Bringing the darkness to light

Film festival addresses issues in the LGBTQ community; draws record crowd


Photo by Katy Macek

Co-executive directors Ellen Mahaffy and Pam Forman introduce filmmaker blair dorsh-walther and guest start Renata Hill before the screening of dorosh-walther’s documentary “Out in the Night.”

The 205 seats in the Davies Center Woodland Theater were filled, and 50 more people found seating on the floor and stairs Sept. 24 at the opening of the Eau Queer Film Festival, co-executive director Pam Forman said. It was just under the limit of having to turn people away because of a fire hazard.

Students were there to see “Out in the Night,” a documentary by visiting filmmaker blair dorosh-walther that follows the New Jersey Four, a group of black females who served time for defending their sexual orientation against a male assailant.

The story follows Renata Hill, who was also in attendance, and three others as well as their families as they struggle through the sentencing and serving prison time.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see so many people sitting on the floor,” dorosh-walther said to the crowd Wednesday. “I’m sorry for you, but thank you.”

Both dorosh-walther and Hill stayed after the screening to answer questions regarding the making of the film and the outcome of the NJ4.

Jerrika Christianson, a senior and this year’s EQFF director, said she was able to sit down next to Hill for dinner one evening and felt overwhelmed with her presence.

“It’s really sad and a hard life and it made me check my own privilege,” Christianson said. “It was a very great experience for me, I needed that, and hopefully the students got the same thing out of it.”

Bringing both a filmmaker and guest star to the opening was something they hadn’t planned and had to find additional funding for, Christianson said, but it was worthwhile.

Forman, co-founder of the festival and an associate professor of sociology, said opening night was an amazing experience for themselves and the audience.

The film festival ran Sept. 24-28 at the Woodland Theater, screening a total of 14 films, one more than the previous year.

Though expectations were high, the film festival staffers were pleased at the turnout for the screening of 14 films in five days and hope to overcome challenges to continue the festival in the future.

Ellen Mahaffy, co-executive director, co-founder of the festival and an associate professor in the department of communications and journalism, said she was happy with the numbers even though her heart had been set on more.

“I basically wanted to sell out every performance at 2,600,” Mahaffy said. “In reality, we actually did better than we have in the previous four years with attendance of 1,100 and 14 screenings.”

They hope to get many students and community members to attend the event, to get them thinking about ideas they might not encounter in everyday life, she said.

“Our expectations are to get numbers and expose as many people we can to LGBTQ films … but also to be a space in which we can educate and share that we are like everybody else,” she said. “We have the same trials and tribulations, so in a way this was a way to open some people’s minds about who LGBTQ people are.”

Rose Mish, a senior who attended the festival in previous years, decided to get more involved this year by applying for a position on staff.

As traffic director, Mish said her responsibilities included anything from managing incoming films for the festival and checking disks to helping out with public relations and advertising.

“Our goals were definitely to have a higher attendance than last year’s and to reach out to a larger group of people,” she said. “We’ve always been trying to include more community members, get more community members to come.”

When choosing films, Mish said it’s important that they show a variety of stories from a variety of angles to give the audience a more complete understanding of the LGBTQ community.

“One might be a coming-out story, one might be a story about loss,” she said. “There’s all sorts of different types of stories we want to tell just to break the stereotype of what it means to be one kind of person.”

While she enjoyed working on staff this year, she said her favorite part still involved watching the films.

“That’s always the best part, in my opinion, of the actual festival is sitting in and hearing the audience’s reactions to the films,” she said.

Christianson, who was traffic director for the festival last year, also said the audience was very receptive to the films.

Audience members were happy to be there, but became emotional along with the films that were screening, Christianson said, noting that she saw several crying or becoming angry after certain films.

“It opens something up inside of you, this festival does,” she said. “Maybe it’s not just Eau Queer, but I think LGBTQ festivals do this for people, it opens something inside of them that’s really good, something that they need to be faced with and explore.”

Forman said she hopes they will be able to continue bringing special guests to the festival, but right now they don’t even know if they will have funding to bring the film festival  back next year.

The festival had been funded by the Blugold Commitment, Forman said, but the last two years have been just barely covered by a Blugold Continuation Grant they’ll have to reapply for.

And because they aren’t an official student organization, she said finding times and places to meet is really difficult because they don’t have a space of their own.

“It’s all up in the air. We figure it out from day to day,” she said. “That’s not the best scenario to keep an organization going.”

They also have to wait until they find out if they’ll have funding, which they didn’t know until April this year, to start the planning process. This means they spend about six months waiting around.

Christianson, who will be graduating in December, said she hopes they are able to find funding so the festival can continue to educate students and community members for years to come.