In its 11th year, the Houston Gay & Lesbian Film Festival morphs into QFest. On the eve of the rebranded and revamped weekend of movies and more, we check in with new executive director Kristian Salinas.
Cher. Madonna. Joan. The Houston Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. What do all these things have in common? Well, like all great divas, the film festival is getting a little nip/tuck this year.
The Houston Gay & Lesbian Film Festival is back this year with a new name: QFest 2007. In addition to a snappy moniker and logo, the festival will be expanding its scope to include more than just film. This year, QFest attendees will enjoy film, art, and music, giving them an entire weekend to celebrate all things queer, not only in film but in other arts realms as well.
Kristian Salinas, executive director of QFest 2007, has been involved with the local film festival since 1997, when he served on the first advisory committee. He is now the chief of surgery for this facelift. I recently caught up with the Houston ex-patriate by phone from his current home in Los Angeles (he splits time between there and here) to ask about the impetus for the makeover, how his brainchild seemed to be handling the changes, and what film festival devotees can expect.
So, Kristian, how is L.A. treating you these days?
What can I say about L.A.? The weather’s like heaven, and the smog’s like hell! 85 degrees in L.A. feels like 69 degrees in Houston. The air is dry, which means you don’t need to take three showers a day, but you need to use lots of moisturizer to make up for the daily steam bath we get for free in Houston. And it’s so sunny! Not a cloud in the sky like in Texas! You have to wear sunscreen every day, or else you’ll end up looking like a West Palm Beach real-estate agent. And everyone is a fitness junkie! You can’t help but lose 10 pounds just stepping off the plane!
[Laughs] You just finished Outfest in L.A. How has that helped you with preparations for QFest?
Outfest is one of several stops along the way toward compiling a program. My journey actually begins in Park City, Utah, where for the last three years, I’ve been involved with the Queer Lounge, a nonprofit that supports and promotes GLBTQ films and filmmakers featured at both Sundance and Slamdance, both hosted in Park City. Through the Queer Lounge, I get to see first hand which films are being touted as the next, big gay films. Outfest’s strength actually lies in its shorts program, one of the best in the country. This is where the discoveries are made.
Is there a similarity between the two this year?
Outfest is an entirely different beast. They’re huge and have an operating budget that could run 15 gay and lesbian festivals in Kansas alone! The level of support they receive from both corporations and the community is astounding. Without community backing, Outfest would never have the corporate support it enjoys today. However, if you were to consider Outfest’s origins, you would see more similarities to how QFest began. Outfest was founded 25 years ago by a group of students and professors at the UCLA campus, certainly not too far from our own founding. All in all, my time working at Outfest taught me a lot about how things should and shouldn’t be done, and I hope I can bring this experience to build a festival Houstonians can be proud of.
How did you come to be involved with QFest?
Well, before it was QFest, it was the HGLFF, and I’ve been involved since dirt, when the festival was essentially being run by its many host venues [including Aurora Picture Show, DiverseWorks, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Landmark River Oaks, and Landmark Greenway]. Last year was the first year we operated as an independent entity, and though the going was tough, we realized we really could make it work. So this year, I was offered the position of executive director, and in that role I’ve been fortunate enough to implement both a much-needed name change and a change in direction. This year the changes will be subtle, but they will lay down the groundwork for what will become more substantial down the road.
In 2006, HGLFF moved to one venue. Will that be the case again this year?
Yes, once again, we will be featuring all of our film programs at the Angelika Film Center.
Has it been difficult to organize/plan QFest from L.A.?
I don’t know if difficult is quite the right word. Ghastly, perhaps? But seriously, I could never have run QFest from L.A. had it not been for the relationships I already have with a number of people back in Houston. Houston’s my hometown, and I know a lot of great people who have always been willing to jump in when I’ve needed them. That being said, no organization is run by one individual alone, and whether they’re directly affiliated or not, there are a number of people making the festival a reality.
What was the catalyst for the name change?
Queer is the new black! A younger generation has co-opted a word that once was derogatory and has created something both empowering and chic. The name change is meant to evoke that empowerment, that chic. We want it to feel fresh and relevant, but most importantly, lots of fun. And QFest is so much easier to say than HGLFF. And forget about saying the Houston Gay & Lesbian Film Festival five times! Times change, and every arts organization has to change to remain relevant. Otherwise, how can a queer festival be a reflection of the community it represents if it never changes?
Good point. Does the new makeover seem to be getting a positive response?
The most important thing is that it’s getting a response! The worst said of the new logo is that it reminds some people of a now-defunct radio station from the early ’80s, while a few have suggested it doesn’t even look like a GLBTQ festival logo. I don’t necessarily think either are a bad thing! But for those who love it, we had a number of people asking to buy non-existent tees at our festival booth during Pride.
What’s new for QFest this year?
