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Local LGBT Film Fest opens, changes leadership

"A Night at Switch n’ Play" looks at the work of a gender-bending theatrical experience. Sour Peach Films / Special to The Forum

As the Fargo-Moorhead Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Film Festival gears up to open its 11th year on Wednesday, Sept. 18, the event’s organizer, Raymond Rea, briefly looked back on its roots.

How, in its infancy, he had to rent or request films to be screened and how it was really more of a LGBT film series, not the four-day, five-session event it is now.

He’s proud of that growth, and he looks forward to watching it continue to grow, particularly from the audience.

Rea is stepping down from the festival he formed after a decade. Following the last film on Saturday night, the festival will be firmly in the hands of Sean Coffman, who helped organize this year's event.

Rea is stepping down over fears of what he calls, “founder’s syndrome”.


“Things get stale if one person does it too long,” he explains in his office at Minnesota State University Moorhead, where he teaches film studies.

He is looking forward to devoting more time to making his own movies.

“He’s probably more capable of sustaining it,” Rea says of Coffman. “I’m not good at keeping something going and he’ll be great.”

Raymond Rea and Sean Coffman of the FM LGBT Film Festival. Special to The Forum

Also a filmmaker by education and trade, Coffman has more event organizing experience as he founded and runs the touring North Dakota Human Rights Festival, which comes to the Fargo Theatre Nov. 7 and 8.

“We have two strong programs and there is potential to help change community perspectives about really important issues,” Coffman says.

“Ray has built an amazing community with the local film festival,” he adds. “My hope is to continue engaging that community and take it where the community wants. It’s a really strong festival and to be honest, I don’t really know if I’d change much of what Ray has done. I want to make sure we’re bringing these incredibly powerful and important works to Fargo-Moorhead.”


Coffman is also the executive director of the Human Family, a non-profit that supports human rights through film and art.

One thing he’s not, however, is a member of the LGBT community, though he says he’s long been a strong ally part of the FM LGBT Film Fest for the last three years and a previous juror for the fest. He says he and Rea talked about how he couldn’t speak to LGBT issues, but seeing his two nieces bullied because they are lesbians makes him want to help start a discussion.

“I really want to make sure everyone has a comfortable, safe place. Part of what I can do as an ally is providing a forum and providing megaphones for the communities tell their stories,” Coffman says. “I’m a white cisgender guy from Middle America. It’s not my role to tell these stories. But what I can do is provide a place for the communities tell their stories.”

The movie "ruok" plays opening night of the Fargo-Moorhead LGBT Film Festival. Special to The Forum

“The fest has become an event for the LGBTQ community,” says Rea, who is transgender. “There are some people I only see during the festival. It’s become kind of a meeting place.”

It’s also become a community for the filmmakers.

Jake Graf, a trans filmmaker from England and a festival favorite, won’t make it, but his film, “Listen,” a look at transgender kids, screens on Saturday evening.


Several filmmakers will be attending, including Gerri Melnick, executive producer from “ruok”’ which shows on opening night, Wednesday.

Director Cody Stickel and producer Chelsea Moore, will attend Saturday night to talk about their movie, “A Night at Switch n’ Play” which closes out the festival. The documentary goes behind the scenes at a performance groups that combines elements of drag and burlesque shows to make a daring theatrical experience.

“I plan to get out of the way and let these important filmmakers tell the important stories,” Coffman says. “I’ll just make sure all of the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.”

If you go

What: Fargo-Moorhead LGBT Film Festival

When: 7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 18 through Friday, Sept. 20, 3 and 7 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 21

Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway

Info: Tickets are $10 for an evening or afternoon’s screenings, or $30 for the four-day, five screening pass

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