I've interviewed hundreds of people over the course of my career as a reporter. One of those people is Keith Garcia, a person who went from source and media contact to good friend over years of our not-so-secret recorded phone conversations. Now my friend — who in the last year has moved into the role of Westword contributor, too — is making a documentary about the Denver drag scene. Tonight, Garcia will officially launch his Kickstarter for The Heels Have Eyes , ringing in the fundraising with a special drag performance featuring some of Denver's biggest queens. The live show and official launch will follow a screening of Paris Is Burning at the Sie FilmCenter, as part of its annual Cinema Q festival — a queer-focused film series that was created by Garcia. Here's more on his project:
If that Kickstarter video isn't enough to charm you into throwing your dollars at the creation of a wonderful documentary that serves to elevate the Denver drag community, I'm here to give you five reasons why Keith Garcia's ideas, vision and talent deserve all the money in the world.
5) Keith Garcia has been bringing great films to Denver for decades. (If you frequent any art houses in town, you probably know him!)
Other than a stint in New York in what he calls a "failed attempt at film school" and a few years combined in Los Angeles and Austin working in film, this born-and-raised Colorado dude has spent most of his time curating great film in Denver. He may have sold you movie tickets in the '90s at the Mayan Theatre, where he went on to run the art house and introduce its "Midnight Movie" that took late-night screenings beyond the infamous midnight events centered around Rocky Horror Picture Show. To do so, Garcia delved into the canon of cult-classic movies and gave them a place to be seen and admired again.
He also spent a decade with the Denver Film Society, programming new and classic film series and creating the Cinema Q film festival as well as The Watching Hour, what he calls the "2.0 version" of the midnight movie. "I didn't want people saying, 'It sucks that we don't live in New York or Los Angeles because we can't experience these films,'" says Garcia. "I believed that those films could come to Denver. I want people to always see film, always talk about film, and not judge film based on it being bad or good, but at least talk about it being interesting. On top of The Heels Have Eyes being a documentary — which I love — I am playing with film and my own love of it by also creating fake movie trailers that the various performers of Denver will take part in as the actresses in the film. We'll cover everything from horror to '40s classics to teen comedy and beyond. That's my way of continuing to play with film and my knowledge of how it affects audiences."
After his time at the Denver Film Society's Starz FilmCenter and, later, the Sie FIlmCenter, Garcia took on a position of creative manager of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Littleton — a partnership he formed after years of working with the Texas-based company, bringing its unique film programming to Colorado.
4) With The Heels Have Eyes, Garcia is helping put Denver on the map as an inclusive cultural hub.
"I haven't been a filmmaker all this time, but I have seen many great filmmakers come out of Colorado and continue to work here," says Garcia. "I'm happy to see that community grow; taking that step to be a part of it is very interesting. I have a slight complaint about some Denver (film) projects when they approach something like, 'Oh, isn't this great? It's Colfax!' and it's like, you're not going to attract anyone outside of Colorado. I'm fond of the idea in my film of taking something that the whole world knows at the moment — which is drag — and then saying, 'Hey, guess what? Denver is really kicking ass in this department. You need to meet all of these people doing it from Denver, Colorado.' I want to utilize these performers — many of whom are natives themselves — and bring out their Colorado style. There is a Colorado style that comes out in their performances, and I think it's really top-notch and just so awesome to the entire conversation. No better place to turn it on than your back yard."
3) He's putting the versatile world of drag in the spotlight.
Garcia says he's always been fascinated with drag, but one cold night about seven years ago, he stumbled upon the now-defunct Vivid drag show at Charlie's. Witnessing a performance by none other than Denver Drag ruler Nina Flowers pushed the filmmaker back into the scene as a fan — one who quickly decided he needed to be a documentarian.
"Nina had just moved here from Puerto Rico, like four or five months before," remembers Garcia. "In those months at Charlie's, everyone started talking about her. She was this alien force that played a lot with the basic rules of drag but created her own persona from it. The electricity she brought to her performances translated to the rest of the performers in that show. It was really magical to see all of that come out. I found it so interesting that it was this local country gay bar that was the hub."
"Even though Nina is from Puerto Rico, she made Denver her home," he continues. "It wasn't ever about, 'Well, I'm from Puerto Rico and I'm just passing through Denver.' It was like, 'No, Denver is where I am. We are Denver queens.' Nina went on to be on the first season of RuPaul's Drag Race, and she was runner-up. After that, it was a question of, okay, who is going to be the next Denver girl to make it? In all seven seasons, no other girl from Colorado has been there. It's been a big question — like, why is that the case?
"From Nina's involvement in Drag Race and then Nina having her own show here in Denver — Drama Drag, now known as Drag Nation — that show became a celebrated spotlight, not just for Denver drag, but for the world," Garzia says. "So many of the top-tier performers from RuPaul's Drag Race — but also other well-known performers like Amanda Lepore, Candis Cayne, Jackie Beat — have come to perform at Nina's show. For them to come here, it was big. The number-one thing said about Drag Nation is that these performers have never been on a stage like that. They've never been on a stage that big with a crowd that excited. With that kind of ability to just take over, why hasn't word spread about Denver? Denver's not a last-ditch effort. It is a really great incubator for drag talent, and other cities are lucky to get anyone from Denver."
2) He's supporting local artists by showing off their work and dedication.
Though Garcia admits that he's never done drag himself (but he will in this film if he can raise the funds), the filmmaker has been watching the girls work for years. He shares that it's not as easy some people think — drag performers can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on costumes, makeup and accessories, not to mention the time and energy it takes to prepare a show. These women are brands in themselves: Unlike with more traditional theatrical performances, there's no big machine supplying a budget. The queens do all the work, while often working a second day job, like many entertainers. Garcia wants to shine a light on this world and the people who have what it takes to hustle to the top.
"Everyone falls in love with drag when they see it; half of that audience says, 'I could do that.' But it's really not that easy," says Garcia. "In regard to drag, you are the machine. You are in charge of your own gas and everything else. If you want to be a working drag queen in Denver, you have to have an understanding of makeup and costumes. The very idea of keeping your body up is work, because sometimes you're performing five to six times a week. This isn't just someone sitting around on a Friday night, thinking, 'I'll just throw on some heels and go make a few bucks!'"
1) He's adding to Colorado's growing body of cinematic work as a filmmaker while creating a film about Denver.
"[After] making The Heels Have Eyes, there are other projects I would love to get to that I've written — and they are all written with Denver as the character," says Garcia. "Sure, Denver could easily be swapped out for another city, but at the same time, that's not how I wrote them. I wrote them with Denver as the frame. I think it is just a matter of figuring out how much I love Denver. With The Heels Have Eyes, I couldn't tell this story anywhere else. I'm not a part of any other city — I would be an outsider coming in. Living here and knowing the drag I have seen here my whole life and this sudden evolution is also part of the story. I just hope that it points to — whether it be filmmaking or being a drag performer or even just being a singer or an actor or whatever — wherever you are, you can get it done. If you have passion and the desire to tell a story, you can do whatever you want where ever you are."
You can support the creation of The Heels Have Eyes through Kickstarter directly. But be sure to check out tonight's live launch at the Sie FilmCenter, where Garcia will host a special 9 p.m. screening of the seminal 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning (also part of the Cinema Q Film Festival), followed by a live performance featuring some of Denver's brightest and bawdiest drag stars. For more information, visit the Sie's website.
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