The 2019 Vancouver Queer Film Festival: days 948 — 967

Song Lang

An absolutely gorgeous film, weaving lush tragic dramas of mythical kings and princesses against the gritty reality of 1980’s socialist Saigon. Is it a bit heavy-handed with the symbolism and metaphors? Sure, though that’s to be expected in a story that’s half tear-jerking opera. Did it work? Hell yeah.

It’s not an explicitly gay movie, though, which I found interesting; however, if you use Cải Lương—a modern form of Vietnamese folk opera—as code for “gay” then it all comes together: rough and tough Dung “Thunderbolt” has a girlfriend, but he doesn’t seem to like her much, and should be read as closeted because his parents were Cải Lương performers and he loved watching from behind the scenes; the rather feyer Linh is completely committed to the theatre life, gets assaulted by some macho asshole in a diner because he’s an actor and some people don’t like them or something.

Even given that symbolic layer, I’d say the movie is not about sex, and not really about romantic love either. It’s about emotional connections, about two diametrically opposed people making each other better, and about a lost soul given a chance at redemption. Beautiful, dreamy and quite magical, this is a great start to the festival.

Queer Fear

Queerness and horror, two great tastes that taste great together! I’m not a huge horror fan so some of these shorts left me a bit cold, but I have to give a nod to Nite Ride and its badass quartet of queer Indigenous monster hunter ladies; also Pop Ritual, the Brazilian dialog-less story of a demon-hunting priest and his gay goth vampire prisoner / lover. Catholics, amirite?

The Gospel of Eureka

Welcome to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Population 2K and change, home of the biggest Jesus statue in North America as well as an annual Passion Play originally started by some white supremacist preacher in the 60s.

But also: home to a surprisingly queer- and trans-friendly population, a “Diversity Weekend” full of rainbows and dancing, a gay bar where drag queens lipsync to hymns and You Can’t Pray The Gay Away. Christians who see no contradiction between loving Jesus and being proudly gay or trans.

True, not all of them. But at least enough to pass and then uphold an anti-discrimination city ordinance in 2015, in defiance of yapping bigots, and apparently their own state government.

This small-town 21st century Christianity isn’t all sweetness and light—the narrative mentions the ghosts of lynchings and gay bashings, and how those ghosts might come to life again at any time—but it’s definitely not what us progressive big-city folks usually imagine when we think of places like this. The world is changing, even in Eureka Springs.

Coming Into Our Own: Youth Shorts

Shorts showcasing the trials and tribulations of queer / trans youth; some good, some great. My faves were First Day: the story of Hannah, an eleven-year-old trans girl at a new school (played by an actual trans actress, apparently); and Anemone, where a nonbinary teen comes out to their community in a very colourful way.

Night Comes On

Hoo boy, that was a hard one. Philly is not a pleasant place when seen through the eyes of a young black lesbian just out of juvie, with no one in her corner except her sassy little sister, and nothing to look forward to except revenge.

Heartbreaking, superbly acted, harsh in its look at an unfair and unforgiving system, I’m glad I got to experience it.

Transmission / Transfinite

This was not quite what I expected. The first short, Transmission, is the most straightforwardly sci-fi, with ideas of parallel timelines and revolutionary hacker groups, but still draws heavily from mythology—specifically Armenian myth, with references to the sea & storm goddess Tsovinar—and the need for the future to reclaim and reconnect with the past.

(These last bits are from the creator Q&A)

The movie feels incomplete, just the first chapter of a larger story, but it’s okay because that’s exactly what it is.

Transfinite leans far more on the “fantasy” side of things. It’s a half dozen or so loosely connected vignettes of pretty grounded magical realism where politics, gender, mythology, poetry and magic meet in a weird… stew… thing. I thoroughly enjoyed it, maybe because part of me is trying to label it, and failing. Most of the protagonists are people of colour, so it’s kind of like Afrofuturism? And also kind of like a film version of Starhawk’s first novel The Fifth Sacred Thing; which like Transfinite has the core message that gender / sexual liberation, anti-racism, environmental justice, indigenous justice, dance, magic, science, myth, are all part of the same thing. And also incidentally takes place mostly in the Bay Area.

I reread T5ST last week, for the first time in ages, and you know what? It holds up pretty well after 25 years. As earnest and anvilicious as I remember, and the mystical pseudoscience still makes me twitch, but the politics are still relevant today, so maybe those anvils need to be dropped.

Queer and…

Two medium-long shorts about what it’s like to be queer and something else:

Showcasing Vancouver’s own inimitable Maiden China and her drag + biological families, Yellow Peril: Queer Destiny explores difficult and messy questions of making space for queer Asian people, what it means to be “too Asian” or “not Asian enough”, and what traditions mean going forward into the future. Great stuff, and well deserving the Gerry Brunet Memorial Award.

Father Figure is a captivating look at Rotterdam’s Voguing House of Angels, whose all-Black members can dance, be free, and escape from racism and homophobia for a little while. And goddamn can those boys dance.

