Film fest eyes funding options, hopes for community support

A renaissance over the past few years has enabled the 18-year-old Pittsburgh International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival to afford office space at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, to enlist support from a strong and active group of volunteers and board members and to expand its presence in the community.

        But as with many other nonprofit organizations, raising funds remains difficult, and according to film festival board President Brenda Seevers, the annual event is once again at a financial crossroads.

        “We have seen a significant decrease in corporate funding since 9/11,” Seevers said, “and it has been very hard to cover that loss. Also, in the current political climate, there are more organizations vying for shrinking grant money. When you consider that our ticket sales cover only one-third of the cost of producing the festival, it gives you a sense of what we’re facing.”

        Seevers, who has served as president of the festival board for the past five years, said the organization is heading into this year’s 10-day October festival nearly $7,000 in debt.

        “We are on the verge of a crisis, but we have not and will not give up,” Seevers stressed. “We are currently focusing on new and different funding sources, and we are asking for advice and guidance from other arts organizations.”

        One of the new sources of funding included a June 27 benefit featuring Academy Award-nominated director and Carnegie Mellon University graduate Rob Marshall. The event, which raised $3,500 for the festival, was held at the City Theatre and was moderated by veteran Pittsburgh Post-Gazette theater critic Christopher Rawson.

        Seevers said Marshall’s graciousness and the success of the event have inspired festival organizers to begin planning to bring another significant film artist to Pittsburgh next year. In addition, Seevers and film festival board members are meeting with local foundations, writing grants and pursuing major individual gift prospects to seek funding to cover the organization’s annual operating budget of $39,000. 

        “In this environment, all arts organizations are at risk,” Seevers said. “Our hope is that our audience will not only make the effort to continue to support us, but will bring a friend to the festival this year.” 

        Seevers said one of the board’s standing goals is to bring as many diverse, unique and thought-provoking films and videos as possible to Pittsburgh every year. Programming for the 2003 event is well under way, and although a press embargo prevented Seevers from announcing the name of the festival’s opening night sneak-preview feature, she hinted that the film could be the most provocative and controversial feature ever screened by the festival. “We will continue to try to raise that bar,” Seevers said.

        This year’s festival, scheduled for Oct. 17-26, is expected to include more than 60 features, documentaries and short films by the most notable gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender directors, writers, actors and producers in the world.

        Despite the financial challenges, Seevers told Out she remains cautiously optimistic about the future of the festival.

         “Sometimes I am still amazed that Pittsburgh has the fifth oldest LGBT film festival in the world.  Where other cities have closed their festivals from lack of support, both in terms of money and volunteers to run them, PILGFF is still alive.  That is both gratifying and inspiring. 

        “With the support of longtime friends—such as the incredibly supportive Lambda Foundation—and with the help of others who are just getting to know us, we can keep bringing great work by wonderful artists to Pittsburgh, and continue telling the stories about our lives, our loves, our losses and our dreams that can never be seen at the multiplex or on the shelves at the video store,” Seevers believes. “We have something important to offer this city and this region and we hope to keep providing that for a long time to come.”

For more information about this year’s Pittsburgh International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, volunteer opportunities or sponsorship, call (412) 232-3277, send e-mail to pilgff@aol.com or visit the Web site at www.pilgff.org.