Film Brings Validation to LGBT Community

By: Melissa Gonzalez,

Image submitted by Raymond Rea, picture of Raymond Rea and visiting filmmaker Andrea Meyerson

*Names have been changed for privacy. To respect E.’s gender identity, the pronoun ‘they/them’ is used.

After 10 years of the LGBT Film Festival playing in Fargo, North Dakota, the film professor who started it all continues to influence the Fargo-Moorhead community and share stories of marginalized people.

Movies play a critical role in culture and society. As a part of the media industry, films influence, inform and instill cultural beliefs in people.

Movies are a powerful way to tell stories. Their strong visual appeal leaves lasting impressions on those who watch them, for better or for worse. For example, countless movies were created to spread violence against Jewish people in Germany during World War II.

But for the last decade in Fargo, movies have celebrated the existence of LGBT folks. Raymond Rea moved from San Francisco to the F-M community in 2008 as a professor of film production in the school of media arts and design at MSUM.

Film has been a part of Rea’s life since he was young. As a teenager he made Super 8 movies and talked film with his high school teacher. Now in his 50s, Rea has a bachelor’s of fine arts and a master’s of fine arts in film. So far, his portfolio includes 11 short films and one short feature.

Rea’s passion for film, and as a filmmaker, drove him to create this film festival. His love for queer film and the broad diversity that queer stories bring motivated him to create something that would ground him in his passion, especially in his new home.

Rea started the Fargo-Moorhead LGBT Film Festival in 2009. This year, from Sept. 12 to Sept. 15, LGBT films from around the world played at the downtown Fargo Theatre.

“For this part of the country, I think it’s important just because people have very limited access to what types of movies they get to see on the big screen here,” Rea said. “I think it’s important to actually bring in film for people to see, specifically around LGBT film. The feedback that I’ve heard from audience members, it’s just unbelievable what people will say.”

It was common for people in the community to admit to Rea that until they saw the films at the festival, they had never seen stories that reflected who they were.

Robyn E. *, a film and video production major from Fargo, is 24 and went to the film festival for a class they’re taking at MSUM. They said it was their first time attending the festival.

E. believes that films shown at festivals like these show the variety of thoughts and experiences of the people around us.

“There’s necessity to have more diverse options for building a community that would be otherwise be fragmented,” they said.

Representation in the arts and media, whether in journalism, TV shows, movies or anything else, is important for marginalized groups to feel seen and validated. In storytelling, it ensures that different perspectives are shared.

The films shown that Friday also broke the common trope that defines LGBT characters in mainstream media, where any character that is seen as “queer” has a tragic back-story, or a tragic demise.

“Those kind of tropes… it feels like it’s trying to make it [like] that’s how life is for the majority of LGBT people when it’s not” they said. “I live in a house with four transgender people, one out gay, cis-gender man and our life is great. And I know many people in the area with the same thing.”

E. appreciates the presence of LGBT directors in the festival and that the films aren’t all sob stories.

“Sunset” was E.’s favorite piece. The short film is about a man discussing his decision to fight in World War II with his male lover. Although the film is sad, it is more about the bleakness of war and separation rather than the sexual orientations of the men involved.

Total evasion of tragedy is impossible. “When the World Changed” is a 35-minute documentary telling the stories of three lesbians who advocated for gay men diagnosed with HIV and AIDS in the 1980s.

The last film shown was another story of success. “A Year in Transition” follows Issa Ismail’s first year in transition as a transgender man. According to the festival pamphlet, the documentary’s goal is to demonstrate a story of positivity, hope and success and is intended for transgender youth. The film is a refreshing contrast against the tragic, and often fatal, narratives that usually surround transgender people.

E. recognized that regardless of the artist’s intentions, all art has meaning. E. went on to say that everyone will find some sort of meaning in the art they consume.

“It brings more diversity of thought and diversity that you won’t see at a catch-all film festival,” they said.

Both Rea and E. believe that these films help people see images of themselves that they would otherwise not see in mainstream media. Events like the LGBT Film Festival can bring many communities together that, at any other time, would be separated. 

Rea and the other festival staff have coined a phrase to include on promotional material for the festival, demonstrating what many marginalized people cherish recognizing themselves and their stories in film:

“There’s a place where you’re seen. Let us show it to you.”

More information about the films and the festival can be found at



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