MERCED, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) — The first-ever Merced Queer Film Festival will show 70 films from around the world this weekend.

Some are short, others full-length. There’s a wide variety including many family-friendly selections.

Six downtown venues are participating in the event which is attracting international audiences, including the historic Mainzer Theater.

Director of Community Impact Kim Garner says The Mainzer Theater was built in 1937.

“We had it open a couple of years. We’ve turned it into a restaurant, we have a main stage and a gorgeous cinema,” says Garner.

The restored Mainzer is now a focal point of downtown Merced, which Garner says is excited about hosting the festival.

“Merced is a wonderful town, our downtown area, our downtown corridor is coming back full force. So it’s not just us,” says Garner. “There’s a lot of other businesses that have been here, and there are also new businesses coming in. We also have a gorgeous historic theater just three blocks up, the Merced Theater that does performing arts there and it’s an absolute jewel.”

Festival co-creator and filmmaker Rober Jerome Pagan says, “We have family films. We have horror movies. We have sci-fi movies. The major thing about this festival is we had two conditions: you either had to have queer story content or queer creators behind the camera.”

Pagan says they use the word ‘queer’ in a positive and inclusive way.

“It’s a word that is open to gender-fluid and open to everybody,” Pagan says.

Festival co-creator and executive director of the Merced Pride Center Jennifer McQueen says although they’ve only been working on this a few months, they’ve been working around the clock.

“The very first step we took is putting up that we were taking submissions to kind of feel the waters, see kind of what the bite would be and we were very, very, very pleasantly surprised,” McQueen says. “Not only do we get submissions locally from the Central Valley, but we got submissions from all across the globe. We got submissions from places that – there are films being played here will be the first time that their films, their movies, have been ever played in the United States. Some of them come from places that, you know, you can be seriously persecuted just for being queer.”

Pagan is excited to show the diverse variety of queer films.

“On Saturday we’re going to fill this place with families,” Pagan explains. “We’re going to show family movies right there and how often do families get to come to a beautiful venue like this and be welcome and accepted.”

McQueen says, “We’re offering our love through the arts to the community so just come into our house and enjoy it with us.”