DM Haight

A few months ago a friend brought it up to me that a group called Gender Reel was trying to locate a venue to host theirüpcoming event. She told me she was pursuing University of Wisconsin-Parkside. I whole-heartedly agreed that the university was a prime location for the event to take place.

“Gender Reel is the countries only coast to coast art and performance festival dedicated to enhancing the visibility of gender non-conforming and trans people, images and experiences.” Tells Joe Ippolito, the founder and executive director of Gender Reel. “Gender Reel was started in 2010 by [myself] and other activists and organizers in the Philadelphia area in response to the lack of gender non-conforming and trans inclusion at more mainstream LBG film festivals…Currently, we are set to have 5 annual festivals in 2014 (Philadelphia, PA, Minneapolis, MN, Omaha, NE, Long Beach, CA and Durham, NC).

Ippolito remarks that Gender Reel has been well received by those within and outside the LGBT community, specificallythe gender non-conforming and trans individuals. “The Parkside event is the first of it’s kind for Gender Reel. In an effort to support Gender Reel’s evolution as a festival, as well as enhance visibility, our plan is to create a college/university circuit tour. Parkside is our first stab at this.” My friend, and Ippolito’s friend as well, Jenn Z, helped to bring the event to the Parkside, the most culturally diverse school in the UW system (beating out the power house schools like Madison and Milwaukee in that catagory). “The festival is heading into it’s 4th year (in 2014). Currently, interest and knowledge of GR is growing internationally, with filmmakers submitting films to us from all over the globe…I am super happy [and]-in this respect–[it] fulfills our overarching mission even more so. The LBGT community on campus has been involved very directly, with folks at the college working directly with me on this project. They have all been great!”

Obviously the Gay and Lesbian communities have continued to grow exponentially, especially now that the taboo of being homosexual is less of a…well…taboo. The growing acceptance of the community has only helped bring events like Gender Reel and other festivals of the same make into the public eye, which, again, only helps those who have questions and concerns, whether it be with the community or with themselves. Recently we’ve seen more news stories surrounding the trans community, and Ippolito is looking out for them as well. “The trans community is currently where the L & G community was, say 15 years ago. However, things are happening nationally regarding recognition of trans issues and film is a key part of that, because they help get the message out about our unique lives and experiences. As for film itself, I absolutely see a LGBT films growing even in mainstream cinema and media, which is again, a great thing, and with this, along with other areas of growth (politics, social issues, fashion, art), the experiences of LGBT people will start to become even more normalized. LGBT have been a part of mainstream culture and art for decades, even though this was not really recognised as so, but now this is being acknowledged.

“Additionally, we are also a production program, having just released our first documentary, Growing Old Gracefully: The Transgender Experience (” The film in question covers the topic of the aging process for those specifically in the transgendered community, who are pioneers in a certain respect, with most of the aging community coming out of an era where to be even gay or lesbian was, in some states, a serious crime. The documentary chronicles the senior years a of select few who are neither afraid to be shown, or talk about their experiences growing old in a nation where they have been persecuted for being who they are. But Growing Old Gracefully is not the only thing the group has planned for the LGBT community. “Over the next few years, we plan to build in other components to our program, including a film archive project with the Tretter Collection at the University of Minnesota (Tretter is an LGBTQ library archive collection), and our college/university circuit tour, which is scheduled to happen throughout the entire year.” Which means Gender Reel is continually on the move, bringing an acute awareness wherever it stops.

 But what of the event in question? “Responses from folks has been largely very good. People are often very excited about Gender Reel, and extremely supportive….Our selection process consists of viewing all the films submitted to us, provided they meet our mission–which is pretty broad–and seeing what we want to show. There is a small committee of people who help with this process. Typically, we look more at the message, than the quality of the film,” which is a unique quality for a festival. While other festivals want more and more professional looking work, sometimes at the expense of narrative, or larger, important themes worth contemplating and discussing, Gender Reel stick with what matters to curious audiences–the thought behind the lens. “In other words, we are very open to new filmmakers and student films, not looking for Sundance quality, just decent quality, provided the message that is being conveyed meets our mission.”

Being the open people that they are, Gender Reel does not discriminate against any gender or sexual orientation. Anyone can submit a film. And when I say anyone, I mean even those who cannot afford the submission fees of other festivals. “Our process is about accessibility…we do not charge filmmakers to submit work. Performance art pieces are city specific…we usually look for folks in the local area. This is true for any guest speakers and/or Q&A’s.” It’s about not only opening up the community to larger audiences, but about opening up the community outside the theater, as well. Gender Reel helps press a necessary dialogue that some areas are afraid to have, and it does so in a way that is not only safe, but engaging.

“[I]t is unclear what films we will be showing [for the festival in Sept/Oct] because this largely depends on what is submitted. Currently, I am in the process of connecting with some filmmakers internationally about films they are completing and working on, to see if we can include them into the festival. So far, there is one film on a Latino trans woman I am hoping to bring to the 2014 festival, as well as a film on alternative families and trans/queer youth.

“I think the most memorable moments for Gender Reel comes when we show a film and the audience responds well to it. When people come up to me after and tell me that such and such film touched them, or really helped them understand something they didn’t before, I get a fuzzy, warm feeling inside. Also, I am really proud of the range of films that are submitted. Last year, I received one film submission from Hong Kong via UPS, on the same day a local Minnesota filmmaker hand delivered a film to my porch in St. Paul. The contrast was very funny to me, but also models what our festival is about really: VISIBILITY AND ACCESSIBILITY.” And in a community that is just looking to to viewed and accepted sans the negativity, I think Gender Reel is doing just fine practicing what it preaches.

Visit them at Parkside Cinema on April 18th and 19th. Admission is free. Link for the Lazy

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