Twenty-eight films will be screened during the festival, including seven features, six documentaries, and 15 shorts.
The Ninth Annual QFest St. Louis, a festival of gay and lesbian cinema, will take place April 24 through April 28 at the Hi-Pointe Backlot Theatre. Twenty-eight films will be screened during the festival, including seven features, six documentaries, and 15 shorts.
QFest kicks off with a newly-restored version of Cheryl Dunye’s classic film The Watermelon Woman (4/24, 1:15 p.m.), which intentionally blurs the boundary between real life and imagination. On the one hand, a title card tells us that “Sometimes you have to create your own history. The Watermelon Woman is fiction.” On the other hand, you have Cheryl Dunye, a first-time filmmaker, playing Cheryl, a first-time filmmaker. What’s more, the story concerns Cheryl’s research into the history of “The Watermelon Woman,” who stands in for the many black actresses who never got a fair break and the many lesbians whose stories have been left out of the history books. The Watermelon Woman is a unique film and a real time capsule of the 1990s when movie geeks hung out at video stores. Valerie Walker co-stars as Tamara, Cheryl’s best friend, Jocelyn Taylor as Stacy, Tamara’s partner, and Guinevere Turner as Diana, Cheryl’s sometime love interest (they have a very hot scene together), while David Rakoff has a cameo as a not-very-helpful librarian, and Camille Paglia appears as herself.
Summertime (4/24, 3 p.m.), directed by Catherine Corsini (who also directed the 2009 film Leaving), tells the story of two lovers in 1970s France who struggle to overcome their different backgrounds and an unaccepting society. Delphine (Izia Higelin) is a country girl, the daughter of two farmers from the Limousin region (southwest France), while Carole (Cécile De France), 10 years her senior, teaches Spanish in Paris. They meet, fall in love, and then, like Carol and Therese in Todd Haynes’ Carol, have to figure out how to reconcile their feelings with the rest of their lives. Carole is living with a man while Delphine’s parents hope she will marry a local farmer, and her neighbors think that lesbianism is a way of delaying adulthood at best and a perversion at worst. This is one hot love story, but Summertime is equally notable for the way it reconstructs the mood of radical political movements in the 1970s when it seemed that social movements could bring about significant change in the world.
I Love You Both (4/24, 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.), written and directed by St. Louis native Doug Archibald, is a sweet drama based on a very modern social situation: Krystal (Kristin Archibald, who also co-wrote the screenplay) and her twin brother Donny (Doug Archibald; the two Archibalds are real-life siblings) fall in love with the same guy (Lucas Neff). Matters are made worse by the fact that Krystal and Donny share a house together, so they can hardly avoid unintentionally bumping into each other. I Love You Both is a charming little movie, and the two lead actors are particularly good, making for an enjoyable, if not terribly consequential, 90 minutes at the theater. Doug and Kristin Archibald will attend the screening.
The documentary Chemsex (4/25, 5 p.m.), directed by William Fairman & Max Gogarty, takes viewers into a gay subculture that mixes sex and drug use, sometimes for parties lasting all weekend. It’s not surprising that people are combining sex and drugs—after all, both make you feel good—nor is it surprising that social media has made it easier to hook up with people sharing similar interests, but it’s a legitimate public health concern, because the combination may lead to risky behavior. The directors achieved extraordinary access to this subculture, and skillfully combine staged interviews with, among other things, footage shot in clubs and people’s homes. Word of warning— Chemsex includes footage of people having sex and injecting drugs, so if seeing either of those things offends you, stay away.
