QFest, Houston’s LGBTQ film festival, celebrates 18 years
by Megan Smith
Look out, Houston, because QFest, the city’s LGBTQ film festival, is finally legal! That’s right, the fest is turning the big 18 this month, hitting screens July 24–29.
The festival lineup is sporting over a dozen film programs, including a dramatic centerpiece, documentary centerpiece, experimental centerpiece, international centerpiece, and a revival of the 1992 gender-bending fantasy drama Orlando. Participating venues have also been consolidated this year, allowing for more free screenings and less scheduling overlap, QFest’s executive director, Kristian Salinas, says.
QFest kicks off on July 16 with a pre-festival panel discussion with Out & Equal Houston and DiverseWorks, as part of the ongoing DiverseWorks on Wednesdays program. The panel features LGBTQ filmmakers including QFest’s festival administrator Stephanie Saint Sanchez, Iranian filmmaker Anahita Ghazvinizadeh, and Jarrod Gullett and Travis Johns of Proud Pony International.
Once the true festival starts, get ready to kick back and relax under the stars, because QFest, in collaboration with Alamo Drafthouse’s Rolling Roadshow, is presenting an outdoor 35-mm screening of the campy 1984 musical Voyage of the Rock Aliens—which features Pia Zadora—at Midtown’s Super Block Park. The film, which Salinas calls “a cult classic waiting to happen,” follows a group of music-loving aliens who land on Earth in search of the source of rock ’n’ roll. “They’re actually going to bring the projectors from Austin on a freight truck,” Salinas says. “That’s crazy.” “You could watch this on YouTube, but don’t,” Saint Sanchez adds. “Treat yourself to watching this on the big screen with a bunch of crazy people. This is not going to disappoint.”
On a more serious note comes the festival’s international centerpiece, India Blues: Eight Feelings. The film presents an intimate look at eight different feelings experienced in a gay relationship—from the moments of rejoicing to the moments where you question why you’re in the relationship. “[The director] wanted to detail the everyday moments in a relationship in real time,” Salinas says. “I like to see the film as very challenging for an audience. I like it because I really felt a lot when I watched this film, because I think he really does capture that sense of monotony that relationships go through. Most people only want to see the romantic, the fairy tale. This is not that.”
Keeping with the theme of depicting the real, QFest, in collaboration with MakeLoveNotPorn—a site that seeks to provide a more realistic representation of human sexuality than that provided by hardcore pornography—presents Sweetest Taboos: A Collection of Erotic Shorts. Both Salinas and Saint Sanchez hope the program—which will include erotic shorts selected by the festival, as well as clips from the MakeLoveNotPorn website—will spark a sex-positive conversation among attendees. “I’m hoping that this program might pique the interest of someone who isn’t quite as free as they could be or deserve to be,” Saint Sanchez says. “It’s an attempt to get out of the mindset of thinking about our sex lives in terms of porn,” Salinas adds. “We don’t have perfect bodies. Those positions that they do in porn are not realistic. There’s a lot of sincerity [in this program].”
QFest is also very excited to bring live queer performance art to its lineup this year—a big first for the festival, thanks to funding from the ENGAGE Houston program. Los Angeles-based artist Dudley Saunders will be performing In These Boxes, a piece that tells the stories of people who are no longer with us through the objects they leave behind. “Years ago, he had lost two of his lovers to AIDS within a month of each other,” Salinas explains. “And after the deaths, he acquired all of their personal belongings. So, when he was up to doing it emotionally, he went through all the boxes with all these belongings, and two things occurred to him—no one was left alive who would remember him being a part of either of these [lovers’] lives, and if he were to suddenly die, these possessions would just be junk and would have no personal meaning.” As a way for him to express not only why these objects were important, but to create a way for others facing this issue to document past relationships, Saunders created an online “cemetery,” where people can submit photos of personal belongings and a short description of their importance, so that the objects retain the memory. From that project, he created a musical component where he takes submissions from the city in which he is performing, pulls those photos, and presents them live. “That’s going to be a very special and unique performance,” Salinas says.
When asked about the importance of the LGBTQ community continuing to have film festivals like QFest, Salinas says it’s all about having a shared experience. Although you could stay home and watch Netflix, that doesn’t allow for you to have conversations about your emotions or reactions to a film, he says. “It’s the difference between listening to your favorite song on a CD and seeing the band in concert,” Salinas says. “It’s a different experience. It’s something more memorable. This is a tangible experience.”
You can also join the conversation (and be your own filmmaker!) by creating a video shout-out to QFest. The festival is inviting fans to submit their own 30-second videos in preparation for QFest, using Hi Fashion’s song “Amazing.” Interested participants should contact Stephanie Saint Sanchez at [email protected] to receive a copy of the song and the QFest logo. Videos must be submitted to q-fest.org by July 17 and will be screened at the QFest pre-party on July 22. “We just want it to be fun!,” Salinas says. “A little dirty, a little edgy.”
OutSmart Highlights a Few of This Year’s QFest Films
Appropriate Behavior (Opening Night)
Quarter-life crises are very real. Just ask Shirin, a twenty-something bisexual woman who is suddenly faced with the humiliating prospect of trading her idyllic gay haven of Park Slope for a shared artist’s loft in Bushwick after her girlfriend dumps her. The aftermath involves Shirin fumbling her way through flirting with new prospects, being caught in an awkward threesome, coming out to her Iranian immigrant parents, and more. Appropriate Behavior is a light comedy about finding yourself, making mistakes, and sharing some laughs along the way.
Of Girls and Horses
This coming-of-age story from Germany follows Alex, a 16-year-old school dropout, drug user, and cutter, who is sent to work as an intern at a horse farm by her adoptive mother as a last attempt to help her daughter find balance in her life. There she meets her openly lesbian instructor, Nina, who teaches her to connect with the horses. Alex ultimately meets Kathy, an upper-class girl vacationing on the farm, and the two form a budding friendship that turns romantic.
One: The Story of Love and Equality
The festival’s documentary centerpiece follows young lesbian filmmaker Becca Roth and her girlfriend as the two New York residents travel to North Carolina to document the fight for marriage equality in the South. During this time, North Carolina is gearing up to vote on one of the most restrictive marriage amendments in the country, Amendment One. For the majority of the filming process, the couple decides not to reveal that they are lesbians in order to speak objectively with both supporters and opponents of the amendment, including a church leader who identifies as an ex-gay. Roth does an excellent job of humanizing all of her interviewees—regardless of beliefs—and relays the message that love is the driving force behind our actions.
Come On, Scumbags
In this intimate documentary, we follow a transwoman in Kazakhstan on the journey to get her much-desired breast implants. The film beautifully juxtaposes her time spent with eccentric friends and lovers with her obvious appreciation for and closeness to her family. This intriguing film successfully breaks down assumptions we may have about non-Western LGBTQ culture.
Eat with Me (Closing Night)
Sick of her lackluster marriage, Emma moves in with her estranged gay son, Elliott, in Los Angeles. Come to find out, Elliott is having problems of his own—he’s the chef at a Chinese restaurant facing closure. Elliott finds himself trying to balance a new prospective romantic relationship with his struggles at work and the slow process of repairing his relationship with his mother. A redemptive tale of personal growth on both sides, Eat with Me offers a fresh take on life, love, and food. There’s a special appearance by George Takei.