VQFF – Hybrid and High Quality

Vancouver Queer Film Festival has officially returned to venues, even booking some places I’ve never been to before for VQFF. Not just that though, this year’s was both Internet and In-Person for a hybrid experience. It was kind of strange going back to in-person again but even more so because some places weren’t as packed as others. There was also some new exclusive screeners at this usually inclusive festival, but VQFF is one of the two biggest festivals in this city and it’s only right they start suiting certain people within the LGBTQ2+ community. Because that’s what it’s all about, to make sure they get the recognition they deserve, that they are people too, and they deserve the best, even if it is making them a special audience for a screener. Anyways, I’ve always enjoyed the community of LGBTQ2+ and I’m always ready to check out the festival and see how they bring their art to life through amazing storytelling. VQFF was a lot of fun both in and out of the house for me. First off let me give a shoutout to all sponsors, volunteers, RBC for being generous (and for operating the Photo Booth that took that picture above), Brandon Yan for giving me a media pass, Anoushka Ratnarajah, Nya Lewis, and everyone else who helped make the festival fun and possible. Let’s get on with all that happened this year.

Opening Gala: The Empress of Vancouver Being remarkably early to this, I became the unintentional informant for guests as I stood at the front of the pass holder’s line. There were some issues getting in, with the will call line being mixed up of both pass holders and ticket holders. The theatre was pretty full that night, and I even spoke to a man dressed in a black suit adorned with a star pattern. One of the interesting things I’ve noticed about this vibe is that there were a lot of guys named Dave. I wonder what that means. After some introductory speeches, and a speech by Rovan Kiefer from RBC, the director, producer, co-writer, and an actor from The Empress of Vancouver came up to talk about their film premiering that night. The movie told the story of one of the biggest drag queens in all of Vancouver, Oliv Howe, the 10th Empress of the Vancouver Dogwood Monarchist Society. Through this documentary-style film, we learn about Oliv’s past, what she did as a kid, and what she’s been up to lately. It was a very well made and fun film. Even when there were performances by Oliv, it was enough to get everybody applauding for her. This was the most lively audience I’ve ever seen. Shortly afterwards, it was time for the afterparty, which had a bar, some fruit, delicious wine, and jazz music. There was even some live music but I couldn’t stick around unfortunately. I was actually pretty swamped through the week, if you’ve read some of my other articles. 

(this is a love story) The first in-person short film showcase of the Festival, taking place at The Beaumont Studios, a venue I’ve never been to. Packed for the most part, even giving out free popcorn and water, I heard they were trying to get rid of all of it. Even more interesting was that both a cat and a dog were scrambling around during the screening, much to the tech people’s frustration. No, the dog and cat weren’t chasing each other. For the screenings, The Man of My Dreams was a touching 4-minute film about a man who explains his ideal lover. More on the humour side were the short films Pistachio (a pistachio nut and a hard question), Pillow Talk (two men connect via technological pillow cloud), and Lucky Fish (When two Asian-American teens meet at a restaurant and study fish in a tank). Then for a more simple approach came Letters To The Man I Love, where a man narrates letters he wrote while footage was shown in an artistic style. It got sweet and emotional with the next two films, And Then (two women meet in Japan, one of them being a local and the other an artist who is visiting), and Valentine (a man named Corey shaves his body and experiences itching, his gf Mia offers support in any way she can). Finally there was the decorative, surreal, and pretty vibe of Winter Insect, Summer Flower which was a good closer showing emotion, as a woman sits in a garden.

Queer Collective: VQFF Programmer’s Talk – Hosted by Festival staff members Nya Lewis, jas calcitas, and Al MacKay, this workshop consisted of how to work in this community and make films to get out the message. Strangely, it was only me and two other attendees at this one, but we made the most of it and learned some good lessons, such as how Coming Out stories are getting old, and that comedy is a great way to get a message out there. People find it best when watching movies, especially ones that teach.

Make It Out Alive – This was happening the same time as the Programmer’s Talk so I watched it online later on. It wasn’t the same, but then I noticed the theatre that day wasn’t too particularly full. But it pretty much brought me back to my teenage years when I fought for a couple of unnecessary reasons (still am kind of a rebel today actually). Starting off this shorts block was Luv, Me which was an intense and funny story of two roommates who fight over a phone because one of them doesn’t want an online dating profile. Then came some suave and charming shorts like the adventurous Dandelion Green (two girls in foster care form a bond and Breathe (a short no-dialogue film about a young boy who develops feelings for another boy and explores them as he ages). Toe the Line was an incredibly beautiful film about a young girl with a huge interest in hockey who wants to make the local team in her town like her best friend) Then there was an intense and cool French film called Sorry Mom which was about a rebellious teen girl who had a very strict mother trying to get her into making life-decisions. To conclude, we got the film Sub Rosa, a heartwarming and whimsical story about a young fellow who isn’t as in love with his gf/friend from childhood as he realizes. 

