Visit the official Festival website at UWM.
The Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival was the final title in a nearly 30-year period of approximately annual gay and lesbian films and later also videos, sponsored by organizations at UWM and primarily at UWM. Early events varied in name and sponsoring group.
The founding date is listed as 1987 according to sources such as the Wikipedia page and the UWM website (which sponsored the festival for most of its years). However, that date can be easily disputed. Documentation shows a Film Festival was held as early as 1980 as part of events organized by the Milw. Lesbian Gay Pride Committee (which eventually eveolved into Pridefest).
Film festivals at UWM appear to have their start in 1983, not 1987. In Step magazine in its very first issue in February 1984 (vol. 1) references the writer having attended "the Second Annual Milwaukee Gay/Lesbian Film Festival", with subsequent events (3rd annual in 1985, 4th annual in 1986, 5th annual in 1987, and 6th annual in 1988) in the following few years. These were sponsored by Lavender Commitment, described as "a gay/lesbian arts group at UWM".
Things become more confusing when Film Festivals are not indicated by LGBT Periodicals after 1988 until 'In Step magazines' from 1991 (vol. 8) have articles about a group "Great Lakes Film and Video" sponsoring first films not shown on PBS, and then sponsoring some other film screenings, with one article mentioning a film will be "part of the Lesbian Gay Film and Video Festival" sponsored by 'Great Lakes Film and Video' to be held at UWM March 6-13 (1992). We are unclear at this point who 'Great Lakes Film and Video' was.
Then, articles in 'In Steps' from 1992 (vol. 9+) expand upon that. The first article is titled '1st Milwaukee Lesbian/Gay film fest March 6-13" and talks about the "demise of Lavender Commitment" (which had been the sponsoring group of previous events), while confirming that 'Great Lakes Film & Video' will be hosting the new event. Subsequent articles swap the title back to "Milw. Gay/Lesbian Film Festival". (There were continual discussions whether the word 'Gay' should come before or after 'Lesbian' in organization and event names. Early on many groups used the term 'Gay' interchangeably, but G/L became popular first, but gradually events and organizations moved to L/G and finally LGBT, LGBTQ, and LGBTQ+ to be 'all inclusive'.)
By 1996 things seemed to have settled; the January 1996 event was referred to as the "5th" festival, still listing as primary sponsor 'Great Lakes Film and Video'. But thing get complicated again when reviewing a 2007 Reception to celebrate the "Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival's 20th anniversary", and the flyer for the October 2015 event called it the "30th Annual" festival. As festival dates had been moving around on the calendar, event occurences could be different than year counts- but then the term "annual" wouldn't be necessarily accurate. We will have to await someone mapping out actual event dates throughout this timeframe to do an accurate count.
Regardless of the actual starting date, what is clear is that Festival Programming typically included films and (starting in later years) independent videos, as well as documentaries, coming out films, romantic comedies, films dealing with LGBT identity with age, race, and religion, as well as films from outside the United States. Each festival also usually included series of "men's shorts" and "women's shorts" that included gay and lesbian themes, respectively. The festival's screening usually spanned over about a week's time, held at various venues.
While early festivals were coordinated by Carl Szatmary (who later went on to write LGBT book reviews, and then opened an LGBT booksore and gift shop), during most of its life, the festival was coordinated by Carl Bogner. The festival became his nearly-all-consuming passion and hobby as well as complimenting his job as film lecturer at UWM.
As summarized on a Wikipedia page (early 2023) for the Festival:
The Milwaukee LGBT Film & Video Festival takes place every fall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The festival was established in 1987 and is presented by the Film Department (now the Film, Video, Animation & New Genres department) in the Peck School of the Arts of the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee (UWM). Opening night and centerpiece gala screenings take place at the Oriental Theatre located on the East Side of Milwaukee. In 2018 the format of the festival changed to provide screenings throughout the year instead of the concentrated 11 day format primarily screened at the UW Milwaukee Union Theatre.
Programming includes films and independent videos; the festival also books documentaries, coming out films, romantic comedies, films dealing with LGBT identity with age, race, and religion, and films from outside the United States. Each festival also includes series of "men's shorts" and "women's shorts" that include gay and lesbian themes, respectively.
Festival sponsorship comes from a variety of corporate and private donors.
