This fall the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire will again host a five-day festival that celebrates the diversity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex and asexual communities through the screening and discussion of a number of powerful films.
One of just a handful of student-produced LGBTQ film festivals in the country, the seventh annual Eau Queer Film Festival will kick off Oct. 11 at UW-Eau Claire, coinciding with the university’s National Coming Out Day events.
“The value of hosting a film festival whose sole purpose is to inspire and educate folks about communities that are often rendered absent or woefully underrepresented in mainstream media cannot be overstated,” said Christopher Jorgenson, director of the Women’s and LGBTQ+ Resource Center. “That the festival is conceived of and run largely by students speaks to UW-Eau Claire’s institutional commitment to equity, diversity and inclusivity, and also the passion and dedication of our students.”
During the festival, documentaries, features and short films will screen, each touching on the event’s 2016 theme, “Power, Privilege, and Protest: It’s Personal. It’s Political.”
“We have six phenomenal documentaries, an array of great dramas, and three outstanding shorts series,” said Dr. Pam Forman, professor and chair of sociology, noting that film is a powerful medium that can be used to help educate the campus and surrounding community about LGBTQ realities.
Forman and Ellen Mahaffy, associate professor of communication and journalism, founded the Eau Queer Film Festival in 2010 and serve as executive directors of the event. This year, Jorgenson joined them as the third executive director.
Organizers say they are especially excited that this year some of the people directly involved in creating the films — directors, producers and people featured in the documentaries — will travel to UW-Eau Claire to participate in the festival.
The discussions with the high-profile guests will follow their films’ screenings, providing valuable opportunities for audience members to engage in conversations around the films, said Forman.
“With the advent of video-on-demand, film festivals are a dying breed,” Forman said. “People stay home and screen films on their TVs or computers. We are not as apt to see a film in public, and with that is the important component of discussion. We create community through sharing our reactions to these poignant films.”
The 2016 festival will open at 7 p.m. Oct. 11 in Davies Center with director Jonah Markowitz’s powerful documentary, “Political Animals” (2016). Featuring the first four out lesbian former California legislators, this film follows legislative battles in the 1990s that helped pave the way for the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in 2015.
The producer, Anne Clements, will travel to UW-Eau Claire for the screening, where she will lead a Q&A with Carole Migden, a former California state legislator who is featured in the film.
“We are honored to have Carole Migden and Anne Clements join us,” Mahaffy said. “A film festival is not a film festival without in depth discussions, and who better to lead them than the filmmakers and subjects themselves?”
A leader on the issue of domestic partnership, Migden represented San Francisco in California’s state legislature for many years. In 1999, she authored legislation to institute California's domestic partner registry, the first time domestic partnerships were recognized at the state level without court intervention. Now a political consultant specializing in bringing female leaders into office, Migden is involved in the presidential election campaign for Hillary Clinton.
The Eau Queer Film Festival’s strong reputation at the Frameline International LGBTQ Film Festival, the largest and longest running LGBTQ film festival in the world, is the reason Blugolds are able to ask filmmakers and actors/subjects to attend screenings of their films on the UW-Eau Claire campus, Jorgenson said.
“That someone like Carole Migden would take time from her work as a political consultant for presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to attend our opening night film speaks to the festival’s importance and the students’ efforts to make such collaborations possible,” Jorgenson said.
The films selected for this year’s Eau Queer Film Festival are as diverse as they are critically acclaimed, Jorgenson said.
“A majority of our films have received awards, both nationally and internationally,” Jorgenson said. “The themes represented are intersectional, inspirational, challenging and are sure to engage every audience in varied and complex ways.”
A full EQFF schedule is available online.
All EQFF films will screen in the Woodland Theater of Davies Center on the UW-Eau Claire campus.
The film festival will give members of the campus and surrounding community opportunities to see and discuss films that typically wouldn’t be found in a smaller city like Eau Claire, Mahaffy said.
“To have EQFF here means that you can see top-notch films that otherwise you might only see if you lived in a larger urban area,” Mahaffy said. “While not all our films have the production values of a Hollywood film, in terms of good movie making these films keep you engaged, their stories connect on a human level, and are thought provoking.”
Cori Tosch, a sophomore English major who is one of three directors and part of the seven-person team of students who help organize the event, said she’s most looking forward seeing the reactions from the audience during and after the films screen.
“Last year, I had a student continuously come up to me to talk about a certain film and say how much it made her think about lesbian and bisexual relationships, and how much she genuinely enjoyed the film itself,” said Tosch, who is in her second year of helping to plan the film festival. “It also makes me happy to see queer people being represented on a huge screen, and people watching them and enjoying it just as much as they would if they were watching a Hollywood produced film.”
That the audience includes both queer and non-queer allies makes the event even more powerful, Tosch said.
“It is crucial for queer people and allies to see these films because there is always something that can be learned,” Tosch said. “There is no queer person who knows everything about the queer community, and there is no ally who does either. ‘Southwest of Salem’ tells the story of four women from San Antonio who were wrongfully imprisoned for 16 years because of a false accusation — something that I and many of my co-workers had never even heard of. Then there is a film like ‘Pushing Dead,’ which may be humorous, but has underlying political tones that people without AIDS would never think about.
“While our target audience is mainly college students, we get many people from the community. I think that this festival is a great way to bring the two together, and enjoy something and meet people that they probably would never have the chance to meet otherwise.”
This summer Mahaffy, Forman and Jorgenson traveled with seven UW-Eau Claire students to San Francisco to attend the Frameline Film Festival, now in its 40th year.
The UW-Eau Claire festival will feature a selection of the best films the students and faculty viewed during the Frameline festival.
Being immersed in the Frameline event is a valuable experience for students, as is the opportunity to then return to campus to help plan a high-profile event like EQFF, Mahaffy said.
Working with the three executive directors, students are involved in every aspect of EQFF, including selecting the films, contacting film distributors, designing the graphic art for publicity, and writing about the films for the EQFF website and social media.
“The students travel to San Francisco for 12 days, they attend the world’s largest LGBTQ film festival, they each see a minimum of 25 films, and they, then, work together to choose a lineup for the Eau Queer Film Festival,” Jorgenson said. “They negotiate with filmmakers and their agents to procure their chosen films, they create and design the yearly theme, and they run the Eau Queer Film Festival.
“The amount of work is extraordinary, and their work sets our university apart from many others.”
Now, Jorgenson said, it’s up to the community to take advantage of the exceptional festival the students have helped create.
“Your presence at events such as the Eau Queer Film Festival sends the message that such programming is important and necessary,” Jorgenson said. “And crucial, if we are to make UW-Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley a safe and inclusive place to live, work and raise families.
“It may not seem like it, but attending an LGBTQ film festival is a form of activism. You are sending the message that learning about and celebrating LGBTQIA+ lives is worth your time.”
Supported by a Blugold Differential Tuition grant, all EQFF films and discussions are free and open to the public.
Top photo caption: UW-Eau Claire students (from left) Devin Dawson, Cece Lewis, Carter Kha, Sierra Lomo and Richard Yang attend a screening at the Castro Theatre during the Frameline International LGBTQ Film Festival in San Francisco. (Photo by Ellen Mahaffy)