Jim Carl may be the busiest guy in Durham.
As senior director and film curator at Durham’s Carolina Theatre, Carl programs and oversees all film offerings at the venue, including the annual North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (NCGLFF), running this past Friday through this Sunday. This year, Carl has programmed a total of 116 feature films, shorts and documentaries from 15 countries.
That’s on top of the three repertory series Carl curates – RetroClassics, Retrofantasma and RetroTreasures – plus the theater’s regular first-run offerings.
So yes, busy. Speaking from his office at the Carolina, Carl was out of breath as he discussed this year’s NCGLFF program.
“We introduced the audience awards last year, and it turned out to be quite a success,” Carl said. “So this year we’re expanding. Most films are balloted, meaning that it’s now a competition festival. People can vote on their favorite films for best women’s feature, best men’s feature, best documentary and so on.”
Now in its 18th year, the NCGLFF began in the mid-1990s as a tiny weekend series affiliated with the North Carolina Pride March that drew a few hundred people. It’s been growing ever since. Last year, the festival expanded to a full 10-day run and seated more than 15,000 patrons.
Carl said this year’s slate includes films from North Carolina filmmakers as well as international films from Iran, Japan and the Netherlands. Each year, one or two films come into the festival with an elevated level of buzz.
“ Southern Baptist Sissies’ seems to be the big hit this year,” Carl said. Directed by playwright Del Shores, the film follows the story of four boys who grew up in the Southern Baptist church, following each through adolescence and adulthood. The film will screen this weekend – 7 p.m. Saturday and 7:15 p.m. Sunday.
Another film generating a lot of interest is “I Am Divine,” a documentary on the drag icon made famous in the films of John Waters. “I Am Divine” will be shown Friday at 5:10 p.m. and Sunday at 3:05 p.m.
Carl said the expanded 10-day schedule has allowed him to broaden the scope of the festival, including more of the retro programming that the Carolina is already known for.
“We’re doing a free family day on the second weekend, with ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,’ ” Carl said. “It’s not necessarily a film that has LGBT connections, but it is the kind of film people like to see back on the big screen with their friends and family.”
The festival will also screen the 1982 musical comedy “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” Why this film?
“It has to do with Colin Higgins, the director,” Carl said. “He was openly gay and directed three of the biggest box office hits of the ’70s and ’80s – ‘Foul Play,’ ‘Nine to Five’ and ‘Whorehouse’ – before he died of AIDS at the age of 47 in 1988. I thought this program would be a nice way to finally bring him forward into the spotlight. Rarely has such an artist had such a winning streak and the box office for mainstream films and yet received such little recognition.”
The 116 films in this year’s fest will unspool on three different screens throughout the festival with evening screenings on the weekdays in between. After months of wrangling films and programming the event, Carl said he’s exhausted but happy. “I’m just glad it’s finally here.”