LGBT Film Festival turns seven

The festival continues to promote and celebrate film and community

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

As the Downtown Dayton LGBT community prepares to present its seventh annual film festival – Sept. 28-30 – with screenings at The Neon, I had one overarching question – with an obvious follow-up – for festival director, Jonathan McNeal. I wondered what the Dayton LGBT community was looking for, in terms of representations, on the screen. Earlier this year, the group sponsored a screening of “Vito,” which recounted Vito Russo’s passion for acknowledging the diverse and sometimes hidden reflections of gays and lesbians throughout film history and serving as a trigger for social and cultural liberation.

McNeal dove right in with a pointed and straightforward reply.

“I think the LGBT Community is interested in seeking honest representations on film.  Though the gay, bitchy sidekick might have been fun, I’m not sure that character helped us make any social advancements. This year’s line-up is full of real people leading real lives. That’s not to say that all the films are dramas, we certainly have comedies, too, but even they feel authentic.”

This year’s line-up definitely addresses this new honest reality, this striving for a sense of urgent authenticity, both through the films and the celebratory events. Friday night’s Opening Night Party at The Crowne Plaza (33 E. Fifth Street, just a block away from The Neon) features not only the usual appetizers and signature cocktails along with music from DJ Ruckus Roboticus, but also a video installation directed by Vivek Shraya entitled “What I Love About Being Queer.” As listed on the festival site, the video explores this one burning question with 34 “beautiful queers.”

Sometimes the best way to get an answer is to ask the question and then simply listen.

The realities of reel life, in films like the Saturday-evening feature “Cloudburst,” refuse to shy away from current political debate. Academy Award-winning actresses Olympia Dukakis (“Moonstruck”) and Brenda Fricker (“My Left Foot”) play an aging couple who break out of their nursing home in Maine, heading for Nova Scotia and the promise of a legal marriage. Along the way, the pair picks up a hitchhiker intent on reaching his dying mother. This adventurous dramedy from writer-director Thom Fitzgerald has captured attention and acclaim at numerous festivals, winning the People’s Choice Award for Best Feature at the Rainbow Reels Film Festival in Waterloo, no doubt, for its more intimate take on gay marriage and end of life concerns. “Cloudburst” will be preceded by Kathryn Rotondi’s short film, “Free Man,” about a man planning his partner’s funeral services in conjunction with his estranged mother-in-law.

Another likely highlight is Ira Sachs’s “Keep the Lights On,” which will close out the festival Sunday afternoon. The story, about a documentary filmmaker (Thure Lindhardt) who meets and dives into a relationship with a closeted lawyer (Zachary Booth), spans nearly a decade, beginning in 1997, and charts the dramatic highs and lows between the lovers, including their battles with their internal compulsions and drug addiction. Life, love, sex and intimacy form the tight weave of the narrative with Sachs reaching for more of the honest reality that makes “Keep the Lights On” a universal story.

Authenticity is used as a coded catchphrase, an attempt to wear a folksy patchwork jacket of mainstream affiliation. Politicians and their campaigns stitch together garishly obvious garb and parade around in front of the cameras like the cravenly naked emperors-in-waiting that they are, but to hear McNeal talk about the idea and then peruse the full schedule of titles for the festival is to appreciate the lack of artifice in a community simply presenting and embracing reflections of who they are.

The Downtown Dayton LGBT Film Festival takes place Sept. 28-30 at the Neon Movies, 130 E. Fifth St. For the full line-up of screenings and events – including appearances by filmmakers – at this year’s Downtown Dayton LGBT Film Festival, visit

Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at

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Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at and visit his blog for additional film reviews at You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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