VQFF – A Rainbow of Creative Expression

The Vancouver Queer Film Festival has been shown to be one of the best events in the Vancouver community for both LGBT2Q+ and anyone outside of that circle. I got to attend so much of VQFF this year and it has been a lot more interesting this year even. Before I get started, I have to give the obligatory shout-outs to Helen Yagi for letting us get coverage, Stephanie Goodwin for doing her best at keeping the festival going, RBC for sponsoring the festival for years to come, and all the people who submitted over 100 films this year. Now here is what made VQFF so great.

Opening Night – To start of Vancouver Queer Film Festival just perfectly, why not begin with an Opening gala where you can mingle with a very interesting crowd? I mean this was very interesting. Aside from my several interviews, I met a friendly host of a radio show who was happy to see he wasn’t the only one wearing a hat. The attendance was super heavy and people were filling in fast. They were super excited about the film, Song Lang, a story about a Vietnamese man named Dung Thunderbolt who works as a debt-collector. If you haven’t read Shaun’s review (and if that’s the case, how come?), I’ll explain it is simply as I can. One particular day, he sets out to collect from a theatre that hosts folk opera shows and he meets a young start there named Linh Phung. Dung soon develops more interest in theatre and eventually gets closer with Linh as they hang out at Dung’s place together. They discover they have a connection through music as Dung shows Linh he can play an interesting instrument called the Song Lang. The film is one of the most interesting mixes I’ve seen. It’s a combination of artistic experimental stuff, some crazy drama and action, and so much more. Having watched it at VQFF, I couldn’t exactly figure how it fit into the program, my guess is that Linh and Dung’s bond is kind of gay in a sense, but I just can’t figure it out. Either way, it was an okay film. The party right afterwards was probably even more exciting, being super easy to get right into. There was free food and booze, an amazing mix of music, some great MCing by Sparkle Plenty, cool remixed music by DJ Denise, and some great performances by Malden China and Coven (performance duo, not the band from the 60s). It was plenty of fun, and I practically stayed for as long as it lasted.

Workshops – Sometimes a film festival has to have more than just films. How about some seminars and workshops? Those always work. Unlike last year’s, there were more than three (TWICE as much, actually). I got to attend a few of these and they were quite interesting. One good example was Queer The CBC workshop, a program hosted by some of CBC’s finest executives, the panel gave general insider info on how to reach a broader audience, how many media barriers can work as good story ideas, and how documentaries and authenticity are more heavily preferred content these days. QTBIPOC Futures w/ Kalik was an interesting example of a workshop where people could express themselves creatively through art mediums, and exploring historic culture. It took a lot of interesting intense brainstorming to be a part of this one. I will say it got me thinking fiercely. The Queer Film Curation Workshop was a good insider look at seeing how VQFF goes through its program’s selection, how they get lots of content from places like London and Berlin, and how they select what gets screened. It all depends if the event managers can connect to the story and or characters as audience. If it’s good entertainment, it’s in. While there’s lots of debates, and issues like last-minute submissions or unfinished, the creative team still makes sure to get a good festival worth attending.

Short Film Showcases – It was said there were lots of short films, and I definitely did see quite a few showcases. In fact, some short films even accompanied Features beforehand. Anyways, given the ones I watched, I really enjoyed what I could see. Coming Into Our Own: Youth Shorts was a good blend of both strangeness and hilarity. A lot of people seemed disturbed by the awkward animation of Spermacetti, which is about strange sailors and a stranger story, but some of the good ones were Anemone, which told the story about a girl who loved underwater life and makes an outfit that looks like her favourite creature. Misdirection shows how two college roommates occasionally help each other and one of them even learns how to be a magician. First Day had a really interesting example of a trans student on their first day of school who hopes they can blend in perfectly. That one was nerve-wracking and emotional. Troublemakers 4.0 was a little more Vancouver-esque and truthful, showing a series of short documentaries with people in the LGBT2Q+ community such as David C Jones, Terrie Hanazak, Sumter, Christopher Hunte, Morgane Oger, and a few more. This showcase also featured 4 other short films where the first 3 (Boy, Becoming Me, Painted Dreams) were really powerful and well made. The final one Gen-Darr seemed pretty cheap but it was still very hilarious. The Coast is Queer was a lot less realistic having only a couple of documentaries, and some hilarious films that were thrown in the mix. Some of my personal favourites included Brunch Queen which told the funny of the elderly queer couple who worked at a restaurant and got turned into a live show, Ricecake which was all about an Asian drag show in Vancouver, which is extremely rare that I didn’t even know about it until I saw the screening. Typical Fairytale was another good short specifically for Telus Storyhive which told the story of a young girl questioning her sexuality and getting her family upset at her. A couple honourable mentions to Come Around which had a similar plot (and a friend in one role) and Everything’s Great (mentioned here). An even more interesting short film showcase was All Our Relations : Explorations of Indigiqueer Kinship which not only had short films, but rather started out with a vast collection of poems from many different featured writers. Some of the great shorts in that showcase included Walk With My Spirits, which was a short documentary about Tyler Jacobs, who wanted to share an important story, about how they became a seamstress thanks to their grandmother, and is now designing for celebrities. Outrageous and hilariously hysterical films included Nilsh Manidoowag, a film about teens hanging out in the woods and discussing their true genders, and Colour of Scar Tissue, Wii ningokwan which delivered some sheer humour about a girl who finds love after checking on a close friend involved with a gang. Queer Family was a rather lengthy showcase itself showing some longish shorts that showed what kind of issues come when a young person comes out to their family. Some of these films were dark given their realistic approach like Piscina where a young woman who just lost her grandmother goes to find a long lost friend of her grandma’s who can tell a little more about past history. Cereal Boy was rather dark and dramatic as well as it had a story about a young boy with a homophobic dysfunctional father and a problem with his big sister heading off to college. But a good amount of these were actually fun and humorous. Long Distance was an enjoyable film about an Indian girl being pressured by her mother to get married, but she has a secret she can’t tell. La Serenada told the story of a little boy who questioned his own sexuality at a very young age confusing both his parents. Chaos Toad had a funny heartwarming, and charming tale of a gay man named Andrew taking care of his mother with dementia, and somehow his imaginary friend comes back to encourage him to step out of his comfort zone. These are just some bits of the short film showcases I saw and these were all extremely well made.

