Justice Obiaya / Photo by Russell Bowen-Youngblood

Out On Film Welcomes New Executive Director Justice Obiaya

For the first time in its 37-year history, Out On Film, Atlanta’s annual LGBTQ film festival, is welcoming a new executive director.

Justice Obiaya interned at the Atlanta Film Festival while completing his master’s degree at SCAD in 2016, working with the executive director and business director on fundraising efforts. While going through festival passes to give away to community partners, he stumbled upon Out On Film. As a gay man passionate about filmmaking, his interest was piqued.

“I was like, ‘How do I not know about this?’” he told Georgia Voice. “I ran home that night, and I did a quick internet search. I found that they were a very long-running festival, so I filled out an application to volunteer.”

Festival Director Jim Farmer invited Obiaya to attend a committee meeting and he was hooked. For the past eight years, Obiaya has been involved with Out On Film in various capacities: volunteer, festival coordinator, and marketing committee chair. Now, he continues his journey as Out On Film’s first executive director.

When speaking to Obiaya, his love and admiration for Out On Film are obvious.

“As a gay man. I grew up without a lot of representation,” he said. “That’s really what I love about Out On Film: they are all about representation and inclusivity, they create a platform to tell stories about the queer community who we are, and I love how what they do and what they offer normalizes who we are. It creates a safe space for festival attendees. We have attendees not just coming from the Atlanta metro area, but from the state of Georgia and outside the state, that may not have a place where they as a queer community can come together and celebrate the arts, and that’s what they do here as we do at Out On Film … I love what we do, the impact we make on the community.”

With his enthusiasm, it is no surprise that when the Out On Film board was looking for someone to grow the organization, they knew who they wanted.

“As Out On Film has grown over the years, it has become abundantly clear that we need someone full-time leading us, and Justice is the perfect person to do that,” Out On Film’s Board Chair Craig Hardesty said. “Justice is committed to serving the LGBTQIA+ community and the queer arts in Atlanta and has been a vital member of our team for years. We look forward to seeing where we can go with Justice at the helm.”

Obiaya brings a wealth of film festival experience to the role, with a background that includes responsibilities such as marketing and business manager for ASIFA-South and various positions at the Atlanta Film Society. He says he’s not looking to “reinvent the wheel”; this historic position represents the path to growth Out On Film has been on, and Obiaya hopes to continue to push Out On Film further in that direction.

“I’m just here to keep things moving,” he said. “They’ve done amazing work over the last eight years. Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen incredible growth. We became an Oscar-qualifying film festival. It’s a preliminary requirement for filmmakers who want to apply for an Academy Award to screen at an Oscar-qualifying film festival and win a jury award. Also in 2023, we were ranked by USA TODAY’s 10Best as the #1 film festival in the nation. Jim Farmer does incredible work with programming and media relations. I’m here more for the fundraising component and the operations of the organization so that we can continue to grow and continue to set the bar.”

Obiaya started the new position on January 22, just before Black History Month. As a Black gay man, he is honored.

“As a person of color, to be the first executive director in our 37-year-history is an amazing feeling,” Obiaya said. “Out On Film has always been an organization that I’ve found to be naturally diverse and inclusive. In this role, I want to continue that.”

At the end of the day, Obiaya intends to foster Out On Film’s growth and expand its reach with big goals for the organization.

“I would love to expand the team,” he said. “We have a great team of volunteers that are here that are dedicating their time, but a year-round, dedicated team of paid individuals would be great. I’m not saying that that’s going to be a tomorrow thing or even a year, but that’s my goal. Hopefully, we can fundraise to make sure that we have dedicated people here to keep our mission going, because we’re crucial for the community.”

Learn more about Out On Film at outonfilm.org.