The North Carolina Gay + Lesbian Festival 

Thursday, Aug. 15–Sunday, Aug. 18, $10–$85

The Carolina Theatre, Durham 

For the past twenty-four years, the North Carolina Gay + Lesbian Film Festival has been an institution within the world of Southern film culture and for the LGBTQ community in the Triangle and beyond. Now, the four-day event is undergoing a name change to better reflect the communities it aims to reach and represent through its programming.

After its final year as the NCGLFF this week, the festival will return next year as the OutSouth Queer Film Festival. The new name reflects programming efforts to include everyone under the LGBTQ umbrella, an important change for the second-largest LGBTQ film festival in the Southeast, which is dwarfed only by OUTshine in Miami, a festival that has undergone a similar rebranding in recent years.

In anticipation of NCGLFF’s final year under its storied old name, the INDY spoke with Jim Carl, The Carolina Theatre’s senior director of film programming, and Chuck Wheeler, the co-chair of programming for NCGLFF/OutSouth, about the significance of the name change and the future of the festival.

INDY: What are each of your backgrounds with the festival?

CHUCK WHEELER: I’ve been a volunteer for the NCGLFF– this would be year number twenty-three. I started in development way back in the ‘90s and transitioned to programming my second or third year. So I’ve been with the festival for as long as the festival has been running, except for the first year.

JIM CARL: I started working for The Carolina Theatre in October of 1995, the very first Pridefest. The theater got a lot of flak for hosting the event, and they had to bring in members of city council to watch the films in advance. There was a lot of brouhaha, put it that way—the theater had just reopened. By that point, the theater had already made the decision to rename the fest The North Carolina Gay + Lesbian Film Festival. I was in the film department working under the director of film programming. 

About two months before the festival, he resigned, and the theater looked at me with no training, no background—and they said, “Do you mind making it happen, just temporarily? We will find somebody who knows what the hell they are doing.” Twenty-four years later, I’m still waiting for my replacement.

For someone that’s not familiar with this festival, can you talk about how the overarching mission or spaces that you’re curating have changed over the past couple of decades?

CW: Early on, we focused mainly on films that had a gay and lesbian interest. But times are changing and, in the past, we’ve had questions from the queer community as to, are we being entirely inclusive or are we representing everyone? Last year, in an effort to align the name of the festival with our efforts to expand our involvement in the community, I talked with the others on the committee and we agreed that it’s time for a name change. We thought it was a good time to consider making the festival title more representative of everyone in the queer community, and the rest is history. 

That’s great. Can you talk to me a bit about how the programming has moved toward being more inclusive in recent years?

CW: Well, the selection committee is a very large committee. I think it’s representative of everyone in the community—it’s not only gays and lesbians, but we have members of the transgender community on the programming selection committee. We try to cover the spectrum and make sure that there is a balance.

JC: On my side of it, which is dealing with the studios and distributors and filmmakers themselves, what we’ve done is open up the invitation process. When we first started accepting submissions many years ago, basically there were two categories: gay and lesbian. That was it. 

As the years went on, we kept expanding the categories, and now, when you go to our platform, there are multiple categories. We’re trying to get the message out: We are accepting all types of films, not just gay and lesbian. There’s a lot of different variables. This is one of the things we discover when we look at submissions, is that films come in that you have to juggle that [some] don’t necessarily have LGBT content but may have a queer aspect, such as a director, a writer, or several actors in it that happen to be queer. 

Zooming out a bit, why are film and festival spaces dedicated to LGBTQ experience so crucial, especially in the South? 

CW: One of the big reasons for this festival is that it is a chance for the community to come together to share not only in our history, but where we currently are, and to look at the challenges that we face going forward. Other than Pride, this is the biggest event where people come together and celebrate who we are.

JC: A lot of the features that we show at this festival do eventually end up on streaming services. But if you’re a filmmaker and you have created a short film or a feature-length film, there’s nothing like that experience of seeing it in a theatrical venue with an audience. I’ve had filmmakers that have personally come out after a screening practically in tears and give me a hug and say, “This is the first time I’ve ever felt like a filmmaker.”

Is there more you’d like to share?

CW: This is the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots back in 1969. During the course of the festival on Saturday, August 17, we’ll be showing a restored version of the film Before Stonewall, and we have invited local activist Mandy Carter to speak at the showing about the state of being queer in the U.S. today.

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