The North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival started at the Carolina Theatre in Durham on Friday, August 13 and will continue through Sunday, August 24th. This is the largest LGBT event of the year in the Triangle and draws 10,000 people. I saw one film on Saturday and will see another next Sunday. The audience primarily was middle-aged and white. I also watched a couple of LGBT films on Netflix last weekend. Rather than review specific films, I want to comment on LGBT films in general and how they have grown in the past two decades.
In the late 20th Century there were few LGBT films produced and even fewer for general distribution. A few groundbreakers such as the Gay Deceivers in 1969, Boys in the Band in 1970, Making Love in1982, and Brokeback Mountain in 2005 opened the doors to queer films available to the general public. In the meantime, the production of film shorts and features distributed exclusively through art houses or LGBT film festivals worldwide have grown exponentially. Of course, the early product of LGBT films was almost exclusively hard core pornography that was distributed by mail order copies of VHS tapes, then DVD’s, and finally via the Internet. Pornography, both gay and straight, is still one of the largest businesses on the World Wide Web.
Dozens of festivals are held every year world wide, and this web site lists them by month: Queer Film Festivals so this is a growing market for these films. In Durham they included about 100 films, both gay and lesbian, shorts and features, and a few from general distribution films. This marked the 19th year for the Durham festival, and the quality of the films has improved significantly during that time. As the queer world has become more open and accepted by society, the funding for this niche market also has grown. Frameline Filmmakers Support Program in San Francisco not only sponsors a festival but also provides grants to independent producers. Frameline
The Internet Movie Database web site listed 94 LGBT films released in 2012, 74 in 2013, and 50 in 2014. The Awards Daily Blog lists the top 50 films of the past 30 years: Top Gay films. In reverse order by popularity (and not in chronological order) Listall cites one opinion of the top gay films as Best Gay Films
Most gay films either ignore organized religion or are very anti-religion. The documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So” directly challenged the fundamentalist literalist approach to selected scriptures that are used to clobber gays. There are still no Christian gay feature films so we have few role models. The usual themes of coming out, romance, couples’ conflicts, comedy, and difficulty in dealing with societal pressures are used frequently without much originality. The gay and lesbian film genre has been much more repressed than the literature, which has been much more explicit for generations going back to the 1950’s. In the early days of film there were hints and innuendoes about gays, but the Hays Commission in the 1930’s put an end to that.
The gay & lesbian community faced many of the same problems suffered by the African-American community; we waited a long time to see ourselves portrayed in a favorable light on the big screen. That day finally has come.