The 2018 Vancouver Queer Film Festival: days 583 — 596

Moving pictures in pictures

The week after Pride is always kind of weird. My first draft for this post was titled “The in-between time”, because it really is: a few days between big public pageantry and parades, and the more low-key (but no less sincere) pageantry of queer cinema.

BC Day, I finally got my ass off the couch and down to Sunset Beach, where for some reason I decided to walk / crawl down to the end of that little spit of rocks facing Burrard Bridge. I probably looked like a huge twit edging my way cautiously along those rocks, and I probably won’t do it again soon because it really wasn’t that fun, but the view was nice.

You know one thing I love about the West End? All the random little gnome doors and things. This one is on the 1500 block of Nelson Street.

Oh, and the other way this time of year is “in-between”: grass volleyball at David Lam Park is over, and all I have left is the memories of the junk food I had at the nearby DQ.

Thursday, the opening gala! I’ve already blogged about all the feels the show made me feel, so I won’t repeat myself. Summary: all the feels.

Friday, Octavio is Dead!‘s overly shaky cam made me leave halfway through. Too bad, though, because it looked really interesting. I meandered towards the seawall and walked home, snapping a pretty sunset on the way.

Saturday I had to check out the brand-new Burnaby Pride! Not so big now, but I’m sure it’ll grow. And that night I saw Alaska is a Drag, which is actually not a biopic of Alaska Thunderfuck. No, it’s a very enjoyable story of boxing, drag and crazy dreams in a small Alaska fishing town. I felt the resolution came right out of nowhere but it was a fun ride.

Sunday, the Sets on the Beach tournament, which meant summer vball season with VGVA was really and truly over. Which is a bit sad, but it means I get my Sundays back for a little while! I had planned on seeing a couple movies that night, but soon figured that was absolutely not going to happen. Too bad, I really wanted to see The Fruit Machine; Freelancers Anonymous looked good too.

Monday: a double showing of Troublemakers 3.0 (a super-inspirational series of interviews between local LGBTQ+ elders and youth) and 50 Years of Fabulous, the story of San Francisco’s Imperial Council. I went for the history, because though we have our own court system (the Dogwood Monarchist Society) I always saw it as a rather silly and outdated social thing, but I was impressed by the good they’ve done, and still do. Plus I learned a lot about pre-Stonewall queer history! And had to laugh at how the first Empress named herself after Joshua Norton, who also reinvented himself as royalty. Only in San Francisco!

Hey, remember that nice pink sunset from Friday? Say goodbye to all that. The smoke reached us, and a week later and the sky still hasn’t cleared. In fact it’s only gotten worse. I took a break from movies Tuesday—had to pace myself, and nothing really jumped out at me, so that was all right.

After White Rabbit, the Wednesday centrepiece gala, I wandered home and took a shot of Emery Barnes Park. Not my first, but I wasn’t feeling super-inspired, photo-wise, and my head was full of the movie. It was a weird and kooky piece, and apparently very open to interpretation. One saw it as about moving on from trauma, and being present and grateful. Me, I didn’t get the “trauma” part; I saw it more as a tale of alienation and performance, each of us locked in our little worlds reaching out for true connection. When you find it, that’s a real gift. When you connect with yourself, your inspiration and your bliss, that’s a gift too.

Or at least, that’s what I got from it.

Thursday: out at SFU Woodward’s I saw the amazing Saturday Church, a musical featuring queer / trans youth of colour in New York. It’s beautiful and heartwarming with gorgeous song and dance numbers.

Friday at the York Theatre: the first show was a short (1/2 hour-ish) film on the Vancouver Men’s Chorus, followed by a Q&A, but preceded by a great song-and-dance number of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now. Goddamn, that song is catchy. And it was followed by The Coast is Queer, the annual (and always excellent) showcase of local LGBTQ+ filmmakers.

Saturday: a documentary on the Leitis of Tonga. I found it a fascinating look at traditional Pacific Islander third genders, royalty and old social orders, imported Christian homophobia and transphobia, and modern human rights discourse—but still centering the real flesh-and-blood people at the heart of it all. Great stuff, but that’s what I expected from the makers of Kumu Hina. The other show I saw, Malila: The Farewell Flower, was less engaging. I was intrigued by the description of a tragic love story steeped in Buddhist spirituality, but I feel it lost a lot in translation. Oh well, that’ll happen.

Between shows I went out for a walk in Gastown.

And the closing gala: The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a movie about fundie Xian gay therapy that still managed to be pretty funny. Didn’t think they’d manage it, but here we are. I think they must have toned down the real psychological torture somewhat, though what we saw was still very nasty. Quibble: I would have liked to see the main characters do more than run away—that place needed to burn! Still, I’ll take what I can get.

Summary of my VQFF experience

(hey, haven’t done one of these in a while!)

Number of shows seen: 11.5. Not a bad number, though!