Centrepiece Gala – In the midst of all these features, shorts, and workshops on the weekends, there was a movie in the middle of the week called Jose. Nothing said centrepiece like an opening blessing done by two indigenous people who offered their finest regards to us for hosting such a prosperous event on their lands. Now on to the film, Jose is a teen who works at a drive-in cafe and lives with his mother who sells sandwiches at a roadside. But that gets boring, so he spends his spare time having sex with different clients. One of his personal favourites is Luis, who himself wants to move to another place. Joses’ mother gets more worried as he spends more late hours hanging out with Luis. But Jose doesn’t know if he should move with Luis or stay with his mother. It’s your basic coming of age story, except it takes place in another country. Which is interesting. Li Cheng and George F Roberson explained that they collaborated together to show Latin-American lifestyles, and found different stories from exploring the cities, the last being Guatemala which had the most inspiring story. It’s a really interesting movie with all kinds of great and different plot points and side stories, really capturing the essence of living in such a place.

Features – There were plenty of features of plenty of genres, but I had to balance them out with the rest of the events going on, so I only saw a few of them. No Box for me was a short and simple documentary chronicling the messages between two intersex women who went through unnecessary surgical procedures which make me queasy just to think about. It also had a short film beforehand called A Normal Girl which also tackled the intersex surgery topic. I honestly had no idea this surgery existed and I definitely have to agree with all the valid points both films made. Despite the transitions and vague lifestyles among these people, they show they stand strong and their films provided great feeling. Nothing to Lose was another documentary that brought up another interesting subject that I would definitely like to see more of: Plus Size Dancers. As they get together in a dance class called Force Majeure, they learn to use their bodies to their full potential and make a show that is really something else. Not only does the documentary focus on the class, but also some of the student’s backstories and behind the scenes of the final show. This documentary was well-made, humorous and pleasurable. One that everybody was talking about was Queer Japan. On screening night, the theatre was looking heavily packed, Queer Japan focused on a very interesting subject of Japanese culture, the ever-growing LGTBQ culture, or perhaps as some would refer to it, hentai. Subjects included a drag queen Vivienne Sato, Manga Artist Gengoroh Tagame, and many other trans-activists and local supporters in the community talk about their stories. Aside from that, the documentary also explores the cityscape of Shinjuku where there’s lots of friendly sports that are accepting of the culture. Director Graham Kolbeins himself enjoyed the experience saying the best part was “Eating so much Japanese food and getting to meet so many incredible artists, I tried not to approach the films with any preconceived notions and just let the subjects talk about what was important to them, what were the compelling forces in their lives, and I got to learn along with the audience in this film.” Starting out with a group of his own personal connections, Graham worked his way up and met so many other people during his trip to Japan as well as making connections through those he already knew. Aside from documentaries, I got to check out some other interesting types of films too. One of the features was actually a series of short films showcased together, written by a collection of writers. Known as Transfinite, it follows the short simple stories of characters that are trans, lesbian, gay, bi, and maybe even a little more. Chronicling tales about Najma who’s a trans woman dating a man, Atsura who trains herself to fight, Shayla, an environmentalist who meets a trans business person, Bahari who showcases a rather surreal exhibit in a box, a little girl named Nova who has magical dancing powers when with her best friend, a gardener named Maya who grows exotic flowers and plants, and Viva who explains what equality should be before they prepare for a strange session with an executive. This whole showcase was a special mixture of creative stories. I may have covered something like this before. Either way, it’s really well made. But another really good film had to be Sunburn, a Portuguese film about 4 friends hanging out at a private resort all to themselves. Joana seems to have some problems with her ex-lover Chico, Simao is pining over his ex-boyfriend while writing a script based off the trip, and Vasco is bragging about someone he’s dated online. But things tend to get out of hand on account everyone knowing an unseen guy named David who apparently has ruined everyone’s life in some way. While it may consist of sexual relations among the friends, it’s not a super extreme orgy. If anything, it’s got some humour and it captures the difficulties of friendships, as well as relationships. One of the more relaxed ones was Jules of Light and Dark which had two different stories about two completely different people. Maya has recently graduated high school and goes out to celebrate only to get in a serious car accident with her girlfriend Jules. She gets rescued by a divorced oil rig worker named Freddy and they become friends. Freddy is wondering if he is gay while Maya is going through a breakup herself. Unlike most of these coming of age stories, this was something different. It shows how two kinds of people can form an interesting bond together and it also puts two different stories together. It was well written, had a lot of good moments and was overall enjoyable. Sorry, but that’s all I got to see this year. Y’know, trying to keep a balance.

