June 04--After 12 months of screenings that took him as far afield as the Berlin Film Festival, Shane Engstrom is happy to be sharing the results of all that eye strain with state movie fans at the 26th annual Connecticut Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in Hartford.
Engstrom is the director of the event, which has expanded over the past few years from a single venue -- Cinestudio on the Trinity College campus -- to three other spaces around the city.
"It has definitely continued to grow," Engstrom said in a phone interview last week. "It's truly become the kick off to Gay Pride Month in Connecticut."
The festival began last week and is running through Saturday, June 8, with a program that includes comedies and dramas, domestic and foreign films, documentaries and lots of short films.
Last year, the festival added a closing night party, which proved to be a huge success and is being repeated this year.
"For the first time, we're having screenings in two different places at once --
Cinestudio and Real Art Ways," the director said of trying to make the screenings as convenient and as plentiful as possible.
The highlights of the final few days of the festival include a new documentary, "I Am Divine," about the life of actor Glenn Milstead, aka "Divine" in several John Waters films; "Laurents Anyways," an epic Canadian drama about a transgender person looking for emotional stability over a decade's time; and "In the Name of (Wimie ...)," a Polish drama that Engstrom loved at the Berlin Film Festival last winter.
The festival has managed to thrive during a period when ever-expanding home video and Internet downloading options have turned even the most avid moviegoers into couch potatoes.
What is the secret of the event's success in these challenging times? "It's all about the community experience," the festival director said of seeing a provocative, entertaining new film with an audience. "We're coming together to celebrate film and the (gay) community itself."
Engstrom laughed as he recalled a friend at last year's festival thanking him for sifting through so many bad movies to come up with carefully curated gems.
"You can go on Netflix and find a lot of gay movies, but you'll have to wade through some really awful stuff. My friend had seen a lot of those and told me that he didn't realize what we shielded him from every year. You have to wade through a lot of junk to get to the good stuff," Engstrom said of his year-long screenings in search of a strong slate of new films.
"You have to be careful to make an effort to show films that are not just to your own taste. We're always looking for a mix that will appeal to all of the different parts of our community," he said.
Gay film has come a long way since the Connecticut festival began 26 years ago, Engstrom noted.
In addition, there also has been a mainstreaming of gay life in such television series as "Modern Family" and films like the recent HBO presentation, "Behind the Candelabra," with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon playing gay lovers.
"When the festival first started there were really no distribution (channels) for this kind of film. People had almost no way of seeing them," the director said.
Engstrom is happy to be able to experiment with new programming ideas -- such as an evening of short films all about women -- while building on what festivalgoers have liked about the event over the past quarter century.
"We've been growing bigger and better and we're tremendously pleased about where we are today," he said.
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Cinestudio, 300 Summit St., Hartford. Screenings Thursday, June 6-Saturday, June 8 at 7:30 p.m. $10-$7. (Note: additional events at other venues in Hartford.) 203-385-3855, www.outfilmct.org.
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