By Megan Smith
Ah, to be 19 again! For QFest, Houston’s LGBTQ film festival, that birthday is just around the corner, as the fest celebrates its 19th year this July 23–27.
Although there was talk of the festival folding this year, QFest director Kristian Salinas has since dispelled those rumors, noting that the organization simply shed its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and returned to being a sponsored project of the Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP). “We’re just too small to be a nonprofit,” Salinas explains. “It gets to a point where you have to acknowledge that perhaps the 501(c)(3) component is what’s holding the festival back. All the effort that goes into maintaining that status, but getting nothing in return, made us all question whether this was the right thing to continue doing.” QFest has already begun to flourish as a SWAMP affiliate, he says, and this year’s fest should be better than ever.
In addition to sporting an impressive film lineup, this month’s festival venues include many of Houston’s top cultural institutions—the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Rice Media Center, the Aurora Picture Show, the Houston Museum of African-American Culture, DiverseWorks, and (new to the festival this year) FotoFest—as well as popular neighborhood spots like Cafe Brasil, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Vintage Park, FBar, and Ripcord. “We’re the only Houston film festival that’s going outside Beltway 8,” Salinas says.
QFest kicks off with a screening of the controversial film I Am Michael, starring James Franco, Zachary Quinto, and Emma Roberts. Directed by openly gay Justin Kelly (who will be attending the QFest screening), the film details the life of Michael Glatze, the once-vocal gay-rights activist who became a born-again Christian, renounced his homosexuality, married a woman, and became the minister of an antigay church. “It was a big shock to the movement and gave a lot of ammo to the conversion-therapy folks,” explains Salinas. Although this film has angered many in the LGBT community, Salinas says he feels that it “portrays Glatze as a human, neither good nor bad, but in that space in which we all reside, in the middle. It has such a sensitivity to it that I feel is really inspirational—and it has one of the best endings I’ve ever seen in a movie.” Even the real-life Glatze, who attended the film’s premiere at Sundance, seemed to have a positive reaction. “He thought it was a very fair portrayal,” Salinas says, noting that Glatze has not directly come out against reparative therapy, but he has apologized for the harm his work has done. “By all accounts, though, he’s happy with where he’s at.”
The festival features not one, but two American centerpieces this year, which promise to be equally thought provoking. The first, director Sebastián Silva’s comedy-drama Nasty Baby, follows a trio of friends—a straight woman (Kristen Wiig) and an interracial gay male couple, as they navigate trying to have a baby. But there’s much more to this narrative, Salinas explains, as the trio’s neighborhood is experiencing heavy gentrification. The film creates a conversation about how gentrification doesn’t necessarily create a divide among races, Salinas says, but between classes. “I really love this portrayal because this is our new racism that millennials, primarily, are not clued into,” he says. “It’s not an easy portrayal—it’s supposed to punch you in the gut.”
Director Dito Montiel brings us the festival’s second American centerpiece, Boulevard. Best known as Robin Williams’ last film, Boulevard tells the story of a closeted married man who almost hits a street hustler one night while driving. The two form a bond that ultimately blurs the lines between friendship and desire. “It’s his last film,” Salinas says about Williams. “It’s the one that was shelved because no one knew what to do with it—considering how he died and because the film is darker in tone. But the film is well made, and I’m very happy we can show it.”
Sending shockwaves abroad is British director Peter Greenaway’s Eisenstein in Guanajuato, which is slated as QFest’s experimental centerpiece. This controversial narrative—shot in Greenaway’s signature flamboyant and absurdist style—depicts the highly celebrated Russian director Sergei Eisenstein as he traveled to Mexico in 1930 to make the film ¡Que viva México!, which was commissioned by Upton Sinclair. There, he unexpectedly has a romantic and sexual affair with a married male professor—an event that would forever change his art. “That was the trip where Eisenstein realized he was gay, and it transformed him as a person and as an artist,” Salinas says. “Eisenstein is one of the most celebrated directors in international cinema and is considered an icon in Russia, but is not recognized there as [being] gay. In Communist countries, they celebrate his work, but any mention of [him being] gay is blasphemy. And that’s what I love about Peter Greenaway—he doesn’t shy away from those controversies. He says ‘to hell with all of you, this is what made the man an artist.’”
