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Stamped Film Festival: Where LGBTQ+ Stories Find Their Voice

By Dakota Parks for Inweekly

Since its inception in 2012, Stamped Film Festival has become a cultural cornerstone in Pensacola that unites filmmakers, artists, activists and audiences, and uplifts the LGBTQ+ community through the power of cinema.

For Stamped President Sid Williams-Heath, discovering the festival shortly after relocating from New York City with his soon-to-be-husband was an affirmation that Pensacola was a place he could call home.

“Stamped was a glimpse into the progression of Pensacola,” he explained. “I know there are so many in the community who, like me, didn’t have access to something like Stamped growing up. From my small hometown in Mississippi, I can’t imagine how different of a human I would be today if I had been able to see and celebrate people like me—people who loved like me—on a big screen in my community.”

Keeping the big screen open for all is a key tenet of the festival. Stamped not only remains admission free, ensuring all can attend, but also maintains a commitment to creating an intentionally inclusive and welcoming space. Nearly 700 people come out to experience the festival each year, with 15% of those traveling from out-of-town to attend, according to recent data from Visit Pensacola.

As the festival grew from a small event to a jam-packed, multi-day festival, it even began hosting additional pop-up screenings for events like Juneteenth and National Coming Out Day. It also developed a robust selection process, which includes a submission committee, open to volunteers, and the expertise of professional filmmaker and festival expert, Chris McNeany, to help curate the final lineup.

“There are so many boxes to check off to ensure your inclusive festival is, in fact, inclusive, such as representation, variety of genres, length of films, quality of submission, accessibility and age range,” Williams-Heath explained. “Knowledge is power, and it’s often even more powerful to see, experience and celebrate someone’s story who doesn’t look or love like you. That’s what all attendees can take away from the festival—an opportunity to leave feeling both validated and educated on how others can be different than you.”

In this mission to inspire, educate and cultivate a sense of community, Stamped continues to expand beyond the screen each year to engage with its audience through panels, workshops and Q&A sessions intermixed into the festival, as well as growing its family-friendly programming.

Recently, Stamped won a grant from Sunday’s Child to expand its Family Day, held on Sunday each year. Back in 2018, a Sunday’s Child grant also played a pivotal role in establishing The Center, aka the Pensacola Little Theatre, as the home base for the festival. Stamped Film Festival’s Family Day not only showcases children’s films, but also hosts programming for adults and resources for families with or without children to learn more about the journey to parenthood.

“While Stamped has always offered a diverse lineup of films to represent every letter of the LGBTQIA+ community for adults, we were elated to introduce our Family Day in 2021. Each closing day of the festival has become a day dedicated to films for all ages. The festival is a huge resource, especially for parents raising LGBTQIA+ children,” Williams-Heath said.

Despite increasing resistance and censorship against children’s literature, drag in public spaces and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts across the state of Florida, Stamped remains steadfast in its commitment to the core mission: telling stories that demand to be heard.

“It’s all about access. We recognize that so many hands are tied because of the politics surrounding censorship. And as a private nonprofit, Stamped is committed to providing the programming that many of our community partners and friends simply can’t right now,” Williams-Heath said. “If the queer community understands anything, it’s limitations. Being limited to what we can say or who we can love or how we can express ourselves has forever been the rule, not the exception. But Stamped exists to tell stories—to showcase truth—and we’ll continue to do that.”

This year’s expanded Family Day offerings will include children’s films, improv workshops, story time and a lineup of supplemental programs, while also incorporating new activities for adults to enjoy simultaneously. Stamped will also host a panel of internationally notable queer parents, who offer a wealth of knowledge on the lived experiences of raising queer families.

“One of the most special moments of Family Day this year will be screening ‘Our Baby: A Modern Miracle’ about filmmaker Jake Graf* who will actually be attending the festival in-person all the way from London,” Williams-Heath said. “While the kids are participating in children’s activities, the adults present will hear Jake and his wife Hannah share their beautiful story of raising two delightful children and the journey to creating that family as transgender husband and wife.”

STAMPED FILM FESTIVAL WHAT: An event that highlights LGBTQ+ films and filmmakers WHEN: Friday, Sept. 29-Sunday, Oct. 1 WHERE: The Clark Family Cultural Center, 400 S. Jefferson St. COST:Free, but advance registration is encouraged DETAILS: stampedfilmfest.com


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