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Gay film festival draws large crowds

Megan O'Neil | Monday, February 13, 2006

While a cloud of debate leaves its future at Notre Dame unclear, the film series “Gay and Lesbian Film: Filmmakers, Narratives and Spectatorship” drew large audiences and strong praise from attendees over the weekend.

The event formerly known as the Queer Film Festival – now in its third year at Notre Dame – ran Thursday through Saturday and featured screenings of six different films and several panel discussions.

Martin Laina, a graduate student and co-chair of the film series, said attendance was strong.

“I would say turnout for the films was considerably higher than in the past,” Laina said.

The event’s name was changed this year as a result of University negotiations with student organizers and the Film, Television and Theatre department, the traditional sponsor of the film series. In his Jan. 23 and 24 addresses to students, faculty and alumni on academic freedom and Catholic character, University President Father John Jenkins said the event’s previous title seemed “to celebrate homosexual activity.”

“The fact that [‘The Vagina Monologues’ and Queer Film Festival] have been sponsored annually by units of the University, and have been widely publicized, prominently associates the University’s name with them,” Jenkins said. “Such occurrences suggest the University endorses or at least finds compatible with its values certain views which are not in fact compatible.”

All the film screenings were either sold out or nearly sold out, Laina said, and turnout for the various panel discussions was also strong. Due to high demand, organizers added a second screening of “Brokeback Mountain” to the schedule and tickets sold out in two hours, Laina said.

The quality and diversity of the films shown this year played a role in the success of the film series, Laina said. The presence of two of the films’ directors – Miguel Albaladejo, director of “Cachorro” and Don Roos, director of “Happy Endings” – on campus to speak firsthand about their work was also significant, Laina said.

Junior Mac Russell saw every film at the event’s inauguration two years ago and attended two screenings – “Brokeback Mountain” and “Happy Endings” – this year. He said he made the effort to go to the film series out of his own desire to see the movies and to show support for AllianceND, Notre Dame’s unrecognized gay/straight student group.

“[The series has] only been getting bigger – more social events, [more] movies … I’m always amazed at the [variety] of movies that are out there,” Russell said.

Tessa Sainz, a 2003 alumna, attended screenings every night of the series and said it was great the University had the opportunity to host prominent filmmakers.

Individuals choose to attend universities to expose themselves to different viewpoints, Sainz said, criticizing the administration’s efforts to curb the film series.

“I think it’s ridiculous [to hold discussions regarding the film series about] the moral issues of homosexuality,” Sainz said. “That’s not what it’s about. It’s about films.”

After attending several different screenings and panel discussions over the course of the film series, graduate student Theresa O’Byrne said her favorite movies were “Saving Face” and “Happy Endings.”

A member of AllianceND, O’Byrne said since the event is spurring controversy it was especially important that she attend to show her support.

“I’m a big supporter of academic freedom and it’s always been an issue for me through my college career,” O’Byrne said. “Part of inquiry and part of academic discussion is to look into these things that are potentially explosive.”

O’Byrne said she does not like the fact that the name of the film series was changed, but she was heartened by Jenkins’ willingness to engage in open discussion about academic freedom.

“I’m pleased that he’s at least brought this up – at least had the courage to stand up and bring this to the floor and [not] sweep it under the rug,” O’Byrne said.

Senior Tiffany Thompson attended the 7 p.m. screening of “Brokeback Mountain” Thursday wearing an orange “Gay? Fine by me” T-shirt. She said she has attended at least one film during the series every year.

“I think [the name change] is kind of silly,” Thompson said. “I don’t think it is a huge thing but I didn’t think it was necessary either … We’re doing the same thing.”

Freshman Sean Gaffney also attended “Brokeback Mountain” Thursday and said he was there first to see a good film and second to find out what all the discussion was about.

“I guess it’s kind of a big controversy and it is always good to be knowledgeable about what is being talked about,” Gaffney said.

Laina, who will not be at Notre Dame next year, said the future of the film series is “very much up in the air” and will depend on the outcome of the discussion of Catholic character and academic freedom at Notre Dame.

Laina said he took an organizing role for the event because he wanted students at the University to have the opportunity to see quality films and hopes it continues in the future.

“It is important that if students and alumni feel that this event is important … [it is] valuable that they express those views to the president,” Laina said.