tampabay.com

Tampa group lands gig at New York Gay Life Expo

The Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival wins a bid to produce the first film fest at the business expo.

By JAY CRIDLIN
Published March 21, 2006


TAMPA - Brokeback Mountain , Capote and Transamerica were nominated for 15 Oscars. Combined, they've made more than $110-million at the box office.

Clearly, 2005 was a pretty good year for films with strong gay, lesbian and transsexual themes.

So it's no small feat that the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival has won a bid to produce the first film festival at a gay and lesbian business expo this fall in New York City.

"It lends a lot of credence to the quality of our festival, that we were selected to do this," said Kathie Michael, executive director for Friends of the Festival. Tampa's bid prevailed over offers from cities with larger gay and lesbian film festivals, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. (New York itself also has a separate gay and lesbian film festival scheduled in June.)

About 20,000 people are expected to attend November's Gay Life Expo, a showcase for businesses and services aimed at the gay community, from child and pet adoption to travel services. Organizers of Tampa's film fest will pocket about $5,000 for the job, but the real benefit is increased national exposure.

Tampa already boasts one of the nation's biggest gay and lesbian film fests, drawing a crowd of 14,500 last year. But organizers hope a prominent gig in the nation's media capital, New York City, will help them attract more film fans from up and down the East Coast.

The Gay Life Expo, which started in 2000, is set for Nov. 17-19 at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. That's only about a month after this year's Tampa film festival, but Michael says they'll have plenty of time to work on both events.

"We're already doing the footwork to find the films, get the screeners and select and book them," she said. "This way, we have the opportunity to do two bookings at once."

Several officials from the Tampa festival will fly to New York to work that festival and draw attention to their own.

Michael said her group will market to more out-of-towners, and the Gay Life Expo - where they'll have a booth - should help spread the word.

Steve Levenberg, chief operating officer of the expo division of HX Media, which runs the New York event, had never attended the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

But he did know Michael, and was impressed by her group's ability to attract quality movies.

"This is a perfect fit with what we're doing," Levenberg said. "A real film festival, something that could focus on things of interest to the community and films produced by the community, stories about being gay and lesbian, would be wonderful."

Michael will focus on attracting international films and those by or about New Yorkers. But if the next Brokeback Mountain happens to squeeze its way in, Levenberg wouldn't complain.

"If we had a film equal to Brokeback Mountain ," he said, chuckling, "I could die and go to heaven."

--Jay Cridlin can be reached at 727 893-8336 or cridlin@tampabay.com