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You’ll have a gay ol’ time

The Tampa International Gay and Lesbian film festival showcases some of the year’s best in queer cinema over the span of 11 days. Celebrating its 15th anniversary, the festival has become an integral part of downtown Tampa. Throughout the years, the festival has exponentially grown in size and expanded its community involvement.

“(The festival) has certainly grown in size. Also, more importantly in recent years, (it’s grown) from an event certainly supported by the gays and lesbians in Tampa Bay to an event that has been embraced whole-heartedly by a much broader community. We’ve seen, especially in the last few years, even more dramatically this last year, the kind of relationships we’ve built with leaders all over the area from politics and government to arts and culture to business and mainstream media. We’re certainly viewed by this current administration, speaking specifically of Tampa, as a real contributor to not only the arts and cultural scape, but also the revitilazation of downtown Tampa,” Scott Taylor, the public relations consultant for the festival, said.

This year’s lineup features 106 films, two venues (The Tampa Theatre and Sunrise Cinemas) and a whopping 11 languages. Variety is key to the festival, offering workshops dealing with gay horror, AIDS and gay marriage. The themes of the films range from typical romance to thrillers to hard-hitting documentaries. For many in the audience it’s the only chance to see these films on the big screen, as most are released directly to DVD or playing to a very select few theaters.

“Some of the films you may see here go on to mainstream release. Just example from years past Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, Die Mommie Die, which was the opener last year. The film opener this year, which is Straight-Jacket, will probably go on to mainstream theatrical release. It’s just another example of the broader culture embracing gay and lesbian themes in entertainment,” Taylor said.

A major difference between this years’ and previous festivals is the creation of the 1st Annual TIGLFF awards for acting that are voted upon by patrons of the event. With Straight-Jacket, Nine Lives, Brother to Brother and Girl Play being honored with multiple nominations in categories that include Best Actor/Actress, Best Supporting Actor/Actress and Best Director. The nominees are pre-determined, but the winners are crowned by audiences votes that are handed in or voiced via

The festival has met with quite a few misconceptions involving the nature of the films showcased: Some view these “alternative” movies as porn, rather than art or a valid form of expression.

“I guess in the mainstream market there’s a misconception of what gay and lesbian films are all about. It’s not pornography, but real relationships are represented on film just like in so-called ‘straight’ films. None of that is shyed away from so those relationships are protrayed. I think sometimes there might be this tendency to look at this (as) pornography. We’re showing real-life human stories, and that includes all parts and aspects of people’s lives,” Taylor said.

Along with the plethora of films, The Tampa International Gay and Lesbian film festival brings a wide range of surrounding festivities, such as a sponsored Men’s and Women’s night that concludes various nights of the festival. The films are definitely the centerpiece of the festival but an abundance of other options is what makes the audience crave more of the event. What’s left of this year’s festivities? Well, the women’s party arrives at the Radisson River walk on Friday with the director and cast of the much-talked about Girl Play. And don’t worry, some of the best films have been saved for last.

On Sunday, after The Hunger rolls credits, patrons will partake in a closing night reception. This gathering outside the Tampa Theatre boasts delicious food and causual discussions of the films with fellow attendants.

The festival is winding down, but it’s not over yet. The best films are still waiting to be seen, and there’s still plenty of time to cast your vote for the TIGLFF awards for acting. With four days remaining, if you haven’t checked out this festival, even out of curiosity, then you’re missing out on an important aspect of Bay life.