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Controversial film event to begin

Mary Kate Malone | Thursday, February 9, 2006

Two weeks after University President Father John Jenkins questioned the presence of controversial events on campus in a series of major addresses to the Notre Dame community, the event formerly known as the Queer Film Festival will begin today under a new name – garnering national media attention and stirring student activism.

“Gay and Lesbian Film: Filmmakers, Narratives and Spectatorship” is the new title for the annual film event entering its third year at the University. In his addresses to students, faculty and alumni, Jenkins said the event’s previous title seemed “to celebrate homosexual activity.”

“When, year after year, we sponsor something or a unit of the University sponsors something that appears to be in conflict with Catholic teaching, the University’s name is used in such a way that it seems to support that which it doesn’t support. It’s more [about] authenticity of character and its representation,” Jenkins told The Observer following the addresses.

The Queer Film Festival was renamed after months of meetings between various groups connected to the event.

“The new name was agreed upon by all parties involved, which included student organizers, the department of Film, Television and Theatre [FTT] and the University administration,” event co-chair Martin Laina said.

Those parties are all satisfied with the name, Laina said.

But the event’s content and purpose as an academic endeavor have not changed, Laina said, adding the new name is not nearly as important as the event itself.

“The title accurately reflects the aims and purposes of the event, which are to showcase the very best of filmmaking and to showcase gay and lesbian film within a tradition of film scholarship and a spirit of inclusion at this university,” Laina said.

Though the future of the event will remain uncertain until Jenkins has listened to feedback and made a decision, FTT department chair Peter Holland said he is sure this year’s event will be “a tremendous success.”

“I think some people thought that the event was advocacy of homosexuality,” Holland said. “It wasn’t. It isn’t. Nobody could think ‘narratives, filmmakers and spectatorship’ is a statement about advocacy.”

Jenkins did not deliver a firm policy on events in conflict with Catholic values but said enough to since spur widespread mobilization on campus among groups like unrecognized gay/straight student group AllianceND and the newly-formed group United for Free Speech.

“There is a heightened sense of urgency in the people who support [Gay and Lesbian Film: Filmmakers, Narratives, Perspectives],” AllianceND co-coordinator Anna Gomberg said. “We have to show our support so it will be around next year and the year after.”

Hoping to draw regional and national media attention to their cause, both groups are hosting a “massive” petition signing outside Debartolo Hall this morning. The petition states that events like Gay and Lesbian Film and “The Vagina Monologues” have a place on Notre Dame’s campus because they encourage open dialogue, AllianceND board member Stacey Williams said.

Fox News Channel will be on campus interviewing organizers and students, Williams said.

AllianceND members and supporters will also be wearing orange “Gay? Fine By Me” T-shirts today in solidarity with all gay students on campus – those who are open about it and those who are not, Williams said.

“It creates a sense of unity, a visible presence on campus,” Williams said. “Your average person might see a bunch of orange shirts and think, ‘O.K., I’m gay, and there are people here who are not completely homophobic and hating me at any given moment.'”

Laina said ticket sales seem to indicate a peaked interest in the event this year. The DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts ticket office reported the films sold out much faster than last year. On Tuesday afternoon, five of the seven screenings were sold out, and only a handful of tickets remained for the others. In response to student demand, organizers added an additional screening of “Brokeback Mountain,” which sold out in two hours, Laina said.

“That would suggest there’s considerable interest on campus. Now why [the peaked interest] exists, I don’t know,” Laina said.

Senior Monica Real said she might have wanted to go the film event if tickets had been available.

“There’s so much publicity, I assume people want to see it to bother authorities and see why they made such a big deal about ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and the Queer Film Festival,” she said.

Other students, like senior Sean Hanifin, said as a business major, he didn’t have a vested interest in it.

“It’s not at the forefront of my mind … not a topic of conversation,” he said.

Williams said AllianceND made an effort to “not get involved by name” in the days immediately following Jenkins’ address. But now that a few weeks have passed, she said, AllianceND is stirring up activism within its organization and among the greater campus population.

“I’m hoping it’s not going to be so polarizing. I feel that’s a risk you take when you do these things,” Williams said. “Hopefully we can get some signatures to show Jenkins we’re interested in his policies and what he has to say.”