Here at Vital VOICE, we wanted to give you some reviews of the best of the best of this year’s QFest along with our top three reasons why YOU should support the festival and watch these films.
Reason One: “No one dies!”…says Qfest artistic director, Chris Clark. Clark also serves as the artistic director for Cinema Saint Louis and says he hand picked this year’s films to show us the complexity of our queer lives without the standard dramatic tragedies some gay films become.
“I was looking for films that were positive and empowering,” he explained.
Clark says that films have the special ability to transport us into imaginary world and that Qfest is an opportunity to address the many letters in our queer alphabet.
“We really want to make this an artistic celebration of our culture.”
The Grand Prize
Sons of Tennessee Williams is a Queer Classic
Director Tim Wolff’s documentary Sons of Tennessee Williams explores the surreal and lavish world of Mardi Gras drag balls and in the process opens up the memories of gay liberation elders.
Many of us know the stories of the queer pioneers of the Stonewall-era but few know the history of gay liberation as it happened in The South. Wolff responds by chronicling the stories of gay liberation elders in New Orleans as they prepare for the Krewe of Armeinius ball. Krewes are a staple in New Orleans and are chartered social clubs that celebrate Mardi Gras by throwing balls and crowning kings and queens. Sons becomes the story of how the first gay krewes were landmarks in queer civil rights and how the tradition has survived despite the devastation of AIDS and Katrina.
Wolff takes you behind the fantasy and into the nuts and bolts (literally) of how the balls are created with scenes into their glitter covered workrooms where drag becomes a surreal world with no rules and endless imagination. You can’t help but gasp when you see a constructed New York City skyline dripping in glitter and chocolate as a strawberry cheesecake.
He lets the elders speak for themselves and by doing so you feel honored and humbled when you hear how they describe a gay youth that seems almost foreign now with its vice raids on gay bars and lovers lost to AIDS. Even the ugly memory retold of three handsome gay-bashing murderers smiling for the camera as their mothers kiss them under an acquittal headline will leave you stunned at how far we’ve come as a queer people.
This movie, even with these dark moments, is still a beautiful and powerful tribute to forgotten pioneers of queer culture. The beauty comes from witnessing these men as beautiful, young and defiant despite society’s brutal demands to conform. They remind us that our struggle for equality is far from over and that the moment we forget our past it’ll all be for nothing.
Sons of Tennessee Williams is liberating and affirming movie pageantry but describing it does no justice. Watch it and you’ll know why.
Thu, Apr 14th at 7:30 PM
Queer Soul Power
Transgender Musicians Rock Out in Riot Acts
Music is an extension of pure human emotion so its fitting that the transgender musicians of Riot Acts are stripped down to the raw bones of their queer lives in this beautiful and haunting rockumentary. The indie-grass, queer-Chicago duo Simon Strikeback and Madsen Minax produced the film under their nomenclature Actor Slash Model and the result is a profound and moving documentary that explores the music and transformative experiences of transgender musicians and performers across the American landscape.
We find these musicians on the road and in packed dive bars as they tell their stories with queer rhythm and blues, acoustic bluegrass, hip-hop and punk rock. They burrow into their music with discussions on camera that provide an intimate look into their inspirations as artists and the challenges of transgressing gender on stage.
Queer theory junkies will be delighted to know that the film is heavy on interviews and they cover lots of ground as they examine the queer as political and the importance of vocalizing queer and transgender stories through song. One of these theoretical gems comes when several of the trans-male performers open up about their fears and insecurities about their voices when they began testosterone and how it has affected their music. Other moments are pure joy like those of scene stealing nun-parody group Systyr Act who simply rock out drunk in habits to a thrash version of Madonna’s Like a Prayer.
Riot Acts does at times become too much of an academic ethnography and you wish the directors would have edited more of the interviews and replaced them with more footage from gigs and performances to keep you engaged in the bands’ narratives.
In the end you realize you don’t need to be queer to understand these musicians or their songs. Their testimonies are ones of broken hearts and western sunsets and they sound like pure American soul.
Fri, Apr 15th at 9:30 PM
Birds of Prey
Cheryl Dunye’s The OWLS rips apart the Ellen-paradigm
Dykes seem so happy…or so we thought. Cheryl Dunye’s The OWLS rips apart the Ellen-paradigm and exposes us to a collection of Older Wiser Lesbians with sinister secrets.
The film follows a group of OWLS grappling with their guilt after covering up the murder of baby dyke Cricket played by Deak Evgenikos. V.S. Brodie plays weathered lesbian MJ who spends her time chronically masturbating to online porn while ex-girlfriend Iris (Guinevere Turner) rips down missing posters for Cricket in a haze of vodka and paranoia. We discover that the pair were once two-thirds of the lesbian punk trio “The Screech” with third band mate Lily (Lisa Gornick) who now spends her time silently suffering as a domesticated rocker with partner Carol (Dunye).
We see these women in the present as their once revolutionary and youthful queer identities are fading into docile reminders of their past glory. Iris suffers from delusions of grandeur to the point where she says she was ‘Debbie fucking Harry’-great while Lily begins to wonder if she has lost her dyke-edge by nesting with Carol who also sees a growing disconnect within their relationship.
The combination of lesbian film noir and documentary style interviews moves these characters outside of the predictable “lesbian” movie framework and into a space that albeit dark feels more authentic and interesting than anything the Ellen-types have produced for us lately. The structure of the film may be a bit too existential for some but it spurs your inner lesbian to contemplate bitter truths.
Dunye isn’t interested in a happy ending or leaving us with simple answers but she and her OWLS will make you analyze the state of queer womanhood and its generational divide. And that’s something to hoot about.
Sun, Apr 17th at 2:00 PM
BY: JOSHUA BARTON