QFest turns 16
by Megan Smith
Get your party hats ready, because QFest, Houston’s GLBTQ film festival, is turning the big Swish Sixteen this month.
Originally started as a collaboration of MFAH, Rice Media Center, DiverseWorks, and Landmark Theatres in 1996, the once-dwindling festival underwent a facelift a few years back and has never looked better. With two additional venues—the Asia Society Texas Center in Midtown and the Alamo Drafthouse on South Mason Road—the festival is increasing screenings and reaching audiences never before imagined. “It’s the first time that the festival has ever had a presence outside of Loop 610,” Kristian Salinas, executive director of QFest, says.
This year’s festival lineup seeks to maintain high levels of inclusivity and continue to attract Houston’s diverse audiences. Selected films tackle topics such as transgender identity, international queer identity, and aging within the LGBTQ community.
The Asia Society Texas Center hosts a double feature that includes films dealing with transgender issues through an Asian perspective. Wariazone examines Indonesia’s traditional waria, or third gender, population, and Rites of Passage follows an Indian Muslim transwoman’s journey through sexual reassignment surgery. “Without the support of the Asia Society, we wouldn’t have been able to do that program, because those are very difficult films to include in any festival, as they get lost in the shuffle,” Salinas says. “With the Asia Society’s emphasis on Asian culture, these films were a perfect fit.”
George Kuchar, the filmmaker known for his raw underground films, is given tribute at this year’s festival with screenings of several of his 16mm works, including Hold Me While I’m Naked and One Night a Week. Kuchar, who helped define camp as we know it, passed away last September. Salinas hopes that Kuchar’s concept of making film personal is appreciated by audiences during the tribute. “There’s something very special about George Kuchar,” Salinas says. “He came from the time when making films was not about getting into the industry—it was a response to the industry. He didn’t, in any way, insult what Hollywood was offering, but he took it, queered it up, and made it his own personal vision.”
Despite the mainstreaming of LGBTQ culture, Salinas emphasizes the continued need for a film festival like QFest. While programs on television often reflect the commercialization of gay culture, QFest presents a more realistic picture of the community to audiences. “We have a documentary showing out at the Alamo Drafthouse called Postive Youth that deals with four young adults who are dealing with HIV in their lives,” Salinas says. “The aesthetic is very much along the lines of MTV, but it’s a subject matter that I’m not seeing on television networks with programming designed for gay people. It’s not all about shoe shopping. It’s about people who are trying to preserve their identities.”
The festival presents everyone, gay or straight, with the opportunity for a shared experience, a way to connect with new people, and a way to build community. “You’re meeting people when their emotions are touched and they’re responding to something artistic,” Salinas says. “You get to meet people more truthfully that way.”
OutSmart highlights a few of this year’s QFest films
Opening night brings a touching film on a topic that most queer movies don’t—elderly lesbians. Partners for 31 years, Stella (Olympia Dukakis) and Dot (Brenda Fricker) are still madly in love and young at heart. However, trouble ensues when Dot is injured from a fall and her money-hungry granddaughter puts her in a long-term care facility. Determined to get her back, Stella helps Dot escape and the two run away to Canada to be married. Finding an unusual friendship with a young male hitchhiker along the way, the pair sets off for the adventure of their lives.
The Wise Kids
Set in a Midwest evangelical community, this film follows three close friends, month-by-month, on their individual journeys to adulthood. Along the way, each faces an inner struggle that forces them to choose between their community’s teachings and being true to themselves. Preacher’s daughter Brea risks her friendships when she begins doubting her indoctrination, while best friend Tim seeks balance between his life as a Christian and his homosexuality. The relatable setting and sincere characters make this film a nice story about finding yourself, coming into your own, and going your own way.
With commentary from friends, family, and fellow music industry professionals, this documentary-style film highlights the rise and fall of Jobriath, the first openly queer rock star. After signing with a big-time publicist, Jobriath was set to become the next Elvis or David Bowie. However, after coming out as gay and having a flop of an album, Jobriath’s career plummeted. Although he reinvented himself as a New York City piano-bar sensation later in life, Jobriath never received the recognition he deserved for taking glam rock ’n’ roll to a whole new level. Almost 30 years after his death from AIDS, this film nicely montages footage from Jobriath’s life and career with personal pictures to create a memorable tribute.
Mosquita y Mari
Set in the predominantly Latino immigrant community of Huntington Park, this coming-of-age story centers on the growing affection between two Latina high school students. Yolanda (“Mosquita”) is a straight-A student who lives to make her parents proud. When the troubled Mari moves in across the street, the girls soon team up to form an unlikely but inseparable friendship.
As the two grow closer, lines blur between friendship and attraction. Mosquita y Mari is a beautiful and touching tale of innocence, first love, and falling for your best friend.
Closing night brings lots of laughs with this quirky queer comedy. Jenn and Matt have been best friends since college. Now in their 30s, Jenn seems to look for love in all the wrong places, while Matt can’t move on from his ex-boyfriend. When Jenn propositions Matt to father her child—the old-fashioned way—their friendship is taken to a whole new level. Full of hilarious one-liners and a whole bunch of sass, Gayby is a definite crowd-pleaser.
Megan Smith is a news and features writer for OutSmart magazine.