Wolfe Video celebrates 25 years distributing LGBT films

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She founded the company in 1985 when she was unable to find a distributor for several documentaries she had made. Today, Wolfe Video has around 200 titles on its own label, with about 400 altogether in its catalogue, said Lynn, and reaches millions of viewers worldwide. The company grosses $4 million a year, but retains the ideals of its humble beginnings by continuing to operate out of a rustic neighborhood in San Jose.


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When Wolfe first started out, there was an obvious void to fill, as mainstream movies and distributors largely ignored the LGBT community. “People found us early on because there was no other way to find this type of product,” Lynn said. “They couldn’t go to their local video store. And Netflix didn’t exist then. But they wanted to see positive images of themselves in the media.” Wolfe scrambled to add classic films, such as Madchen in Uniform, to its catalogue, buffering it with mainstream movies like Thelma and Louise that didn’t quite touch upon LGBT themes, “but almost did,” Lynn said. “But they supplemented our catalogue of small films and gave efficacy to the genre.”


Then, in 1993, Wolfe Video was given “a gift” by way of comedian and actress Lily Tomlin, Lynn said. At the time, Tomlin had a small staff selling her videos out of her garage in an effort to keep creative control of her work out of the hands of major companies. Tomlin eventually put out an ad on a women’s mailing list and Wolfe responded. Thinking they were only vying for non-exclusive rights to distribute Tomlin’s material, Wolfe’s catalogue – and reputation – was bolstered when Tomlin offered the fledgling company exclusive distribution rights. “That was totally a gift from Lily,” Lynn said. “It allowed us to get into traditional distribution.”


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From there, Wolfe Video was able to get its movies into national retail chains like Blockbuster, Virgin Megastore, Best Buy and more. The company has also worked with Amazon and Netflix to offer sections specifically for gay and lesbian movies, as well as working closely with Showtime for shows like Queer as Folk and The L Word. The films on its label have been shown at both major international film festivals as well as gay and lesbian fests around the country.


As Wolfe Video celebrates 25 years – as well as LGBT films gaining more of a foothold in mainstream media – the company and its founder have been honored at festivals and galas across the country, acknowledged as pioneers in the industry. And the festivities show no sign of stopping, as Wolfe offers monthly drawings to win its entire DVD library on its Web site.


“We always wanted to be something significant,” Lynn said. “When we first started out we’d joke about what would happen to us if everybody started to come out and it became mainstream.” But Wolfe felt it was its duty to create a niche for LGBT films and have them viewed by a wider audience. “It drove us as a goal. We considered it our job to make these movies available in as many places as possible.” And as LGBT issues became more accepted by society, Wolfe saw its success and hold on the niche market grow.


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But what’s most important, Lynn, says, are all the people they’ve affected over the years. “People come out all the time and these movies do a nice job of educating people,” she said. As Wolfe celebrates 25 years, letters pour in from people around the world, thanking them for helping them get through coming out and accepting who they are. “It’s really been such a rewarding experience.”

Line up all the movies that Wolfe Video has sold over the past 25 years from end to end and they’d go all the way around the world. And though company president Maria Lynn doesn’t know the exact figure off the top of her head, rest assured, the math has been done to figure this out.

This is indicative of just how far-reaching Wolfe’s influence has been over the past two-and-a-half decades, as it’s grown from a small operation out of founder Kathy Wolfe’s San Jose, Calif. basement into the largest distributor of gay and lesbian movies in the world.

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