As a toddler, Magida Diouri would descend the stairs from the floor where her family lived, to her family’s theater on the lower level where independent movies were screened.
When Diouri was 2 years old, her father, Claude, rented two houses in Brussels and installed an art-house theater. Cinéma le Styx was one of the first art-house theaters in Belgium, and to this day remains the smallest.
Styx was a reel-to-reel theater with two projectors — a method becoming extinct under modern digital technology. To screen a movie in reel-to-reel, two projectors project the image from two different windows on to a screen while a projectionist peers through a third window to know when to change each reel.
Diouri would sit at the projectionist’s window and watch the moving pictures. She couldn’t hear the sound of the movie.
“The only sound I had was the sound of the projectors,” she says. Diouri describes the fuzzy, gentle ticking drone as “reassuring.” She called this theater home for half of her life and still goes back to visit Styx, and her family, at least once a year.
Growing up in a theater clearly influenced Diouri’s path. She studied studio art at the University of Kentucky because of her fascination with images. After experiencing an ice storm with no power and intense cold, she made the decision to relocate to sunny Sarasota where her life continued to revolve around film.
Diouri started working at Burns Court Cinema in 1998; it was the featured independent films that made her want to work there.
“It always goes back to (films),” she laughs. “At least I’m consistent on that one.”
Diouri started out selling popcorn at Burns, then became the projectionist. Eventually she was the manager, then moved on to operations and finally landed in the role of artistic director.
During her time as artistic director, she organized the 10-day Cine-World Film Festival that screened 60 to 80 films. She also organized special weeks highlighting different cultures: a Polish week, an Italian week, etc. She worked with non-profit organizations such as Global Film Initiative that promotes cross-cultural understanding through film. And she also organized the Sarasota Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
The Sarasota LGBT Film Festival spanned two days and featured local actors and directors. The festival was discontinued in 2010, after its 12th year. Sarasota Film Society Executive Director/CFO Barbara Caras said it was because of a lack of support and decreasing attendance.
Diouri spent about nine-and-a-half years with Burns Court and resigned in 2007.
These days, she spends less than two months of the year traveling the world to different film festivals. She hits all the big ones: Cannes Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival. Diouri sees about six films a day during festivals. When she returns home, she watches screeners sent from production companies. And naturally, she goes to movies whenever she gets the chance — mostly independent flicks.
“I always feel that I’m playing catch up seeing films I haven’t seen,” she says.
For six months of the year, she works as the programmer for Sarasota Film Festival, responsible for the shorts program, foreign films and negotiating terms.
Diouri also owns Broken Rules Productions that on Aug. 18 and 19 will put on the second Fabulous Independent Film Festival.
“I realized (the Sarasota LBGT Festival) wasn’t going to happen and I thought, ‘Well, I’ve always wanted to try something like this on my own,’” Diouri says.
The first Fabulous Independent Film Festival in 2011 featured four films and three shorts. It took place for one day but had an attendance of 300 people. This year, it will feature six films, six shorts, three parties and it will span two days. Diouri cannot wait to share her handpicked selections out of the 35 screeners she watched in preparation for the festival.
“It’s the one chance to see something (Sarasotans) won’t see otherwise,” she says. She stresses there is more to it than just any night at the movies.
“It’s a celebration of diversity,” Diouri says. She hopes one day LGBT life will just mesh with everyday life, without separation. The festival is meant as a platform for sharing stories of diversity.
“Stories and films have the power to just make you think, smile and enjoy something or not.”
She isn’t trying to change people; for the record, Diouri is straight. But it wouldn’t matter to her if someone thought differently.
“I’m a big idealist. I like society to accept everyone the way they are without trying to change or label them,” she says. And while she doesn’t consider herself an activist, she does have a message to share:
“I feel it’s important for people to understand that it’s all right to be different.”
IF YOU GO
The Fabulous Independent Film Festival
When: Aug. 18 and Aug. 19
Where: Burns Court Cinemas, 506 Burns Lane, Sarasota
Cost: $8 to $10 per film
More information: For a film guide, tickets and more information visit fabulousiff.com
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