Ellen Flanders wants Inside Out to be more than just a film and video festival: She wants it to be a major queer cultural event, second only to Pride. To enjoy the fest, she suggests, you just have to like going to the movies and being around other gay people — and, let’s face it, that’s just about everyone.
This sounds a simple formula, and judging by audience numbers, Flanders has taken several steps in the right direction since she took over the helm in 1996. By the seventh Inside Out, her first festival as executive director, the event had moved to the Cumberland cinemas, and attendance doubled over the previous year to 10,000.
This year, projected attendance tops 20,000, and the festival has moved again: to the brand spanking new Famous Players Paramount cinema in the heart of the straight ghetto. Inside Out is an inaugural event — alongside, if you please, Star Wars Episode 1, perhaps the last blockbuster of the millennium.
The festival’s move into major, mainstream cinemas is one contribution of John Bailey, president of Famous Players and a member of Inside Out’s advisory board. Bailey says that, as gay culture becomes more visible and accepted, there are more — and better — queer-oriented films being produced. And he’s pleased to do whatever he can to make those films accessible to the broadest possible audience.
It’s in the interest of the industry to support the festival, too. The Paramount is the first new cinema to open in the downtown core in more than a decade, and the credibility that Inside Out has gained over the last few years make it a surefire way for Famous Players to familiarize gay and lesbian audiences with its latest expansion.
Screening at the new cinema is significant for a number of reasons. At a political level, says Flanders, it’s an opportunity for us denizens of queerdom to inhabit a space not specifically ours, and in some way to take possession of it. The Paramount, from now on, will be fondly thought of as where the lesbian and gay festival happens, like the Cumberland and the Euclid (now, sadly, a Starbucks) before it.
It also provides vital leverage for sponsorships — corporations are thrilled to have their names attached to events in the new generation of multiplexes. And distributors — always nasty about showing at small festivals lest they exhaust their potential audience — are more easily convinced that a beneficial word-of-mouth campaign will be generated by showing at a more prestigious event. Of all the features which Flanders pursued this year, she says that only one “got away.”
And it’s glitzy, too. There’s always something exciting about being part of something new, and no one can deny the fun of feeling included in something a little exclusive. This is part of the attraction of any film festival, and it can only help Inside Out to be able to offer as much glitz and glamour as it can.
But let’s not lose sight of the fact that there’s something very substantial going on behind the frou-frou: a vast, strong and principled film infrastructure. This year, 78 programs showcase a total of 275 films from 25 countries. Forty-two local filmmakers are featured. And four short films were produced specifically for Inside Out through a youth initiative project.
In its nine-year history, Inside Out has always programmed a fairly large number of short films, and this year is no exception — this, despite the fact that with the general trend toward the mainstreaming of gay culture, more and more feature length queer films are being made.
Many queer fests figure that audiences want features, says Flanders, and so will screen just about anything they can get their hands on over the requisite 75 minutes. And while it is no doubt true that features are the public’s favoured format, it is also true that a lot of them just aren’t very good.
Inside Out’s programming rule number one: Quality is paramount. And you’ll be thanking them when you romp through a dozen films in an hour, 10 of which you’ll love, instead of sitting through an hour and a half of a story that could have been told in six minutes.
Besides, festivals are for filmmakers, too, and short programs allow for more exposure of more filmmakers. These are, after all, some of the feature filmmakers of the future, and part of the festival’s purpose is to help queer artists. And, one hopes, seeing so much work up on screen might inspire other kids to pick up a camera and make work of their own.
This is not to say, however, that a good number of feature length films is not part of the fest. Both the opening and closing galas this year are Canadian (Thom Fitzgerald’s Beefcake and Anne Wheeler’s Better Than Chocolate), and both touch on issues of censorship — fitting bookends for a festival which is about our struggle to represent ourselves onscreen.
This is Flanders’ last year as the festival’s director. When she took over, it was her goal to bring queer cinema to more people without compromising the quality or daring of the content, something she has managed to do quite handsomely.
Along the way, she reorganized Inside Out (which began nine years ago as a collective), so that it functions as a more effective, leader-driven enterprise; she has greatly expanded the festival’s sponsorship base in both corporate and public funding; and, overall, has brought the festival to a respectable level of credibility, which will allow it to continue to grow exponentially.
Flanders leaves Inside Out only to take on further projects which support queer film. She is looking toward creating a substantial finishing fund in collaboration with Inside Out to support filmmakers; co-producing the first ever queer short films from South Africa; hoping to find time to work on film projects of her own; and toying with the idea of launching a gay and lesbian film archive.
While Flanders feels that the festival is in a stable enough position that someone can take over from her and build upon what is already in place, she by no means feels that the job is done. Four times the audience in three years is great, she says, but in San Francisco, the queerfest has an audience of 50,000.
“Where are my bar boys?” she demands, citing but one segment of queer society that ought to show up in droves at a gay event. “A million people show up at Pride; I want 50,000 at these movies.” A reasonable request, really.
So everyone grab a bar boy (that should inspire at least some of you) and let’s get out there. See you at the movies!