This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Shropshire Rainbow Film Festival that takes place annually in Shrewsbury, Shropshire.
The only film festival of it’s kind outside of a major city. Showcasing feature length LGBT films of many different genres and a series of shorts, the weekend festival is a calendar event for Shrewsbury, and attracts scores of visitors to the town to see talented film makers show off their work.
I was lucky enough to sit down for afternoon tea with 2 of the organisers, Geoff Hardy, and Peter Roscoe, who have worked tirelessly for the past 10 years to make the festival what it is, but they are only two of a large number of volunteers who work for free to make the event happen.
Geoff was one of the pioneers of the gay rights movement in the UK, taking part in the first gay pride march in the UK in London in 1972, and even after moving away from the south of England, he still fights for rights for the gay people of Shropshire and the rest of the UK, and was a massive part along with Peter in the Shropshire Marriage 4 All movement that campaigned for equal marriage in the UK. He takes great pride in the festival telling me, “I love the work that we do on the festival, we’ve made it bigger and bigger every year, and this year marks an important milestone for us with it now being the 10 year anniversary”
The history of the festival goes back to June 2005 where Geoff and Peter organised a local showing of the films Wilde and Get Real and wanted to take it further. So over the next 6 months they worked hard to make a week long event with one film being shown every night to coincide with World AIDS Day, and in December 2005 the first Shropshire Rainbow Film Festival took place in Shrewsbury. Peter looks a little wistful as he tells me, “The first festival didn’t really attract many visitors, we weren’t even sure if it would take off, but the support of local businesses helped to bolster our confidence that we could make it work.”
And local business have played a huge role in donating money to run the festival, but besides the local business, Midlands Zone magazine, Unison, AgeUK and even Birmingham Pride have donated brilliant amounts of money over the years in support.
As the festival grew Geoff and Peter decided to condense a larger number of films into a single weekend.
“We felt that the event could have far more of an impact if we made it into a weekend. It gives people more of a chance to see these films over the course of a weekend than risk missing any during a week long event.”
This year sees numerous directors of the LGBT feature films and the LGBT shorts taking part in Q & A sessions along with gay writers, gay rights activist and cabaret artist Peter Scott-Presland, who is conducting a Q & A after a showing of the 1961 film Victim. Visual effects artist turned director, Matt Carter will also do one after the showing of his film Jayson Bend: Queen and Country, a James Bond style comedy spoof. The home-grown short films produced in the UK also features an award for the best director alongside the Q & A session with several of the film-makers.
I wanted to know what kind of impact the event has on the local area and how it has helped the LGBT community of what is still considered a rural town and how reactions to the festival have changed over the years.
“It’s certainly put Shrewsbury on the map, and it has helped create the local group ChillOut, which is for people who either don’t feel comfortable on the scene, or don’t have the money to travel to the bigger cities like Manchester and London. Three years ago we also for the first time had our own float in the Shrewsbury carnival, which won us first prize. Reactions have been nothing but positive as the festival has grown, so many people want to come and see these films, it’s amazing”
In the early days Geoff and Peter would canvass local business to drum up support and donations and they managed to scrape together enough to hold the first events. These days however, people are now coming to them to either donate money and volunteer services, or to showcase their short films.
This year sees nearly 20 people offering their time for free to make sure the event runs smoothly and all visitors have a brilliant and entertaining time. The variety of visitors to the event is fantastic, all ages and sexualities. All the organisers are at pains to ensure everyone feels welcome, that none of these films should appeal only to the LGBT community, so they go out of their way to pick films that everyone can enjoy. From heart wrenching dramas and documentaries to laugh out loud romantic comedies, there is something for everyone to watch. Because of the success of the main festival, Peter and Geoff will go further afield in Shropshire to hold film showings in the smaller villages and towns that surround Shrewsbury so that LGBT people in these areas still have an opportunity to see these kinds of films.
Social media has increased the visibility of the festival, and people travel from around the country to come to the event, and even people wishing to find the best way to run local festivals of their own have contacted the organisers for advice. But behind it all are the personal stories of the people who want something they can relate to. Geoff told me of one young boy who had been to a previous festival ,
“I saw this one young lad there with his mum, he must have been about 15, he looked nervous to be there, unsure if this was the right thing to do, 2 hours later after seeing one of the documentaries he came out with a huge smile on his face!”
And it’s not just the younger generation that can benefit from the festival, because of the donations and connections from AgeUK and SAND (Safe Ageing No Discrimination) who offer their services and support to older LGBT people, our LGBT veterans have knowledge and access to services they may not even know about.
These films offer a wonderful insight into what it means to be part of the LGBT community, and all the organisers watch them in advance to make certain they reflect all a wide range of characters and themes. Geoff put it eloquently by saying,
“I think the depictions of gay people in the shorts and the features are a far more sensitive and accurate portrayal of what it means to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or another other letter on the broad rainbow of our community than any mainstream production can achieve. These films are made by gay people for gay people and they tell stories of people who just happen to have a different sexuality than straight, their sexualities don’t define their character, it’s just a part of them. It helps enlighten our community to what it means to be gay. But I also think it can show our straight allies a thing or two as well”
I’m proud to come from the town that hosts The Rainbow Film Festival, and is so very vocal in its support of the local LGBT community. And it is Geoff and Peter’s wish that after they choose to pass the torch on, the festival continues to grow and flourish with a new generation taking up the mantle,
“I’m not a young man any more, and I can’t continue this forever. I hope I’ve left a great foundation for this to continue on once I choose to retire, for it to become bigger and better with each passing year”
The Shropshire Rainbow Film Festival takes place from the 16th to 18th of October 2015 in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. For a full listing of films and events please check out the website where tickets can be purchased and chances to volunteer or donate is available. Find out more here