Pride is a weekend when Charleston's gay community can go out into the street and celebrate its identity. But thanks to the Reel Grits Pride Fest, some of that out-and-proud celebration will take place indoors. Each of the films featured in the festival — Rivers Wash Over Me, Fruit Fly, and Itty Bitty Titty Committee — show characters struggling to find their own sense of pride.
"It's wonderful because it gets at the complexities and the personal experiences and the journeys that people go through in standing up for themselves, in learning pride, in figuring out pride," filmmaker John G. Young says.
Reel Grits is a project of the Greater Park Circle Film Society and is not directly connected with Charleston Pride. But, "I think that it certainly complements what's going on during the day," says James Sears, the group's president. "From my viewpoint, it certainly adds to the experience that people will have if they participate over the weekend."
Sears explains that when his organization was first starting out, one of its initial supporters (which even served as the society's fiscal agent) was the Alliance for Full Acceptance. Since the society aims to partner with local organizations, it was natural that they would absorb this film festival. Plus, one of the larger missions of the society is to show the community films that they may not otherwise have access to; Reel Grits fulfills this desire. Rivers Wash Over Me and Fruit Fly have only recently reached the film circuit.
"I think having any kind of artistic presentations during a pride festival is really great, because I think it's one of the places where traditionally LGBT people really excel," Young says. "I actually think it's tied to feeling different and a little outside the mainstream, and so when you feel that way, often those are the folks that are compelled to be creative." Young's Rivers Wash Over Me opens Reel Grits, playing Friday night at 7 p.m.
In Rivers, Sequan Greene, a gay African-American teen raised in New York City, is sent to live with family in Alabama. There, he befriends Lori, a white girl, and eventually meets her gay brother. Young, whose previous work has shown at the Sundance and TriBeCa film festivals, was fascinated with the concept of young people in the North being sent to live with family in the South and was particularly inspired by a friend who experienced this phenomenon first hand. He says he aims to change people's perceptions of stereotypes of small Southern towns.
Young describes his film as challenging. He doesn't believe it fits neatly into the genre of gay filmmaking, because it deals with so many other important parallel issues, like race and violence.
"People are guaranteed to have a reaction, whether or not it's positive," he says. "They will feel something when they walk out, and they'll want to engage with other people about the film after it's over."
The other Reel Grits movies are much more light-hearted. Fruit Fly is a 2009 film about a Filipina performance artist who moves into a commune and wonders if she's become a "fag hag." It will screen Friday at 9 p.m. It's won awards at both Asian-American and LGBT film festivals. Itty Bitty Titty Committee, released in 2007, was written and directed by Jamie Babbit, the mind behind the campy But I'm a Cheerleader. It plays Saturday at 7 p.m.