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An eye on the prize; The Iris Prize Festival is returning to Cardiff for the sixth year to celebrate the best in gay and lesbian film. With a wealth of screenings and a PS25,000 award at stake, festival founder, Berwyn Rowlands, explains why the event's bigger and better than ever.

THERE are hundreds of film festivals, if not thousands, taking place all over the world. Many play an important role in making films available to an audience deprived of diversity as it often feels that many of our cinema screens are now taken over by mainstream films.

However, in this post digital age, you could argue that the audience is probably better served than at any other time. Today you can access films in many different ways - from DVDs and blu-ray to online and television.

So why would you go about creating yet another film festival in Wales? And why would you make it a gay and lesbian festival? After all, Wales is generally not recognised as a global gay and lesbian player.

The answer to the second point is relatively straight forward (no pun intended).

Wales post-devolution is a confident place where the "yes we can" mentality is prevalent. So if you have a good idea there is a sense that anything can happen. Adding Cardiff to that list of globally recognised gay-friendly capitals is both fun and scary but ultimately an achievable goal. I can see it now: Sydney, San Francisco, and Cardiff (okay, the first two are not capital cities but you get my drift).

But why another film festival? I addressed this issue when I founded the festival in 2007 by offering the Iris Prize and making this the focus of the festival. The PS25,000 prize is presented to the winner of the best short film and the money is to be invested in making a new short.

It continues to be the largest LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) film prize in the world - and there lies the secret to her success. Iris is offering something unique - support, guidance and funding which will always be attractive to filmmakers from all over the world.

The main film festival element of Iris - such as talks and screenings - has grown organically around the prize.

We have seen a sustainable growth in our audience which from day one continues to be diverse - 30% of visitors are straight. This is very unusual for an LGBT film festival; it is normally about 2%, if that.

From the start, the stakeholders, notably the UK Film Council (now the British Film Institute), wanted the festival to be a celebration of excellence in storytelling through film.

This approach implies that anybody who loves cinema would have a legitimate interest in who would win the Iris Prize.

So although we are first and foremost a gay and lesbian film festival our focus is equally split between the traditional issues of representation and a celebration of excellence and standards in film making.

Careful marketing and programming coupled with entertaining guests and lots of socialising are the basic ingredients for any festival.

With meticulous planning, hard work and an element of luck, success should follow and the Iris journey to date is no different.

In this, our sixth year, to keep things fresh, exciting and relevant we've tried going up a gear or two - this has become our motto for 2012, and I've considered this when looking at the big stuff as well as the smaller details.

One of the biggest developments is our extra day, making Iris a five-day festival. We've used the extra time to introduce a new style Iris awards ceremony hosted by Amy Lame, who visits Wales for the first time fresh from a successful stint at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The awards will include a champagne reception, lunch and entertainment - all the key elements people expect when you're presenting such a prestigious prize.

Iris is a growing global family which is proud to call Cardiff and Wales home.? The Iris Prize Festival runs from October 10 to 14. For full details, visit www.irisprize.org Festival highlights Yossi (UK premiere): Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff on October 10, 8.30pm and Cineworld, Cardiff on October 12, 12.30pm Ten years after Yossi & Jagger, Etyan Fox delivers a wonderful and moving sequel dealing with life after love. We follow a grieving Yossi, now a workaholic cardiologist, surviving each day by going through the motions until a chance encounter with a mysterious woman at his hospital eventually inspires him to go on holiday where he meets openly gay soldier Tom. Israeli heartthrob Oz Zehavi (Tom) will be at the screenings to introduce the film. Little Man (world premiere): Cineworld, Cardiff on October 13, 8.30pm Musical theatre star Daniel Boys plays Elliot in his first gay role and debut film. Elliot, 30, is confronted with his inability to form a long lasting relationship and his talent of destroying every potential one. The short film is the third to be produced with the Iris Prize and is directed by 2009 winner Eldar Rapaport who, together with Boys, will introduce the screening. Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same (UK premiere): Cineworld, Cardiff on October 13, 8.30pm This film needs no explanation. It's fun!

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 5, 2012
Words:836
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