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Leadership transition smooth for Gay and Lesbian Film Festival

By STEVE PERSALL

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 28, 2000


This year's Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival will have new leadership, but the same emphasis on quality films about homosexual lives.

The 11th annual showcase is scheduled for Oct. 6-15 at Tampa Theatre. Past productions by various community groups have been streamlined into Friends of Festival Inc., under the guidance of an eight-person steering committee. It took that many people to replace Dorothy Abbott, an local author and activist who led the event for four years. Abbott stepped down because of illnesses in her family but remains a member of the steering committee.

Her replacement as festival director, lawyer Keith Roberts, was recently introduced to festival supporters and the media at a downtown Tampa brunch.

Roberts has been involved with the festival since its inception, through years of gradual improvement in community acceptance of gay-themed entertainment. Now, speaking at the brunch, he questioned the impact of such acceptance on the festival itself.

"In this age of Will and Grace and the ubiquity of gay characters in films and television, we have to ask: What purpose does this festival serve?" Roberts said.

He offered two answers: "First, these are films that you're certainly not going to see otherwise. We see our own lives reflected on screen. We grow tired of watching other people's lives depicted. This is what really matters to us.

"Then, there is the communal nature of the festival, seeing films in the context of a gay audience. Everybody laughs at the same jokes, shares the same pain."

Program director Kelly Fry announced two films to be shown this year. One is Paragraph 175, a documentary tracing persecution of homosexuals during World War II. The other is Sordid Lives, a cornpone coming-out party at a Texas funeral. The film stars Bonnie Bedelia, Delta Burke and Olivia Newton-John.

Roberts estimated that it will cost $150,000 to conduct the 11th annual festival. Sunday's event was another push to sell ticket packages and encourage sponsorship.

Crown Circle passes providing access to all films plus bonuses cost $85 (or two for $160) through July 31. After that date, the price increases to $95 each and $175 per pair. A six-pack of tickets to screenings is available for $35. Single-sale tickets for $6 will be available later. For more information, visit the festival Web site at www.pridefilmfest.com or call (813) 231-8270.

* * *

FILM LAUDERDALE -- Plans are slowly taking shape for the 15th annual Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. This year's event begins Oct. 16 and continues through Nov. 12, making this the longest cinema showcase in the world, according to Guinness record-keepers.

More than 100 films from nearly 30 countries are expected on this year's schedule, to be announced Sept. 1. Entries are still being accepted. The mix always includes feature films of many themes and languages, documentaries and short subjects. The lineup is rotated among theaters in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Boca Raton and (the nearby) Hollywood.

This year's roster of celebrity guests is still to be announced. Past visitors have included Kevin Spacey, Nick Nolte and Tim Roth. Each festival includes at least one career tribute, such as a memorable nod to filmmaker Roger Corman a few years ago. A complete list of past celebrity guests is posted on the festival Web site, www.fliff.com.

Details about this year's event are trickling onto the Internet site, so bookmarking it on your personal computer is suggested. Right now, the 13 planned parties described on the site are enough enticement to attend. Ticket details will be posted soon.

ALL ABOARD -- Thomas and the Magic Railroad (G) pulled into multiplexes ahead of schedule on Wednesday, earning a B grade in a review that appeared in that day's Floridian section of the Times.

Thomas is a reliable tank engine whose books, videos and PBS appearances on Shining Time Station have made him a star. He is the antithesis of Pokemon, with the same kind of devoted following, minus the excessive merchandising. Simplicity instead of psychedelic sci-fi. Moral lessons rather than gameboard philosophy.

Britt Allcroft's film is admirably low-tech, compared with the special effects possible today. Thomas and his railway pals speak, but there is no attempt to make their mouths move. Facial expressions change with sudden edits, not computer animation. Blue-screen effects look tacky in a nostalgic sort of way. Thomas and the Magic Railroad retains the charming economy of the series, uncluttered by gizmos.

Alec Baldwin is fun to watch as Mr. Conductor, a miniature caretaker of happiness on Sodor Island. He's running out of miraculous gold dust that will allow him to solve the riddle of Muffle Mountain. Meanwhile, a grim grandpa (Peter Fonda) is hiding a legendary locomotive named Lady who can revive the island's joy. Thomas becomes a cheerful assistant to both interlocking stories.

The movie is aimed squarely at the preschool crowd and lives up to the responsibilities of that target. Thomas and the Magic Railroad oozes optimism and good examples, with a key twist occurring because Mr. Conductor remembers the benefits of eating vegetables. Parents can feel good about taking their children to this one.

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