The Connecticut LGBTQ Film Festival is back for its 35th year!  

The 10-day festival is presented by Out Film CT and runs from June 3rd through the 12th in Hartford, Connecticut. This year’s festival lineup features over 100 films representing more than 25 countries. 

Known as being Connecticut’s longest running film festival, this year the event looks forward to welcoming back attendees in person, as well as virtually.  

Zydalis Bauer spoke to Festival Co-Director Shane Engstrom to learn more. 

Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: The Connecticut LGBTQ Film Festival is back for its 35th year. This ten-day festival presented by Out Film CT, is taking place from June 3rd through the 12th in Hartford and will feature over 100 films from over 25 countries.

Known as being Connecticut’s longest running film festival, this year, the event looks forward to welcoming back attendees in person, as well as virtually.

I spoke to festival co-director Shane Engstrom to learn more.

Shane Engstrom, Out Film CT: The festival itself was started back in 1988, the first festival. But it was part of a larger organization called Alternatives and they had, like, theater productions. They had a literary magazine, and it was it was kind of an opportunity for the LGBTQ community to get some artistic content out into the community.

So — so the festival was part of that and it’s — unfortunately, it’s the only part of the original organization that has carried through for 35 years.

Zydalis Bauer: I understand that early in the years of the festival you all were met with some challenges and being part — there was not a lot of publicity and also events for the LGBTQ community weren’t that common then. But the festival is obviously still here 35 years later.

So, can you talk about how this event has grown and how it has found success throughout the years?

Shane Engstrom: Yeah, well, I mean, like, to your point, when the very first festival happened, they actually showed up with TV cameras there. And so many people were afraid to be shown on TV because of just the atmosphere in those days, but a lot has changed since.

And, you know, the festival has continued to grow year over year. It’s now, like, a ten-day festival, whereas when it first started it was a short, two programs on two separate weekends. And this year’s festival, we have 113 films being shown from 28 different countries, over ten days, and we’re also online, as well as in the theaters.

So, it’s really blossomed.

Zydalis Bauer: So, let’s talk a little bit about this year’s festival. As you mentioned, it was two programs; this year, 31 programs featuring over 100 films and features to watch.

What can people expect at this year’s festival?

Shane Engstrom: We always try to find films that reflect all aspects of the LGBTQ community. So, we’ll have documentaries, we will have feature films, we’ll have nine different shorts programs, in all different categories: gay, lesbian, bisexual, international, BIPOC.

And we really try to hit on all of the different categories so that people have an opportunity to see themselves on the big screen.

Zydalis Bauer: With so many diverse films and such a variety of things to choose for, what are you personally most excited to view at the festival?

Shane Engstrom: I love all of them, honestly, but — but we have some great films coming up this weekend. We have the film “Keep the Cameras Rolling.” I don’t know if you remember, MTV Real World when Pedro Zamora was first introduced, the first guy to be on TV with AIDS and living in a house. There’s a fascinating documentary about him that will be showing virtually online.

And we had an opportunity to have a Q&A with the film’s co-directors. So, that’s another aspect of having a festival that’s different than just going to the cineplex down the road, is you actually get to talk to some of the people making the films and getting insights from them.

Also, there’s a film that’s only showing at Cinestudio in Hartford on the Sunday, the last — the last day of the festival, kind of the wind down day, on — on June 12th called “Great Freedom,” which is a — it’s an amazing film set in in Germany. And it’s about this guy who got out of the concentration camps, but then was put right back into prison again because he — he had violated paragraph 175, which which outlawed being gay in Germany.

So, people don’t really realize, you know, that that was going on back then. And it’s a fascinating story, really well made. And it was Austria’s Oscar submission for International Film this year. It just goes to show the quality of the films that we’re showing.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, you mentioned the amount of films that you’re showing coming from over, I think you said, 28 countries. What is the film selection process for this? It always amazes me how film festivals are able to kind of narrow down this and curate this amazing selection. So, what’s your process at the Connecticut Film Festival?

Shane Engstrom: Yeah, we have a great screening committee that that watches films every week. And we really have adopted, you know, the Zoom technology. We — we kind of assign a little homework assignment to people throughout the week to watch certain films.

And then every week we get together, and we talk about them, and people vote on them. And, and this year we watched over 680 different film submissions. And we — and we narrowed it down to the 112 that we’re showing. So…so, we really do show the best of the best.

Zydalis Bauer: Speaking about adopting and embracing the Zoom technology, I know like many events, this festival has had to pivot and reimagine what it looks like, due to the pandemic. This year it’s going hybrid — you’ll have in-person events and some virtual options.

So how…tell me about the impacts that the pandemic has had on the festival? And are there changes that you really think you will kind of remain in place moving forward?

Shane Engstrom: Two years ago, we went with a completely virtual festival, so so people got to watch films at home on their couch. But last year and this year, we went with the hybrid version, where we had some in-person programs and virtual.

And I have to say, our feedback has been very positive for keeping the virtual aspect. It makes it — it makes it a lot more work because you — you’re putting on two festivals at once almost, but especially because it’s a Hartford based-festival, a lot of people in other parts of the state or in Massachusetts or Rhode Island or New York, they don’t — they don’t always have the opportunity to drive up, to drive to Hartford.

And also, being able to do the Q&A with filmmakers from around the world without, you know, having to have them fly in and stay, that’s been a — that’s been something that has worked really well. We’ve had different Q&A sessions with — with shorts filmmakers from, like, multiple different continents at the same time.

So, it’s really fun.

Zydalis Bauer: You have to give the people what they want, even if it’s more work for you, right?

Shane Engstrom: Yeah, exactly!

Zydalis Bauer: So, touching on that subject. Also, I know that this year the parties are back, which is — you all are really excited about.

So, tell me about those and what you’re looking forward to most about bringing them back?

Shane Engstrom: Yeah, we had our great opening party, which was wonderful, at Trinity College. But coming up this weekend on closing night, we’re actually going to be having our closing night party at the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford.

So, we have two, two films that are showing that night, one at Apple Cinemas right there on Front Street in Hartford, which used to be the Spotlight Theaters, but it changed to Apple Cinemas. And that one is kind of the women’s feature film called “Girl Picture.”

And then the men’s film is called “Wildhood,” which is playing at the Connecticut Science Center. They’re just a block away, so everyone’s going to come together for the big party afterwards. It’s going to be a great time. We have, you know, food, drinks, music, we will have a DJ, so it’s always a great time.

Zydalis Bauer: So, Shane, you’ve been a part of this festival for 22 years now, and as Connecticut’s longest running film festival, what are you most proud about, being a part of it and what do you think really makes this one stand out from the rest?

Shane Engstrom: I’m really proud of what we have accomplished as a film festival, And in terms of putting Connecticut on the map, in terms of festivals. It’s one of the longest running queer film festivals in the country, and it’s really grown in prominence over — over the years, so we — it’s easier for us to get films and get people to to come and speak to us.

And it’s really, it’s been great for — for the festival. And that’s something I’m particularly proud of.