The fourth annual Louisville LGBT Film Festival strives to tell the many stories of the LGBT community through feature films, narratives, documentaries and shorts. This year, there will be more than a dozen films screened, and it marks the first time a transgender film — “Boy Meets Girl” — opens the festival, which runs Oct. 17-19 at Village 8 Theatres.
Highlights include the documentary “Limited Partnership,” which examines the first legal same-sex marriage in 1975 and the couple’s battle to have it recognized by the federal government; “Facing Fear,” an Oscar-nominated short about the meeting of a former Neo-Nazi man and the gay victim of his hate crime 25 years later; and “The Way He Looks,” a Brazilian feature film about a blind teenager struggling to find love.
Travis Myles, chairman of the LGBT Film Fest, says the committee pored over more than 140 films that were submitted, a process that took nearly six months. Each member scored the films and then they were discussed as a group. “We kept in mind our goal to have a strong mixture of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender films, as well as films that deal with race, religion, age and disability when possible,” he says. “Additionally, we try to have as many international films as possible. It’s sometimes a very grueling process, because each member seems to have that film or two that really speaks to them.”
“Boy Meets Girl,” which is set in an unnamed Kentucky town, was written and directed by Eric Schaeffer (“If Lucy Fell”). Schaeffer and the stars of the film — Michelle Hendley and Michael Welch (“Twilight”) — will be featured at a Q&A session after the film screens Friday night.
Myles says the opening film is one of the most important of the fest. He mentions the fact that the lead transgender character is played by a real transgender actress, which doesn’t typically happen in more mainstream films (i.e. “Transamerica,” “Boys Don’t Cry,” “The Crying Game”).
“Having a transgender person playing a transgender role is important to us,” Myles says. “Also, it is set in Kentucky. The stars just aligned on this one.”
Insider Louisville talked with writer/director Eric Schaeffer about his film, his reason for setting it in Kentucky and his search for a transgender actress to play the lead role.
Insider Louisville: What kind of reactions have you gotten at various film fests where “Boy Meets Girl” has screened?
Eric Schaeffer: People seem to be liking it. We’ve won 20 awards throughout the 15 or so festivals we’ve been at, which seems to be an indication of how people like it. They’re liking it for all the right reasons — they’re getting the comedy, they’re getting the pathos, they’re getting the heartfelt core. It’s been really great.
IL: How’d you come up with the storyline?
ES: This film is very in keeping thematically with my other work in that it’s a film about honest, raw human emotions, desires and feelings about finding love. I just wondered how I could write about those themes in a way that was different than my previous films. I thought a comedy/dramedy about a transgender girl in a small Southern town would be a unique window into discussing those themes.
IL: Were you worried you’d miss some nuances of what it’s like to be a transgender person?
ES: I hope that these universal themes apply to everyone — they go across race lines and across gender lines. As a human being, I feel I’m equipped to write about this stuff. Obviously there are nuances, but at the end of the day, alienation, love, happiness and desire — those are all universal.
IL: I liked that the story wasn’t about a transgender woman and how she fits into society; rather, she was just a character who happened to be transgender.
ES: It only comes up in the romantic parts of the movie, which it has to. Other than that, it really doesn’t come up, because it doesn’t need to. It doesn’t need to come up in her family life or her town life, because everyone just supports her and treats her like the girl she is.
IL: Why did you decide to set it in Kentucky?
ES: I wanted to set it in a small town in the South, because I thought that would help destroy the stereotypes that the South doesn’t have many people who are open and accepting of other lifestyles. I wanted to blow up every stereotype there was.
IL: Tell me about how you found Michelle Hendley to play the transgender lead.
ES: There aren’t a lot of working transgender actresses in Hollywood and New York, so I had to get creative. I went online and found Michelle, who had a YouTube channel and a series of blogs about her life. She was perfect for the part, I thought. She was the right age and obviously wasn’t afraid to be in front of a camera. I got in touch with her and auditioned her over Skype, and she was terrific. Every step along the way she just got better and better. She had a lot of natural talent but also knew she had to work really hard to learn the craft.
IL: What do you hope people take away from this story?
ES: That life is precious and you should be grateful and helpful to those around you. And know that who we love and how we love should be a special and protective experience.
“Boy Meets Girl” will be screened Friday night at 8 p.m. at Village 8 Theatres. Tickets are $8. For a complete schedule of the LGBT Film Fest, click here.