For the past year Rachael Brister has operated her own public relations company, which specializes in reaching the LGBTQ community. Though she’s based in Seattle, one of her clients has been the Provincetown Business Guild, with which she has worked on promoting Provincetown Pride, celebrated on the first weekend in June. This year, she was able to visit Provincetown during Pride weekend, traveling with her wife, Sandy Turner, a senior project manager for a marketing agency.
“I have to say, when I came to Pride this June with Sandy, it was really magical,” Brister says by phone from Seattle. “I know it’s a cliché, but there’s something about walking around and being the majority instead of a minority. It’s hard to describe. Even here in Seattle, I know people who go to Provincetown every summer.”
As a gay mecca, Provincetown still has that cachet. It’s surely part of the reason Brister will be moving here to become the new CEO of the Provincetown Film Society, the organization behind the Provincetown International Film Festival, the Waters Edge Cinema, and the Gabrielle A. Hanna Provincetown Film Institute.
“In late August, I was doing research for the guild on their events for the last quarter of the year,” Brister says. “I went to the film society website and saw this job opening. I happened upon it by accident. I wasn’t looking for it.”
When she discovered that the film society has both a film festival and a movie theater, it felt to Brister like kismet. Until 2012, when she went to work for the Greater Seattle Business Association, she had been running LGBTQ film festivals and managing independent cinemas. It was as if she had been grooming for the job her whole life.
“I was born and raised in Philadelphia,” Brister says. “I took film classes in college — I went to the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y. I graduated with a double major in Spanish and comp lit. I was going to go for a Ph.D. in comp lit, but my trajectory changed.”
What changed was the George Eastman House in Rochester. Brister became the manager of the 535-seat repertory cinema there, part of the International Museum of Photography and Film.
“I got to project,” Brister says. “I got to check out Joan Crawford’s 16-mm home movies. I was like a pig in shit. I really loved movie theater management. I thought, this is what I want to do in my life. I realized that I could have a job in the film world in some shape or form.”
Brister had also become active in LGBTQ groups at school and in Rochester. She ran the Rochester Lesbian & Gay Film Festival for six years. She managed another independent theater in the city and a bookstore to make ends meet. Then Seattle beckoned.
She took a job there as executive director of the Three Dollar Bill Cinema, which produced the Seattle Queer Film Festival and Seattle Transgender Film Festival. “It was a full-time paying job,” she says, “as opposed to a cobble-my-income-together position.”
But she left in 2012, and after spending seven years in public relations and marketing, the Provincetown Film Society provided Brister with the ideal incentive to return to working in film. She will start her new job on Feb. 1, when Christine Walker, the film society’s current CEO, plans to step down and focus on initiatives for women in media.
“I’m definitely looking forward to going back into the world of film,” Brister says. “Christine has done such an amazing job. I know that the organization has struggled financially — I want to work on its sustainability. They didn’t have a 10-year plan as far as finances can go. There are cross-promotion opportunities with businesses and other organizations in town. I’m looking into the programming, something I’m very interested in. I like to think outside the box — ‘outside the theater.’ ”
For example: she is eager to promote an event in San Francisco that the film society is producing with designer Ken Fulk on Jan. 9-10, including a benefit that will raise money for a year-round scholarship and mentorship program in Provincetown for emerging transgender actors.
For Brister, moving to the Cape will require some adjustments. “The board is helping me find an apartment,” she says. “I’m looking for a year-round place to live. I’d like to be in Provincetown for the entire year of 2020. I think it’s the best thing for an organization with brick and mortar. Right now, my wife will be staying in Seattle, coming to Provincetown every month. She can work remotely. We’re going to see what 2020 looks like.”
And though Brister’s background is in LGBTQ film festivals, the Provincetown festival and Waters Edge Cinema appeal to other audiences “on the edge.” Brister embraces them all.
“I think the mission of the film society is something that I’ve felt very strongly for years,” she says. “Giving voice to minority communities, not just LGBTQ, and independent cinema. I’m looking forward to watching that mission flourish. I’m just so excited.”