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Reelin' in the Years
Without getting into all the substantiating evidence, let's call it like this: Fresno Reel Pride is the city's defining DIY event. Started by a couple of Fresno State students as a collection of free film screenings over six days, the thing has grown into one of the largest gay and lesbian film festivals in the nation.
More than that, it has lasted 20 years — and that's no small deal.
Of course, these things just don't happen. There are organizers and volunteers (lots of them) and a ground swell of community support. Plans are set in place and growth is managed in a way that is sustainable from year to year, says Jon Carroll, chairman of the board of directors for the festival. Especially in these times, when other festivals have had to shutter their doors. FYI: Reel Pride ended last year in the black, one of few of these types of festival that can make that claim.
But, if there is a real secret here, one that others can posit and learn from, it is this — know what it is you do.
“First and foremost, we're a film festival. The quality of the films is No. 1,” Carroll says.
The program committee searches through more than 400 films, looking for those that entertain and provoke — and otherwise not available on the big screen (that could be the easy part). What ends up is a five-day lineup of award-winning features, documentaries and short films that come from a nexus of thing that are socially relevant.
“And they're being explored from lots of different angles,” Carroll says.
This creates a shared experience that can be enjoyed by the entire community, young or old, gay, straight or otherwise.
“It's a fixed moment in time.”
As the festival heads into the weekend, here's some other thoughts from long-time Reel Priders.
What's you number one Reel Pride memory from the last 20 years?
“Just enjoying the company of fellow family and friends when we can share in big events like this together. Especially now for 20 years. We have been very big contributors to this event and hopefully will be for a long time,” — Gonzalo Arias (J.R.) and Mark D. Brooks, together for 21 1/2 years
“I was filling out my ballot in the lobby after viewing a movie, when I looked up to see Jane Lynch. She was relatively unknown, as ‘L Word' had yet to come out, but I recognized her from the mockumentary, ‘Best in Show.' I said hi and told her I loved ‘Best in Show.' She seemed pleased! Later, I went into the ladies room and, I know this is hard to believe, but there was a considerable line. In walked in Jane Lynch. I said hi again and she offered me a red vine. I don't like red vines and I usually don't eat in the rest room, but I gobbled this one down!” — Colleen McKenna
What was that first year like?
“It really was a pretty amazing feat: a couple of young, Fresno State students launching a six-day international film festival what showcased 11 films from five countries—Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, United States and West Germany. Each film was shown two-times (matinee and evening) and admission was free."
And what does it mean for Fresno, of all places, to have an event like this?
"It means different things to different people. In 1990, before Blockbuster and Netflix, before Bravo, before Rosie, before Ellen, before 'Will & Grace,' before 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,' before the Internet, and before YouTube, there were no public movie outlets available in Fresno for GLBT films. One needed (and yearned for) a specialized film festival to showcase cultural communities and cultural filmmakers. Today, movie houses are showing films such as 'Brokeback Mountain' and 'MILK' from coast-to-coast (except, maybe, Utah), so the 'need, mission and purpose' of a film festival has changed. Today, I feel that the GLBT community embraces and sustains Fresno Reel Pride for providing it with a 'sense of community.' Yes, the films are special, but the parties and social aspects of the festival provide, for so many and me, the 'magic' or 'essence' of the festival. — Peter Robertson (co-founder of film festival, with Ken Fries)