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Best festival in town

The stereotypical studio blockbuster films are not everyone’s cup of tea. For those looking for independent films that think outside the Hollywood box, Tampa Theatre offers The Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, running tonight through Oct. 16.

The Festival kicks off its 16th year in the Tampa Bay area with a host of food, music, film and entertainment. According to Programming Director Joseph Cook, the Festival has become an integral part of the area’s artistic community and is not only for Tampa’s homosexual population.

“It is a festival that brings to the Bay area a lot of film, international film and independent film that would not otherwise get seen – not only in Tampa Bay but in the state – if it wasn’t for the Festival,” Cook said.

About 90 films from 18 different counties will be gracing the screen during the Festival. Cook said the films were chosen through research and attending other gay and lesbian festivals in major cities. He tried to select films in terms of quality and diversity to ensure the Festival offered something outside the TV versions of gay such as Will and Grace or what is typically seen in the mainstream.

Approximately 150 cities hold gay and lesbian film fests, but due to the Tampa festival’s long history, research indicates that in regard to attendance and overall size, Tampa ranks about eighth in the country according to Cook. The historic Tampa Theatre, known for its screenings of independent films, allows the Festival to have a comfortable home in the Bay area.

Documentary filmmaking and discussion panels are just two ways patrons can learn about the filmmaking process. The purpose of a film festival, according to Cook, is not only to entertain, but also educate, enlighten and bring people together.

Cook serves as an adjunct sociology professor at USF’s St. Petersburg campus and at the University of Tampa. Cook said he often sends students to see some of the more socially relevant films as supplements to his teaching.

The Festival does have a heterosexual audience, which Cook approximates at about 15 percent of the attendees. He said often after his students come one year for the class assignment, they return the following year regardless of their sexual preference.

Each night of the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival brings a different kind of entertainment. On Monday, a documentary panel will discuss their filming process along with screening three completed documentaries. Sprinkled throughout the Festival are a variety of film shorts, comedies and dramas. A comedy called Adam and Steve, starring Parker Posey and Chris Kattan, closes the Festival on Oct. 16.

The Gay and Lesbian Film Festival tickets are available at the Tampa Theatre box office or online at Ticket prices range from $9 per film, to $155 and $500 for whole Festival packages. The times and films shown vary from day-to-day and are also available on the Web site. Voted Best Local Film Festival in the Weekly Planet’s 2005 Best of the Bay issue. The Gay and Lesbian Film Festival promises to be a week packed with a true variety of entertainment.