The oldest film festival in Austin may not be the one Austinites are most familiar with.
Polari, an Austin nonprofit, is best known for its annual film festival, formerly the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival. Though the event was re-branded in 2012 for the 25th anniversary, this year’s festival continues to bring hundreds of narrative, documentary and avant-garde films about LGBTQ issues to Austin from around the world.
Throughout the year, Polari facilitates educational programs such as the Queer Youth Media Project, which provides resources for LGBTQ youth to make short films.
Curran Nault, artistic director for the Polari Film Festival, received a doctorate in radio-television-film from the University of Texas. Though he didn’t program the original festival, he knows the story well.
“1987, it’s a time when there’s not much LGBT representation on television or in film, so the start of the festival at that time was really kind of a big deal,” Nault said.
The creator of the original festival, Scott Dinger, wanted an outlet for the LGBTQ films being made at the time, according to Nault.
“It started to grow each year after that until it became a two-week festival sometime in the early nineties,” Nault said.
Dinger’s original idea is now the oldest film festival in Austin, a city sometimes called the third coast for its growing filmmaking community. Though LGBTQ issues are more openly discussed, many involved feel their job is not done because there are still holes in the mainstream media conversation.
“For example, gay marriage is a really popular topic right now, you see that in the news,” Nault said. “But then, we tell other stories that maybe people don’t get a chance to see.”
PJ Raval, an Austinite and featured artist in this year’s festival, found a topic he believes is missing from the discussion. Raval researched whether or not members of the LGBTQ community faced their own challenges when it came to aging in his film “Before You Know It.”
“What I discovered is that they do,” Raval said. “Many of them struggle with isolation — they are twice as likely to be alone in their senior years as opposed to heterosexual counterparts.”
Raval discovered that the isolation comes from growing up in a more conservative time.
“It’s really amazing that these LGBT seniors have lived through what’s now being called the ‘gay civil rights movement,’” Raval said. “I think that they’re largely unrecognized.”
Yen Tan, Austinite and director of the feature film “Pit Stop,” said the festival has helped bring the Austin community together.
“The fusion of the gay community and straight community, the line is not as obvious,” Tan said. “You see a lot of intermingling between these people and I feel like that’s the way it should be.”
Nault hopes Polari will serve this same purpose for years to come.
“I think of the film festival as a space that potentially everybody can come and be together and enjoy a film in a dark room,” Nault said. “So it’s about uniting community.”