Back in the olden days of movies, like the 1970s, the landscape of cinema was very different than today. If you wanted to watch a movie, you were pretty much forced to see it in theaters, making it a pretty social experience. If you missed a movie in the theaters, you had to wait a year or so until it came on TV, where they cut out all the good stuff and added in a bunch of commercials.

Then came HBO, Showtime, and VCRs. Then came a few more cable channels, DVDs, and pay-per-view. Now we have dozens of movie channels, Netflix, and Internet piracy. Thousands of movies are available to us at any given second of the day or night. No matter what your personal taste or mood is, you can find something to fit it. While we don’t have universal access to all movies (yet), we can pretty much watch whatever we want, whenever we want, and never talk to anybody about it.

For 15 years, since before the rise of Netflix, Kansas City has offered an LGBT film festival. Festival director Jamie Rich has kept on top of the zeitgeist and knows that film festivals perform a fairly unique function today. They’re really a throwback to the old days, when cinema was a social thing. They provide chances for people to see movies that haven’t been officially released yet. If you want to see these movies now, you are required to go to the theater; who knows when (or if) they will be released to the general public.

Granted, film festivals are risky. Most of the films you’ve never heard of, and the quality of the films can vary greatly. You need to have a sense of adventure and a love of discovering new movies.

LGBT film festivals are doubly unique -- not only do they serve the function of “regular” film festivals, but they also are one of the only ways to see movies made by and for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender audiences. Gay movies may not be relegated to the cinema ghetto like they used to be, but they are still firmly in the indie movement, which means they are going to be hard to be find anyway -- even if you do hear about them.

By the way, let me clear something up -- just because a movie deals specifically with LGBT issues, that does not mean straight people aren’t welcome. On the contrary, open-minded heterosexuals can learn about life from a perspective different from theirs, and even be entertained -- as long as they aren’t “squeamish” about same-sex romance.

Jamie Rich and the festival committee watch a lot of stuff in order to pick a wide range of films to illustrate as many facets of the LGBT experience as possible and to showcase the contemporary state of indie film itself. This year’s slate of films for the Out Here Now festival, which will run at the Tivoli Cinemas from June 12 to July 3, is pretty strong. Sure, there are a few duds in there, but even the bad ones are instructive.

You can choose from multiple genres this year.

Fans of documentaries have several good picks. There is a movie about Matthew Shepard made by his friends (Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine); a glimpse into the life of George Takei (To Be Takei); a moving look at a young Hawaiian boy who grows into the girl of his dreams (Kumu Hina); and a psychological -- and sexually explicit -- examination of gay BDSM (Power Erotic).

There are several romantic comedies to choose from, such as The 10 Year Plan and John Apple Jack.

Foreign-film lovers can see how gays live in Venezuela (My Straight Son), Brazil (The Way He Looks), the Netherlands (Boys) and Eastern Europe (Dual).

For the off-beat crowd, you can see First Period, one of those I-shouldn’t-be-laughing-but-I-am-anyway teenage comedies. This movie is bent in more than one way; the two female leads are played by young men.

Grind is an odd, darkly brilliant “musical.” In 34 minutes, it manages to completely deconstruct the gay male psyche in a disturbingly accurate way (luckily, this is one of those movies that straight people probably won’t fully understand). Heterosexual Jill similarly skewers the lesbian mind, as well as the ex-gay movement. This one is a lot funnier, though.

And I must mention Lilting. It’s a haunting, quiet gem, full of longing and humor and grief, and is easily one of the best movies I’ve seen all year, in any venue.

So I encourage all film lovers to take a look at the website OutHereNow, pick a couple of movies, and get out of your comfort zone. Get away from your own personalized list of “recommended movies.” Take a chance and get to the Tivoli. You may be surprised at what (and who) you find there.

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