Lindsay Muse’s first day on the job as executive director of the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival was just a few weeks before the start of the annual film festival program last year, so she is well versed in the art of hitting the ground running. But Muse is also quick to point out that while the film festival is one of the core programs aGLIFF offers, it’s by no means the only one.
The organization will celebrate its 25th year of existence this fall and its 17th year as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit. In that time it has grown from a run of films to a nonprofit with year-round programs that examine race, culture, and gender identity.
When it started in 1987, the festival featured a handful of films that looked at coming out and the then-new AIDS epidemic. Today, aGLIFF screens more than 150 films at
its film festival program (which is from Oct. 3-7) and runs the Queer Youth Media Project, My Queer Movie Project,
“aGLIFF has brought itself back to its core purpose in many ways,” Muse, a longtime film buff, said. “We really are focusing on being a nonprofit organization…and pulled into focus the programs we offer that serve the community… the main focus we’re trying to drive home this year is not only a retrospective look, but looking forward. We’re focusing on what aGLIFF is, what it means.”
Muse joined aGLIFF after working for more than five years as a producer at SXSW Interactive, and prior to that, for HBO Studio Productions and Cornerstone Promotion.
“aGLIFF is working on being more inclusive, lending support to our partners, and having them support us,” Muse added. “Shaking hands of people in the community is part of our mission to talk. With that in mind, we’ve been doing a lot of outside-the-box partnerships. We’re aligning with everybody. We want aGLIFF to be a resource for society.”
John Livingston, a former aGLIFF board president, said he’s been delighted and surprised over the years to see the ways in which the organization’s programs have brought people together—sometimes in unintentional but significant ways.
Take the Family Screening Program, a part of the film festival Livingston bets three-fourths of aGLIFF’s audiences don’t know exists. When it launched several years ago, he admits he was skeptical.
“I thought, ‘This is going to be the biggest flop; it’s 11:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning; who’s going to bring their kids to a gay film festival?’” he recalled. “So just out of curiosity, I ducked out of the film I was watching to see if the theater was indeed empty as I thought it would be….I came around the corner, and every seat was filled. There were kids hanging over seats with two mommies or two daddies—it was a bunch of families having fun.”
In later years that program expanded to show movies that were family friendly but not necessarily with a theme meant for LGBTQI families alone. At last year’s screening of The Muppet Movie, Livingston was again thrilled to see a full theater, this time with LGBTQI families and their straight friends.
Then there’s the community that has sprung up among the programming team, the 40 to 60 people who screen and choose the films that make up the film festival each year.
“In some ways, it is a great example of how the festival is much bigger than a few days of films at the Alamo Drafthouse,” Livingston said. “Some of my best friends in the world are people I’ve met in service of aGLIFF. And that’s not a program; that’s not something that somebody set out to do.”
aGLIFF doesn’t work in a vacuum, and it also cohosts events and screenings with organizations and businesses around Austin year-round. As they both prepare to celebrate their 25th anniversaries, AIDS Services of Austin and aGLIFF were getting ready for Big Love: ASA + aGLIFF, a joint anniversary fundraiser at the historic Dobie Theater in late August.
Muse said another example of the organization’s community partnerships is a recent event it did with Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas for a screening of the movie Bullhead. While that film does explore gender identity, the event wasn’t marketed only toward the LGBTQI community, but toward all of Austin with hopes of fostering a broader community conversation.
And, of course, aGLIFF isn’t the only film festival in town. SXSW Film and Austin Film Festival aren’t competitors though, she said, and in fact try to collaborate as much as possible on programming.
“It’s exciting to see some of these mainstream festivals more and more,” Muse continued. “Our focus is to really let LGBTQI awareness shine. What’s really important with our film programming (is) we don’t just have films dealing with LGBTQI issues; we also have films [not about those issues] but made by queer film makers, or featuring queer actors. We partner with a lot of other festivals.”