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Film festivals aim to raise awareness of LGBT community

July 18, 2007|by SHANNON EPPS

HAGERSTOWN - After nearly four years of participating in festivals in Washington, D.C., celebrating the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, Jarvis Brooks said he saw a need to act locally.

"There wasn't any kind of positive reinforcement events ... to educate the community" at large, said Brooks, a resident of Waynesboro, Pa.

Brooks, who works in Hagerstown, founded Reel Awakenings to raise awareness and to provide a safe environment for the LGBT community and its supporters.

"The whole premise of (Reel Awakenings) is to awaken people's consciousness about who they are and also break down the stereotypes about who people think we are, and to provide a healthy, safe environment while educating, entertaining and enlightening at the same time," he said.

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Since May, the organization has presented a film festival each month at the Hagerstown 10 Cineplex. Brooks plans to continue the monthly film festivals, which feature films portraying the lives of LGBT individuals and the obstacles they face.

Brooks said the films shown at the festivals often are popular in metropolitan areas, but rarely make it to the big screen in rural communities.

"They feel that there's not a desire to watch those films, which is not true," he said.

About 27 people attended the first film festival, Brooks said. The numbers have been growing, he said, with the most recent festival on July 1 drawing about 50 supporters from both the LGBT and straight communities.

The next festival is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 5.

Several local businesses have signed on to sponsor Reel Awakenings, including The Maryland Theatre.

Brian Sullivan, executive director of The Maryland Theatre, said he feels it is important to expose the community to various art forms.

"It's about people and art," he said. "Every art is different, and this is definitely an independent film festival that is open to everybody."

Reel Awakenings also has the support of corporate sponsor Logo, an MTV network that provides programming aimed toward LGBT audiences.

Equality Maryland, an LGBT civil rights organization, also sponsors Reel Awakenings.

"We feel it's important to provide an opportunity for the LGBT community to convene and examine issues that affect our community uniquely," said Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland.

Furmansky said he expects that not all members of the community will be supportive of the film festival.

"I have no doubt that there will be individuals who will be upset that such a film festival is even occurring," he said. "I would hope that in this day and age ... (people) hopefully will be receptive to the needs of this community to gather together."

Brooks said he hopes Reel Awakenings will create a bridge between the LGBT and straight communities.

"I'm very involved in bringing positive awareness ..." Brooks said. "It's not just a 'gay' thing. It's trying to get involved and help do things for people."

For more information about Reel Awakenings, go to www.reelawaken ings.org.

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