Queer Diaspora

Several excellent shorts about the lives of queer immigrants and refugees. Though their lives in Canada / the US are materially better, we’re far from utopias: they’re still dealing with various degrees of not-fitting-in or outright racism from the queer and mainstream communities, the need to stay in the closet to family / community members, or the stress of staying in legal limbo for years as their paperwork gets processed.

The best of these is She’s Not A Boy, the true ongoing story of intersex refugee Tatenda Ngwaru. Having fled Zimbabwe and now living in New York, she is deeply disconnected from the rainbow-waving mainstream queer community (itself generally ignorant of intersex issues) and misses her home terribly, but can never return because her life would be in danger.

José

This is typical South American cinema: suuuuper slow paced, very low key, no obvious story beats you can dance to.

But if you’re patient with it, you’ll get a bittersweet tale of drudge and loneliness; where religion, social norms and the harsh realities of poverty mean that gay space is a dream, and gay love only exists in the shadows. Where you have to choose between eloping with your boyfriend and supporting your hard-working mother. A tale with no easy answers and few happy endings. Though in a world where tomorrow is never guaranteed, maybe you should grab what joy you can now.

The Coast is Queer

Ten shorts. Ten winners. All different but all brilliant and beautiful in their own way. Funny or silly or inspiring or heartwarming or heartbreaking or sometimes a whole bunch at once.

But if I had to pick a couple? Everything’s Great for being the perfect mix of sad, disturbing and delightfully loopy, and A Typical Fairy Tale both for its excellent production values and the lovely tale of the princess that was a prince all along.

all our relations: explorations of indigiqueer kinship

A bunch of shorts preceded by poetry readings showing all the ways Indigenous queer people connect with each other: whether that’s romantic or familial relationships, a youth learning their first words of Anishinaabemowin, dancing their first traditional dance, or connecting with their ancestors through the elaborate ceremonial costumes they create. As I expected, the whole show was an education and it’ll take me a while to digest it.

The T

Good stuff, certainly engaging but not my fave. Also not really a movie: it’s all 6 (currently) episodes of a web series that follows two friends / exes (one white trans woman, one black queer man) over three months or so as they navigate life, love and HIV diagnosis in Chicago. So it doesn’t have any beginning, middle or end as such, just a bunch of (excellent and moving) vignettes.

The Spark

Some excellent shorts, and some that left me a bit cold. My faves: Lesson #8 (the hookup with the accountant accordion player) and the super-sad My Loneliness Is Killing Me. Honourable mention goes to shy, overanalysing Darren in Engaged, to whom I totally don’t relate at all, no sir.

An Almost Ordinary Summer / Croce e delizia

Y’know, after some very challenging films it’s good to end with something light and frothy and sweet. Add some gorgeous scenery and loud Italian gesticulating? Yep, I’m down. I wouldn’t exactly call it memorable, but meh, I had fun, and you need to end the festival on a high note.

Summary

Number of shows seen: 13

Favourite feature film: The Gospel of Eureka. It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s an education.

Favourite short film: Yellow Peril: Queer Destiny, hands down.

Movies I would have liked to see but didn’t: yeah, there’s always a few.

  • Troublemakers 4.0 and Black Divaz; missed because I had no time or energy on Sunday after my beach vball tournament
  • Vision Portraits
  • The Garden Left Behind and Fish Bones; mind you, if I hadn’t changed my mind at the last minute and gone to SFU GoldCorp I wouldn’t have found a lost wallet on Hastings Street and later returned it to its owner. Weird how life works sometimes, eh?

And now, the Days in Pictures part. It’s been three more weeks of walking to and work (mostly), and sometimes I still fret about routine and taking the same shots over and over. I’ve been through this before, and I know I’ll get through it again, but in the meantime it’s annoying. And hey, I’m still exploring, so I don’t know what my subconscious is even on about: we’ve got the underside of Burrard Bridge, some lovely views of Science World, the towers near David Lam Park, a sunset view from Burrard Bridge because we haven’t done those in a while, an amazing shot of Cambie Bridge

(seriously, that’s awesome)

Remember Khenko? It’s not just art, there really are herons hanging around False Creek, though so far I haven’t seen them east of Davie Street. Probably because they nest in Stanley Park? I’m not really sure. Here’s one. Here are two more. I assume there’s also fish and things to eat in False Creek?

And here’s a bumblebee at work. This one gets its own paragraph.

As does this action shot of the volleyball tournament on the 18th. I’m still not used to taking pictures of people, but with the right inspiration I guess I can make it work.

And here are some old (well, for Vancouver) buildings as I walked through Gastown on the way to the movies. I’ve always liked walking, and I like that I’m building my stamina and getting cardio. Bonus: I’ve noticed my weight has slowly but steadily been dropping! So now that the VQFF is over and I’ve got nowhere in particular to be most evenings, I can think about playing with my commute. Explore the south seawall, especially. Plan ahead for other things. In September I’ll mark Day 1000 of my photo challenge, and I need to celebrate that somehow. Career-related things will be happening around the same time, so we can celebrate and build on those two. And record it all as it happens.

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