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Festival exploring gender continues to see growth

by Ryan Kasley
Philadelphia Gay News
September 25th, 2014

Gender Reel, a film festival dedicated to enhancing the visibility of gender-nonconforming, gender-variant/queer and transgender people, returns for its fourth installation Oct. 4 and 5.

It will take place at The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St., and feature 29 films of all lengths: feature, one-hour and shorts.
New this year are four special events.

The first is a question-and-answer session with Rachelle Lee Smith, a Philly resident and author of “Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus,” a photo-essay book, at 4 p.m. Oct. 4. Smith first displayed the photos from her book at the first festival in 2011, when it included both film and art.

There will also be a transmen-of-color discussion following the 7 p.m. screening of “Shirts vs. Skins” Oct. 5. The panel will feature Christian Axavier Lovehall, grand marshal of this year’s Pride parade, and three other community representatives.

Julie Chovanes will also perform a 50-minute performance-art piece called “The Transsexual,” 8 p.m. Oct. 5.

A second Q&A will take place with Oluseyi Adebayo following the screening of the New York director and producer’s “Trans Lives Matter! Justice for Islan Nettles,” which documents the issues surrounding the death of Nettles, a transwoman of color who was fatally beaten last year in New York.

Now in its fourth year, the festival has expanded to four other cities across the country: Omaha, Neb.; Long Beach, Calif.; Minneapolis, Minn.; and Durham, N.C.

Joe Ippolito, founder of Gender Reel and chair of the 2014 organizing committee, stressed the benefit of attending a festival in person, especially one as intimate as Gender Reel, the local incarnation of which drew approximately 100 people last year.

“Coming to a space where there is community, not only to talk about the film with others in a formal discussion but also to meet people who are interested in the topic, this is one of the biggest benefits,” Ippolito said. “You can find community, make connections and learn about process. The queer community doesn’t always have too many options to do something outside of a bar. Not everyone wants to have to navigate those spaces. But you can make connections here at Gender Reel.”

In addition to expanding to more cities, Ippolito hopes to grow the festival’s online presence over the next year by producing a web series of exclusive content and expanding access to its online film archives.

Earlier this year, Gender Reel released its first documentary, “Growing Old Gracefully: The Transgender Experience,” made in collaboration with the University of Minnesota’s Tretter Archive Collection.

Part of Ippolito’s mission for next year will be to create an online place for dialogue for trans people over 50 — a group Ippolito said is largely underserved by the current LGBT-film industry — and people interested in their stories.

“You only get a small snapshot in the film. I want to put B-reel footage up online, and have a callout for other people over 50 to submit their stories,” he said. “The stories of the older are vastly different from the youth. People may have not been out when they were younger, or transitioned to a different gender later in life. Then I want to provide resources for cultural-competency training for those individuals.”

Gender Reel is finalizing its nonprofit 501(c) 3 status. Once it does, Ippolito hopes to create a completion grant program for directors.

For more information, visit www.genderreelfest.com.

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