File photo of the Art Theatre marquee display at night during the 2015 QFilm Fest.

Thirty years ago, in a small auditorium on the Cal State Long Beach Campus, a crowd of 500 crammed into a 200-seat auditorium to see a screening of “Together Alone.”

The film, by director PJ Castellaneta, who was also at the screening, was a movie that couldn’t be seen in major theaters, not only for its indie status but also for its story about two men who meet at a bar and go home together, with themes that explored unprotected sex, the AIDS epidemic and human sexuality.

Inspired by the large turnout, local organizer and cinephile Robert Cano realized that the city’s queer communities were hungry for representation and became determined to see that they had it, culminating in what today is known as the QFilm Festival, Long Beach’s oldest and longest-running queer film festival.

Robert Cano (right), founder of the QFilm Festival, at its fourth incarnation, with director Dirk Shafer. Photo courtesy Robert Cano.

QFilm Fest is returning for its 30th year next weekend, a milestone Cano said was achieved with a lot of heart and hard work.

“Back then, in 1993 when we started the film festival there was a 10% approval rating for gay rights and marriage. It felt like we were up against the wind,” he said. “We’ve come a long way.”

In the last 30 years, gay rights and public opinion of them have improved significantly. Still, in light of recent threats to LGBTQ+ rights and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation that has been introduced across the county, Cano says representation is still just as important as ever.

“We have to remind ourselves how far we have come and continue to strive forward and continue to fight for our equal rights,” Cano said.

This year QFilm Fest will continue its tradition of celebrating LGBTQ+ communities through film, with a total of 50 queer and queer-made films spanning a variety of genres from narrative to drama, documentary to animation.

Over 250 films from around the world were submitted to the festival, with some of the films already receiving acclaim from premier festivals like Sundance, Cannes, Tribeca and Outfest, LA’s largest queer film festival.

The festival will open on Saturday, Sept. 16, at The Art Theatre with the Long Beach premiere of “Commitment to Life,” a documentary by Jeffrey Schwartz about the AIDS epidemic in Los Angeles and the monumental efforts of people living with HIV, doctors, movie stars, studio moguls and activists to change the tide of the virus’s stronghold on society. “It’s Only Life After All,” a Sundance favorite this year about the lesbian folk-rock duo Indio Girls will also screen on Saturday alongside various “shorts” segments and feature-length films.

This year QFilm Fest is giving a special nod to local cinema, with more than 20 films from local filmmakers. Closing night at the festival will feature 10 shorts from Long Beach and Los Angeles queer filmmakers.  And, in a very special nod to Long Beach queer history, on Sunday locals can watch “Unveiling the Rainbow: Long Beach Pride’s 40 Year Evolution” a documentary about the origins of Long Beach’s largest LGBTQ celebration, Long Beach Pride. Attendees are encouraged to stick around after showings to hear panel discussions and Q&As from attending filmmakers.

QFilm Fest will also include other community events, including an opening night reception at The LGBTQ Center Long Beach on Friday, Sept. 15, an ice cream social on Saturday and a Sunday brunch catered by Lola’s Mexican Cuisine at The LGBTQ Center Long Beach. Click here to see a schedule of programming and events.

Tickets for individual screenings are $14, or attendees can purchase an all-access pass for $120 that also includes entry to social events and priority seating. A discounted all-access pass for students and seniors is available for $70.

The Art Theater is located at 2025 E. Fourth St.