On the lighter side, QFest is bringing back the campy 1984 musical Voyage of the Rock Aliens for a second year in hopes of making the film a festival tradition. Voyage, which features the always-fabulous Pia Zadora, follows a group of music-loving aliens who land on Earth in search of the source of rock ’n’ roll. Equal parts ridiculous and fun, this cult classic is not one to miss.
QFest closes with the raw and gritty film Tangerine from director Sean Baker. The film, which stars Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Houston transgender actress Mya Taylor, tells the story of two trans prostitutes in Los Angeles who set out on Christmas Eve to find the pimp who did one of them wrong. Although Tangerine was a surprise success at this year’s Sundance, the biggest shock came when Baker revealed that the film was shot entirely on two iPhones. “They shot on location without permits and without permission,” Salinas says. “And that allowed them to really capture the feel of the area.” Salinas points to this film as a prime example of the next step in the evolution of filmmaking, and he hopes to bring Baker to this year’s festival to present a workshop to teach local filmmakers how to shoot works on their iPhones.
Salinas is also excited to announce that two inaugural awards will be presented at this year’s festival—the “Freedom to Vision” award will be bestowed on I Am Michael for its humanistic portrayal of a controversial figure, and a lifetime achievement award will be presented by Stephanie Saint Sanchez of Senorita Cinema to director Fina Torres, whose lesbian film Liz in September will be screened as part of the fest. Both awards were designed by Houston transgender calligrapher and glass artist Leenah Jimenez, who has previously created pieces for both the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and Neiman Marcus. “These are going to be pieces that are so different from what’s normally given out,” Salinas says.
The addition of these awards is only the beginning of Salinas’ big plans for the festival in upcoming years. By 2017 (the festival’s 21st birthday), he hopes to have the money to make QFest a competitive film festival with juried prizes and, in turn, to expand the fest’s lineup. But to achieve this goal, Salinas emphasizes that the community first has to increase its support for the festival. “I feel like there’s this disconnect,” Salinas says. “This is the fourth-largest city, we have an openly gay mayor, and it’s very open and vibrant. But that doesn’t mean that a gay and lesbian film festival is an entitlement. You have to invest in it—buy tickets, show up, and donate money. If you don’t do any of those things, you don’t have it.”
Because in the end, Salinas says, the point of the festival is to build and strengthen community. “It’s not about who is your big sponsor, who you’re advertising for, or what big stars you can have walk down the red carpet,” he says. “It’s about [getting] people to feel proud of who they are, to feel safe about their space, and to feel welcome.”
Festival passes and individual tickets can be purchased from q-fest.org.
Tab Hunter Confidential
Unbelievably handsome 1950s actor Tab Hunter was every teenage Baby Boomer’s dream—the definition of an all-American star, with a dazzling smile to match. But what didn’t shine through in his Hollywood persona was the fact that this beautiful bachelor was secretly gay. In this tell-all documentary by director Jeffrey Schwarz (I Am Divine, Vito), the now-83-year-old Hunter gives us a look into the reality of his situation during his movie days. From dating female co-stars to cover up his true relationships to breaking his contract with Warner Brothers Studios and working with John Waters and Divine, the usually private Hunter opens up to reflect on what he now calls his “past life.”
From a 2005 OutSmart interview with Tab Hunter:
Blase DiStefano: Can you name your favorite three leading ladies?
Tab Hunter: Well, I would have to say Geraldine Page, I would have to say Sophia Loren, and I would have to say Natalie [Wood].
Apparently, your fourth favorite leading lady would be Divine.