Favourite feature film: 1985. With very close runners-up Saturday Church (which won the OutTV Go People’s Choice Award) and 50 Years of Fabulous.

Favourite short film: Pass the Salt and Colors (winner of the Gerry Brunet Memorial Award for best short). Oh, and The Pigeon.

Shows I would have liked to see but didn’t: Oh boy, there’s a lot!

  • Octavio is Dead! on the first Friday— I saw half of it, so I guess that counts? Would like to see the rest.
  • The Fruit Machine on Sunday — I already knew some of the story, but it never hurts to brush up. Unfortunately I realised I’d have no energy after Sets on the Beach
  • Freelancers Anonymous also on Sunday, looked like a fun time
  • A Moment in the Reeds looked sexy and I heard good things about it later, but I gave myself a night off Tuesday
  • The Coast is Genderqueer — I really wanted to support this new show, but there was no way I could see both this and the Friday night shows I had planned
  • Indigiqueer Shorts From Turtle Island — I really was tempted, but I wanted to see Leitis in Waiting (which I enjoyed) and Malila: The Farewell Flower (which I didn’t enjoy so much).

Vancouver Queer Film Festival review: 1985

We know the story

I wasn’t planning to write reviews this year—too much going on, at work and elsewhere—but I’ve gotten my heart ripped out by the opening gala film and it is not letting go of me. I need to get it out of my head somehow, so here we go. The only review this year!

1985 is a simple and familiar story. If you haven’t lived it, then you know someone who has, or you’ve read about it. I realise it will probably best resonate with queers of a certain age, but 1985 was not that long ago, and though the height of AIDS paranoia is behind us, we still deal with Christian homophobia, fire-and-brimstone preachers on the radio, and Madonna’s latest tour. We still deal with shame and silence. Besides, aren’t the 80s all the rage these days? I half-expected Andrew to be fighting the Demogorgon or something.

Bottom line: we know this story. Its simplicity and familiarity is what makes it beautiful and heartbreaking to me. Director / screenwriter Yen Tan paints a picture with elegantly minimal storytelling, and I’m there. We’ve got a simple cast of characters: Adrian who escaped his small Texas town for the big gay city lights of New York; Andrew, his drama-class-loving little brother; salt-of-the-Earth Christian working-class parents who have no real clue how to relate to their children anymore; Carly, his hip, prickly bitch of a best friend who also managed to escape but only to Dallas, and with whom he hasn’t spoken since he left.

So Adrian is home for Christmas after three years away. Everything’s nice and Jesusy. The mom is sweet, the dad is a blue collar man’s man but nice enough. They ask about his job at the ad agency (it’s going great! in fact, he just got a promotion!); he offhandedly mentions some recurring bouts of stomach flu; they bring up Carly, who they still hope he’ll marry someday; Andrew confides to him about going to Madonna’s Virgin Tour concert, about their parents ripping down his Bryan Adams poster, and how local churches recently burned a bunch of pop and rock records.

We know this story.

We know this story and we already know the secrets everyone’s not telling and the silence is only making things worse. When Adrian and Carly reconnect by going to a gay bar (her idea) and her trying to jump his bones (he’s not yet out to her) and then calling him out on not calling or writing or anything, all he can say is that he wanted to make a fresh start in New York. Carly is pissed at this non-answer and kicks him out, leaving all his secrets still unsaid.

Sidenote: I both love and hate how much I related to Adrian in this scene. Though I was fortunate to grow up in not-small not-Texas Ottawa with a supportive family, I was acutely aware of the disconnect between the gay and straight worlds, and I knew in only one of those worlds could I find myself and be myself. And that was the nineties, how much worse would it have been a decade before? I also understand the urge to move far away, start over and never look back. Sad to say, I’m also not the best at staying in touch with old friends.

Come Christmas morning, Adrian’s gifts are lavish. A nice jacket for dad, a pretty cashmere shirt for mom, a big shopping spree at the local music store for Andrew, and a week at a Hawaii resort for the rest of the family. Not him, though, he’ll be too busy with his new responsibilities, but he wants everybody to have fun!

Secrets come out one by one. It turns out Adrian’s father knows pretty much everything—wanting to find out what his son was up to, he called up his job and then went to visit his neighbourhood. So now he knows that Adrian was fired from the ad agency, and saw him with his arms around another man. However—big stoic Texas man that he is—he wouldn’t even have said anything if Adrian hadn’t chanced on him drinking alone in the backyard. He was ready to take this secret to his grave, and makes Adrian swear never to tell his mother.

Adrian later reconciles with Carly and tells her everything. He can barely make ends meet since getting fired for being gay, he has AIDS, already buried several friends, doesn’t expect to see another Christmas and just wanted to see everybody one last time. In spite of his protestations that she wouldn’t be able to handle it, Carly promises to be there for him no matter what.

And his mother? It’s not clear what clues she picked up, but she seems equally on the ball. While dropping Adrian off at the airport, she gently tells him he can tell her… when he’s ready. Adrian briefly breaks down, but does not tell her anything.

