After 2 years of isolation, a film festival reunites Charlotte’s LGBTQ community

After 2 years of isolation, a film festival reunites Charlotte’s LGBTQ community

Framing Agnes still
Ava Benjamin Shorr
Actress Zackary Drucker stars in ‘Framing Agnes,’ an independent film making its North Carolina debut at the Reel Out Charlotte film festival on May 14.

In a year when 36 state legislatures introduced or passed a record number of laws targeting LGBTQ populations, organizers point to three critical tasks for next week’s Reel Out Charlotte film festival: Reunite people after two years of isolation, provide education and showcase powerful independent films.

Scheduled for May 11-15, the 14-year-old festival is screening 10 feature-length films, all making their premiere showings in North Carolina. Fifteen short films launch the festival on opening night, and all events take place in Camp North End’s Boileryard Event Space.

“The pandemic was rough. It was really rough,” said Matt Comer of Charlotte Pride, which manages the festival. “Like every other film festival across the world, we had to figure out how we bring the experience of watching a movie into folks’ homes, while also trying to retain what it’s like to go to the movies.”

After two years of watching movies from their couches, Comer explains, people can once again watch a film in a space where people laugh, cry and get scared together. The festival also features guest speakers from the Charlotte Film Society, who will lead discussions and describe work on the new Independent Picture House opening this summer. It will be the city’s first and only nonprofit theater focused on independent cinema.

A spotlight on transgender stories

Two of the films focus on transgender experiences. They are “Wildwood,” a Canadian film about a two-spirited Native American teenager. Some indigenous communities use “two-spirit” to describe a person who performs a third-gender ceremonial or social role. The other film is “Framing Agnes,” which combines documentary and reenactment techniques to tell the story of a trans woman involved in a UCLA gender study in the late 1950s.

It was important for festival organizers to find films focusing on transgender issues, Comer said, because the issues are not new and because 2022 has become a pivotal year to address them.

“Of the entirety of the LGBTQ community, it’s transgender folks who are often targeted with the worst violence,” he said. “And they are often the ones who aren’t heard.” In April 2021, North Carolina Policy Watch described Charlotte as the second deadliest city in the nation for transgender and gender-nonconforming people. Data from the Human Rights Campaign, a LGBTQ advocacy organization, indicates that state legislatures introduced more than 300 bills targeting LGBTQ people in 2022. This represents a record increase since 2018, when 41 bills were introduced.

The Obituary of Tunde Johnson
Photo From Wolfe Releasing
Actors Steven Silver (left) and Spencer Neville star in “The Obituary of Tunde Johnson,” making its North Carolina premier on May 15 at the Reel Out Charlotte film festival.


The LGBTQ community is not a monolith

Beyond educating mainstream audiences about these issues, Comer said, the film festival also educates the diverse LGBTQ community from within.

“We all come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, we come from different countries, we’re all different races and religions. And so this is actually an opportunity for even LGBTQ people to learn more about their community. You can be a gay man, a gay cisgender man, come to the event and see a documentary about transgender people and learn more about a portion of the community that you didn’t know before.

“The really important thing, I think, is that people are able to see themselves and their experiences reflected in something like a movie,” Comer said. “When you’re growing up as an LGBTQ person, you don’t always see actors who look like you, or who are a part of our community. And you don’t often see stories that reflect your lived experiences. And so when people have an opportunity to see films that center LGBTQ people, it can be a really personally powerful and empowering act.”

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