[Laughs] I can’t forget Divine, of course. You’re right. When John Waters called me up to do Polyester, he introduced himself and talked about his work, and I said, “I know your work. I love Mondo Trasho.” He said, “How would you feel about kissing a 300-pound transvestite?” I said, “I’ve kissed a lot worse.”
See Tab Hunter in person at the festival on July 26 at MFAH. Hunter’s partner, Allan Glaser (co-producer of Tab Hunter Confidential), will join him.
Death in Buenos Aires
After a wealthy gay man is murdered in Buenos Aires, veteran officer and family-man Inspector Chávez is assigned to the case—and instructed to solve the murder quickly and quietly. Using some old connections, he sets out to infiltrate the city’s gay club and drug scene to find the murderer and the motive. But after a young, handsome officer maneuvers his way into helping with the investigation, the sexual tension between the pair grows, blurring Chávez’s ability to separate reason from passion. This well-executed crime drama will keep you guessing until the very end.
Naz & Maalik
Islamophobia causes more than one problem for two Muslim teenagers in director Jay Dockendorf’s new film Naz & Maalik. After an FBI agent assigned to their neighborhood comes snooping around asking questions, the pair faces personal endangerment after their stories regarding their whereabouts don’t match up. But terrorism is the last thing they’re trying to cover up—in reality, the boys are romantically involved and desperately trying to hide their sexuality from their conservative parents. This intimate portrayal of gay teens trying to reconcile their feelings with their faith is a refreshing and realistic take on the classic coming-of-age tale.
Liz in September
Highly regarded Venezuelan director Fina Torres’ latest film, Liz in September, follows Liz (Patricia Velasquez), an irresistible ladies’ woman, as she celebrates her 37th birthday with friends at a Caribbean beach retreat. Although the trip is a tradition for the women, this year is different—Liz is hiding the fact that she has terminal cancer. The whole dynamic changes when straight newcomer Eva (Eloisa Maturen) needs a place to stay after her car breaks down in town. Always up for a challenge, Liz accepts when her friends challenge her to seduce Eva in three days’ time. What Liz doesn’t expect is to find love, personal peace, and a legacy to leave behind.
Wednesday, July 22
6 p.m. QFest 2015 Preview Pre-Party Launch-A-Thon
Thursday, July 23
7 p.m. I Am Michael (Opening Night and Presentation of Freedom of Vision Award)
Friday, July 24
7 p.m. Liz in September (Presentation of Senorita CinemaLifetime Achievement Award)
• Rice Media Center
7:30 p.m. Boulevard (Dramatic Centerpiece)
10 p.m. Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story
• Houston Museum of African American Culture
8 p.m. Naz & Maalik
8:15 p.m. Tiger Orange
• Brasil Cafe
8:30 p.m. Exotic World and the Burlesque Revival
• Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park
10:30 p.m. Voyage of the Rock Aliens
Saturday, July 25
• Montrose Center
2 p.m. American Vagabond
• Rice Media Center
2: 15 p.m. Celestial Clockwork
4:45 p.m. Stand
7:30 p.m. Death in Buenos Aires (International Centerpiece)
9:45 p.m. 54: The Director’s Cut
4 p.m. Paris Is Burning (25th Anniversary Screening)
6 p.m. Meet the Filmmakers
4 p.m. Power Erotic
7 p.m. Nasty Baby (American Centerpiece)
• Aurora Picture Show
8 p.m. Prison System 4614
• Brasil Cafe
8:30 p.m. Summer
Sunday, July 26
2 p.m. Grey Gardens
5 p.m. Tab Hunter Confidential (Documentary Centerpiece)
• Rice Media Center
2:15 p.m. Woman On Top
4:30 p.m. Jess & James
7 p.m. Eisenstein in Guanajuato (Experimental Centerpiece)
9:15p.m. Everlasting Love
• 14 Pews
3 p.m. Game Face
4 p.m. S&M Sally
• Brasil Cafe
8:30 p.m. Bizarre
Monday, July 27
• Rice Media Center
7 p.m. Tangerine (Closing Night)
All programs are subject to change. For updates, visit q-fest.org.