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LGBT Film Festival Promises Cultural Diversity Among Docs, Dramas, and Comedies

Jonathan McNeal/The NEON
Jonathan McNeal/The NEON

The Dayton LGBT Film Festival returns to The Neon, October 10-13, 2019. This year's lineup continues the festival's trend of bringing a wide variety of social and cultural perspectives to audiences over the course of the weekend.

The festival is actually a small sample of the diverse films the theatre offers througout the year. Neon manager, Jonathan McNeal, has just returned from the Toronto International Film Festival where he viewed some of the films that will eventually make their way to Dayton.

WYSO's Jerry Kenney spoke to Jonathan about his trip and the upcoming Dayton LGBT Film Festival:

Jonathan McNeal: I saw several great films, you know, over the course of nine days. I saw 32 full films. I blog about those while I'm there, I don't blog about the things that I walk out of because I feel like that's not fair. But yeah, so 32 feature length films and some parties and all that.

Jerry Kenney: If you're walking out of films, is that based on how many films you actually do see? Is it a time management [issue] rather than 'I just don't like this film?'

JM: Sometimes it's a time management, sometimes it's a, you know, I know I'm going to see this other film at 10 a.m. and I went into this one at 8:30, I know it's not going to be over but I want to at least get a glimpse of it. Occasionally it's because I just can't tolerate it anymore.

JK: So, you mentioned that you blog on this experience so how can people catch up on those?

JM: This particular blog is through the Most Metro site so it's www.mostmetro.com/tag/tiff and that's the Toronto International Film Festival.

JK: Great. Let's talk about this year's lineup for the LGBT Film Festival and you're starting off with a documentary feature that I think will be interesting to a lot of people in the community.

JM: Absolutely, and actually it is a day earlier this year. We've extended that an extra day just because there was too much good material which is a good problem to have. It is Gay Chorus Deep South on Thursday October 10th at 7:30. That's the first screening of the Fest this year.

JK: It really is kind of a mission of this particular chorus.

JM: That's right. It is the gay chorus from San Francisco decides that after the 2016 election that they need to go explore the south and see what's going on and kind of spread their love and message of acceptance and embracing the community.

JK: And this chorus actually my understanding is that they've actually traveled to other countries where they see a need for this as well.

JM: That's right, and they're their very mission driven. What's interesting is that some of the stories within the chorus are you know families that haven't seen each other for decades, you know, kind of people coming to terms with their own stories in the south. You know, they they fled to the big city, they fled to San Francisco years ago and now are returning an, you know, they have some you know preconceived ideas as to what they're going to see and what they're going to encounter in the south and it's not always what they think. So, it's... There's some enlightening on both sides.

JK: Great what else do we have for Thursday?

JM: Thursday there is the opening short that plays along with that is called Slushy and that is a film by Ben Evory, who was our intern last year, and he is actually a graduate of Wright State's film program. This was his senior project and it's the first time it will be the international premiere for that short. I think it will have some legs on the festival circuit and of course Ben will be here along with that film, and it's about a Christian rock group who has aspirations of going on tour.

JK: So, a lot of music taking place on Thursday night. You've got short films playing throughout the weekend, including a block on Saturday. I really enjoy talking about those but let's continue for Friday.

JM: Friday is what was always our opening night, so now it's Friday night, so it's our second night but we'll still have the party afterward. We're just calling it the Afterparty now instead of the opening night party. But, that is a documentary called Circus of Books, which is a really terrific documentary about a heterosexual couple who own an adult bookstore in Los Angeles, and it became a very beloved bookstore. It's interesting, they're a heterosexual couple and it was all born out of the idea that the wife saw an ad that Larry Flynt was looking for someone to distribute his Hustler magazines back in the 70s and it was because of that that they started meeting business owners and whatnot in the Los Angeles area.

What's really interesting is that that protagonist of the film used to write for the Dayton Herald years ago in the late 60s. So, really interesting connection to that film to Dayton and Rachel Mason, who is the director of the film, she's actually the daughter of this family. So, it's a story about this gay bookstore from the 70s until it just closed its doors recently. We get everything in between, you know, the AIDS crisis the loss of their clientele we get really interesting story about one of the children coming out and how the mother had issues with that even though she was clearly making money off the gay community. So, really interesting dynamics and really compelling characters.

JK: That sounds great. What else on Friday?

JM: Friday is a short film called dress you up like Mrs. Doubtfire which is just a short exploring the film Mrs. Doubtfire and how it was really one of the first pieces of media to have you know a drag character in it. That was really family friendly ultimately.

JK: Let's talk about Saturday which includes the block of short films and I'm particularly interested in the variety of cultural voices in the lineup this year, and before we get into the details of the movies that you're going to bring to the audience...so, we're talking about diversity within a diversity film festival. How important is that to you to bring to audiences?

