For the first time in its roughly two decades of existence, a South Florida LGBT film festival will not use the words gay or lesbian in the title of its event.
Mark Gilbert, chairman of the festival, spoke recently with WLRN about the rebranding of the event. He started by taking us back a bit to understand how we got to this point.
GILBERT: Originally it was called the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Eventually we started up in Fort Lauderdale with the Fort Lauderdale Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. And the problems began. When we did our emails it would be like M-G-L-F-F and F-L-G-L. It just didn’t make sense. Plus, as a community we're maturing. We've gotten away from having to say gay and lesbian. Both festivals merged and became MiFo (pronounced Me-FO) meaning Miami and Fort Lauderdale. At first it was great because our goal was to bring the two communities together and we did that really successfully. But then that caused confusion. There were people coming onstage saying, what is this? MiFo, MyFo, MoFo? One day I came up with the name OUTshine and it resonated with me.
WLRN: What sort of convincing did it take to get everyone on the board to go with another change just two years after you had done a full rebranding?
I went into the board and I said, ‘You guys are going to probably string me up because I have a new name for the festival.’ Their response? ‘Are you crazy?’ They thought I was nuts, but they know me and they know that I don't give up on something when I think it's right for our future.
They went to numerous public relations and marketing firms with the idea, and according to Gilbert, they came back with a unanimous decision.
It was overwhelming. Everyone said get rid of MiFo and go with OUTshine. Eventually everyone got on board with it.
The festival opens Friday night at Scottish Rite Temple near the Miami River with the film “Handsome Devil.” It's an Irish film (2016) about the relationship between two young men from a boarding school. How did you decide this should open the festival?
We have an amazing programmer who knows films inside and out, and we have screening committees. We think about that opening night and simply ask, ‘What will have the best impact on our audience?’ We also ask, ‘How do we bring men and women together and maybe their friends that aren't necessarily LGBT to find a film that all of us can watch, enjoy and feel really good about when we leave the opening night film?’
Describe the after party.
It takes place at the Scottish Rite Temple, which is a gorgeous facility on the river. We love to watch, often at home on Netflix or something. But what about sitting in a room with people with similar backgrounds, sharing the same experiences, watching these movies together as a community and making new friends and building new social contacts? There's nothing like that, and our festival does that better than anyone does. And you'll likely see people like the Estefans.
There’s one movie that was made in and takes place in Miami, “Change of Heart.” It's listed as a comedy starring Jim Belushi.
It's kind of the love child of Gloria and Emilio Estefan who, by the way, will be there Saturday to receive our Ally Award, last given to James Franco. Our Ally Award is given to people that are not LGBT but support the community. It's a fine film [Change of Heart]. It's a film about this hardcore Jim Belushi-guy who doesn't understand the first thing about gay or what's going on with his kids in his family. He receives a heart transplant, which he later learns is from a drag queen. And the comedy ensues.
With the recent Oscar success of the movie “Moonlight,” what has that done for filmmakers and storytellers in south Florida?
It’s an honor to have an incredible film like ‘Moonlight,’ with Miami people, filmed here, showcase a community that is very under-represented. It brings awareness to our community that a lot of people will be able to relate to. Come on, how big is that for a small time film to receive such a major, amazing award and it be LGBT? I think a lot of people have appreciated the fact that yes, within the African-American community there are homosexual people.
Bottom line is that people are aware that South Florida is a diverse culture, with so many countries making home here. And I think that that movie showcases a little different element of what we would normally see in a film.
How much do you expect this year's festival to become a little bit political, considering the concerns many people in the LGBT community have with the current administration?
Well, this is not a political organization, obviously. We're a 501 (c)3 [tax-exempt status]. We are all concerned about any issues that pertain to our community and affect any of our lives, any of our rights. And I think a lot of the films that you're going to see, especially some of the documentaries that we show over the course of the festival, will showcase very serious elements and very serious situations that are going on in this country. We certainly want to discuss and talk about and showcase films that talk about the issues that will affect all of our lives and all of our futures within the LGBT world.