Film and TV

As Theaters Reopen, Denver's Queer Film Festival Stays Virtual in 2021

Shit & Champagne will screen as part of the 2021 edition of CinemaQ.
Shit & Champagne will screen as part of the 2021 edition of CinemaQ. Shit & Champagne
Keith Garcia, Sie FilmCenter artistic director, has been back in movie theaters as a fan — even though his own venue remains shuttered. While Garcia is best-known for programming art-house films and cult classics, he's as much a blockbuster buff as anybody in town, and he was thrilled to be seeing F9, the latest edition in the Fast & Furious series, on the big screen.

But the overall experience was a letdown.

"Man, it couldn’t have felt more like a bummer to be at the movies," Garcia says, recalling his opening-night experience watching F9 in a theater that could have seated 250 and held less than half that.  "There was no energy...there were maybe a hundred people and everyone was just kind of 'mumph.'"

After months of watching movies at home, filmgoers are struggling to get back into the spirit of the movie- theater experience, with people disappointed when they return to the "same-old rickety seats" and eating "the same-old weird concessions," Garcia explains.

"The only place I’ve felt actually excited to go to the movies is the new AMC," he says, referring to the chain's theater at 826 Albion Street off Colorado Boulevard. "They’re new. They have new staff. It’s very big and spacious and doesn’t feel cold and dark, and it’s been all right."

Some theater groups have rushed reopening — but not Denver Film, the nonprofit that operates the FilmCenter and has received federal aid; Garcia says that the nonprofit wants to do things right and return with a bang. What that means, he's not yet ready to reveal. But he promises that there will be a lot to look forward to when Denver Film, which has been running a Virtual Cinema and an in-person Film on the Rocks season at Red Rocks, returns to its brick-and-mortar for regular programming and a hybrid in-person and virtual edition of the Denver Film Festival, which will run November 3 to 14.

In the meantime, the arthouse cinema will be offering its next festival, CinemaQ, an annual celebration of documentaries and narrative films across the spectrum of the LGBTQ+ rainbow, on its Virtual Cinema platform. Running online festivals has become old hat for Denver Film, which has shared Women+Film, Dragonboat Film Festival and Denver Film Festival programming online, along with plenty of the movies that normally would have screened at the FilmCenter.

CinemaQ is slated for August 26 through August 29; last year's edition, a stripped-down version of the fest with just seven films, had been moved from summer to fall. "It lacked some energy. It lacked our summertime good queer vibes. This year, I’m excited to fit us into the summer with some great films," says Garcia. "I’m excited to have another summertime CinemaQ celebration."

This year's more robust lineup includes first-rate documentaries and narrative films, and every part of the LGBTQ+ spectrum will be included, Garcia says. Opening night, the only in-person event, will be a screening of My Name Is Pauli Murray, a documentary about a nonbinary Black lawyer, activist and poet who influenced Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The movie will play at the Sie FilmCenter on Thursday, August 26. "Every other film will be available on virtual and available the whole weekend of CinemaQ," says Garcia.

Among the highlights will be No Straight Line, a doc about five LGBTQ+ underground comic-book artists in the '70s and '80s whose careers blew up; they paved the way for many fresh queer voices in the medium. Also in the mix is "a great trans drama called See You Then, and a wildly inappropriate comedy called Shit and Champagne — a spoof of '70s exploitation films," says Garcia.

"Raw! Uncut! Video! is about the rise and fall of gay porn studio Palm Drive Video, which in the '80s really turned to kink as its main focus," he adds. "This was all in an effort to ride through the AIDS epidemic. They were trying to find an alternative to keep people sex-positive."

And then there's Rebel Dykes, which chronicles punk and feminism in the UK during the '80s, and Workhorse Queen, which tells the story of Mrs. Kasha Davis, and how the queen's participation in RuPaul's Drag Race affected their lives — and not only in positive ways.

The programmer, who has been following queer cinema for more than two decades, says that the landscape continues to evolve as notions of sexuality and gender identity transform. And while CinemaQ only lasts a few days, the nonprofit is committed to programming queer content year-round.

"The biggest question is where does queer cinema in its creation start to head, and what are we going to do about that?" Garcia wonders. "The next frontier of queer cinema is most likely going to be making sure that queer films are directed by queer people who aren’t just cis. Especially when we're telling trans stories, that trans filmmakers are writing and directing them. We're making sure that we as a queer community are in charge of our storytelling...

"The question marks I have these days are: Is there gay behind it? Is there queer behind it?" Garcia notes. "I love my straight allies, but straight allies should not be making decisions or the money off of our queer stories or moments."

CinemaQ will run August 26 through 29 on the Denver Film website and the Denver Film app for Roku TV and Apple TV.
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris