By Meg Fair
Pittsburgh Current Managing Editor
The LGBTQ+ realm is a diverse community with endless stories to tell. But we live in a society that has a fear of deviating from telling the stories of those who have more power under the current systems in place–the stories of cisgender, heterosexual white people. Unfortunately these are so often the people who choose what films and directors get funding, what stories are worth uplifting and pushing.
It isn’t all bleak– the tide is turning slowly but surely. There are diverse, expertly crafted television shows like POSE about the African-American and Latino LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming ballroom scene in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. The 2016 film Moonlight was the first film with an all-Black cast and an LGBTQ storyline to win the Oscar for Best Picture. There is all sorts of wholesome queer love and magic in cartoons like Steven Universe, and shows like Shrill on Netflix have prominent characters who are POC lesbians.
That being said, the mainstream representation on display is a tiny drop in the giant bucket of popular culture. Whenever queer characters exist on screen, it can be so validating for those who relate and also a tool for empathy for those who don’t identify as queer.
And that’s not to say that queer media is not out there or queer creators aren’t making powerful art across film and television. In fact, there have been LGBTQ creators both in and out of the closet who have been influencing and creating films since the beginning of film.
An amazing selection of films in the LGBTQ world will be on display during the Reel Q Film Festival in Pittsburgh. From Thursday Oct. 3 to Saturday Oct. 12th, there will be panels, parties, screenings and eclectic programming that elevate LGBTQ creators and stories.
One of these films, Caroline Berler’s Dykes, Camera, Action, dives into the history of lesbian film. It presents the earliest (and usually tragic) representations of lesbians in film and reveals the lesbian influence on experimental film and the work lesbians did during the New Queer Cinema in the ‘90s and onward. It’s educational, but it’s also very entertaining. Scream, Queen! is a documentary that explores the creation of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, a horror film that some believe is the first gay horror movie that was ever created.
In additional to historical documentaries, there are films that explore LGBTQ issues in 2019. Michael Barnett’s documentary Changing the Game is a powerful example of this, following three teenage athletes who are trans on their respective journeys through the world of athletics. It’s an urgent and powerful documentary that reveals the transphobia so deeply embedded in sports culture.
In addition to documentaries, there are feature films, animated piece, short films, international films and beyond. It’s a vast array of experiences, voices and creators, so there’s something for everyone. The body of work on display at Reel Q reveals there are so many queer stories that need to be told, and so many people who can benefit from hearing and seeing those stories.
The executive director of Reel Q Film Festival, T.J. Murphy, took a moment to answer some questions about the upcoming festival at Row House Cinema.
How has Reel Q evolved since its inception? What was your goal this year?
The film festival started in 1985 as part of a partnership with Pittsburgh Filmmakers. It was a weekend-long event for the first few years, but then we started to grow, and in 1987, we registered as a nonprofit, formed a board and started running as an independent organization. We are now the fifth oldest LGBTQ film festival in America and the sixth oldest in the entire world. We are also the longest consecutively running film festival in Pittsburgh. Our goal this year, as always, is to create a space for the community to engage with award winning queer cinema and make new friends.
What does the selection process look like for this festival? How many submissions do you generally receive, and how do you decide what makes the cut?
We have a committee of volunteers who meet once a week year-round to screen brand new, first-run festival circuit films from every corner of the globe. We look at roughly 50 feature-length films or more when we’re deciding and more than 300 shorts. It takes the entire year to sift through everything. We keep an eye on what will be meaningful for the Pittsburgh community, and what our audience should see that they may not necessarily be able to access elsewhere. A lot of the films we screen end up disappearing or falling into obscurity, we look for films that are impactful and then make them accessible.
Why is it important to have queer representation in film/media generally? Why do you think queer voices and faces are so often left out of popular culture? What can film fans and viewers do to push for more representation?
The most important start is to support queer artists. Film festivals have a way of creating a strong sense of community, in this case for the queer community, and it’s so important to have that in Pittsburgh. It’s a great place to meet new people and learn about local and international causes. Coming together as a community with like-minded people and supporting queer artists who are telling our stories on the big screen. There’s something for everyone in our programming and I think that’s telling in today’s climate. All people are hungry to tell their stories and be heard today.
What films are you most excited about his year?
That’s an impossible question to answer! Every film in the line-up this year is worth a trip! That being said, we have some really special events this year. We’re bringing back our Teen Dreams youth shorts program on Oct 5th at 1. Open to everyone and pay what makes you happy for anyone 21 and under. Starting at noon that day we’ll be co-hosting a drag queen storytime with White Whale Bookstore, we’ll also be offering light food. On Wednesday the 9th we’re presenting the regional premier of Where Justice Ends, a film at the intersection of two important and timely topics of social justice – conditions within the U.S. prison system and the injustices that befall transgender people encountering the law. Following the film is a panel discussion with director George Zuber and one of the film’s subjects, CeCe McDonald, moderated by Sisters Pgh Executive Director Ciora Thomas. On Friday Oct 11th, we’re presenting the regional premier of Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street, an examination of the infamous homoerotic subtext of Nightmare on Elm St 2 and the special place the film holds in the Nightmare franchise as well as the gay film canon. Partly in thanks to evolving social mores, Nightmare on Elm Street 2 – which was considered controversial at the time of its release – is now being looked back upon with a new appreciation and fondness by horror aficionados and fans of the series. Following the film will be a Q&A with the directors and Nightmare on Elm Street 2 star Mark Patton! Stick around for the midnight screening of the film and a complimentary bloody cocktail.
What different kinds of events can people can look forward to this year?
We do have some exciting parties this year. Our opening and closing night parties are at Row House—opening night will feature a local queer DJ, drinks and food from Lawrenceville restaurants. It’s a great time to learn all about the festival and to meet all of our volunteers and board members. The closing party will feature a documentary called Gay Chorus Deep South, which follows the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir on a tour of the deep south. It won the best documentary film at Outfest, which is LA’s LGBT festival. This will be followed by a mini-performance by the Renaissance City Choir. After the performance local production company Dump Star Media will be co-presenting our after party with a live performance by Rob Boss, vendors, and more!
Since 2006, The Pittsburgh Lesbian and Gay Film Society who organizes Reel Q also organizes year round programming outside of Reel Q to serve the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities of Pittsburgh, as well as the regions around our city.
Find the schedule for this year’s Reel Q Film Festival on page 18.