John Mitchell & Christina Zeidler’s Portrait of a Serial Monogamist (4/25, 7 p.m.) opens with a direct address to camera, Sex and the City style, in which Elsie (Diane Flacks) informs us that she has found the perfect way to avoid the heartbreak of a relationship ending—always be the dumper, not the dumpee. Portrait of a Serial Monogamist is witty, breezy, and offers some great views of Toronto, which Elsie describes as either “a big city made up of many small towns” or “a small town that wants to be a big city.” Her particular small town is the lesbian scene, where, as she puts it, “everyone has slept with everyone else” (or at least she has slept with everyone else) and “there’s no drama like lesbian drama.” Elsie has a lot going for her—a job in television, a great apartment full of LPs, and a high degree of self-possession—but the first cracks in her self-assurance begin to appear when realizes she might have made a mistake letting her last girlfriend (Carolyn Taylor) go. Be forewarned—there’s no actual sex in this film, but there is a lot of witty conversation and observational humor, making it a sort of lesbian Seinfeld.
On June 24, 1973, someone set fire to the building housing the Up Stairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans that also served as a gathering location for the local Metropolitan Community Church. The result was the largest gay mass murder in U.S. history, with 32 dead and many more seriously hurt, either from the fire or from injuries sustained after jumping from the roof of the building. This terrible event is documented in Robert La Camina’s Upstairs Inferno (4/25, 9 p.m.), which is rich in interviews and archival materials that create a portrait of gay life of the time in New Orleans in the 1970s. Almost as upsetting as the crime itself is the apparent lack of concern showed by the New Orleans Police Department (a spokesman for the police department was quoted as saying that the fire took place in “a bar frequented by thieves, burglars, and queers” and the police never arrested the key suspect) and public officials (neither the mayor of New Orleans nor the governor Louisiana made a public statement on the fire, although they had issued statements for fires with much lower death tolls).
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy has seen quite a bit in her life. She was present at the Stonewall Rebellion and did time in Attica, has been a sex worker and fathered a child, and has been an advocate for transgender women of color for over 40 years. Major! (4/26, 5 p.m.), directed by Annalise Ophelian (who also directed the 2009 documentary Diagnosing Difference), documents the life of this amazing woman, and at the same time brings into public view many of the dangers and injustices faced by transgender people. One key aspect which receives little publicity is the abuse transgender people often receive in prison, which can range from rape and beatings to long-term solitary confinement “for their own protection.” A long-time community leader and former executive director of the Transgender GenderVariant Intersex Justice Project, Miss Major’s greatest contribution may be her personal demonstration of the simple power of being kind to people, particularly those who have experienced rejection and abuse many times in their lives.
The remarkable life of Angela Bowen, who has already done more in one lifetime than most people could accomplish in three or four, is the subject of Jennifer Abod’s documentary The Passionate Pursuits of Angela Bowen (4/26, 7 p.m.). Sent to ballet school at age 14 in the hopes of improving her posture, two years later Bowen performed a leading role at Boston’s Hancock Hall. She decided to pursue dancing as a career, despite the lack of opportunities in the United States for black dancers, and toured Europe for a few years before returning to the United States, where she founded the Bowen-Peters School of dance in New Haven. Bowen became involved in feminism and came out as a lesbian, serving as co-chair of the National Coalitions of Black Lesbians and Gays, and earned the first PhD in Women’s Studies awarded by Clark University. While Bowen and her life are nothing but fascinating, this film is a mix of the intriguing (some great interviews and archival materials) and the distracting (too much low-def video, overuse of Ken Burns effects on stills).
Role-policing is a fact of life, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying if you don’t fit neatly into one of the accepted categories. Nneka Onuorah’s documentary The Same Difference (4/27, 5 p.m.) offers an insider’s look into at some recognized roles and divisions (stud, aggressive, femme, sporty…) in the black and white lesbian communities, and how people feel about the limitations of these roles (hint—some believe that these roles and the accompanying expectations are a good thing, while others do not). It’s a real eye-opener on a topic that doesn’t get much mainstream attention (think about it—how often do discussions of sexual minorities limit themselves to white men?), and includes a particularly interesting discussion (in which someone’s mind is actually changed!) about studs and pregnancy. Interview subjects include Felicia Pearson (Snoop on The Wire), Lea Delaria (Big Boo on Orange is the New Black), dancer King Kellz, and singer Jessica Betts.
