcoming event for Pittsburgh’s community, where LGBT people could go out watch films by and about people just like them. We provided LGBT filmmakers throughout the world with a venue for their craft. I wanted the Pittsburgh film festival, the fifth oldest in the world, to have longevity, to have a great reputation so that people would know that Pittsburgh had a thriving LGBT community.

I was the Programming Director. It was my goal, each year of my tenure to program films – feature length and short – that would entertain and educate and intrigue the town’s community. I went outside the box a few times; that sparked dialogue.

What do you think today’s young LGBTQ community should know about the history of the film festival?

I want them to know of its longevity, its great reputation among every other LGBT festival in the world. I want them to know that dedicated Pittsburghers worked tirelessly – volunteered their time – to bring LGBT films to Pittsburgh when there was no other source. There were no dvds that people could rent, no online streaming services. The Festival was one of the only ways that our community had access to entertainment by and about us. I want them to know that it was a struggle to be accepted; that some in the mainstream thought we were about gay porn. I want them to know that LGBT Pittsburgh in the 80s and 90s was not just the bar scene. And yes, I really want them to know about its longevity.

In an era of streaming, why is a film festival still relevant or necessary today?

It is very relevant because new film filmmakers rely on LGBT film festival for exposure. And, it is important for us to have a sense of community, to go to a venue and sit in an audience with OUR people and be entertained.  It gives the community a first look and the newest and best LGBT film offerings every year, often before they are available online. And often, documentaries and short films don’t stream. Documentaries about our history are vital, in my opinion.

What is the one film you would recommend every LGBTQ person watch?

Tough question because there have been so many amazing films among the hundreds that I’ve seen over the years.

Choosing one – the documentary ‘Paragraph 175’. Released in 2000. It chronicles the lives of several gay men and one lesbian who were persecuted by Nazis and interned in concentration camps.

I believe that we should all know LGBT history, know about the pink triangle, not just the rainbow flag, know that there was a time when we could not celebrate openly.


Your Name: David Doorley

Your Pronouns: He

How do you describe your identity? Gay

The film society began in 1982 and the first festival was in 1986. Tell us about Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community in that four year period. What social and recreational opportunities were available? What types of films were produced? See below

The society was founded with the support of then-GLCC (now Pgh Equality Center) and the Pittsburgh Filmmakers. How did those collaborations work? 

DD:  In the early’80s the University of Pittsburgh ran a gay film series, but after it lost its funding, film enthusiast Rich Cummings launched the gay and lesbian film festival in 1986 under the aegis of the GLCC.  Partially funded by a grant from the Lambda Foundation and co-sponsored by Pittsburgh Filmmakers, the festival filled a void in Pittsburgh because mainstream films featuring gay characters and themes rarely appeared on local screens.

I got involved in 1987 when the festival became a nonprofit organization, and I remained on the board for more than a decade. After I retired I came back in 2016 — so I might be the longest serving board member. I credit our first paid director, Kevin Lovelace, for bringing me back on board.

Back in the ’80s our films often played to standing-room only crowds. In fact, I remember working at the festival the night we ran a sneak preview of My Own Private Idaho, months before it opened in nationally. The line for tickets went around the block. Early on we screened films at different theaters, like Pittsburgh Filmmakers Screening Room, the Fulton (now Byham Theater), the Rex on the South Side, the Warhol Museum and South Side Works.

What do you remember about the first Film Society screening? 

Probably the documentary Before Stonewall, which had the biggest attendance that year; so we brought it back the following year. You have to remember that there was no Netflix. So if you didn’t catch it at our festival, you probably weren’t going to see it.

What were your hopes for the festival, short and long term? 

A lot of my hopes for the festival have already been realized. We now screen films throughout the year. We started a successful “Reel Stories” series in collaboration with City of Asylum and screened at Alphabet City. We continue to invite directors, filmmakers and actors for discussions after the films—last year we showed Hedwig and the Angry Inch with John Cameron Mitchell, its director and star, and other actors, and we partied with them at the Ace Hotel. It was a blast. We also produced our first Pittsburgh Underground Film Festival this year, which probably attracted our youngest audience ever.

In an era of streaming, why is a film festival still relevant or necessary today? 

While we’re seeing more and more positive LGBT images onscreen thanks to streaming services like Netflix, there’s nothing like seeing these films in a theater with a mostly queer audience. Talk about an LGBT-affirming experience. Plus this is an international film festival, which often shows films that wouldn’t make it to local theaters or even on streaming services.

What is the one film you would recommend every LGBTQ person watch? 

If you want to see how far onscreen LGBT representation has come, watch The Celluloid Closet. It was the documentary that made a big impact on me, making me realize how oppressed queer characters were in mainstream films — first we were invisible then we were victims or villains who had to die by the end. Thanks to Vito Russo’s research and book, this documentary helped a lot of us storm out of the closet. And we never went back in.


The festival opens Friday Oct 13 with two feature films and an opening night reception at The Harris Theater on Liberty Avenue. Check out the entire schedule  Tickets and passes are available here. 

 

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