Pittsburgh's LGBTQ Film Festival Celebrates 30 Years

My first visit to the Pittsburgh International LGBTQ Film Festival (now known as ReelQ) was in October 2003, the year I met my partner Laura. She invited me to attend with some friends. I have no idea what we saw, but I do remember the experience -- the thrill of being in a crowd of other queer folks, the wonder of seeing queer characters as the main characters in a movie, and the fun of deconstructing the experience into the wee hours crammed into a booth of the local diner.

I also won a door prize which was a fun bonus.

Fast forward to 2015 and I'm part of the team helping to promote the 30th ReelQ Festival -- my blog, Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents, is the official social media sponsor. I've been involved for the past several years as a sponsor in some capacity.

Movies are important to me. Laura and I visit a local cinema at least once a month. I watch films on Netflix or Amazon Prime nearly every day. I write occasional reviews on my blog in partnership with Wolfe Video, Ariztical Entertainment and other companies.

That being said, I don't attend a lot of film festivals. I don't especially like crowds and I loathe pretense, so I shy away from spaces that feel cliquey or uncomfortable. I'm much more likely to show up for media previews or screenings devoted to people with whom I identify.

Reel Q fits the bills because it is well, really queer (and trans). At 30 years of age, it is one of the longest standing LGBTQ institutions in Pittsburgh and the 6th longest running festival in the world. There's something to be said for an all-volunteer group with that sort of track record. 30 years ago, I was a 15 year-old kid in a working class Pittsburgh suburb with two gay male friends and a very limited understanding of what that actually meant. My willingness to watch gay-themed movies with both of them (they were not a couple) is one way that my understanding grew. And when I came out, I bought a lot of lesbian themed VHS movies via eBay (sshhhh) -- Lifetime sure did make a lot of movies in the 1990s!

I read over the festival's most recent history, published in 2010 for the 25th anniversary, to figure out what accounts for the sustainability. The festival's history is impressive -- advance screenings of Torch Song Trilogy (1988) and My Own Private Idaho (1991) as well as bringing Paris Is Burning to Pittsburgh in 1990. They've been hosted by ten different venues and are now well-established at The Harris Theater in Pittsburgh's Cultural District.

I asked festival director Mitch Leib about the impact of streaming services on festivals. He commented that while numbers are down, people do still value the festival experience.

Also, in the past, if you missed a film at the festival you would probably never be able to see it again. It was really URGENT to get to the festival. That is less true now. While there are some films you may not be able to see outside of the festival (particularly the short films), a lot of them will be available through Wolfe Video to purchase or download.

That urgency is something I understand. I gave it some thought recently when Grandma opened in mainstream theaters -- I was very determined to see it in the theater. I wanted that experience and I wanted my ticket money to be invested in more LGBTQ centric films. After watching the movie, I am confident I'll buy the DVD and/or watch it on my streaming services. I didn't feel that pressure for other movies this year nor the sense of investing in a movie rather than just paying for it. I invested in Tangerine whereas I simply went to see Spy. There's a difference and it is a different that the festival tries to tap into each year with diverse and quality programming.

I love that I can look forward to seeing Freeheld in the mainstream theaters while also having this wonderful opportunity to see movies like While You Weren't Listening and Margarita With a Straw in the festival. Not every movie is going to make it to tam theaters or into my Netflix recommended queue. If it wasn't for the vision of those film buffs in 1985 bravely organizing a public film festival, its for sure that even fewer would.

ReelQ continues through Saturday, October 17 at The Harris Theater in Downtown Pittsburgh. The closing film is the Director's Cut of 54, but notably earlier that same day you can catch Game Face profiling trans MMA professional Fallon Fox. Check out the schedule, both for upcoming films and those you should add to your own streaming service!