Local film festival started by Fresno State alumni will mark its 25th anniversary
The film, “G.B.F.” screened at the Fresno Reel Pride Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in 2013 and starred Clovis West High alumnus Michael Willett.
By Abigail Martin
The Fresno Reel Pride Gay & Lesbian Film Festival begins Wednesday, Sept. 17, celebrating 25 years since its establishment by two Fresno State alumni.
Festival director and co-founder Peter Robertson said his friend, Ken Fries, approached him in the fall of 1990 to launch the festival in conjunction with National Coming Out Day.
“He had this brilliant, radical idea to start this film festival, and he asked me for help,” Robertson said. “And that fall, we launched a film festival, a gay and lesbian film festival for Fresno.”
The men worked alongside the campus United Student Pride group, then known as the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Student Alliance, to put on the event.
“It was a little controversial,” Robertson said. “But a wonderful thing about a college and the university is that it’s a place to showcase, a place that honors and respects diversity and showcases free expression.
“So it’s a perfect place to launch a film festival.”
Robertson said that during the launch, they screened 11 films from five countries two times a day for six days.
Reel Pride director of media and communications Augie Blancas said that, in its first year, the festival took place in a single classroom on campus.
Now the festival is held at three venues – The Tower Theatre, California Arts Academy Severance Theater and The Voice shop – all located in the Tower District. It is the sixth-oldest gay and lesbian film festival in the U.S. and one of the largest, Blancas said.
Director of outreach and Fresno State student Justin Kamimoto said the 25th anniversary of the festival is a milestone for Fresno State because it was on campus that this “premiere cultural event” started.
The festival kicks off with “Helicopter Mom” at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 17, at The Tower Theatre. Twenty-nine other films will be screened throughout the festival.
Kamimoto encourages his fellow students to participate in the festivities. With a valid student ID card, students receive free admission to all of the film screenings except for the opening and closing nights. On those nights, students can purchase discounted tickets for $5, Kamimoto said.
Robertson said the festival, the only one of its kind in the Central Valley, does two things well: “It celebrates our diverse community, but it respects and fully remembers the adversity that our diverse community has overcome.
“It’s been kind of a magical moment to think, ‘My gosh, you know you start something and then 25 years later; it’s something special’ Cause you’re not expecting it, you’re not expecting it.”
The festival runs through Sunday, Sept. 21. For more information on the films and locations, visit www.reelpride.com.