Saturday, September 24th, the second day of the Downtown Dayton LGBT Film Festival, was a day full of firsts for me. I had never been to The Neon before, Dayton’s independent movie theater, nor had I been to an LGBT Film Fest. When approaching The Neon (which is literally a neon building!), I had no idea what to expect, but with a welcoming staff and buzzing atmosphere, I was immediately at ease.
Jonathan McNeal, manager of The Neon and founder of the LGBT Film Fest, was kind enough to take a few minutes out of his hectic schedule to share some insight about his experiences with me. He says, “Introducing the community to fresh and new great material and giving people an opportunity to speak with artists about their craft” is his favorite aspect of the festival. “The festival provides the community with stories and films that aren’t often available from or embraced by the mainstream media and entertainment venues.”
With two sell-outs over the weekend and sizeable audiences otherwise, McNeal and The Neon certainly know how to put on a show. In addition to viewing some incredible independent films, viewers had a chance to win prizes at the beginning of every showing simply by having their ticket with them. Audience members were not only Dayton locals; viewers also had the pleasure of partaking in a Q&A session with directors and actors of the films after two of the showings I attended.
The first viewing I attended, “Top Drawer Shorts”, was a series of six short films: The Queen, The Not So Subtle Subtext, Lust Life, Change, Revolution and I Don’t Want To Go Back Alone. In his quick introduction before the films, McNeal mentioned that dozens of short films from around the world were considered, but these six were chosen. For me, it was difficult to choose a favorite because the majority of the shorts were all significant and meaningful films that addressed issues of gays, lesbians, minorities and being a young person growing up in America. These issues are important to people of all ages and these movies knew how to speak to people of any orientation.
The Queen, a seven minute American film was a hilarious spin on the beloved 80’s teen flicks such as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, or Pretty in Pink. It’s the night before prom and a lonely teenaged boy is stuck working in his family’s dry cleaning shop. A couple, who are fellow students of his, need their tux and pink prom dress dry cleaned at the last minute. The boy takes it upon himself to see that their clothes are ready for the next day, but not before he wears the dress himself and slow dances with the tux, only to be walked in on by his mother. In a funny and awkward story with a “stellar” 80’s soundtrack, this short film was entertaining and heartfelt.
Revolution, whose director Abdi Nazemian attended the festival and offered a short Q&A after the film, was an impressive picture about a young Iranian boy adjusting to life in America. With parents who control ever y aspect of his life, the boy finds that he has no choice but to rebel against them and their suffocating rules. Nazemian, a first time director, did an excellent job, but not without difficulties as he explained after the film. He described the challenges of finding Iranian men and young boys who were willing to be involved with a film with a homosexual main character. However, this was crucial because Nazemian wanted to emphasize how difficult it is to lead a life being both culturally different as well as gay. Powerful performances defined this short picture along with smart and humorous dialogue. Unfortunately, as Nazemian said, few independent films are on DVD, so keep an eye out for other showings!
Tomboy, directed by Celine Sciamam, is a French film about a 10-year-old girl named Laure who decides to reinvent herself into a boy when her family moves to a new town. Laure takes on the character and personality of her own invention, Michaël, and in a remarkable performance by Zoé Héran, gives incredible insight into the mind of a transgendered child. Instantly put on the side of the main character, the understanding and empathy for children with these struggles was poignant and heartrending. Laure’s relationship with her parents, her sister, and her new friends all showed different stages of Laure’s mental processes. Laure’s parents, who are clueless about their daughter’s disguise, remain ignorant until the climax of the movie when Laure is forced to reveal herself as a girl. Laure’s younger sister, Jeanne, who does not quite understand her sister’s decisions but remains unwaveringly loyal to her throughout, is the only character who knows the truth the whole time. Laure’s new friends (and girlfriend) remain in the dark until Laure is forced to come forward by her mother. Watching an innocent child struggle internally and externally with their identity and thrive as a boy and be miserable as a girl sheds light on the reality of the situations that happen every day. After asking a few members of the audience what their reaction was to the film, Kevin O’Donnell, 18-year-old first time LGBT Film attendee says he was “impressed by the level of maturity of both sisters, especially them both being so young.” His friend, 17-year-old Madison Koebke agreed that the sisters were amazing and reminded her of her own family. A film that hits close to home with unforgettable performances by actors under the age of 10 made Tomboy the hit of the day for me.
No matter your orientation, age or gender I greatly encourage any and all to attend LGBT events, whether it is a film festival or other sponsored event in the future. The event spoke to the LGBT community, but not exclusively, and the culture and education that you can receive right here in downtown Dayton is priceless (and I only went to day two of the three day long festival!). Support your city, support your community, and you will take away some wonderful experiences.