The recent news that Philadelphia’s QFest, arguably the highlight of my moviegoing summer, has been postponed has me crestfallen. For almost 20 years, it has been an opportunity for me to see gay films, connect with gay filmmakers and meet other members of the queer community. I’ve formed lasting friendships with the folks I’ve meet at QFest, even if I only see some of them just once a year in theaters at festival screenings.
For years — and especially now in this age of Netflix, VOD, iTunes and Amazon — friends and I have been asking: Do we need to have queer film festivals? Is there a point where we break out of the “gay ghetto” and become accepted into and by the mainstream?
I’ve always appreciated the sense of unity at a gay film fest, where every program was geared towards celebrating LGBT culture — even (sometimes especially) if the queer characters behaved badly. There was something reassuring that, for two weeks every July, I could see images of my community reflected on the silver screen.
I discovered some of my favorite queer filmmakers, like Todd Verow, Patrick McGuinn and Marco Berger, at QFest. I anticipated their upcoming projects and made efforts to talk to them and write about their work. I will continue to follow their careers, but I will miss them this summer.
However, I’m starting to come around to the fact that as queer folks are more accepted by mainstream society, maybe it is time to do away with queer film festivals all together.
I am attending the Tribeca Film Festival, which is held mostly in Chelsea, and I can get my fix from the interesting queer films they show. This year, I hope to see “Love Is Strange,” the eagerly awaited new film by Ira Sachs (of “Keep the Lights On” fame) about an aging gay couple played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, and “Life Partners,” an American indie about a lesbian and her straight female friend.
Film festivals, gay or straight, to me at least, should be about seeing the world through the eyes of others and learning about different people and cultures. Tribeca screened “Mala Mala,” a moving documentary about the trans community in Puerto Rico and their efforts to achieve equality and dignity. If audiences — and not just queer viewers — are exposed to the situation of the film’s subjects, Ivana, Alberic, and Stephanie, among others, and come to understand and appreciate their struggles, perhaps that will do something to bridge the gap with the trans community where they live.
Likewise, a Swedish film, “Something Must Break,” explored themes of gender and attraction as two men fall in love. One guy is reluctant to be with another man; the other man is more keen to become a woman. These kinds of stories rarely get released outside the festival circuit. As the more popular festivals are being more inclusive of LGBT films, isn’t that a good thing?
Tribeca also has an excellent shorts program. This year, they featured several queer films, including Coy Middlebrook’s “For Spacious Sky,” which chronicles the bond between three very different brothers — one of whom is gay (played by out actor Jonah Blechman) — on the eve of Obama’s election, and a priceless short documentary, “One Year Lease,” about a gay couple, a cat and their landlady.
Lastly, one of the world premieres at Tribeca was the documentary “A Brony Tale,” about the (mostly) straight men — some of them quite macho — who enjoy the children’s TV program, “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.” If this subculture, which challenges gender stereotypes, isn’t the height of metrosexuality, I’m not sure what is. The film certainly changed my opinion about how grown men can appreciate the same pop culture as very young girls. It reminded me of the way gay men and female teenagers can share the same crushes and pre-sexual lust for male heartthrobs.
So maybe there is enough queer content in festivals like Tribeca to help me get over missing QFest this summer. While I would like to see more queer cinema in theaters all year long, until that time comes, I’ll keep attending film fests.
Gary Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews” and co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.”