The official Festival website at UWM outlines what may have been the decline and eventual demise of the Festival. The last entry there is from January 2020, while the Support and Sponsors pages acknowledge support for the 2017 festival. The 'News' page on the UWM website makes the festival sound like it was on its last legs. The latest Facebook posting is also from the '32nd Annual" festival, in Fall 2017. The UWM website 'News' page reads as follows:
This year- the Festival's 33rd- the Festival is trying an experiment, a necessary experiment. A year of transition, maybe; a year of reflection for sure.
Mostly, this: the Festival will not be unfurling a concentrated 11-day event this Fall 2018.
Instead, we will continue to bring a diverse array of LGBT+ representations to local screens through regular- monthly, in fact, mostly- screenings.
Why this change? The Festival needs to figure out the best, most realistically sustainable, way to be. Generously housed in the Department of Film, Video, Animation, and New Genres at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the Festival, as you know, is put together by staff who also have a range of other University duties. And after recent position adjustments, a better balance needs to be found from the staff can successfully mount the Festival.
The Festival wants to continue to bring you a community-articulated event that showcases the best in LGBT+ cinema and, in order to achieve this, we need to experiment a bit, taking the time to figure out how best to go forward, what savvier practices are needed.
As we have found it hard to reflect on an experience while simultaneously mounting one, we want to take this year — Fall 2018 & Spring 2019- to conjure a better way to mount the Festival. We also want to engage with our loyal patrons and community partners to discuss how they want the Festival to be, to glean ideas on how we can successfully and sensibly present this LGBT-authored, LGBT+ community cultural event. Maybe- after all of this talk- when the Festival unspools next year, in 2019, it will look exactly as it did just a year ago, 11 concentrated days being the form that audiences prefer. But, whatever its form, the Festival, the thinking goes, will be fortified by the input shared and the conversations enjoyed and the investments made across the year – time shared from people like you.
An article about the Festival in the mainstream media's 'Shepherd Express' in 2018, 'The State of Milwaukee's LGBTQ Cinema', reflected the new reality of the environment in which the Festival was trying to remain relevant:
Abandoning decades of tradition, there was no gala launch reception or grand opening screening at the Oriental Theatre. (In an) interview with long-term festival director Carl Bogner, the event's format has again reverted to one that had been in place (briefly) several years ago. Namely, rather than the classic, full-fledged, 11-day festival, there will be monthly screenings. While the interview didn't fully explain the rationale for the change, Bogner mentioned "resources" and referenced the fact that UWM's film department, the event's host, "has other things going on."
This subject has come up before and may reflect funding cuts imposed on the UW System by the current state administration... And there's the reality of falling attendance. In a conversation... with Bogner several years ago, asked about the lack of younger attendees... his response cited the various media alternatives students enjoyed, like watching movies on a phone... One would like to be optimistic and hope the LGBT Film/Video Festival might return to its former days of glory, when the entire community, in all its diversity, thronged into the Oriental Theatre lobby, and one found oneself immersed in the vibe and giddy anticipation of a communal cinematic experience."
The 2019 article about the Festival in the 'Shepherd Express', 'LGBT Film/Video Festival Carries On' was the last gasp. Two or three films were being offered, but it was barely a whisper. After describing the Festival's glory years, writer Paul Masterson wrote:
Then came the competition, the original Milwaukee International Film Festival (MIFF), and that changed everything. Originating in 2003 as an 11-day event, it took place before the LGBT Film/Video Festival. At first, it was simply another festival with its own following. Eventually, MIFF's growth began to impact the LGBT Film/Video Festival... The LGBT festival shifted its format to a gala opening followed by monthly screenings. That didn't go over well with supporters, so it returned to the original 11-day event.
Meanwhile, last year, the now 15-day (MIFF) added a GenreQueer category. In fact, our community organizations, the ones that would have otherwise funded the LGBT Film/Video Festival, sponsored the Milwaukee Film's LGBTQ films...
There are various schools of thought within the LGBTQ political philosophy. One strives for assimilation and full integration. Another, to which I subscribe, remains skeptical of compromising identity for the sake of acceptance. It's easy enough to point to history and find ample arguments for the latter. Blending in rarely means equality.
Like any corporate takeover, Milwaukee Film's de facto absorption of our beloved institution might seem efficient and a natural next chapter of the grander scheme of things, but I'm saddened by the dilution of our essential community essence.
The LGBT Film/Video Festival may never return to its glory days, but it behooves us to continue our support.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic at the start of 2020, and continuing into 2021, during which large crowds of people were strongly discouraged, the Festival quitely disappeared.
Credits: web site concept, design and content by Don Schwamb;
Festival brochure PDF's for 2007-2015 from UWM/ Film Festival website.
Last updated: January-2023.
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