QFest, Houston’s LGBTQ film festival, hits screens this month.
by Megan Smith
Illustration by Jack Stalnaker
Lesbians, leather bars, and drag queens, oh my! That’s right—it’s time once again for QFest, Houston’s annual LGBTQ film festival, to hit screens July 25–29. With thirty scheduled programs, including two U.S. premieres, two Southwest premieres, nine Texas premieres, and seven Houston premieres, this year’s festival is the place to be.
Last year’s QFest, which had the largest attendance in the history of the festival, hardly resembles the once-small collaboration of MFAH, Rice Media Center, and Landmark Theatres that was started in 1996—and just keeps growing. An additional three venues—the Houston Museum of African American Culture, the Galveston Artist Residency, and the new Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park—have been added to this year’s festival, making 2013 the first time QFest has had a presence in Galveston.
QFest kicks off on July 20 at Discovery Green with a free pre-festival screening of John Waters’ 1988 hair-raising musical Hairspray as part of Julydoscope, an event co-hosted by the Houston Cinema Arts Society and Theatre Under the Stars. “We like to think it’s far away from John Travolta!,” Kristian Salinas, executive director of QFest, says.
Once the true festival starts, get ready to scream—and maybe laugh a little, too—at QFest’s “Class of Horror High” series featuring a trio of high school slasher movies, all shown in their original 35mm format. The revival series is to be shown at Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park and includes Prom Night, Scream, and A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge, which Salinas calls the “most overtly gay of all the Nightmare on Elm Street films. I think that it will be really cool to show, because it really does play into one of my interests in taking older films that may not have been recognized as having
that gay content and owning them for ourselves,” Salinas says. “Perhaps one of the most political acts is having a room full of gay people watching [horror] films like this, because then it becomes a whole different experience—to see the film in a totally different way and appreciate it as if they were seeing it for the first time.”
Far from the fictitious horrors of Freddy and Ghostface, the Houston Museum of African American Culture presents a picture of real-life, still-present dangers with their screening of Born This Way. Shot in Cameroon, this documentary depicts the harsh treatment of gays and lesbians in one of the world’s least LGBT-friendly countries. In addition to many other powerful stories, the film follows a lesbian couple arrested in a rural part of Cameroon for being homosexual. After being put on trial and faced with severe punishments, a straight ally pro bono lawyer brings the couple to the city to try to protect them. “It’s just amazing to see their transformation when they meet other gay people, because they felt alone for so long,” Salinas says.
Robert Mainor, owner of Galveston’s Robert’s Lafitte show bar, knows all about transformations—he’s seen his city, the people, and attitudes changing for decades now. Mainor is one of three elderly gay trailblazers across the country featured in director PJ Raval’s documentary Before You Know It. The film, which explores the life experiences of older generations of gays, is appropriately being shown in Mainor’s home city at the Galveston Artist Residency.
Gore Vidal, the witty and openly gay writer who passed away last July, is another community elder to be celebrated. In his honor, QFest will host a screening of his outrageous book-turned-movie Myra Breckinridge in its original 35mm format. The queer cult-classic is tragically underrated and fell victim to homophobia at the time of its release, Salinas emphasizes. “I think Myra Breckinridge really challenges audiences, and it put things out there that they weren’t ready for [in 1970],” he says. “It wasn’t the time for Myra to come out.”
Tickets for the festival are available for purchase at the door or online at q-fest.org, with prices varying by venue. QPasses, which grant admission to the full festival lineup, are also available for $85 each.
OutSmart highlights a few of this year’s QFest films:
I Am Divine (Opening Night)
Opening night brings the story of Divine, aka Harris Glenn Milstead, from his humble beginnings as an overweight, misunderstood, and “more feminine than masculine” Baltimore teenager to internationally recognized superstar who continuously pushed the limits of drag through his work with filmmaker John Waters. Forcing audiences to question preconceived notions of body image, gender identity, sexuality, and beauty, Divine shocked, fascinated, and boggled the minds of many as he revolutionized the world of pop culture. This biographical portrait, which includes interviews with Divine’s high school girlfriend and once-estranged mother, charts the legendary icon’s emotional complexities and his rise to infamy.
In this compelling documentary, queer performance artist Wu Tsang details the conflict and creativity that arose when he and three fellow avant-garde performance artists create a weekly “Wildness” night at The Silver Platter, the historic Los Angeles bar known for being home to many Latina immigrant transwomen. The event, which blurred lines between nightclub and performance space and attracted transpeople of all races, initially confused the bar’s regulars but soon became wildly popular. Crowds grow out of control, people get hurt, safe spaces are destroyed, and we see that popularity and reconciliation come with a price. Wildness is a story of survival, community, and what it means to dream.
She: Their Love Story
This profound film from Thailand follows two separate stories of women who find love with the most unexpected people at the most unexpected times in their lives. Bua, a successful resort owner, is forced to reexamine her seemingly perfect life when she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. As a dying wish, she discovers the true meaning of passionate love when she develops a strong connection with a young female photographer. Meanwhile, Da—a determined journalist, feeling lost after her credibility is ruined when her ex-boyfriend releases a sex tape the two made—reluctantly agrees to write a “trendy” piece about straight women who fall for more masculine lesbians. As research for her article, she befriends her charming tomboy neighbor, Be, only to find herself falling for her.
Gavin is a lonely, gay twenty-something student living in New York’s East Village. After his friend Amy’s relationship with her boyfriend suddenly ends, he invites her to stay the weekend while his roommate is away. The two spend the evening drinking heavily at a local gay club, only to return to find a young male stranger passed out in their doorway. Unsure of what to do, the two eventually agree to let him stay with them for the weekend. As the connection between the three of them grows, the truth about each one is revealed. Hunter is an honest portrayal of the insecurities and desires that live within us all.
G.B.F. (Closing Night)
Gay high school student Tanner is just fine keeping a low profile. However, when he is outed by the school’s gayless Gay-Straight Alliance in desperate need of a real-life gay member, things take an unexpected turn. Being the only out gay student at school, Tanner is just what the three rival prom queen candidates need on their arm—the latest and hottest accessory, the Gay Best Friend (G.B.F.). Expected to be the stereotypical fabulous and fierce gay boy, Tanner is faced with the difficult choice between popularity and the friends he leaves behind.