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The North Louisiana Gay and Lesbian Film Festival isn’t only what it sounds like.

“The festival isn’t for the LGBT community, it’s for everyone else,” said volunteer Jeremy Abbott. “We enjoy it, but we know our story.”

Now in its seventh year, the now-weeklong event is helping bridge one of the divides that still separates part of the Shreveport-Bossier City community. Even for all the advancements, filmmakers and hosts alike hope as many straight people as possible will attend.

The themes of the films vary, but film festival special guest chair David Hylan, said there’s something for everyone.

“The content of the film crosses all lines so anyone can be interested in seeing the films,” Hylan said. “That’s part of the mission of the film festival, to show that LGBT relationships are not that much different than a straight relationship. You still have to deal with a lot of the same issues.”

The festival aims “to recognize the contribution of LGBT people that’s made to our culture and to educate the general populace about LGBT concerns and issues,” Hylan said. And they look for filmmakers who can speak to that mission.

Robert L. Camina, director of “Upstairs Inferno,” is a special guest to the festival this year. During his last visit in 2012, Camina observed the NLGLFF is inclusive of everyone, and he described it as one of the most welcoming festivals he’s visited.

“There isn’t any judgment of who comes. We saw members of the LGBT community, allies, straight people — we’re there to share a common experience of sharing stories and I don’t think that defines who you are,” Camina said. “You’re just enjoying a story and losing yourself in a movie, and that’s what a movie experience is about.”

A screening committee juries the films for quality and appropriateness. The film festival is meant to be enjoyed, but filmmakers hope the audience leaves more enlightened than they come in.

It’s a lot to ask to change the world with a one-hour screening, but the goal is to open the lines of communication and understanding.

“A lot of films are based on those things that are going on in our community whether it’s stereotyping or health care or relationship issues,” Hylan said. “The film festival is a great way to get the conversation started.”

“Upstairs Inferno” is about a fire set by an arsonist in a gay bar in the French Quarters in New Orleans in 1973. Thirty-two people died.

The documentary discusses the effects, response and aftermath of the hate crime.

“I’m hoping this film rejuvenates a cause for compassion because right now we’re not seeing a lot of it in our country,” Camino said.

The LGBT community has come a long way in a short time, Camino said, but still has a long way to go.

Camino and fellow directors Jillian Armenante (“Kittens in a Cage”) and JC Calciano (“Is It Just Me?”) are guests of the new “Meet the Filmmakers” session. They will discuss their stories, filmmaking process, challenges and LGBT issues. There will also be chance for the public to ask questions.

“Shreveport-Bossier City is a very conservative part of the country, and people can still be conservative and still realize the benefits of diversity,” Hylan said. “That’s one of the biggest things the festival is trying to confront is the stereotypes that are depicting LGBT in a very negative way that are not true.”

Reeling film festival in Chicago has been going strong for more than two decades. But the festival’s hosts know the struggle it takes to make it all a success — and they credit the support of their community.

Reeling kicked off Thursday night.

Brenda Webb, founder of the gay and lesbian film festival Reeling, said the 1980s was a time when there wasn’t much representation of the LGBT community in film. It’s not the same story today — but it’s still important for Shreveport to find ways to embrace a historically overlooked population.

“Not being isolated, being part of a community and seeing films in the context that’s safe and celebratory, I would think, would be even more important in a small town than in a place like (Chicago) where it’s not so isolated and gay couples can hold hands walking down the street and be a part of a community,” Webb said.

Having dedicated volunteers, in-kind and financial support from donors and community support were vital to Reeling’s success, Webb said. For continued success here in Shreveport, there’s going to have to be even more of that in the eighth, ninth and tenth years of NLGLFF.

The festival wouldn’t have gotten this far without local support, Hylan said, right down to the local government who approved the festival in its debut year and attend each year.

“It has been a very positive force in the community as far as getting out education, the history of our community and positive portrayals of LGBT people,” Hylan said.

If you go

What: North Louisiana Gay and Lesbian Film Festival

Where: Robinson Film Center

When: Through Sept. 24

Info: View film listing schedule at robinsonfilmcenter.org or pacelouisiana.org

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