“It wasn’t easy,” says aGLIFF president Casandra Alston about the decision to move the venerable film festival online. “[Because] the whole point of having a queer film festival is the community and coming together and being able to share with each other, and fellowship.”
At first, a socially distanced experience felt almost anathema to a film festival as rooted in community as aGLIFF has always been. But Alston and the rest of the team quickly realized that a different kind of aGLIFF was better than no aGLIFF at all, and they began working to turn the decades-old festival into something new. “We were like, we do need to this, figure out how to bring people together,” Alston says. “Especially as things started progressing and… the world, the twilight zone we were living in just kept getting more warped and weird and different.”
This year’s festival, dubbed aGLIFF 33: Prism, will exist completely online. Starting a few months ago, the staff “[took] the festival, turned it on its head and started from scratch,” says aGLIFF vice president Todd Hogan-Sanchez. “We just decided it was more important to have a festival than risk planning an in-person festival that got cancelled.”
“The cool thing about this is you really can watch it anywhere, as long as you’re in the state of Texas,” Hogan-Sanchez says. “You might have somebody in rural Texas – who is maybe not even out yet – that has never had access to this kind of a festival or community [and they] can take part in this year’s festival.”
The film-watching aspect of aGLIFF (which includes dozens of features, documentaries, and shorts) seems to be relatively easy to replicate in the virtual world – festival-goers can stream the movies in much they same way they stream Netflix or Hulu. The more difficult part is recreating the sense of community and shared experience that always came naturally to the in-person festival. “Yeah, the tricky part has been you know, how do you create community around these films?,” Hogan-Sanchez says. “How do we create these events that could make people feel like they’re coming together as a community?”
The virtual version of aGLIFF will feature several online gatherings, including a queer trivia night, a virtual “bingo bonanza” featuring Miss Richfield 1981, and some Q&As with filmmakers. At the time of our conversation, there were also some planned-but-not-yet-confirmed events that should help viewers feel connected with each other from their seperate homes across the state.
This year, aGLIFF also started the Queer Black Voices Fund. “That is to make sure that from this point forward, we will always have Black stories told at aGLIFF,” Alston says. “Because queer community, Black community… when you’re hearing a story from the people who are part of that community, the story is that much more enriched. And for us as the aGLIFF family, we love hearing these stories made about us, by us, for us and everybody else to learn, grown, and evolve.”
Todd Hogan-Sanchez says the aGLIFF team has tried to make sure the festival still feels like a festival and not just a collection of on-demand streaming films. “We worked hard to make sure that there was an avenue of connection in all of this,” he says. “And we do hope that people do kind of see each other on social media and online in their spaces and what they do with them and how they celebrate.”