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Reel Pride Kicks Off with Opening Night
For people who missed out on Reel Pride's opening two nights, there's no need to worry. You still have three more days to redeem yourself.
The annual gay and lesbian film festival has returned for another five-day run in the historic Tower Theater. It is the celebration's 17th year in Fresno, boasting the title of one of the largest and sixth oldest gay and lesbian film festivals in the country.
And it has shown no signs of slowing down.
The lights were all lit at the Tower Theater, Thursday evening, as crowds of people streamed in to enjoy the night's screening, "20 Centimeters," a lively musical about the life of a transsexual.
Reel Pride packs dozens of international-class films and a half-dozen parties into a five-day run. And it isn't easy. Some festival-goers said they can't keep up with everything available, but try to catch at least a few films.
"We know that it's coming every year and we look forward to it," said Mark Barrett, of Fresno. Barrett and his partner said they usually get a festival pass and go on an all-out film-watching binge.
A number of those that came to enjoy the films were newcomers to Reel Pride. But the backbone of the festival may be the loyal bunch of cinema lovers that keeps coming back year after year.
Many longtime Reel Pride attendees say it's not so much the films that bring them back, but the friends.
"Everyone knows everyone here," said Carl, of Fresno, who has been coming to the festival for a decade. "First comes old friends, then comes the films," he said as he walked away to greet a group of friends.
"It's a wholesome place to go and have fun, and see people you normally don't see everyday," said Shannon Babcock, a member of the Rainbow Singers, an organization connecting gay and lesbian singers and musicians.
Babcock also worked as an usher for Reel Pride this year, and has helped volunteer for the past six years. "Each year I'm surprised to see it growing so much, and that is why I keep coming back, I want to support my community."
Babcock represents one of many gay and lesbian organizations that attend Reel Pride to get out their message of support to those that need it.
Robert Griffin, a member of PFLAG: Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said the festival connects different groups in the gay community to one place, for five-days, and can it lead to lasting relationships.
"It helps to give our community an awareness that we actually exist, that we're not alone in Fresno, or in the valley," said Griffin.
For both local gay organizations and attendees, centralizing the festival in the Tower District makes things a lot easier for socializing. "It used to be spread out, with films being shown in downtown," said festival-goer, Mark Barrett. "But it has really improved since it came here."
Other Reel Pride enthusiasts said holding the festival in the Tower also has other benefits. "It just wouldn't be the same if it was held in north Fresno, or anywhere else in Fresno," said Jeff Harrington, who has been coming to Reel Pride for five years. "I love the mom-and-pop restaurants in the Tower, and the local flavor it offers. We usually go out and eat after the show."
Many businesses in the Tower District can tell the difference. "I've noticed a lot more foot traffic outside," said Jeremy Banboni, a manager at Sequoia Brewing Company. "And just a few hours ago, we got hit pretty hard at an hour we're not usually busy."
But the festival has a way to "Reel" in attendees to stay at the Tower Theater, before and after the show. "We have a full bar, serving drinks before the show, and we're also inviting pass-holders to a complimentary after-party at the Red Lantern," said Griffin.
As a yearly tradition, movie-goers will determine the winners in an audience-choice award ceremony to take place at the end of the festival.
Award categories include; Best Feature, Best Short, and Best Short-Short. Actors and Directors of some films who attend the festival will also have a hand in picking the winners in a special category reserved for the Director's Club.
Herb, of Fresno, a Reel Pride enthusiast of eight years, said he looks forward to the closing night of the festival, "That's when all the big stuff happens," he said. "It's a big grand finale, and it makes me look forward to coming next year."
The festival not only provides an opportunity to see good cinema and see friends, but it also connects different parts of the community through the arts. Shannon Babcock, a volunteer usher this year at Reel Pride, said the festival has the ability to draw eclectic crowds from outside of Fresno and the gay community.
"This is one of the only uniting events that help to bring together all groups in the community," Babcock said. "I've even seen people from as far away as Australia and Russia stop by."