"The film strand at the festival creates the opportunity for a lesbian and gay audience to see work they just won't see anywhere else, or that they'll very rarely get the chance to see," says Steven Thomson, director of Glasgay. "It's especially important for new work, to showcase up and coming filmmakers who are yet to break into the mainstream, and to look at issues that are under-represented elsewhere."
Glasgay, Glasgow's month-long festival celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) culture, is now in its 18th year. Steven has been in the top job since 2004, and under his leadership the festival has grown considerably, forming partnerships with new venues including the Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT) and Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA). Although the film strand is still relatively small, it has become a central part of the event. This time Glasgay worked with the GFT and local publishing group Lock Up Your Daughters to select the films on show. "We tried to find work looking at the broader issues surrounding representation," says Steven "and we were also trying to strike a balance between interesting historical films and new work.
"The representation of lesbians and gays is a big issue at the moment, driven by movements in contemporary culture and changing lifestyle issues. There was the recent outcry about there supposedly being too many gay characters in Coronation Street and Opera North nearly had a show cancelled because people objected to it containing the word 'queer'. We wanted to find films that feature something other than the usual stereotypical presentations of the lesbian gay community, that she people as they really are, just ordinary people, and not mad, bad or sad."
The festival includes some quite obscure works. Was it difficult getting access to them? Steve laughs. "The GFT like to have a cult classic or two in the programme. Some of it was challenging but I think it's interesting because these films really show us what was going on in niche communities, say with directors like John Waters before he became popular. One of the problems faced by lesbian and gay filmmakers is that when they start out they're often forced to make work on very low budgets, but 30 years later some of those films are cult classics. The CCA were also involved in choosing films and they'll be showing Killing Us Softly, which is about how women are represented in advertising. There's a movement now towards trying to get batter representations of women and representations of lesbians and gays that are not just the old butch / femme or camp stereotypes. We hope these films will allow the audience to draw their own conclusions, and we think it's an important opportunity to have LGBT voices speaking to an LGBT audience."
Is it just an LGBT audience, I ask, or do straight people also go along to Glasgay films?
"We do get straight people going," he says. "About a third of our audience is straight. 60% are from somewhere within greater Glasgow but some travel quite a way to get here, from Europe. It's a really big event now."
There will also be filmmakers in attendance.
"We have Andrew Haigh here to talk about Weekend and there are people from Dollywood. We try to do a Q&A around most of the films, inviting local academics for instance, so we can draw out issues from the audience."
Weekend is, Steven acknowledges, his personal favourite.
"It's just such a fresh movie that gives a real view of what it's like to be in bed with a gay guy for the weekend. You travel through a lifetime in the course of a few days and find love and romance along the way. It looks at gay relationships in a really honest, refreshing way and in particular it uses language that the average gay guy in the street would get."
That said, there are other films screening that Steven hasn't yet had a chance to see, and he's pretty excited about that. In the future, he says, he hopes to continue to develop the film strand of the festival. Changing distribution networks mean there are major challenges ahead, but he remains confident, and he's always looking out for new talent and new work.
Glasgay runs between October 15 and November 12.