The Camp 10 - Jamie Rich

Summer is here, and the heat is back! We’ve just finished up Pride in Kansas City, and people may be looking for things to do when they are out and about. Look no further! Out Here Now, the 16th annual Kansas City LGBT Film Festival, runs from June 25 to July 2. Jamie Rich, the man behind the festival, put everything aside to give us this interview, filling us in about the festival, his activism and his company, Open Circle.
1. It’s once again time for the annual KC LGBT Film Festival! What can people in the community expect from this year’s list of films? 
Our sweet 16th season is a terrific blend of new films from around the world. There are comedies and film parodies to make you laugh … timely documentaries that incite and inspire ... and a rich variety of great stories made by both veteran and emergent filmmakers. It’s affordable entertainment, featuring films you can preview in advance at our website and then easily enjoy at the theater by yourself or with friends.
2. How did you become involved in the festival?
 
In 2000, I was asked by Jerry Harrington, the owner of the Tivoli Cinemas in Westport, to help resurrect a gay and lesbian film festival for Kansas City. Films in those days were only available on 35mm prints. And there was usually just one print made for most LGBT movies. So we chose to schedule the festival at the end of June, between the well-established gay film festivals in San Francisco and New York as well as those in L.A. and Philadelphia. This allowed us to present a really high-quality festival from films that were literally flying over our heads! I’ve had the privilege of serving as festival director since 2001.
3. How are the films chosen? 
Submissions come to our screening committee directly from filmmakers, as well as from independent film distributors. This year, we had a record number of online entries. We also do a great deal of searching each spring to track down leads on films that we hear are in development and others we discover from the buzz they are generating on websites and social media. Films are then previewed and ranked by our screening committee. The real challenge comes in making the final selections. There are always more films we want to program than we have available timeslots. But we’re committed to putting together the best and most diverse showcase we can.
4. What are you most excited about for this year’s festival? 
The variety of voices represented. We have our first transgender romantic comedy, Two 4 One, and a micro-budget marvel from Mexico, Velociraptor. Audiences will be treated to the Midwest premieres of some fantastic new works from female filmmakers, including Michele Ehlen, who will be here in person to present her new comedy, S&M Sally. The Kansas City Human Rights Commission joins us again to present our annual Celebration of Courage Award. This year that honor goes to Out to Win, which profiles courageous LGBT athletes past and present. And we have the U.S premiere of You’re Killing Me, an intriguing mix of horror, camp and romantic comedy that will have you laughing hysterically as you cover your eyes in fear!
5. And I have to ask…do you have a favorite LGBT film (not necessarily in this year’s line-up)?
Oh my! That’s like asking a restaurateur to pick his favorite meal. What I do cherish are those magical movie moments where the story, the direction and the performances blend to create that unforgettable connection with the audience. There are classics like the stolen kiss in Beautiful Thing, Natasha Lyonne’s rescue of Clea DuVall from straight-camp graduation in But I’m a Cheerleader, and the final scene on the beach in Longtime Companion. And there are new ones from this year’s festival, like the reveal of a lesbian artist’s hidden treasures in Packed in a Trunk, a homophobic father who gets tricked in Winning Dad and the heart-pounding climax of Drown.
6. You also own the business Open Circle. Could you tell me about the business and its goals?
For the last 11 years, my company has provided marketing, event planning and audience development services to authors, presenters and creative entrepreneurs, as well as to numerous community organizations and initiatives. And, of course, now that I am married to a Galician, some have said our goal should be opening a European branch somewhere in Spain. 
7. You have been involved in activism in the community. What inspired you to become involved?
Like many of my generation, I lost scores of friends and mentors in the early days of the AIDS crisis. It was activism born of survival. During that time, I had the good fortune to work at Unity Temple on the Plaza as it was transitioning into being a welcoming and affirming spiritual community. That experience, coupled with the encouraging support from some incredible friends from the women’s community, pushed me from well-meaning bystander to volunteer participant to active advocate.
8. We are currently waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to announce its decision regarding marriage equality. What do you think our next big fight should be? (Editor's Note. This column was written before the June 26 Supreme Court decision on Marriage Equality.)
I’m not a big believer in fights. They keep you focused on your oppressor. Our successes come from the relentless efforts to forge alliances within and beyond our community that create meaningful change. As a group of people whose ranks span all racial, gender, age, faith-based, intellectual and income divides, we now have to show up as visible and vital allies in ending those injustices as well. 
9. What do you believe we can do to get people more involved with activism?
Activism isn’t easy work. And, as my good friend Dr. Bob Minor advises in his workshops, activism will likely bring up all your personal issues in need of healing. I remember being told flat-out that I was not appropriately “corporate-looking” enough to ever succeed in a leadership capacity in the gay community. It’s a challenge to shift your focus from the dysfunction and drama to what else is possible. But the rewards of civic engagement come from the amazing people you’ll meet, the rush of excitement you’ll feel rising on the waves of change, and the deep sense of gratitude you’ll receive knowing you’ve helped make a difference for those on the journey with you and for those who’ll make even greater strides following on the path.
10. I always like to end with a little fun. Since it’s summer, a great season for fresh produce, if you could be any type of
fruit, what would you be and why?
I’d have to say a grape. They’re great when they’re fresh and ripe. And they can be transformed into many good things. But, in time, when they’re all dried up, they still work well with other fruits and hold their goodness when mixed with nuts.

Photo courtesy of Jose Cuervo

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