Meet Samantha Curley: Co-Director of Level Ground Film Festival
“We are teaching people how to value relationships over ideologies.”
On Level Ground Film Festival is the first faith-based LGBT film festival in the world. It was co-founded by Chelsea McInturff and Samantha Curley. These two woman are addressing what Curley describes as an “unmet need of creating space for dialogue about faith, gender, and sexuality through art.” This innovative film festival not only screens these niche films, it also hosts, “a program full of other art-based events and workshops.” The festival includes a Festival of Books and daily yoga classes.
Q: How did Level Ground get started?
A: Level Ground was launched out of a student group at Fuller Theological Seminary— the largest Evangelical seminary in the world. In 2012 Chelsea [McInturff] and I co-founded the student group and in March of 2013 we decided to host a film festival for the purpose of creating dialogue about faith and sexuality. The festival was a huge and surprising success (after the fact we learned it was the first faith-based LGBT film festival in the world!) and we felt like we had stumbled upon a huge and unmet need of creating space for dialogue about faith, gender, and sexuality through art. The seeds of Level Ground were planted…
Q: What are some of your favorites films from this year’s film festival?
A: Gosh, hard question! We screen a small number of films for the purpose of curating the best films for creating dialogue so I have a unique affinity for each of our films. We loved working with Kate Logan and her team to screen Kidnapped For Christ. Also, Matterhorn, a Dutch film, was another favorite of mine. Both those films won the Grand Jury awards.
Q: What is distinctive about the Level Ground Film Festival?
A: We are doing more than just screening films. We are curating an experience that is transforming how LGBT and faith communities see and engage with one another. With screenings that include catered meals and extended dialogues moderated by speakers from across the country, as well as a program full of other art-based events and workshops, Level Ground is innovating the typical film festival schedule and purpose.
Q: What films or festivals served as inspiration for working in the industry?
A: Some of the first films we worked with were Bishop Gene Robinson’s Love Free or Die and Roger Ross William’s God Loves Uganda. Pariah and How To Survive A Plague were other films that have inspired us to do what we’re doing. We’ve learned a ton from the Toronto International Film Festival and Sundance, as well as from our friends at Frameline and Ouftest.
Q: What do you find most fulfilling about working at Level Ground?
A: Because we are a new and young organization, we have complete flexibility and freedom to collaborate in innovative and unique ways. In other words, at Level Ground I get to dream big! What other festival gets to include both GLAAD and Chick-fil-A as sponsors? What other film festival includes a Festival of Books? Or daily yoga classes?
Academy Award winning director, Roger Ross Williams described our mission as an uphill battle but said we are “young and idealistic and definitely up for the challenge.” I am totally fulfilled by this challenge of creating space for a unique kind of dialogue. A dialogue about the things that matter to us most deeply and personally. A dialogue that isn’t happening anywhere else. The dialogue itself is an art, and so we use film and art to create it! So I guess I am also fulfilled by our mission of creating safe space for dialogue through art.
Q: How has this festival helped create awareness surrounding important issues within the LGBT community?
A: We are modeling a new way of dialogue across differences of faith traditions, sexual orientations, and gender identities. The people who fill our screenings and share meals together during our gala events would never otherwise encounter one another. We are teaching people how to value relationships over ideologies.
The next Level Ground Film Festival will be from February 25 to March 1, 2015 in Pasadena, California. For more information, visit onlevelground.org.