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Queer Film Festival attendance up

Organizers add extra screenings and claim ten-fold increase in web traffic

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION: Jason Karman (from left), Kevin Burton, Drew Dennis, Will Pratt and Michael V Smith take their curtain call at the Out On Screen closing Gala, Aug 27. Credit: Christine McAvoy photo

Organizers of the 18th annual Out On Screen Queer Film Festival are already calling the event a success, saying attendance and interest was up from 2006.

Even on opening night, Aug 17, there were already signs that the 11-day cinematic celebration of queer culture would exceed expectations.

“People are saying we’ve really grown over last year, and we’ve already sold out two films in advance, which has never happened before,” Out On Screen marketing coordinator, Will Pratt told Xtra West, at the opening gala.

Pratt attributes the increased interest to a variety of factors.

“Of course we’ve got great films, a concentrated media marketing effort, and excellent creative this year,” he says. “It’s very glamorous, and people are really excited about it.”

Out On Screen executive director Drew Dennis is also pleased with the turnout. She says final attendance numbers aren’t in yet, but that there are other positive indicators.

“The buzz has been just incredible,” she says. “We had just over 100,000 hits on our webpage during the month of August last year, and as of Monday [Aug 21] we already had over a million hits for the same period this year. It’s mind boggling.”

And as the festival progressed, demand was strong enough that all-access passes sold out and organizers added extra screenings of two of the featured films, I Know That I Am and My Brother Nikhil.

Dennis told Xtra West, Aug 26, that the intense interest in I Know That I Am was one of the highlights for her this year. It’s a film about the lives of transwomen in Iran and the human rights abuses perpetrated against them. The filmmakers had to flee to Canada from their homes in Iran during production after Iranian authorities confiscated the bulk of their footage.

“It was really nice to see so many people from the Iranian community lined-up for the screening alongside people from the queer community,” says Dennis. “It was amazing to see that cross-section in the audience. What’s interesting for me is that not only are the predictably popular films selling out, but we also presented a human rights series this year, sponsored by Vancity, and all of those films have been really well attended. People are interested in what’s happening on a global perspective with human rights.”

Over 700 people attended the sold-out opening film Yaji & Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims at the Empire Grandville Cinemas. The screening was followed by a gala after-party at Celebrities Nightclub.

Celebrities was glammed-up with the festival posters adorning the walls and balconies. Hors d’oeuvres were served in the back lounge, festival-goers enjoyed complimentary cocktails, and a half-dozen local artists performed for the estimated 600-person crowd.

The opening gala show began with a performance by Celeste, who got the crowd moving with her version of The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ “Zoot Suit Riot.” Next up was former West End Idol winner Jerome Mandrake, who belted out Matchbox 20’s “Push.”

Local electro-dance artist Armstrong Jr performed “Ride With Me,” the lead track from his self-titled debut album. Armstrong Jr’s video “Come Show Your Face” was also featured in the festival’s Mind the Bollocks…Here Come the Queer Punx! screening of music videos by queer artists.

Performance art duo The Tomorrow Collective, in tight black shirts and skirts, danced to a jazzy lounge beat under mock-ups of door frames placed on the stage.

The show was wrapped up with an exuberant performance by Jessica Eaert and a trio of backup dancers, who performed a burlesque-style medley of classic lounge songs, including “Hey Big Spender” and “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Eaert’s show-stopping performance elicited cheers from a crowd that pushed up against the stage to get closer to her.

After Eaert and company left the stage, DJ Dan James and Mark Kenneth Woods returned to spinning hits from the ’80s and ’90s. That kept the crowd moving into the wee hours of the night.

The opening gala wasn’t the only party. New to the festival this year was a regular and well-attended post-screening schmoozefest, at Honey Lounge on Abbott St, called G-Spot. There were also afterparties at the Vancity Theatre, Lick, the PumpJack Pub, and a closing gala at the Plaza Club.

Dennis says this year’s response to the Queer Film Festival will influence plans for 2007, that she and the rest of the Out On Screen organizers already have ideas cooking for next year, but that it’s too early to divulge any details.

She says although film and video are vitally important media for queer cultural expression, it’s the people that matter most.

“One of the things we love about the festival is that it’s a unique opportunity to bring people together,” she enthuses. “It feels like it’s one of the rare opportunities throughout the year to do that. It’s amazing.”