Step out of your shell and into the theater

October is a month known nationally for Halloween and locally for the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Festival (TIGLF). The festival has been a cultural institution in the Tampa Bay area for the past 17 years.

Because of the national debates regarding same-sex marriage, one might wonder if there have ever been any issues with local acceptance of this festival.

According to Scott Taylor, director of public relations for the festival, there have never been any issues with local acceptance. On the contrary, the festival has received a lot of support, as can be seen from a 10 percent increase in corporate sponsorships this year.

“The film festival receives enormous support from the general market business community, local governments, and other leaders and organizations throughout the region,” Taylor said.

The 11-day festival encapsulates more than just films – it hopes to provide perspective into the entire gay and lesbian experience. The festival began Wednesday and runs until Oct. 15. Film screenings are scheduled throughout the length of the festival, but a number of other events accompany the viewings. For example, the Tampa Museum of Art will be transformed into a ritzy nightclub to serve as host to the festival’s Gala Night on Friday. There will be a live band and refreshments.

This is one of the reasons the festival has managed to survive and flourish in the community. Rather than focusing strictly on film, patrons get a chance to interact with others in their community – something that is sometimes hard to do when you are a member of a minority that is not always accepted with open arms.

“The festival gives people an opportunity to come together under an umbrella because political and sexual orientations are a little left of the heteronormative society,” said Joseph Cook, the program director of the TIGLF.

Last year the festival hosted 88 films from 18 different countries. This year there will be 132 films from more than 20 countries. To accommodate the increase, the festival is branching out from its traditional home at the Tampa Theater. The two other venues joining the list are Channelside Cinemas in Tampa and the Muvico Baywalk 20 in St. Petersburg.

Cook stresses the importance of the word “international” in the festival’s title, pointing out the festival is focused on breaking stereotypes by highlighting diversity this year.

“If we promoted films that everyone liked and were part of the mainstream, it would be boring. The festival hopes to address and entertain various groups and identities,” Cook said.

The festival’s Web site,, highlights a number of films patrons should be sure to look for as they bring attention to often overlooked aspects of the gay and lesbian community.

The Gymnast is a film about a woman who undergoes her sexual awakening a little later in life than usual. The story centers around a 40-something massage therapist who is stuck in an unfulfilling relationship. While she is unsure of what to do with her life, she is discovered by a female acrobatics coach who plans on helping her find where her true desires lie. The Gymnast will be screened at the Channelside Cinemas on Saturday at 8 p.m.

Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds is the first American gay sequel according to It is a comedy that revolves around two groups of gay men who employ a variety of wacky strategies in order to try to seduce a semi-confused straight man. The film serves as a good contrast to the often-serious content of many films in the festival. It will be screened at the Tampa Theater on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Taylor advises those who will be attending the festival this year to be open-minded and ready for anything.

“Film is an incredibly powerful medium – it does have the capacity to change minds and influence perceptions,” Taylor said. “An international festival like this one attempts to tell stories and portray a very broad spectrum of the gay ‘experience,’ which is vast.”

Kristyn Caragher contributed to this report.