Summer and summer movie events are as hot as Georgia asphalt right now. This week, the eighth annual CinemaQ Film Festival returns to the Sie FilmCenter to show an array of scorching titles that illustrate and illuminate a snapshot of the current LGBTQ community.
Full disclosure: In 2006, as programming manager for the Denver Film Society, I founded CinemaQ as a program with a simple promise to showcase at least one lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer title a month. I’d noticed that many boutique distributors had a stockpile of new gay films and not enough screens to put them on to get the movies out to the audiences that needed them. A community yearned to see itself on that screen — in characters and story lines, documentaries and more — and the DFS had the space to do it. So we did.
In 2009, the decision was made to keep the monthly format but also introduce one long weekend a year when we would bring all of the hits and buzzworthy gay movies leading the film-festival circuit to Denver. That tradition continues today.
CinemaQ became a reflection of the times and the issues that the LGBTQ community was fighting for —equality, marriage, adoption, acceptance, understanding — and of the members of that community, as diverse as the colors of the rainbow. In 2013, my last year as conductor of the Cinema Q train, we played a fascinating documentary on the trans community that opened the eyes of many and inspired a major discussion afterward — a major reason that we show movies. Now Caitlyn Jenner has guaranteed that the word “trans” is uttered in every household in America, and marriage equality is the law across the land.
But as the tragic event in Orlando showed, there is still so much more work to do; there are still so many new stories to tell and spotlights to shine on the LGBTQ community. This year’s CinemaQ slate was set before Orlando became an epicenter of issues; still, the roster includes many films that expand on the understanding of what it is to be gay on planet Earth in 2016, and why the events that occur today inspire the stories, thoughts and opinions that can lead to the films we may be watching next year.
Here are my selections for five not-to-be-missed events at CinemaQ this year.
5. Strike a Pose
Opening Night Film & Party
7 p.m. Thursday, July 21
Pop-music queen Madonna cemented her status as the grand dame of gay culture in 1990 with her controversial Blond Ambition tour. The no-holds-barred documentary Truth or Dare introduced the world to her tight circle of dancers, who all had vibrant personalities and stories of their own. But once the screaming fans and spectacle went away, where did these talented and charismatic men go? Strike a Pose catches up with them 25 years later: See what working with the Material Girl — and having their lives exposed and shown on a big screen — did for them all in the long run.
4. Women Who Kill, 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 22
A thrilling dramedy, Woman Who Kill gives us Morgan and Jean, ex-lovers who run a podcast focused on female serial killers. When commitment-phobic Morgan falls hard for mysterious Simone, it becomes apparent that the femme may be very, very fatale. Soon both Morgan and Jean seem in danger of succumbing to the very thing with which they are both obsessed — or maybe it's love they'll succumb to. Either option could be dangerous. Director Ingrid Jungermann does a top-notch job of balancing an intimate lesbian story with a quirky plot device that makes some well written characters just as addictive as thier on-screen obsessions.
3. My Own Private Idaho
25th Anniversary Screening
9:15 p.m. Friday, July 22
Gus Van Sant followed up art-house hit Drugstore Cowboy in 1991 with a heaping slice of independent cinema, a moody tale of two Portland street hustlers — forever heartthrobs Keanu Reeves and the late, great River Phoenix — whose tight relationship is tested when circumstances make each one examine his life and make some hard decisions about the future. This gay-cinema milestone will be presented on 35mm film — just as it played in its initial release.
While You Weren't Looking is one of the big lesbian films at this year's Cinema Q Film Festival.
Phat Free Films
2. Filmmaker Focus Presents Lesbian Focus Panel
2:30 p.m. Saturday, July 23
One of the hard realities of programming a gay film festival is that there just aren't many lesbian films being made, much less screening at LGBTQ film festivals around the world. Why is capturing the stories of our lesbian sisters such a challenge? Is there truly not enough to go around? Do lesbians have problems with watching cinema in general? How do filmmakers and audiences move forward in an effort to usher in a renaissance of true lesbian cinema? Those questions will all be tackled by this panel, moderated by Lisa Kennedy and featuring a filmmaker, a producer and a celebrated film-festival programmer. Above all, they'll discuss: Where do we go from here?
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1. Reel in the Closet
4:30 p.m. Sunday, July 24
Because there are documents, photos and news-reel footage to prove their existence, the Stonewall Riots are stapled to the gay timeline. To many coming of age right now, that incident seems to mark the actual beginning of “gay” — but queer lives definitely existed before Stonewall. Reel in the Closet examines unearthed home movies and footage shot before 1969 and shows how capturing and sharing these intimate documents affected the eyes behind them. It also introduces us to individuals who have made it their life's work to archive this footage for future generations and tell a more complete story of what it meant to be living “out” in periods where it seemed unfathomable to do so.
The 2016 Cinema Q Film Festival runs Thursday, July 21, through Sunday, July 24, at the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue. Tickets range from $12 to $25 per event; full-fest badges are available for $85 (Denver Film Society members always get a discount). See the schedule and grab your tickets at denverfilm.org.