Born and raised in Alvin, Texas, 47-year-old Kristian Salinas was on the advisory committee that created the first Houston LGBTQ film festival, now known as QFest, back in 1996. He was pretty sure the film festival would grow into what it’s become today.
“I think there was that belief that it would last and endure,” says Salinas, who is now the executive and artistic director of the festival (and who also currently serves on the MFAH film committee and as an advisor for Aurora Picture Show).
But did he ever imagine QFest being forced to do an all-virtual festival, thanks to a worldwide pandemic?
“No, never,” he admits. “We’ve always had a relaxed conversation about doing some things online. Sundance has been doing some virtual screenings for a couple of years. But we never thought we’d be forced to hold the entire festival online.”
Typically held in July, this year’s 24th annual QFest will be online September 24–28, and features a lineup of submissions from around the world including six competition feature films, three special feature presentations, and various shorts. All-access QFest passes are $20, and will be available to people in Houston and across North America, the EU countries, and Australia.
Salinas admits that creating an online festival from scratch was difficult, especially since the pandemic has impacted funding for the arts. He and his five part-time staffers were hard-pressed to create a virtual festival by themselves, but then something good happened for QFest.
“This start-up approached us,” Salinas says. “Cinenso is a [new] website designed specifically for virtual film festivals. Its slogan is ‘Film festivals from your couch.’ I think we’ve all gotten a little tired of sitting on our couches,” Salinas admits, “but this will be a five-day event, so you don’t have to watch it all at once.”
Cinenso also hosted the BELIFFestival and the Salento International Film Festival online last month. The user-friendly site prompts you to log on, create an account, and pick a festival. You then buy a festival pass to use whenever your chosen festival begins.
“This year, we had almost 2,000 entries,” Salinas notes. The QFest jury ultimately selected 5 Minutes Too Late, Chasing Paper Birds, Gracefully, Khartoum Offside, Saints, and Women Without Men as its feature films.
Despite all of the hassles involved in using a new platform, Salinas says there is a silver lining. “We’ll have the advantage of an international reach,” he admits. “We get international films, and oftentimes the filmmakers can’t attend the festival. This way, they can.” Cinenso currently covers the U.S., Canada, the EU countries, and Australia. It can also facilitate discussion forums and interviews online—something that QFest may do next year.
And even when the world returns to something resembling pre-COVID normalcy, QFest may continue its online presence in order to attract a whole new virtual audience.
“I really think we might do that,” Salinas says.
QFest 2020’s schedule and festival passes are available at https://cinenso.com/festival/browse/qfest_20.