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Stamped Film Festival highlights LGBTQ experience

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A still from the documentary "To Decadence with Love" about the New Orleans' queer celebration of identity, Southern Decadence.

Stories of love, loss, families … and even vampires and werewolves. It’s all in a weekend at Stamped Film Festival.

Since 2012, the Stamped Film Festival has showcased movies and short films centered on the LGBT experience. It’s part entertainment, part education said David Newton, president of the film festival.

“There’s a variety of films that cover all letters of the LGBTQ alphabet,” he said. “We always hope the audience takes something away from each film, whether it’s inspiration or a life lesson or even if you just need a hard laugh or hard cry.”

The film fest will run the second weekend of Foo Foo Fest, Nov. 12-14 with more than a dozen films, including a short film produced by the Council on Aging of West Florida and Appleyard Agency called “Someone Waits for Me,” which tells the story of five gay and lesbian seniors living in Northwest Florida. The film will be shown Friday and Saturday night of the festival.

“It’s moving and inspirational and — really good,” said Newton. “You see shots of Pensacola used creatively in the film. And it’s thrilling to showcase a film about the older generation.”

Each year, festival volunteers sit down and watch 200-plus film submissions to choose their final picks. What they look for is to bring a mix of good stories that provide a more complete view of the LGBTQ experience. While Hollywood has made progress over the years, the stories shared in big budget LGBT films don’t always have a happy ending or they center around a tragedy.

And some movies in the Stamped lineup do share heartbreaking stories, such as the documentary “#JustAnotherDeadTransWoman” about the high homicide and suicide rates of transgender individuals. There are also comedies like the short film “The Long Night” about a girl spending the night at her gay dad’s house or even “Gay Teen Werewolf,” about, well, a gay teen werewolf who has a crush on a vampire. And documentaries like "Someone Waits for Me" and "To Decadence with Love" about the Southern Decadence weekend in New Orleans.

Stamped also looks for films that tells stories that don’t just involve the gay and lesbian experience. Chris McNeany, is a filmmaker based in Los Angeles who is bisexual. He says stories about the bisexual experience are often missing not just from mainstream films, but within the LGBTQ world, too.

“Bisexuality is often referred as ‘the silent B’ in LGBT,” he said.

McNeany said there’s a stigma to bisexuality and it’s often misunderstood by the gay and lesbian community. As an openly bisexual person, McNeany said he looks for ways to share stories about the experience.

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Chris McNeany

“It’s really important to feature bi stories because there are so few but also, look at the numbers — according to a Gallup poll, a majority of LGBTQ people identify as bisexual but the representation is not up to par.”

His short film, “Eight Months Later” is about a widowed father who is getting ready to pick up his boyfriend at the airport after an important conversation with his son. McNeany wrote and shot the film during the pandemic after caring for his mother who died of glioblastoma in June.

“I was my mother’s primary caregiver from June 2020 to June 2021 and it ended up being really beautiful to care for her,” he said. “I was lucky to spend that year with her. After she passed, it was cathartic to make the film.”

McNeany’s film “More than He Knows” won best short film in 2019 at Stamped. This year, he’ll be in attendance and will be part of a panel discussion on Nov. 13. After attending virtual film festivals last year, he said he’s looking forward to meeting his audience in person.

“It can be terrifying but also exciting when you see an audience react to your work,” he said. “It’s a real litmus test for the film.”

As a filmmaker and as part of the LGBTQ community, McNeany said festivals like Stamped help emphasize stories that may otherwise go unnoticed.

“It opens minds,” he said. “We’re not a monolith. The LGBT experience is different for everyone.”

While Stamped is a free event, this year you will have to reserve tickets since seating is limited in the theater. On Sunday, Stamped will continue its tradition with the Family Friendly Day showing films, including some animated ones, that are appropriate for all ages. There will also be a Drag Queen Story Time.

“And since we’re still in the celebrating time period for Halloween, we’re encouraging people to come in costume,” said Newton.

For nine years, volunteers of the film festival have worked to create an environment safe for everyone to feel represented, ask questions, and feel a sense of community.

“It still excites me,” said Newton. “It’s unbelievable to see all of the support we’ve had over the years. We’ve been able to stay solvent and we can’t wait to springboard into celebrating our 10th year.”