When we talk about queer cinema, films with little or nothing to do with the LGBTQ community come up more often than anything else. Yes, there is Brokeback Mountain, but the campy melodrama of something like Mommie Dearest or The Poseidon Adventure—two gay touchstones with no explicitly queer characters—tends to overpower more subtle films. But for those who wish to see prime examples of true LGBTQ cinema, Houston’s 21st annual QFest is a can’t-miss event.
The festival, hosted in a series of venues over the course of five days, features a variety of narrative styles, from feature films to documentaries, mainstream to independent, and one that QFest’s artistic director Kristian Salinas refers to as “an adult film but one with a narrative structure.” “There is a story being told, it’s not just people having sex,” he explains about Both Ways (1975). “It reflects that time, and it might speak to the present day as well.”
The first film of the series, 2017’s Hello Again, starring Martha Plimpton and Broadway staple Audra McDonald, is an ambitious musical drama covering ten love affairs over the course of ten decades. Topics such as homosexuality and miscegenation are broached, making for a poignant, timely movie.
The festival’s other offerings are just as entertaining, inspiring and, in some cases, educational. A documentary on forgotten showbiz impresario Allan Carr—whose monumental career as a producer/talent agent was ended by the laughably catastrophic 1989 Academy Awards—will either remind or inform viewers (depending on your age) of his vast contributions to the worlds of film and theater. Desert Hearts, a feature film from 1985, will offer viewers a glimpse of pre-Brokeback Mountain representation of LGBTQ characters canoodling in beautiful locales.
Nearly every film in this year’s series is set in the past, which Salinas says was intentional. The films contextualize the contemporary community and highlight the struggles faced in years past. While there is an emphasis on the adversity of everyday experiences, there is also hopeful joy throughout the films, a celebration of queer identity and optimism for the future. “We have a right to speak our mind and our truth,” Salinas says. “Films that emphasize that, whether you agree with them or not, are important.”
To that point, Salinas emphasizes one film in particular, Bones of Contention, a documentary set in Spain during the regime of General Francisco Franco. The dictator’s political reign was marked by the abhorrent treatment of various minority groups, especially the LGBTQ community. Salinas says it's a subtle yet pointed message for the current political moment. “People can appreciate the political implications,” he says, “and be reminded that civilized societies can always regress.”
This theme continues throughout the series, with films set in varying parts of the 20th century, each demonstrating the struggle as well as the resilience LGBTQ folks have exhibited in the face of physical and psychic violence. "Anybody who’s felt any kind of prejudice in their lives will connect,” says Marian Luntz, a Museum of Fine Arts, Houston film curator and one of the festival's founding members.
QFest, July 27–31. Tickets from $10. For a complete film schedule and list of venues, visit q-fest.com.