In 1999, Samantha Gellar was a student at Charlotte’s Northwest School of the Arts. Her play, “Life Versus the Paperback Romance,” had just been selected one of five winners in the Charlotte Young Playwright’s Festival. Her big win wasn’t all roses: the Children’s Theater of Charlotte declined to produce her play along with the other winners because its central characters were lesbians. The controversy Gellar’s play sparked garnered national and international attention. Once again, the Queen City was thrust into an anti-gay spotlight of shame, only two years after Mecklenburg County commissioners slashed arts funding after a 1996 “Angels in America” performance.

More than a decade later, Gellar finds herself back at home. Remarkably, the bright and intelligent playwright hasn’t let the anti-LGBT climate of her hometown and her personal experiences with its bigotry stop her from pursuing her artistic dreams. Now a screenwriter, Gellar is one of a growing class of independent filmmakers in the Queen City, working primarily with her friend’s Nightowl Pictures. In addition, she hopes to start her own company, KillJenny Productions. In partnership with Nightowl, Gellar was slated to produce three short films this summer — although one has recently been put on hold.

KillJenny Productions will focus not on “lesbian films,” Gellar insists, but instead on good films and stories “that just happen to include lesbian characters.”

She says, “I think characters drive the story, especially when they are full people. You look at certain movies and the characters are just gay or just lesbian and nothing else.”

Two of her films, she explains, contain lesbian characters yet the full tale is about much more. In one, “RIP Douglass Ashford,” Gellar explores what happens when two people are brought together through the unfortunate circumstance of someone else’s, perhaps a mutual friend’s, death.

“This five minute film,” she says,

“manages to tell the story of a dead fiancé, a breakdown of friendship, how no longer speaking to someone can become such a negative influence on your life and how

opening up and dealing with the past creates a positive atmosphere.”

In another, “Loop,” Gellar says the main character, a photographer, happens to be a lesbian but “on top of that she is a compelling character — one of the nastiest people you’ll ever meet. But because she is that way, you get into the film and want to be a part of it and know more about this character.”

Her most anticipated film yet is the forthcoming “Curvature,” co-written and directed by Cricket Ellis.

“We were brought together with Cricket Ellis, who had an idea to do a preview promo,” Gellar says. “I said in my experience you want a short film. That’s your calling card into film — something to show to try to get into Sundance or into gay and lesbian film festivals.”

Ellis agreed and the two began working on several draft scripts for a short film, much of it shot at Hartigan’s Irish Pub, a local LGBT restaurant and bar popular with women.

“It’s very good, and it is very edgy,” Gellar says. “It is about two straight waitresses who work in a lesbian bar and in order to get girls to quit hitting on them they do this dance and make out. It is an interesting way of dealing with a problem like that.”

The film’s story unfolds and the two women’s “solution” turns on itself. But Gellar cautions: this is not the typical tale of a straight woman leaving her husband or boyfriend for the love of another woman.

“I find that kind of story very boring,” she says. “This story isn’t about two lesbians, but two women who are stuck in a situation they can find a solution to. But, they walk out from it and one is still engaged and the other is still married. They are going back home and will still be who they are.”

Filming and working in and around Charlotte, Gellar says she’s blown away by the progress made in the years since her high school playwright row. That progress not only helps her work, but certainly makes the world an easier place for youth today.

“It’s leaps and bounds,” she says. “It is so amazing how open kids can be now. What has been accomplished through anti-bullying ordinances and gay-straight alliances — these things are huge.” : :

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.