Philadelphia has a long history with film. Long before Hollywood, there was the Lubinville Studio on 20th Street (1911), Thomas Edison opened the first film company across the Delaware River, and the steadicam was invented in this area. In addition, several classics were filmed in Philly. With the Women’s Film Festival through March 23 and the upcoming qFLIX, Philly’s film culture continues.
The qFLIX festival, celebrating more than 25 years of presenting queer films, is chock full of panels, celebrities, festivities and movies to suit every taste. Opening night will be the North American premiere of “From Zero to I Love You,” an LGBTQ+ film shot almost entirely in Philadelphia. Actor Darryl Stephens (”Noah’s Ark,” “Boy Culture”) will be there for the screening.
“Going Forward,” a short film set to precede the feature, is a moving documentary showing Philly’s own Malcolm Kenyatta on his quest to become a Pennsylvania state representative and the first openly LGBTQ+ candidate of color elected to state office here. Stephens and Kenyatta will be at the “Black & Pink” opening-night gala that follows in the Observation Deck on the 57th floor of Liberty Place.
But it’s the behind-the-scenes players who star in the presentation of major events like qFLIX. Among the many talented and dedicated volunteers who help the festival run smoothly is the debonair Javier Mojica.
PGN: Let’s start with a little about your hometown.
JM: I’m originally from a town on the west coast of Puerto Rico called Mayagüez.
PGN: What brought you to the United States?
JM: I came to the states to go to college. I was out in York and then moved to Philadelphia in ’95 to work for a quasi-nonprofit.
PGN: Tell me about the family.
JM: I’m the youngest of four brothers. We’re all spread out over the states. One is in the Boston area, one is in New Jersey and the other is in Hawaii. Two of my big brothers are also gay and they live with their partners.
PGN: Could you describe where you grew up?
JM: Mayagüez is one of the largest cities in Puerto Rico. It’s known for its mangoes and for the drinking water because it comes down fresh from the mountains. Plus, it’s not too far from the beach where people come from all over to surf. But in addition to being in the city, we had a beach house where we’d spend weekends and special holidays. It was fun because we could invite friends and family. But I consider myself a city boy. Mayagüez has a University of Puerto Rico campus that is well-known for engineering; a lot of NASA people go there. I went there for a year before transferring to the states for political science and international studies. I was really into languages and culture and international relations. When I went for my master’s, it was for public-administration planning and community development.
PGN: I’ve been to Puerto Rico. I can’t imagine going from the crystal-blue waters of Mayagüez to the green/gray water at the Jersey Shore.
JM: [Laughing] I just try to enjoy the boardwalk experience.
PGN: What’s a fun family tradition?
JM: We did a lot of celebrating, especially around the holidays. We would have a lot of competitions. One of the best was where the kids would have to make their own hats and then we would have a parade. Mine was a top hat decorated with things from the beach. We’d have a contest for best joke, best smile, etc. We’d do it so that everyone won something, even the grownups.
PGN: How did the family handle having three gay brothers?
JM: It’s kind of just there. We didn’t really talk about it much, especially since none of us lived there. But it was never an issue.
PGN: When did you come out?
JM: It took a little bit. I struggled internally about coming out. I knew that I wanted to come to the states for school, and decided I wanted to wait until then and not deal with it in Puerto Rico. As soon as I moved to the states, I became very involved with the community.
PGN: How did you learn about your brothers?
JM: I always kind of knew, especially with my older brother. But the way I found out officially from my other brother was when he sat me down and said, “I have a gift for you … ” It was adorable.
PGN: Did you say, “Guess what? I have a boyfriend too.”
JM: No, no. The way I found out they had an inkling was at my mother’s funeral, when my older brother pulled me aside and said, “She always knew … ” Apparently they all talked about it with my mom! That was very special to me, and to know that they were all there for me.
PGN: How did you find community here?
JM: I got involved with things. I volunteered with the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, I played recreational volleyball and softball. Back in school, I played basketball too.