JM: You know, it's something that we talk about as a selection committee quite a bit. We look at over 100 films to curate the series for the weekend and we want to make sure that we're not only bringing each of the LGB and T into the fold but we also want to make sure that we are representing different voices from a variety of multicultural demographics. You know we want to make sure that a lot of voices are heard. So we have some you know more Indigenous representation, we have African-American voices, and then of course international as well so, we really want to make sure that a lot of voices are heard because I also think that it's important to the greater community to see that the LGBT community isn't just affluent white people that they might see represented in mainstream media.

JK: So you do have Native American perspectives here, and let's do a quick bullet point on some of the short films.

JM: One of the films is actually called Baby, which takes place in The Bronx, and the director of that film Jessie Levandov will be here with that film during the festival. And, you know, just a really interesting little short about a guy preparing his day to kind of make the first move, and it's really really charming. We don't know exactly what's happening in the context of the film but it really delighted the committee.

There is a film called Thrive which is two young men kind of getting ready to have a sexual encounter and each of them kind of withholding, clearly, and being not so comfortable divulging what what's under the surface. So, you know, a really interesting collection we've got some comedy, we've got some documentary within the shorts, we've got some touchy subjects. It's really you know in an hour and a half we go through a lot of a lot of stories and it's really sometimes not overwhelming but it's like you need You need a breath afterward to kind of collect your thoughts and see just where you've been.

JK: The Top Drawer Shorts presentation is one of my favorites each year and you have mentioned several times that either directors or actors from the films will be included again in this year's lineup or this year's presentation to the audience. And I think the audience really goes for that when they can connect on a one on one level with people involved in these films.

JM: Absolutely. You know, not only do they get to address how the process of the film came to be, but also putting a face with, you know, we see something on the screen and we think it's so untouchable and so other worldly, and then you've come to find out that it's really just the gal next door who has been you know putting every dime that she's got into the projects. And so, it's powerful to connect that human element of of creating media like t

JK: That's great. What else do we have in the lineup for Saturday?

JM: Saturday we go to a film called St. Francis In the Afternoon - just a very unapologetically female film. The committee actually had a discussion as to whether it was queer enough to put in the festival because the protagonist is not gay but she is and nanny for a lesbian couple. And, at the end of the day, we decided that she goes through enough of a change within the course of the film that is clearly based on her relationship with this lesbian couple that we felt like it merited inclusion.

JK: That's great, you know allies are considered an important part of LGBT experience these days anyway.

JM: And, you know, I also just think that the film had a voice that is so honored often seen where the character is female and we're not afraid to deal with very touchy subjects and even menstruation and things like that that are not in there for any kind of comedic element. It is just matter of fact and it's, you know, this is her journey.

Then later on Saturday in the evening we have a film called Queering the Script, which is a documentary about women and lesbians and queer women in television and how, so often, they were written out of scripts. It's a it's an interesting piece, one of the committee members this year, our intern, was a big proponent for this film and she believes she's a self-professed nerd and really loves this type of discussion about, you know, more kind of intellectual inclusion of lesbians and bi-women in media, and we get a lot of very famous people in this piece talking about their roles and how it came to be. I think it's a great place for discussion.

What I'm really excited about on Saturday evening is that we just booked three guests to come along with a documentary called Scream Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street. We have the two directors of that film and the star of the film, Mark Patton. Mark Patton was in Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and it essentially destroyed his career. There was so much gay subtext in the film that he immediately just didn't work again, and it was panned so terribly that it just destroyed his career. He would go to horror film fests, or you know, horror-con kinds of things for signings and people would come up and tell him just how much they hated that film. And, you watch the film now and it doesn't even seem like subtext, it really just seems like gay content. It's fascinating, and he's really owned it now and now there's a certain kind of camp sensibility of the film that I think people are embracing, but it'll be delightful to have him here along with the film.

JK: This is just one more example of how film can be used to tell a story whether it's personal, nonfiction, or fiction.

That's right. And, you know, what's interesting is this guy Mark Patton, he certainly was on the rise and you know his film before that was come back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean with Cher and Karen Black and Sandy Dennis. That was a Robert Altman film. You know, he was ready to go, and this was his first leading role and then his career just fell apart afterwards so, you know, really interesting to see where we've been, where we've gone, and how far we still have to go.

JK: This does seem like something that would almost maybe not happen today?

JM: You know, who knows? He was a closeted man himself. And I feel like now maybe it's kind of in fashion to play gay characters and a lot of a lot of heterosexual-identifying men are playing gay roles and so it's not as taboo anymore, but I think that there's still a trepidation from, certainly, from gay men to play gay roles and there's still an element of the closet in the entertainment business.

JK: That takes us into Sunday and we're starting the noon hour, 12:30pm I believe?