The ending montage is accompanied by a voiceover of Adrian recording a message for Andrew. I don’t remember the details, but it’s a message of encouragement and hope: that he may grow up to feel different, but if he stays true to himself and nurtures his gifts, he’ll be okay.

So… some thoughts:

The movie is shot in black-and-white (the description specifying that it’s B&W 16mm); I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that stylistic choice. It’s how old-school home movies are shot, right? And this is nothing if not an intimate family movie. My first impression was that it heightened the disconnect between that era and this one; and, maybe it was part of the minimalist storytelling, trimming down some extraneous details to make the audience focus on the action and dialogue.

It only struck me later that at no point in the film do we see any of the main characters actually utter the words “gay” or “AIDS”. All the big revelations are done offscreen, between scene cuts. Even now they all keep dancing around each other, never telling the full truth. It’s okay, though. We already know.

And the big question: is this a hopeful film? It certainly doesn’t look like one on paper, but the more I think about it, the more I believe it’s full of hope shining through the darkness. All these secrets are just coming out, all these connections growing. But is it too late?

Adrian will die. We know his story, we know how it ends. Or do we? His story isn’t over yet: the ending montage shows him back in a New York club surrounded by friends, dancing and kissing a guy. Maybe he’ll be among those who make it. But even if he isn’t, we know he’s already made a difference. There are other stories just beginning, another queer generation just being born. We can’t change the past. But it’s never too late to change the future.

Pride week: days 576 — 582

Being gay enough

We start off with… a big boat in the Coal Harbour Marina. For all I know it’s owned by some rich gay sugar daddy! So, you know, let’s count this as queer representation.

Tuesday was LOLGBTQ!, a fundraiser for Qmunity featuring diverse local queer / trans comics. All with different takes on the funny, and all fucking hilarious. It was a smashing success, and there’s talk of making it a semi-regular event.

Wednesday, fireworks. We got there after volleyball, just before the show started, so we had to stay at the southern tip of Sunset Beach. View wasn’t too bad, though, and it did mean I didn’t have to worry about blocking people behind me as I took photos.

Thursday, the Big Gay Sing! Take some VMC members, add a whole bunch of fans who may or may not actually have good singing voices, project lyrics on screen, and away you go. I think I missed it last year for whatever reason, and I’m sorry I did because it’s always a blast. The audience was loud enough that those nearest me probably only got minor auditory damage.

And on the fifth day, he rested.

Saturday, busy busy. First the Dyke March. Some friends were marching, but they were all nonbinary or woman-identifying, so I took the hint and figured hey, it’s been a while, why not just sit back and watch for once? I really do love the Dyke March, how small and community-focused it is, and way more radically political than Sunday’s Pride Parade. No big floats from banks or telecoms or whatnot, but you do see signs like this.

Home, nap, recharge, then briefly out for a little private cocktail party, then off to the final night of fireworks. Different crowd, different location: this time we set up shop north of the Inukshuk, right at the water’s edge, as close to the barge as possible while still staying on land. And when I say “at the water’s edge” I mean we worried the rising tide would reach our blankets. Still, it was totally worth it for these absolutely amazing shots.

And then, the parade. As per usual, I walked with Greater Vancouver Allied Athletics, an umbrella group of many of Vancouver’s LGBT sports organisations. Also as per usual, I had a great time. The crowds were fierce, the boys were hot, those guys with water guns on Denman were very much welcome. Though I say so myself, I looked quite smashing in a volleyball jersey, beads, the old freedom rings I’ve had for over a quarter century, and the Storm Crow rainbow pin with the BLM colours… but then you’ve got some people like my friend Zak who only need flawless pecs and abs.

Anyway, the day was great. After the parade I went to a late lunch with some volleyball peeps, then home to recuperate. They were going to Numbers for drinks and karaoke, but this little introvert was running on fumes; I needed a shower and a bit of “me” time before I was ready to face the crowds again. I finally headed out… and waited in line over 45 minutes with music from the dance floor blaring in my ear… and I was done. Full stop, batteries dead, I headed home, and that was the end of my Pride week.

Well, not quite the end, since I could hear the whole neighbourhood partying for a few more hours—that’s what you get for living in the West End. And I’ll admit, I felt the FOMO… I know there’ll always be a part of me that wants to be with the Cool Kids, going to the coolest parties and flashing the coolest pecs. I ironically captioned my selfie with “am I gay enough”, because I’d covered myself in rainbow crap and, well, on this day can you ever have too much rainbow crap? But a part of me feels the pressure to do Pride the Right Way, meaning partypartyparty in clubsclubsclubs.

I know that’s not me, and I’m (mostly) okay with it. I also know that I’m doing more and more social things at Pride every year, and I am totally okay with that too. Social skills are skills that can be practiced, and social stamina can likewise be improved with practice. I am practicing. And I am improving.

I dunno, maybe sequins or rhinestones on my outfit next year?