There are more films this year. Last year, we had 10 programs. This year, we’ll feature 17. For our opening-night gala, I am proud to present what we’re billing as the Bible Belt premiere of the saucy French comedy, Family Hero, featuring Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Béart, and Miou-Miou. We are only one of three festivals to present the film in the U.S., and the only GLBTQ festival to date. Shelter, our closing-night gala, is particularly special, as it is the feature film debut of Jonah Markowitz, a colleague of mine from The Queer Lounge. I’m very proud of what Jonah’s achieved. Shelter is truly remarkable!
What kind of music can festival attendees expect to hear?
In terms of music films, I’m thrilled to have both the Houston premieres of Daft Punk’s Electroma and We’re All Angels, Robert Nuñez’s wonderful slice-of-life documentary about openly gay Christian pop duo Jason and deMarco, featuring a cameo by Houston-based producer and performer Alan Lett, and Alex Hinton’s doc, Pick Up the Mic, featuring Houston rap artist Miss Money. So attendees can expect [everything from] gay Christian rockers to a pair of French robots striving to be human.
What’s the art segment of the festival going to consist of?
I want to bring my friend Bill Jones’ latest film—actually it’s more a video installation– All Male Mash-Up, but I’m still looking for a really cool venue to project it in that’s also party friendly. By the way, Bill has a short in this year’s festival, entitled Mansfield 1962, a compilation of undercover police footage of a sting in a men’s public restroom in Mansfield, Ohio, in 1962. Chilling and surreal is how I describe it.
What’s been the most exciting and challenging part of this transformation?
My goodness, that would be making every gay and lesbian person in Houston and the surrounding area, from Brownsville to San Antonio, to Beaumont and Killeen, realize that, yes, Virginia, there really is a gay and lesbian film festival in Houston!
[ Laughs ] When can we expect a lineup for the films and concerts and exhibitions?
Always check the website, www.q-fest.org, for updates. And from the website, you can join our e-list, which is also a great way to know what’s happening in the world of QFest. And finally, QFest has joined the under-35 digital age–notice how I conveniently aged myself into that demographic!–with its very own MySpace page, www.myspace.com/q_fest, managed by yours truly. We’ve dubbed it the “Official Unofficial Website of QFest.”
Is there anyone particularly exciting participating in this year’s festival?
If we get our airline sponsorship confirmed, we’ll have a number of exciting people attending, but I’m especially excited to feature my former Rice University colleague Brian Huberman’s documentary Ray Hill’s Prison Show. The film is totally local, Houston proud! There isn’t a gay person in Houston or anyone who’s spent time in Huntsville who doesn’t know Ray. And Brian himself is a well-known fixture in Houston’s film scene. It’s films like this that have the potential to inspire other Houstonians to go out and make a movie.
What’s been the biggest challenge with organizing this year’s event?
The honest answer would be fundraising. This has not been a good year for nonprofits seeking money. Aside from that, everything else is falling into place like a velvet glove, which in the end is more important, because that’s proof that there is support for the festival that money can’t buy.
What is a “must see”?
Always a tough question, but hands down it would be Red Without Blue, a documentary featured at this year’s Slamdance about the lives of two twins and the emotional impact between them and their family when one of them decides to have a sex change. Red Without Blue has the potential to change peoples’ perceptions of what is means to be transgender because it refuses to oversimplify or condescend to the audience. It’s moving, engaging, and heartfelt.
It seems that this diva, like all great ones, has successfully reinvented herself. So whatever you do this month, make sure you indulge in a little queer culture and attend QFest, beginning on Thursday, September 20, and continuing through Monday, September 24.
Michael Rowell interviewed actor Chad Allen for our September 2005 issue (“Chad, Not Hanging”).
All QFest programs take place at Angelika Film Center in Bayou Place (510 Texas). For film descriptions and schedule updates, check www.q-fest.org.
Thursday, September 20
8 p.m. Family Hero with The Saddest Boy in the World
Friday, September 21
7 p.m. The Witnesses
9:30 p.m. The Gymnast with Entrevue
11:30 p.m. Daft Punk’s Electroma
with Permanent Residents
Saturday, September 22
11 a.m. The DL Chronicles
1 p.m. Red Without Blue
3 p.m. Ray Hill’s Prison Show with Mansfield 1962
and I Just Wanted to be Somebody
5 p.m. Vivere with A Moment Like This
7 p.m. We’re All Angels
9 p.m. The Picture of Dorian Gray
11 p.m. Secret Things
Sunday, September 23
11 a.m. iklipz web shorts competition
1 p.m. Beyond Hatred
3 p.m. For the Bible Tells Me So
5 p.m. The Two Sides of the Bed
7 p.m. Pick Up the Mic
9 p.m. A Four Letter Word with Serene Hunter
11 p.m. Dante’s Cove Season Three Sneak Preview
Monday, September 24
6 p.m. To be announced
8 p.m. Shelter