History boy: A prime mover of Tampa's gay filmfest reflects on the past 20 years

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I've been hoping someone would ask me this, since, to me, it exemplifies the exquisite balance that has helped the festival be both a popular and artistic success.

In 2001 or 2002 (I can't locate those program books) we had the opportunity to present an unusual film called Claire.

It was a black-and-white silent movie, filmed with an antique hand-cranked camera so that it really looked like the old silent films. The story was based on an old Japanese fairy tale about an elderly childless couple who find a moon-child in a bamboo stalk and raise her as their own. In this version, imagined and made by Atlanta filmmaker Milford Thomas, it was an elderly male couple (gray beards and all) in the 1920s rural American South. To make the film even more unique, it had its own original score, written for a classical chamber orchestra.

Claire had been presented a few times before, but no one had yet been willing to pay the cost of a live orchestra. We decided we should do it. We hired a portion of the Florida Orchestra.

We gave the world premiere of this beautiful film as it was intended to be shown. It was a gloriously haunting experience. The characters, the fairy tale, the antique setting, the grainy film, the music — all these combined to carry the audience into a completely different world, as the best films will do. I still get goosebumps remembering it.Not so many people saw Claire, of course, as those who showed up for the more conventional "boy meets boy" and "girl meets girl" comedies that year. In fact, that one night's screening of Claire cost us between $4,000 and $5,000 — way more than our box office receipts for the night. But we ended the year in the black, anyway, because of our balanced programming and the popularity and community support of the festival as a whole.

Most importantly, we gave our Tampa Bay audience a unique, magical experience that night — and made a strong statement to the national and international filmmaking community about how seriously we take their most inventive and experimental work.

And by the way, the Festival Director who brought us Claire was Margaret Murray, who has returned as the program director for this year's festival.


Besides the films themselves, it's the social experience. Every year, the festival is like one big family reunion. There are some people I see only once a year — but I see them at the film festival. And I see them every year. I have conversations with them between films. We become friends. We catch up when we see each other again, and we talk about real things in our lives.

I cherish that.

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