Dayton’s LGBT Film Fest marking 15th anniversary

Virtual festival slated for Oct. 9-15

It’s hard to believe the Dayton LGBT Film festival at The Neon movie theater is celebrating its 15th anniversary year.

Many of us remember when the festival was introduced to the Miami Valley in 2006 with the mission of bringing to town the best in feature-length and short films from around the world.

Neon Manager Jonathan McNeal, who spearheads the event each year, says the first festival was launched on a modest budget with one programmer and four screenings.

ExploreTickets on sale now for virtual Downtown Dayton LGBT Film Fest

If you’ve attended in recent years, you know that it’s now blossomed to include more than 100 films each year. A dedicated group of committee members pick the films, there are lots of volunteers, an intern, visiting artists from around the world and a festive opening night party. Many of the film screenings now sell out and the limited supply of “all access passes” are grabbed up pretty quickly.



How about this year?

Though film festivals around the world have had to cancel, others — such as the Dayton Jewish Film Festival — are hosting their events online.

That’s the path the 15th Dayton LGBT Film Festival will take place this month from Oct. 9-15. The schedule calls for five feature-length films and more than a dozen shorts. About 90 percent of the festival will be online, but you can also see a group of short films in person at the theater during the week of the festival.

“During our months of closure at The Neon, we had to make numerous changes for the safety of our staff and customers in order to reopen at the end of June,” McNeal explains. “In conjunction with social distancing measures, we now have significantly smaller capacity in each auditorium — and that’s one reason it didn’t seem right to attempt an exclusively in-person festival.”

ExploreTrick or treat?! The Halloween events that are not canceled this year

McNeal says they also understand that many people do not yet feel comfortable attending public events. “In early April, we saw the writing on the wall and knew that we would need to pivot in order to conduct a festival, so we kept watching new material and knew that we’d have to make some hard decisions at the end of summer,” he says. “Going mostly virtual was a unanimous decision that the committee made; we didn’t want to simply cancel the event. During these times of isolation and heated political discourse, we think the festival is all the more vital.”



How it works

Each feature-length presentation will be available online for a three-day window during the festival, and "Top Drawer Shorts Vol #1 (a collection of the best shorts from across the country and around the world) will be available during the entire week for online viewing. A second package of short films — "Top Drawer Shorts Vol #2 — will be available for in-person screenings at The Neon during the week of the festival.

“This year’s festival committee is working hard to create introductions to films, record Q&A’s with filmmakers from around the world and ensure everything is ready to go Oct. 9,” McNeal explains. “Since 90 percent of our festival will be available virtually this year, they will be available Ohio-wide.”

McNeal says one thing he’ll greatly miss about the in-person festival is the opportunity to interact with visiting artists and the chance to show off the city of Dayton. He’s kept in touch with many of them over the years and says it’s been exciting to watch their careers blossom.

One of this year’s short films, “My Summer with Uncle Ira,” was co-directed by Gary Jaffe — a guest from last year’s festival.

ExploreVOICES: Just blow a kiss... and vote

McNeal says Jaffe waived the licensing fee this year because he knew this year has been such a struggle. “I’m happy to have you screen it for nothing as a token of appreciation for rolling out the red carpet for me last year,” he told McNeal.

Meet Gary Jaffe

Jaffe, originally from Austin, Texas, now lives in Brooklyn. After studying theater at Yale University, he transitioned into film when he met his collaborator, the co-director and editor of “Last Summer with Uncle Ira.”

“My mission as a creator is to foster — gently or not — a more nuanced self-acceptance in the queer community and beyond,” says Jaffe. "I’m very interested in the journey of self-acceptance that often comes after coming out of the closet. "

In “Last Summer with Uncle Ira,” he explains that self-acceptance comes after accepting the people who made us who we are.

“The film is about a closeted 16-year-old whose uncle is dying of HIV — and who wants to have a conversation that our protagonist isn’t completely ready to have,” says Jaffe. “Uncle Ira is inspired by my uncle Barry, who died of AIDS in 1991 when I was 3. In this short, I imagine what it would have been like to get to know him — to have a conversation with him I didn’t get to have.”

Jaffe says McNeal and his team of volunteers do a fantastic job of making filmmakers feel welcome.

“They make sure the other filmmakers at the festival had plenty of opportunities to meet each other and make friends,” he notes. “I vividly recall sitting at Blind Bob’s chatting about queer history and relationships with Mark Patton, star of “Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” and the amazing film-making team of Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen who made the documentary “My Nightmare On Elm Street” about him.”

Jaffe says the virtual festivals have offered interesting programming alternatives. What virtual film festivals lose in intimacy, he says, they gain in access. “Queer film and TV can show LGBTQ+ people, particularly youth, positive and powerful visions of who they can be. It saves lives, full stop.”

“The Zoom Q&A is actually a great way to get the message about the movies out to more people,” he says. “I’ve gotten to participate in Q&A’s from Los Angeles to Boston to Miami to Edmonton, Alberta! And it’s been amazing to see film festivals come up with wonderful ways to take advantage of this strange new time.”



Looking back

On one level, McNeal says, it’s hard for him to believe it’s been 15 years since that first festival. “That said, there’s a certain part of me that feels I’ve been doing this my whole life,” he adds. “It truly is a passion project and labor of love. The number of hours it takes to assemble all the details would almost certainly blow me away if I ever decided to keep track! There are many nights with little sleep as details get locked down and exhibition formats begin to arrive. But I keep coming back for more every year.”


What: The 15th Annual Dayton LGBT Film Festival

Where: Mostly online but also at The Neon movie theater, 130 E. Fifth St., Dayton. Free parking across the street.

Tickets: Single tickets to each of the 7 screenings (6 virtual and 1 in-person) will be $10 each, and festival “All Access” passes will be $50.

More info: Virtual components of the festival will be accessible to residents throughout the state of Ohio. For more details about the festival, visit



“Breaking Fast” (a romantic comedy) preceded by “Bliss is Orange.” Available for 72 hours beginning at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9.

“Ahead of the Curve” (A documentary focusing on Franco Stevens, who launched “Curve,” the best-selling lesbian magazine). Available for 72 hours beginning at noon on Saturday, Oct. 10.

“Keyboard Fantasies” (an award-winning documentary) preceded by “The Gender Line” and “Trans 128.” Available for 72 hours beginning at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10.

“Twilight Kiss” (a feature about finding love in the twilight years) available for 72 hours beginning Sunday, Oct. 11 at noon.

“Shiva Baby” (A comedy about a young woman grappling with her self-worth, sexuality and independence) preceded by “Peach,” available for 72 hours beginning Monday, Oct. 12 at 6 p.m.

“Top Drawer Shorts Vol. #1” (eight films) available all week beginning at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9 at 5 p.m.


“Top Drawer Shorts Vol. #2” (seven films) screening at The Neon at noon on Saturday, Oct. 10; at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 11 ; and at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 12 and Wednesday, Oct. 14.

About the Author