Long Island LGBT film festival director wants to unite community

Long Island LGBT film festival director wants to unite community

James Stewart, second from left, with participants at last weekend’s LI Gay & Lesbian Festival. Photo from Raj Tawney

A Greenlawn resident with a love for film has helped create a diverse and welcoming environment at the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

James Stewart, a retired Nassau County police officer who is gay, said he’s had a love for film ever since he was a young boy.

“My grandfather was a film usher,” Stewart said. The first film he ever saw with his grandfather was “Gone With the Wind.”

“To me, the Academy Awards are a holy night,” Stewart said. “Everyone who knows me knows not to call me that night.”

The festival celebrated its 18th year at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington over the weekend, and it was Stewart’s third year as executive director. When he first got involved five years ago, he was the men’s feature program director and then the program director, before he became the executive director.

The executive director handles all of the programming for the festival, and the planning starts as early as March, he said. The festival was five days long and had more than 10 films, ranging from documentaries to feature films.

“My job is to balance everything out and make sure we have an equal amount of light movies, serious movies and documentaries and more, ” Stewart said.

There is also a balance of domestic versus international movies. Stewart said there were films from Australia, India and Mexico this year.

After almost every film, there is a food and cocktail reception, where Stewart said he hopes audience members will interact and help the festival become more of a social experience.

“It’s really about community,” Stewart said. “We hope to be starting new friendships.”

Stewart said he’s tried to get as many LGBT groups to sponsor the receptions as possible to encourage a communal feeling. At the receptions, there are also performers, including musical artists, comedy acts and more.

“I try to be as eclectic as possible,” Stewart said.

For the final night of the festival, Stewart said the entertainment included Broadway performers.

Everyone involved in this festival is a volunteer, and Stewart praised the staff he works with to make this festival possible. He also said Cinema Arts Centre is extremely generous and gracious with the flexibility they give the festival and describes it as “a match made in heaven.”

Stewart said he also likes the opportunity the film festival gives to independent movies that have a very little chance at getting shown on Long Island.

“A lot of these movies you wouldn’t normally get to see on Long Island,” Stewart said. “These are great films, but either they don’t have the proper distribution or enough money, so this is your chance to see them.”

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