Neptune Frost With a name like that, it sounds pretty cool. It IS a pretty cool film, and very strange too. Taking place in Burundi, Neptune and Matalusa escape from their respective communities to live as free men. Matalusa lost his brother, and Neptune is an expert hacker. Together they live in a village where they start their new happy lives, and Neptune uses his expert hacking skills to overtake the world of technology. Soon Neptune’s hacking takes over every single phone. This was a very exuberant film with a lot of musical moments, crazy dancing, and it was really into technology. It looked like something I’d imagine as a kid. A personal favourite and I’m glad to have watched it.

Homebody A strange out-of-body experience type film that I watched online, Homebody focused on a kid named Johnny who was upset that their babysitter Melanie was giving up watching them to pursue her more pressing career of being a doula. After learning about astral projection through a video Melanie showed them, Johnny attempts this practice and becomes Melanie. At first Johnny explores and enjoys this newfound life of theirs, but there are some big responsibilities of adulthood to take care of. Eventually, Johnny speaks to Melanie via subconscious and the two learn to solve dilemmas together. This one had cool experiences with meditation and it got pretty funny, then nerve-wracking at the end. Kind of got some 13 going on 30 vibes from it though. Before that, a short film called My Parent, Neal screened before it, being an animation about a trans masculine parent and some of what they went through. Both films were very interesting.

Death and Bowling One that just had to be watched according to Al MacKay, Death and Bowling focused on an actor simply known as X. When his bowling league’s Captain Susan dies, he gets depressed. After Susan’s death, X meets a man named Alex who happens to be Susan’s son and the two get to know each other. Eventually, with the help of Susan’s other close friends, they all work together to dispose Susan’s ashes in the desert. This was both humorous and sad, and nobody knew how to react. No, really. There was no applause at the end, and people hardly laughed after the first few minutes. I think it might’ve had an impact on the very small audience there. 

Obsidian: Black Queer Cinema Another short film showcase I watched online, and it felt pretty short actually. It explored what it’s like growing up black, something I can’t relate to, but I always enjoy learning from another perspective. Plus, I wanted to watch the feature, Metamorphosis, but couldn’t. That was strictly for QTBIPOC. I really gotta get someone from there on my writing team. First was How To Raise A Black Boy, a film about what it was like growing up as a little boy who was black. The film was very impressive. Next came a more poetic work of art called Heaven Reaches Down To Earth which showed two men swimming in a lake together while a narrator said the most beautiful work of poetry I’ve ever heard. Things were really artsy with this one especially with Reluctantly Queer, as a man writes back to home explaining his situation. Following that was the surrealist vibes of Atmospheric Ambience, which showed stock footage and talked about feelings. It ended on Abundance, a half hour documentary by Amber J Phillips as she talked about childhood, and showcasing her fully loaded and magestic body. There was some humour in that, and a great story.

We’re Here, We’re Queer, Let’s Activate! Another fantastic workshop… that I wish the youth would’ve taken part in. Cards on the table, I was the only one there, I was simply attending for purposes of coverage to add to this article, and I didn’t even fit in the age bracket. But I respect activists and applaud them for proving their points no matter what they do. It didn’t seem like much, I just chatted with event organizers Danny Lybbert and Maverick Lumen, watched some short films, and discussed activism. It was all strictly online too, but I guess some people are feeling too zoomed out these days to partake. Oh well.

The Coast is Queer – A short film showcase back at The Beaumont Studios with a crowd, and this time I got some free booze (wow, haven’t said something like THAT in a long time). First we got some funny films, Painted Gold which was kind of a music video/short film with a country western theme, and then Muslim Mingle where a Muslim man has to tell his wife and his mother that he’s secretly gay. Also on the funny side, but a little iffy was Personals, a short film about a young man who decides to try his first glory-hole at a hotel with a mysterious guy, only to get into awkward conversations. Submersion was a freaky film about a woman who can’t get over the fact that her female roommate is moving out to start a new life with a man. That got disturbing fast. Luckily I was relaxed with the gentle work of Circle, about two people hanging out by a lake and saying things while realizing who their true selves really were. Then things got really funny and strange with Philia, a film about a gay couple, but then there’s a twist that makes everything all the more freaky and a bit funny. Then for more humour, the night concluded with an animation called Macaroni Soup which was about a woman trying to order at a cafe in Japan but struggling to figure out how to say the words. I was getting some kind of Nichijou or Lucky Star vibes off of this one. 

