Desperado Film Festival goes virtual

Like many events impacted by COVID-19, the yearly festival is online in 2020

By Julia Schamko

Despite uncertain times due to COVID-19, Paradise Valley Community College (PVCC) is bringing together communities for the first-ever virtual Desperado Film Festival. 

Created in 2009 by a team of students, faculty, and community members, the festival is held each year to highlight the voices of the LGBTQ community. 

Alan East, the festival programmer, explained the team, “…wanted to provide a positive campus leadership experience for LGBTQ students.” 

A year later they were holding their very first festival. 

PVCC brought together the festival not only to support their community, but their mission “to educate the whole person and to serve our students and our communities by providing learning opportunities that are designed to help them achieve their goals … in a welcoming, inclusive, and supportive environment.” 

The Desperado Film Festival has not only helped uplift and support the voices of members of the LGBTQ community, but has celebrated their stories, “by showcasing films that promote understanding of complex issues and initiatives that create positive social change, promote inclusion, and illustrate the importance of cross cultural communication.”

This year’s event is bringing even more inclusivity through the use of virtual viewing. Now viewer’s will be able to pick from over a dozen films and short films to watch, all highlighting complex issues in LGBTQ communities captured in various contexts.

Viewers will have the option to pick from three different viewing packages allowing them to watch as many films as they choose. Passes come in individual, multiple, and all access packages available for purchase on the festival website. 

Individual tickets give viewers hoping to see that one film a chance to preorder, ensuring them a seat for viewing. The ‘pick any five passes’ opens up viewers selection by allowing them to pick up to five films to view from. For all around fans, the all access pass gives unlimited access to each film being shown for the festival. Each pass is available for individual purchase, along with a catalog of each film being shown for viewers to preview prior to purchasing tickets. 

By holding the festival virtually, East feels “the online experience will offer new opportunities for the festival to grow,” as there’s now the availability for more viewers to watch. 

Among the dozens of films to be showcased in this year’s festival are, Breaking Fast, Out Loud, The Sound of Identity, and many more. Each showcases the many voices of the LGBTQ community from documentaries to short films. The trailers for each film are available for preview through the festival’s 2020 catalog along with more information on each film.  

First-timers to the festival, Jill Shinefield and Gail Willumsen are among the many presenting their film in this year’s festival with their documentary Out Loud, highlighting the voices of a group of transgender and gender nonconforming singers. Shinefield worked as both producer and sound recordist along with Willumsen directing, producing, camera and editing. 

“For LGBTQ+ viewers, we hope our film provides a message of hope and affirmation,” Shinefield expressed. “For viewers who are unfamiliar with the transgender community, we hope our film enlightens and inspires.”

This year being their first to be featured in the festival, the two feel the event to especially important “at this time when LGBTQ+ rights remain under siege.” 

Another filmmaker making his debut for the first time in the festival is director James Kicklighter with his film, The Sound of Identity.

The documentary features the first transgender woman to perform an opera lead in the U.S. with a professional company and in a standard work, as described in the details of the trailer available for viewing in the festival’s catalog.

“It’s a really unique opportunity this year because typically with film festivals you would do that at specific venues,” said Kicklighter. “But because it’s now online, we can bring it to anyone who lives in the state of Arizona, so it’s really exciting.”

By holding the festival online, Kicklighter and other filmmakers involved are able to share their films with an even bigger audience than previous years, as the festival is normally held in venues across the greater Phoenix area. 

The Sound of Identity is certainly a film about how we perceive ourselves and how we use our identity to express ourselves to the public,” said Kicklighter. “With a film about a trailblazing performer who is the first trans opera singer to have a leading role on the American Opera Stage, that gives us a really unique way of exploring that concept with LGBTQ audiences and hopefully people who don’t understand the LGBTQ experience.”

Not only does the virtual festival give hope for reaching a greater audience in the LGBTQ community, but those outside that community who are hoping to better understand their stories and experiences. 

The festival runs through October 25 with passes and more information available at www.desperadofilmfestival.com/.