The Atlanta Film Festival is getting a big rainbow-colored shot in the arm this year as organizers have bulked up the LGBT content and announced that the opening night film will be “I Am Michael,” the story of “ex-gay” turned pastor Michael Glatze. Actor James Franco, no stranger to LGBT film fare (“Milk,” “Interior. Leather Bar”), portrays Glatze, and will be in attendance on the red carpet and for a post-screening Q&A.

The festival, playing March 20 to 29 at various locations throughout the city, is celebrating its 40th year bringing films—and the stars and creators behind them—to the South. And while they’ve shone a light on LGBT content since 2008 with the Pink Peach competition, organizers noticed a dearth of such content last year and vowed to rectify it.

“We didn’t have as many [LGBT] selections as we wanted last year,” says Alex Watson, educational coordinator for the Atlanta Film Festival. “We did more outreach this year that did result in a lot more submissions.”

Festival creative director Kristy Breneman says it’s about acknowledging a community that’s well-represented in Atlanta.

“Film festivals are here to share the voices of independent filmmakers not heard in Hollywood,” she says. “It’s kind of the same for LGBTQ issues, and film festivals provide that platform and that outlet. It’s our way of showing our support as well.”

Plenty of LGBT film programming to go around

Jim Farmer, a columnist for GA Voice and executive director of Atlanta LGBT film festival Out On Film, looks at the Atlanta Film Festival more as a companion than competition. After all, the Atlanta Film Festival was the longtime producer of Out On Film before the LGBT film festival went independent in 2008.

“We’ve been able to grow up and mature,” Farmer says. “We have this great relationship with Atlanta Film Festival where they incubated us and allowed us to mature and go out into the world as an adult.”

The timing of the festivals helps as well, with Out On Film having another six months to snatch up more LGBT programming of its own before running for the 28th year this October.

“There’s a good crop of films right now that the Atlanta Film Festival has been able to get,” he says. “But when it comes to the fall, there will be a whole new crop of films for us. It gives people the opportunity to see quality LGBT programming throughout the year.”

Speaking of programming, how did the Atlanta Film Festival book “I Am Michael” and that Franco appearance for opening night? It was through a festival connection and an agreeable schedule.

Actress Abigail Spencer (from the Atlanta-filmed Sundance Channel series “Rectify”) produced a short film playing in the festival called “Winter Light.” Spencer worked on a project with Franco called “The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards.”

“She basically connected us with his manager and that’s how we were able to get in contact with the distributor of the film,” Breneman says.

Talks with Franco’s camp began in mid-February, and he’s set to be in town at the same time as the festival as he directs and stars in “In Dubious Battle,” based on a John Steinbeck novel, and also featuring Bryan Cranston, Selena Gomez and Robert Duvall.

Chalk up another win for Atlanta’s film industry and for LGBT film fans throughout the city.

Atlanta Film Festival

March 20 to 29

Various Locations

www.atlantafilmfestival.com

ATLANTA FILM FESTIVAL LINEUP

Pink Peach features

“Drown”
Wednesday, March 25, 2015 at 9:30 p.m. at The Plaza Theatre

Surfing legend Len’s status starts to crumble when the younger, faster Phil arrives in town. Then Len witnesses Phil kissing another man and he starts to form unexpected feelings for the younger surfer.

“Helicopter Mom”
Monday, March 23, 2015 at 7 p.m. at The Plaza Theatre

Maggie (Nia Vardalos) thinks it would be “really cool” to have a gay son, so she outs her son Lloyd to his entire high school, but Lloyd’s not even sure he’s gay.

“Before the Last Curtain Falls (Bevor der letzte Vorhang fällt)”

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 at 9 p.m. at The Plaza Theatre

A group of senior citizen transsexuals and drag queens take to the stage one last time, but the tour is coming to a close and they must leave the limelight and go home to their quiet lives. From Germany.

“In the Turn”

Sunday, March 29, 2015 at 12 p.m. at 7 Stages Theatre

In this documentary, a 10-year-old transgender girl in rural Canada is tormented at school by her teachers and classmates until her mother discovers the Vagine Regime, a supportive collective of queer roller-derby players.

“Masculinity/Femininity”

Monday, March 23, 2015 at 9:15 p.m. at 7 Stages Theatre

Filmmaker Russell Sheaffer directs this documentary in which artists, academics and gender theorists present monologues, stories and performance pieces on the constructs of today’s gender-normative society.

“Trans: A Documentary About Transboys”

Saturday, March 21, 2015 at 11:15 a.m. at The Plaza Theatre

Several transgender men undergo medical treatment to complete their female-to-male transitions at a hospital in Belgium, as this documentary highlights a community and its unique struggles.

Pink Peach shorts

“Actresses”

Saturday, March 28, 2015 at 2:30 p.m. at 7 Stages Theatre

An off-Broadway star strikes up a romantic relationship with a 23-year-old aspiring actress.

“Charlotte”

Saturday, March 28, 2015 at 12 p.m. at The Plaza Theatre

Alex befriends the popular girl at school and begins to develop feelings she doesn’t understand.

“Happy Endings”

Friday, March 27, 2015 at 9 p.m. at The Plaza Theatre

A parking booth attendant steps out of his comfort zone to liberate an erotic masseuse from her oppressive boss.

Other features of LGBT interest

“I Am Michael”
Friday, March 20 at 7:30 p.m. at The Plaza Theatre

Gay activist and publisher Michael Glatze (James Franco) turns to Christianity after facing a health scare and renounces his homosexuality, becoming a pastor and marrying a woman (Emma Roberts).

“The Firefly (La Luciernaga)”
Sunday, March 22 at 7 p.m. at Woodruff Arts Center, Hill Auditorium

Lucia finds comfort with her late brother’s fiancée, Mariana, as the two women bond over their loss and share memories of the man they both loved. Eventually they fall in love and Lucia finds herself at a crossroads.

“Rosehill”

Saturday, March 28, 2015 at 4:30 p.m. at The Plaza Theatre

After receiving potentially devastating news, Katriona visits her best friend Alice, a sex researcher at Indiana University. The two women find comfort in the denial of the state of their lives.

“Sand Dollars (Dólares de arena)”

Saturday, March 21, 2015 at 7 p.m. at Woodruff Arts Center (Rich Theatre)

An older European woman falls for a young Dominican woman who struggles to make ends meet, leading to complications and drama that both must face.

“Satanic Panic 2: Battle of the Bands”

Friday, March 27, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. at 7 Stages Theatre

Gay Atlanta director Eddie Ray is back with the sequel to “Satanic Panic: Band Out of Hell,” as the electronic dance group’s adventures continue while hiding the fact that they are not actually Satan worshipers.

psaunders@thegavoice.com | @patricksaunders

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