PGN: You’re a jock! What other hobbies do you have?
JM: Well, of course I love theater and films. My current title is manager of the Wilma Theater and I’ve been here since 2005. So, I’ve seen a lot of amazing shows. We’re just opening the run of Ballet X, which is always exciting. The theater community in Philadelphia is very strong and active and really supportive. We go to see each other’s shows and always help each other out. It’s like family.
PGN: After so many years being involved with live theater, what’s the craziest moment you’ve seen?
JM: We’ve had people in the audience have their moments to the extent that we’ve had to stop the show and call 911. There have been a few outbreaks in the theater.
JM: No, what do you call them? Breakouts? When the lights go out. Blackouts! We had one show when the power went down three times in a week in this area. Luckily that’s rare. One time we did have an actor trip doing warmups before the show. She hurt herself badly enough that I had to cancel the show!
PGN: Have you done any acting?
JM: A little in high school. I did some plays. One of them comes to mind where I got to play this crazy guy who comes through a window trying to get a girl. And in “Cinderella,” I didn’t play the prince. I was the butler who held the glass slipper. I’ve also done some work as an extra.
PGN: How did you get involved with the film festival?
JM: I volunteered. I met Thom Cardwell (coproducer of qFLIX) and asked to help out. And now, all these years later, I’m the director of guest services. I love welcoming people to the city and making sure they have a great experience here.
PGN: Over the years they’ve had some great guest stars. Who was a favorite?
JM: Last year we had Alan Cumming. He was here for closing night and hung out with everyone at the party. That was awesome.
PGN: I was there! He was pretty great. He danced with everyone all night and then even took over as DJ!
JM: Yeah. It was fun. Another good one was when we had ’50s heartthrob Tab Hunter. I got to pick up him and his boyfriend in New York and drove them all the way here. They were very nice. Oh, and what is her name? Tilly, not Meg, but the other one with the funny voice.
PGN: Jennifer Tilly?
JM: Yes! At one of the festivals, she and I hung out at Bump, when that was a hotspot, with two well-known gay porn stars. Then we went over to Voyuer, or whatever it was called then, and danced all night. That was fun!
PGN: Thinking of fun, I know you knew Donald Carter (Philly’s “Mayor of the Gayborhood”).
JM: Yes, that’s such a big loss. He was always at the film and theater events, and he brought such great energy. He will really be missed. I don’t think people realize how many things he used to support. He’d come to shows at the Wilma, and he would often bring some little trinket for me or for Blanka Zizka, the artistic director here — a little gift or token that related to the show. It won’t be the same without Donald at the opening night for qFLIX.
PGN: Very true. What is your favorite genre of film?
JM: I like everything, but I really enjoy a good drama — when someone delivers a really strong performance.
PGN: Any films or filmmakers you’re excited about seeing this year?
JM: [Laughing] All of them! There are going to be a lot of good films from all over the world. I’m always excited to meet new talent, new filmmakers, but we’re going to have some of the cast here for the opening-night film and I’m looking forward to that.
PGN: You’re on a desert island with a VCR and only one tape to watch. What is it?
JM: Oh wow. I think it would have to be a musical to keep me going, maybe “The Sound of Music.” But my favorites are films like “The Goodbye Girl” – I love Neil Simon – or “Terms of Endearment” for some good acting, “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “Steel Magnolias.”
PGN: You must just like to cry!
JM: I do cry. I even cried at “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It really moved me.
PGN: You are on death row. What’s your last meal?
JM: I’d say rice and beans and mufungo, which is like a fried plantain with pork skin and garlic rolled into a ball. Or pork chops.
PGN: When do you lose your temper?
JM: It’s very rare, maybe when I see unfairness or someone getting their civil rights violated.
PGN: Are you single or partnered?
JM: Single and available! I’d love to meet someone who’s kind and worldly, who likes going to shows and films like I do.
PGN: We’ll just have to find you someone with a glass slipper that fits!
For more information or tickets, visit www.qflixphilly.com.