When the discovery of antiretrovirals changed AIDS from a death sentence to a chronic disease, those who were able to benefit from these new drugs received a gift: a life far longer than they could have anticipated just a few years earlier. But with this blessing came other issues, including the need to cope with a lifelong, sometimes stigmatized disease, and to create a new life without many of their peers, who died early deaths. Daniel F. Cardone’s Desert Migration (4/27, 7 p.m.) documents the lives of 13 AIDS survivors who have relocated to Palm Springs, following each over the course of a day, coupling images with voiceover of each man telling his story in his own voice. The result is a beautiful and intimate film that offers a different look at the impact of AIDS in the United States.
Ekaj (newcomer Jake Mestre; the character’s name is “Jake” spelled backwards) is trying to survive as a hustler in New York City. He’s very sweet and is as pretty as a girl, which makes him both desirable and vulnerable, but initially comes up short on survival knowledge and toughness. Ekaj (4/28, 5 p.m.), written and directed by Cati Gonzalez, follows Ekaj as he learns to survive—never an easy proposition in one of the most expensive cities in the world, but even tougher when you are young and innocent and have only one thing to sell—with the assistance of Mecca (Badd Idea), who is dealing with his own issues. Gonzalez wrote the lead role with Mestre in mind, and shot the film on location in NYC, while the story is based in part on the experiences of her husband, Mike Gonzalez. Ekaj feels raw and real, and while it is sympathetic to its young protagonist, it doesn’t downplay his struggles or the dangers faced by homeless LBGT youth in New York.
Stephen Dunn’s Closet Monster (4/28, 7 p.m.) provides a fresh take on the coming of age film. Oscar Madly (played by Jack Fulton as a child and Connor Jessup as a teenager) must deal with some standard-issue problems, including being caught in the middle of his parents’ messy divorce, as well as the stress of growing up gay in a homophobic world (a fact underlined by a horrifying crime he witnesses as a child, as well as the hateful attitude of his own father). Closet Monster is set in urban Newfoundland (Dunn is from St. John’s), but could be taking place in any number of locations, so universal is its story. Most impressively, Dunn successfully blends realism and fantasy—the latter including a talking hamster voiced by Isabella Rossellini, and some body horror right out of David Cronenberg’s playbook—resulting in a film that successfully finds a balance between simply pouring new content into an old form, and becoming so esoteric that the strengths of that form are lost. And that’s not just me talking: Closet Monster has won several prestigious awards, including Best Canadian Feature Film at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.
Kiss Me, Kill Me (4/28, 9 p.m.), directed by Casper Andreas, is based on a premise right out of film noir. Dusty (Van Hansis) passes out during a jealous confrontation with his boyfriend Stephen (Gale Harold), and when he comes to, Stephen and another person have been murdered and Dusty is the prime suspect. Dusty’s friends and frenemies are not entirely helpful, particularly not the beautiful Craigery (Matthew Ludwinski), and before long Dusty (who remembers nothing) starts to think that maybe he could have done it. Kiss Me, Kill Me takes place in a glitteringly unreal Los Angeles, populated by pretty people living in beautiful homes, and is also loaded with references to classic noir, beginning with the animated title sequence (by Scott Macpherson). It’s a fun movie to watch, and even better if you enjoy spotting references to classic films.
Two shorts programs are also featured at QFest (none of these films were available for screening). Trans Lives Shorts (4/26, 9 p.m.) is a program of U.S. and U.K. short films about the trans experience. Queer Voices Shorts (4/27, 9 p.m.) is an international program of short films (both documentary and fictional) about the gay experience, with topics as diverse as marriage equality, LGBTQ Syrian refugees, and life as a singleton.
All films in QFest St. Louis will be screened at the Hi-Pointe Backlot Theatre (1002 Hi Pointe Place, behind the main Hi-Pointe Theatre). Tickets are $12, $10 for students and Cinema St. Louis members with valid current IDs. Advance sales are available through the Hi-Pointe website, and further information about the festival is available through the festival website and Facebook page. | Sarah Boslaugh