Since 2004, thousands of Bloomington Indiana residents and visitors have converged annually for the PRIDE Film Festival.
Founding organization The Buskirk-Chumley Theater calls the festival "a cinematic celebration of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community".
A Festival For Everyone
But PRIDE is not just for people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer or LGBTQ, according to Buskirk-Chumley director Danielle McClelland.
"A large number of the people who attend the festival are allies," says McClelland. "They're not gay or lesbian, but they have family or friends who have that life experience, and would like to learn more about it, and the PRIDE festival is a way for them to explore that."
The festival came about as the result of an exploratory committee convened by the theatre.
"I recruited a couple of graduate students in the Arts Administration program, and had them do a study of what might work for film programming at the BCT," says McClelland. "They came up with one of their top ideas, being the possibility of having a gay and lesbian film festival. And not only were they so excited about it as a possibility, they wanted to start it right now."
Steering Queer in 2010
PRIDE has grown since 2004 from a 2-hour screening of shorts to a full weekend festival that includes panel discussions, social gatherings, a dance party, and 40 films.
Festival organizers have come to rely on more people and more perspectives to make the event come together.
A steering committee, representative of all aspects of local life from students to professionals to retirees, guides the development of the festival.
This year, the committee chose as the theme Steer Queer, and the festival will focus on rural and small town LGBTQ life.
Bloomington Indiana was ranked the #1 Surprisingly Gay Small Town Destination by The Advocate Magazine, and the Census reports that Bloomington is home to the nation's fifth largest per capita population of same-sex couples.
"We have a really active, vibrant community and yet it's not necessarily realized in the greater culture, even within gay and lesbian culture," says McClelland. "So we wanted to talk a lot about what it's like to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, in a community that's not LA or New York or San Francisco, or even Austin TX."
Though anti-gay attitudes are prevalent in rural areas, McClelland hopes that films and discussions will highlight what she sees as positives:
"Not only the challenges, but some of the unique abilities of people in smaller communities, who are pushing the envelope of diversity and finding a lot of acceptance," she says.
Filmmakers Explore Being Out In Rural America
One of the centerpieces of the Steer Queer campaign is Out in The Silence, a documentary directed by Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson.
Most people start thinking children or home renovation when they get married, but Hamer and Wilson decided to make a movie.
"Joe and I got married, and I put the announcement in the New York Times, which is my hometown paper, and he decided to put the announcement in the Oil City Derrick, which is his hometown paper," explains Hamer.
This happened to be the first same-sex marriage announcement the local newspaper had ever printed.
Residents of the small western Pennsylvania town bombarded the Oil City Derrick with angry letters.
Hamer and Wilson decided to document the resulting discussion, and in the process, interviewed many of the town's residents.
They connected with one family in particular when a mother wrote to seek the advice of the filmmakers.
Her son, a gay teenager, had been brutally harassed by classmates to the point that he dropped out of school and rarely left the house.
"She was seeking our help because we were the only openly gay people that she knew of," says Hamer. "We met her son CJ, who's a terrific kid, and over the next three years, helped him and talked with him and worked with him as he and his mom struggled against the school system there."
Hamer and Wilson experienced condemnation as well as kindness during filming, but they say that the attitudes that exist in smaller communities are not always black or white.
"The rule in small, conservative communities is the rule of silence," Hamer says. "It's fine if you're gay as long as you don't say anything about it. And that, unfortunately, is a very poisonous attitude."
"So I think it's really important to show ‘hey, there are gay people everywhere, even in these little communities, and they're living their lives, and they deserve to be part of our communities.'"
Changing Lives Through Film
McClelland sees events like the PRIDE Film Festival as a tool to break through silence and communicate about LGBTQ life.
She recalls an experience two summers ago when a man in his mid-twenties stopped in her office to thank for putting on the festival.
As an undergrad, PRIDE was his first experience with LGBTQ life.
"What he told me, with emotion in his voice, was that it was the first time he really believed that he could have a normal, accepted, good life, being a gay man," says McClelland.