Running, Running Trees Go By… – An interesting addition to VQFF, not exactly a film, but rather an art exhibit. The gallery consisted of work by Zachery Longboy, curated by Justin Ducharme. The gallery consisted of illustrations, a couple of movies, and even an interesting centrepiece made of banners and stones. The whole gallery had some impressive variety in mediums and a multicultural vibe which seemed very detailed despite the simplistic approach and small space. Having known Zachery for a long time, curator Justin Ducharme described it as a gateway of getting trust into their audiences, and experience the work as naturally as they could. “Something that I love about doing a retrospective on Zachery is that you’re seeing all these multiple facets. You’re seeing his ball-point ink drawings, then you’re seeing them blown up in animations, and then you’re also seeing his archival film work. It’s really a multiverse celebration of this multidisciplinary artist who has had this long and meaningful career in the Queer Indigenous Arts Community.”

Out Of The Office: Professionals Reception – Taking place inside The Pint (local bar in Vancouver), this reception was a good place for networking, making connections, and having discussions. The food and beer was great, it wasn’t too packed, but had a good vibe, and it was a great way to relax before the screening of another movie. There were a few of these in different locations, and there’s not much to say, but they were enjoyable.

An evening of Indigenous Performance You know, given all the other stuff that was happening inside of VQFF, I can say they’re certainly making themselves stand out and look different from any other festival I’ve attended. Now if only people I knew attended this they would see what it’s like (any of them read this so far?). First off, the audience got treated to a rather interesting interpretive performance by Beric Manywounds who moved around while a movie played above on a screen. While blindfolded, he changed outfits, mentioned characters, and talked about his healing and interest in stories and movies. Some very inspiring words about a life and the movie visuals accompanying were great and stunning. Following that was the humourous show of Looking For Tiger Lily by Anthony Hudson. Hudson also talked about his life, his drag identity Carla Rossi, and his favourite movie, the 1960 version of Peter Pan. Yeah, I didn’t know it existed either. While Rossi may have freaked me out a little, I did get quite a laugh at the movie visuals provided along with the show, Hudson’s singing was phenomenal, everyone seemed to enjoy this performance as it was both funny and very detailed, with a nice use of colourful lights. There was even a post show reception afterward at Skwachàys Lodge, where there was a hearty supply of free cultural food, a cash bar supplying wine, supplying some nice art, and a chance to talk with the performers. The vibe seemed pretty quiet and relaxed at this one unlike other post receptions.

Closing Gala – Time for the final film of the final night. Before I get into that, I might as well mention there was an opening presentation lasting nearly an hour with special guests giving speeches promoting the event, the entire board of directors stepping onto the stage, the People’s choice award for short (She’s Not A Boy) and feature (The T), the Gerry Brunet Memorial Award (Yellow Peril), all for films I didn’t get to see (Ah Well), and a crowded house complete with envelopes for donating generous amounts of money. Now onto the final film, An Almost Ordinary Summer, which brings together two families in the strangest of ways. This vibe brings me back to my very very VERY odd childhood for some reason. Two elderly men, Toni and Carlo have a close personal relationship together. Fitting with the theme of VQFF, of course. Everything’s been going good for them and they have the wedding mapped out. But they’ve both got one major snag. And that is, that they haven’t, told any of their family members. When Carlo’s family finds out, they don’t take it well at all, being homophobic. But Toni’s family seems a bit more relaxed about it. Except for one of his daughters: Penelope. Together she and Carlo’s son Sandro devise a plot to foil the marriage. But none of the plot goes anywhere, instead making things worse. Tensions rise after a firecracker accident, Toni’s own sense of neglect, and the ultimate revelation when Penelope nearly makes a move on Sandro. Soon, the two families need to learn to work things out with themselves AND each other. The film was a lot of yelling and arguing which may seem unpleasant but there was a lot, and I mean a LOT of funny moments. It was a great closer to show how important family is as well as a relationship, no matter what sexuality. After all that was done, everyone (more or less) went to a late night gay bar in Vancouver known as Junction for the afterparty. Pretty fitting place and a great event to end everything. I couldn’t tell the bathrooms apart since there was a sign that said all genders welcome, but it didn’t matter because I walked into the one with urinals (that’s enough of that one, I don’t like toilet humour). The music of the club was a merge of upbeat vibes and soothing sounds. Great place to hang out with connections. VQFF was amazing once again and I can hardly wait for what they have lined up for next year.


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