JM: That's right, with a documentary called Unsettled. It is directed by Tom Shepard. We really wanted to have Tom here, but he will be in London with this film at that time and Unsettled as a documentary about refugees seeking asylum in the United States from their countries who otherwise would potentially murder them for being gay. And we get some really hideous footage to just really contextualize the film of people being stoned people being thrown off of rooftops for for being caught ,or being even thought to be gay. And so, it's a really powerful film about struggles and other countries and these people coming in United States and finding a new home.

Tom Shepard directed a documentary years ago called Scout's Honor which was about an Eagle Scout who was being thrown out of scouting because he came out. Tom is somebody that we've known for years here, we had him in Dayton years ago and I brought him before I was actually part of The Neon. But what's really fun about this is that Jim Klein a filmmaker from Yellow Springs was the consulting editor on this piece. He worked with Tom on Scout's Honor as well and Jim is very proud of this film. We'd have him here too but he'll be on an editing gig in L.A. at the time so, we are really excited to bring this film to town just because of its local connection too.

JK: With Unsettled, what would you say to audience members or potential audience members who may be afraid to come see the film because of some of the footage that you mentioned?

JM: It's not overwhelming. I mean, it certainly will sit with you, it will be there, but I think it's valuable. It's not too much footage, it's just enough to tell us that this insidious thing is legit and that these people seeking asylum are running for their lives and that's valuable information.

On Sunday afternoon then we have a film called The Blonde One. So, it's not all docs. We could have done a whole series of documentaries this year because the docs were so outstanding, but we have an narrative film called The Blonde One from Argentina, which is a great film just, loads of sexual tension but it's about two roommates in Argentina, the one is out, the other is more of a lothario, and lots of machismo, lots of girls on a turnstile coming in and out of the apartment. But, there's definitely sexual tension between the two guys and it's just beautifully filmed, really quiet little film. We always like to have at least one film in the mix that's international, and that's just more of a kind of prestige piece and that's this one this year.

One last film is our closing film. I do want to say after The Blonde One on Sunday, we'll have pizza from Marion's Piazza. They're the sponsor of The Blonde One this year and they will have complimentary pizza just because, usually on Saturday we have a break in between some of the movies where you can go grab dinner in the Oregon District or you know have a little time off if you're coming to see all the films and you need to eat, of course, but on Sunday we go right through the afternoon into the evening so we decided to bring in some pizza and have a bit of a little pizza party in between the shows so I'm happy about that in addition this year because then at six o'clock we go into Straight Up, which is a narrative film, very sharp, funny film about a young man trying to figure out his sexuality and everyone kind of reads him as gay just because he's got a lot of the stereotypical attributes of a gay man but he's pretty certain that he's not gay. And, you know, that was a little frustrating to some of our committee members who thought like why isn't he just out, I mean he's clearly gay, but another voice on the committee said 'well we need to really be addressing the fact that those stereotypes are stereotypes and that sexual fluidity and bisexuality or you know there's a lot of possibilities out there and it's not just either or.'.

JK: Jonathan it looks like another stellar lineup. I know festival passes and individual film tickets are already on sale. How can people take part in in either of those?

JM: Well, I'm sorry to say passes are sold out already. We put more passes on sale than ever before and they sold out in no time this year. Within 48 hours, 75 passes sold out. So, we only put 75 on sale just because we want to make sure that people can see individual films, and we also know that some people are just there to support and will buy a pass even if they're not going to come see all the films and we want to make sure that we really have a handle on knowing how many single seats we have available.

So, single tickets are on sale they're still available for all shows at this time. www.daytonlgbt.com is the web site and you can see trailers and read about each of the films and read about all of our amazing sponsors we've got. We could not do this without the sponsorship from numerous businesses and organizations around town.

The Friday night ticket for Circus of Books gets you into the Friday night after party which has complimentary appetizers and booze, a great, great movie, more than likely a Skype with the director and then a party afterwards. So yeah, there's really no better ticket.

JK: Great, Jonathan thanks so much and good luck with the film festival this year.

JM: Thank you so much.


Jerry Kenney was introduced to WYSO by a friend and within a year of first tuning in became an avid listener and supporter. He began volunteering at the station in 1991 and began hosting Alpha Rhythms in February of 1992. Jerry joined the WYSO staff in 2007 as a host of All Things Considered and soon transitioned into hosting Morning Edition. In addition to now hosting All Things Considered, Jerry is the host and producer of WYSO Weekend, WYSO's weekly news and arts magazine. He has also produced several radio dramas for WYSO in collaboration with local theater companies. Jerry has won several Ohio AP awards as well as an award from PRINDI for his work with the WYSO news department. Jerry says that the best part of his job is being able to talk to people in the community and share their experiences with WYSO listeners.