QFest Gives New Meaning to Summer Camp

The long-running LGBT film festival is back with a new slate of films, including a 1980s Pia Zadora howler.

By Joe Leydon July 23, 2014

Voyage of the Rock Aliens

July 24–28
Check website for ticket prices, screening times, and venues 

For fans of high camp, low camp, and, yes, even summer camp, the 18th annual edition of QFest—aka The Houston GLBT-Q International Film Festival—has just the guilty pleasure for you.

Behold Voyage of the Rock Aliens, the justifiably obscure but irresistibly silly 1984 sci-fi musical spoof, which QFest programmer and board president Kristian Salinas has unearthed from the archives and will screen at 9:45 p.m. Thursday at the Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park. The movie stars the notorious Pia Zadora as a spirited high school chick—a casting quirk that alone would qualify the film for induction into the camp pantheon.

Directed by James Fargo—whose previous credits improbably include two Clint Eastwood flicks (The Enforcer and Every Which Way But Loose) and a Chuck Norris punch-‘em-up (Forced Vengeance)—Voyage is a tongue-in-cheeky whirligig about inquisitive extraterrestrials who journey to Earth to discover the source of rock ’n’ roll. As they explore the all-American small town of Speelburgh—yes, you read that correctly—these illegal aliens (played by members of Rhema, a no-hit-wonder rock band) encounter Dee Dee (Zadora), a sexy sprite who yearns to sing in the band fronted by her boyfriend Frankie (Craig Sheffer). The aliens also meet Chainsaw (Michael Berryman), a maniacal killer impeded by his unreliable weapon of teen destruction, and the local sheriff, played by slumming Academy Award–winner Ruth Gordon.

Out in the Night

Image: Lyric Cabral

The soundtrack sporadically swells with forgettable pop-rock ditties, the actors feast on the scenery (and, from time to time, each other), and the mid-’80s vibe is more intoxicating than a late-night marathon viewing of VH1 Classic. I had to ask QFest’s Kristian Salinas: Why? How? “For several years now, I had hoped to show Universal's archive 35mm print of The Lonely Lady but for a number of reasons, it just hadn't worked out,” Salinas told me. “Of course, showing The Lonely Lady has always only been about Pia Zadora!”

One fateful evening, while trawling YouTube for tributes to Lonely Lady—a cult classic and generally considered one of the worst movies of the ’80s—Salinas saw a ‘Recommended for You’ link featuring a music video Pia did with Jermaine Jackson titled “When The Rain Begins To Fall,” which Salinas soon learned was the theme song to a completely unknown film. “I asked at least five well-versed film colleagues if they had ever heard of Voyage of the Rock Aliens,” Salinas remembers. “Not a one.”

Intrigued, Salinas set out on an obsessive search. At one point, he thought he had found the movie’s distributor, only to learn they had lost the rights two days before he had submitted the inquiry. He then checked the Internet Movie Database to track down the original producers. While reading the “About Us” page of a production company’s website, he realized the owners’ daughter was the wife of a former colleague of his in LA. Bingo.

“[We’re] showing a pristine, original-issue 35mm print of a film that had never had an official theatrical release,” Salinas said proudly. “If there was ever an example of something literally falling from the sky, this would have to be it.”

But seriously, folks: QFest 2014, which runs Thursday through Monday and screens 17 films at seven different locations around town, also has far more artistically ambitious items on its schedule. Among the standouts:

Appropriate Behavior

When director and star Desiree Akhavan premiered her debut feature at Sundance earlier this year, critics duly noted the influence of Woody Allen and Lena Dunham. But they also praised Akhavan for the dry wit and wry perception she displayed while charting the misadventures of a bisexual Persian-American woman recently dumped by her girlfriend.

7 p.m. Thursday, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)

Out in the Night

Director Blair Dorosh-Walther's impassioned documentary examines the 2006 case of four African American women from Newark, N.J. charged with brutalizing a man who accosted them outside a movie theater in New York City’s West Village. Branded a “Lesbian Wolf Pack”—and worse—by the tabloid press, the women claimed they acted in self-defense. Then their troubles began in earnest. Dorosh-Walther and producer Giovanna Chesler will be on hand for the QFest screening.

7 p.m. Thursday, Houston Museum of African American Culture

Let the Record Show

Mother-and-daughter documentarians Demetrea and Rebekah Dewald flash back to the 1980s to chart the New York artist community’s response to the growing AIDS epidemic. Among the interviewees: Larry Kramer, whose play The Normal Heart —set in the same time period—recently was adapted into a stunning HBO movie.

5 p.m. Sunday, 14 Pews


Director Sally Potter’s 1982 time-tripping, gender-bending fantasia, freely adapted from the novel by Virginia Woolf, follows the centuries-long evolution of the title character (played with androgynous panache by Tilda Swinton) from man into woman, preening noble into liberated heroine.

5 p.m. Sunday, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Eat With Me 

George Takei has a cameo role in writer-director David Au’s debut feature, a coming-out comedy-drama about a gay LA restaurateur (Teddy Chen Culver) whose life is greatly complicated when his mom (Sharon Omi) walks out on his dad and moves into his loft. Despite their differences, and her disapproval of his lifestyle, they must join forces to keep his restaurant from closing.

8:30 p.m. Monday, Café Brasil 

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