Q Fest Returns, With a Increasingly Diverse Slate of LGBTQA Films

click to enlarge The women of Revival: Women and the Word want to bring their community together through art. - COURTESY OF CINEMA ST. LOUIS
The women of Revival: Women and the Word want to bring their community together through art.

Social progress moves very slowly in this country (currently, it's essentially frozen in place until the impeachment or the heart attack, whichever comes first), but things do get better as time goes by. Thirteen years ago gay marriage was only a dream and QFest, Cinema St. Louis' LGBTQA film festival, was just starting out. Now all of the letters in the acronym can marry and QFest is a highlight of the year, the latter thanks to curator and organizer Chris Clark.

The only constants in QFest are Clark's guiding hand and the festival's commitment to promoting films that have something to say about the LGBTQA community. As Clark explains, illuminating the human spirit is part and parcel of the festival’s grand vision. "Part of our mission for Cinema St. Louis is that cinema is art, and film provides glimpses of the human experience," Clark explains. "QFest takes it farther and spotlights queer culture specifically."

Clark is quick to emphasize that a film merely boasting gay subject matter is not enough to make the schedule; he's looking for a specific point of view.

"I've tried to strive hard to find the most empowering or uplifting tales. I shy away from serial killers, or excessive sadness," he says. "Just like going to a French film, QFest is a peek into another culture, into my community. I'm one of those letters. I'm not gonna promote the negative. I want to shine a light, and I'll hold it high."

This year's festival includes ten films (both documentary and narrative) and two programs of shorts, named "Adam" and "Eve." One of the features is always a classic, which this year is Beautiful Thing, Hettie MacDonald's 1996 film about two London boys exploring the possibility that they may be gay. It's very much a QFest movie, with a tender, celebratory story.

Also of note are Alaska Is a Drag, which is about a black drag queen in a tough Alaska town that co-stars Margaret Cho and Jason Scott Lee, and The Revival: Women and the Word, a documentary about black lesbian poets and musicians and their efforts to create a sense of community among queer women of color. Clark cites these two films as important works by emerging filmmakers and a demonstration of his renewed effort to find diverse stories in response to complaints from the community.

For what Clark believes is the first time ever in QFest's history, at least three of the films have close ties to St. Louis: Snapshots, the short subject "Bob," and the festival-opening film, Becks.

Becks is set in Maplewood and stars Tony Award-winner Lena Hall as a singer/songwriter who has to move back in with her disapproving mother (Christine Lahti) after her long-distance relationship ends badly. She soon meets Elyse (Mena Suvari), and an unlooked-for relationship starts to bloom. Co-directors Elizabeth Rohrbaugh and Dan Powell are former St. Louisans, hence the very St. Louis story.

But for Clark, it's the short "Bob" that has both professional and personal resonance. "I worked with Tommy Gross at Balaban's," Clark recalls. "He became one of my best friends – I quit UMSL to go to Webster with him, and that's how I ended up studying film. Tommy passed away in the '90s, but his nephew John, who I watched grow up, directed the paranormal short 'Bob.' John's husband is one of the co-stars."

QFest takes place Wednesday through Sunday (April 4 to 8) at .ZACK (3224 Locust Street; www.cinemastlouis.org). Tickets are $10 to $13.
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