Lights, camera, action and community: Out! For Reel, the LGBT film festival, returns to Valley

  • Emily Goss as Louise, left, and Shannon Collis, as a young Rose, in a scene from the independent film “Snapshots.” Image courtesy of Three Women in a Box Films

  • Brooke Adams, left, as Patty, Emily Baldoni as Allison, and Piper Laurie as an older Rose in the independent film “Snapshots.” Image courtesy of Three Women in a Box Films

  • Emily Goss as Louise, left, and Shannon Collis, as a young Rose, in a scene from the independent film “Snapshots.” Image courtesy of Three Women in a Box Films

  • Veteran actor Piper Laurie, who first rose to fame in the 1961 film “The Hustler,” plays Rose, an older woman looking back on a distant love affair with another woman, in the film “Snapshots.” Image courtesy of Three Women in a Box Films

By STEVE PFARRER
Published: 9/19/2018 4:35:18 PM

About 10 years ago, Jaime Michaels attended an annual LGBT film festival in Hartford, Connecticut and saw a film that instantly grabbed her: “The World Unseen,” a story about two South African women of Indian origin, living in Cape Town in the 1950s, who fall in love — at a time when life in South Africa is under the iron strictures of apartheid and anti-homosexuality laws.

Michaels, of Belchertown, was also grabbed by something else: the wish to bring films like “The World Unseen” to the Valley.

“I remember thinking, ‘This movie needs to be seen in Northampton,’ ” said Michaels, the director and producer of Out! For Reel, the LGBT cultural events organization she founded in 2008, which she says is the largest in the state west of Boston.

From 2008 to 2012, Michaels adds, her group screened numerous LGBT movies — the first was “The World Unseen” — and staged other events at Northampton’s Academy of Music and a few other local venues, selling them out 20 times.

Now, after a hiatus, Out! For Reel is back at the Academy with a new film, “Snapshots,” and an opening musical program with Grammy-nominated singer Evelyn Harris. The show, which takes place Friday beginning at 6 p.m., will include an introduction by Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz — he’ll present a proclamation honoring the film series — and is also intended to be “a celebration of community,” Michaels said, with recognition of several leaders and supporters of the area’s LGBTQ community.

“This is really about coming together and sharing the same spirit we had [at the other events],” she said. And, Michaels noted, in a tense political climate in which some in the country are again questioning LGBTQ rights, “It’s more important than ever to experience that feeling of community.”

“Snapshots,” which has played at various film festivals around the country, has received generally very good reviews so far, with the Los Angeles Times praising its “rich and haunting center”; the film has an 80 percent “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And it comes with some marquee names, such as Academy-Award-nominated actor Piper Laurie and director/actor Melanie Mayron (“Jane the Virgin,” “Pretty Little Liars”).

More importantly, the storyline of “Snapshots,” which partly involves a love affair between two American women in the early 1960s, examines some of the same ground as that covered in “The World Unseen,” as it looks at the barriers LGBTQ people faced in a more closed society.

“In that sense it’s a really good fit for restarting the film festival,” said Michaels.

Starting from scratch

Michaels, who has spent about 20 years working in development, studied film at Temple University and has also worked as a video producer. When she decided to hold a film festival in the Valley, however, she felt like she was starting from ground zero.

“I had no idea how to get this started,” she said with a laugh.

She ended up picking the brains of people who ran other film festivals, like the producers of the Hartford LGBT series, which has run since 1988. With that help, and by enlisting volunteers to assist with things like publicity and finding sponsors, she eventually learned the ins and outs of movie distribution and other logistics for film festivals.

Michaels notes that Out! For Reel has never operated like a conventional film festival, in which numerous movies are screened in a variety of venues over a few days. “This has been a real grassroots effort, so we’ve focused on one venue at a time,” she noted. “But we also put together a consistent string of events [from 2008-12], instead of just having something that ran for a few days just once a year.”

Because of some health issues and other commitments, Michaels had to put the festival on hold for the last several years. But following Friday’s Out! For Reel events, she’s hoping to bring in additional films in 2019 and get the festival running regularly again.

With “Snapshots,” she feels she’s found a good means to revive the series. The story centers around Rose (Piper Laurie), an 85-year-old widow who lives, seemingly contentedly enough, in a lake house; she hosts a visit from her daughter Patty (Brooke Adams), and her granddaughter Allison (Emily Baldoni). Tension is in the air, despite the idyllic setting: Patty, who drinks too much, is embittered by the memory of her late-husband’s affair with his secretary, and Allison, who’s secretly pregnant, wonders if she’s still in love with her spouse.

When Allison discovers an old camera and film belonging to Rose, “Snapshots” begins its first foray into the past, revisiting a young, married Rose (Shannon Collis) at the same lake. There Rose and her husband, Joe (Max Adler), meet another couple, the vivacious photographer Louise (Emily Goss) and her husband, Zee (Brett Dier).

The couples quickly become friends, but it also soon transpires that Louise’s main attraction is to the shy Rose. The two embark on a love affair they must hide — it’s  1964, after all — and the film moves back and forth between that era and the present, examining issues of prejudice, women’s relationships to each other and to men, and the joy and pain of love.

In an interview earlier this year with FF2 Media, an online media company that reviews female-produced films, director Melanie Mayron (she was a key character in the ABC drama “thirtysomething,” winning an Emmy for best supporting actress in 1989) said she was drawn to “Snapshots” because of its storyline and especially its varied female cast (the screenplay was also written by a woman, film producer Jan Miller Corran).

“I loved the idea of three generations of women getting together,” Mayron said. “As an actress who’s getting older, I love to see parts written for women my age and women older than me. I always love the idea of being a woman who can support other actresses and give opportunities to women my age.”

Michaels adds that Out! For Reel aims to screen films that will appeal not just to the LGBTQ community but to straight people, as a means for promoting greater connection and understanding between the two groups. And in a followup email, she said she also picked “Snapshots” to reopen the film series because of how it addresses ageism.

“Our society rejects the idea that women in their 80s have or have had romantic and sexual feelings,” she said. “When elder women speak their truth, there is often blatant repulsion, condescension, and derogatory jokes … [but] ‘Snapshots’ decisively wipes away the fog of ageism ... with a complex and daring love story.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

“Snapshots” plays Friday at the Academy of Music in Northampton at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m. for a social hour and introductory program with singer Evelyn Harris. Tickets are $9 in advance/$11 at the door, and $8 for students with valid ID. For tickets and more information, visit outforreel.net.

 

 

 

 




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