Being Thunder Showcased for the Youth Gala, this documentary focused on Sherente Harris, a two-spirit teen who is very passionate about First Nation dancing, specifically at powwows, but thanks to certain perspectives by the judges, Sherente is often faced with dilemmas from the judges due to their gender. Another thing to note is that Sherente is from the Narragansett tribe which was one of the very first nations that to deal with invading Europeans. In this journey, we follow their teenage life for a few years as they overcome challenges like judgemental judges, being accepted into the college of their choice, and adolescence. It’s an incredible story with the love of family throughout, but while it has moments of humour, it is generally sad to see what Sherente had to deal with. 

Sirens Get ready to rock because this is one of the greatest documentaries ever! It was all about an all-girl thrash metal band from Lebanon called Slave to Sirens, and the story about their band is like no other. I’ve seen a fair amount of documentaries about bands, but not one like this. Aside from dealing with the state of Lebanon during the October Revolution we focus mainly on the band’s two biggest co-founders Lilas Mayassi and Shery Bechara. They have a special kind of friendship that some people might have or desire to have. Throughout the doc, the band deals with problems like a gig with few attendees, getting into fights leading to breakups and departures, and the fact that Lebanon frowns on their kind of music, and let’s not forget the fact that there’s all kinds of fights going on during the revolution. Aside from being awesome and even funny, the film got pretty dramatic around the middle, then became heart AND gut-wrenching. But it was a powerful film worth watching.

Troublemakers 6.0 – I may have seen some video projects featuring the Troublemakers during that let’s Activate! workshop, but none of the troublemakers featured in this block. The theatre was at least a little more packed for this one, and there were some great short films featuring interesting people including Norine Braun, Sterling James, SD Holman, Bill Walker, and Pearl Wong. They all had different stories and each of them were a mix of powerful, beautiful, and even funny. The Q&A afterward was great fun as well. 

The Places You Return To – Following the Troublemakers screening, was a short film showcase, which very few attended. The showcase focused strongly on memories and and rediscovery, showing some rather interesting films. Starting off was the artsy but simple Rain to Eaves which was an animation only 3 minutes long. Then came The Window, where two ex-lovers reunite and have a difficult conversation, making the film very dramatic. On the more deep and disturbing side was Egungun which was about a woman going back to her home country and discovering a lover from her childhood. What made this really dramatic was that it took place in a third world country. On the more soothing side was Cattails, a short film about a woman meeting her mother who has recently dealt with her jet ski being stolen. It had some drama in it too. Next came Call History, a depressing short film about a girl who is dealing with emotional issues involving relationships and slowly coming apart in her bedroom. Then it finally ended on the surreal blend of A wild patience has taken me here, which showed women partying, having sex, and even talking about experiences. Nobody seemed to react to this showcase too much at all, but it sure reminded me of old times. Maybe a little too much.

The Coast is Queer 25th Anniversary Celebration – A party at Hollywood Theatre consisting of festival regulars, a DJ playing music, and some booze and delicious cupcakes. Okay, maybe the icing was a bit too goopy for me and the music was kind of loud at first. But it was nice to meet people I met at the festival and while it seemed like only festival workers and sponsors were there, it was a nice vibe, and there was some good reading material. Specifically, festival guides from previous VQFF years to give a nostalgic feel and to celebrate 25 years. 

Well, that’s about it for my amount of coverage, since I am going to be super busy next week. But definitely check out what’s left of the festival while you can, like Emergence: Out of The Shadows, which I have seen and highly recommend. It’s playing tonight, at York Theatre at 7PM. While you’re at it, see the final films over the weekend, and check out Dramarama at Vancouver Playhouse at 7 PM this Sunday August 21st. The theatres look pretty bleak this year and this festival needs all the support it can get. It is one of the biggest after all. But we’re not done yet, watch for Shaun’s review of Dramarama next Tuesday and see how his opinion may be similar (or different) from yours. 

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