North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
August 10–13, 2017
Carolina Theatre, Durham

The North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival has been an institution at the Carolina Theatre in Durham for twenty-two years. Over the course of its history, the festival has grown exponentially in terms of submissions as well as the number of people in the audience, leading to its current status as one of the largest gay and lesbian film festivals in the Southeast.

It’s rare to find spaces that are focused on the celebration of queer people outside of the alcohol-drenched club and bar scene. I love the occasional night out dancing with friends, but that atmosphere is definitely not everyone’s preference—nor is it accessible to younger members of the queer community. The NCGLFF is a great place to spend an afternoon reveling in LGBTQ+ culture without the age restrictions or added pressures of alcohol and late nights.

As a queer-identifying woman who feels woefully out of touch with the local queer community, largely due to my personal insecurities about being accepted as a bisexual woman, I was excited to be in a space that celebrates LGBTQ+ culture and history, explicitly and unapologetically. I hoped to meet new people, watch original films made by queer artists for queer consumers, and immerse myself in an atmosphere where I could feel truly myself, and at home.

I was not disappointed. I attended the festival on Saturday afternoon with one of my best friends. We arrived in time to watch Still of the Night, a collection of short films by women, none longer than about ten minutes and ranging from comedies to dramas to a mix of the two.

I also talked to some fascinating people, such as the director of the short film Two Birds. I watched funny, poignant, romantic, relatable films without any concern that the content would ultimately be queer-baiting the audience (those films were so gay, y’all), and I felt comfortable among people like me in a welcoming environment.

What struck me most, however, were the audience demographics. Looking around at the people standing in line, sitting near me in the theater, and milling around outside, I noticed that very few of them were in the vicinity of my age (twenty-one) or even the average millennial age. Rather, the audience seemed to be composed primarily of adults in their upper forties and fifties.

Don’t get me wrong—to see couples out and proudly loving one another is always beautifully wholesome. Seeing those couples laughing at and relating to modern queer film was a reassurance that the anxiety involved in navigating society as a young queer person is not a new concept. Yet it was quite surprising not to encounter more people of my age at a festival that so openly celebrates queer millennial and queer youth culture.

According to Jim Carl, senior director at Carolina Theatre and the founder of the festival, the audience composition is not a new phenomenon. In fact, throughout the festival’s existence, it’s drawn an audience of mostly middle-aged people.

The lack of a younger population at the film festival might result from of the increasing availability of queer media online. Some of the festival’s films are also web series, and many international films can be found on various websites for streaming or downloading. Moreover, the increased presence of LGBTQ+ characters in mainstream media and Hollywood means that younger audiences are beginning to expect and demand higher-quality films and more original content. Older audiences may recall times when a mere snippet of representative media was like a light penetrating the deepest darkness, but younger generations are used to seeing far richer and more nuanced celluloid depictions of gay culture and characters.

The lack of a younger presence at the North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival was notable, yet it did nothing to diminish the experience. In a world rife with the frequent stereotyping of the LGBTQ+ community in popular media (think Modern Family) as well as intentional queer-baiting (think Supernatural), an afternoon of thoroughly queer films made for a refreshing experience. In the coming years, one hopes that more youth will take advantage of such an open, welcoming space for the LGBTQ+ community.