In the wake of the tragedy in Orlando, it seems queer visibility and public gayness is a political act. The arrival of the third annual qFLIX Philadelphia festival, an LGBTQ-themed collection of films screened over five days in Center City, feels like a bright light after weeks of darkness. And a loose theme, nicely established by the opening and closing night films, captures what we need more than anything – family, relationships, and connectivity and not just with those who identify as gay, queer, lesbian or trans.
Yes, this festival is for heterosexuals, too.
Last year, they screened 29 films. This year they’re bringing over 50 features, documentaries and shorts to The Prince Theater and The Caplan Theater at the University of the Arts July 5-10. With sponsorship from The Tavern Group (see: Tavern on Camac) and locally-based and -founded Breaking Glass Pictures, qFLIX founders Thom Cardwell and James Duggan are thrilled to be picking up steam in the festival’s reincarnation after TLA Releasing left town.
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Cardwell said “this will be my 22nd LGBT film festival and a whopping total of 33 film festivals – I have a vested interest in seeing Philadelphia have an LGBT film festival continue.” He’s long been connected to TLA as a marketing coordinator and the Philadelphia Film Society – he’s got some experience.
The world premiere of “People You May Know” comes from J.C. Falcon and “tells the story of four friends in their 40s in Los Angeles and a life-changing situation alters their friendships.” It stars Mark Cirillo, a actor Cardwell says has a “very impressive body of work,” and he’ll be in attendance for opening night to receive the qFLIX Philadelphia 2016 Artistic Achievement Award in Acting.
The closer’s “Shared Rooms,” written and directed by Rob Williams who’ll also be in-house for the finale, a “romantic comedy that brings together three interrelated tales of gay men seeking family, love and sex during the holiday season.”
One of the coolest moments of the festival will come courtesy of a “Watermelon Women” screening, a bold lesbian film directed by Philadelphia’s own Cheryl Dunye. The 20th anniversary restored version hints at something Cardwell notes is a cherished film fest tradition – “we do like to reach into the archives.” In fact, when pressed for a few of his first, cherished LGBT film experiences, he coughed up Peter Del Monte’s “Invitation to Voyage” (1982), Bill Sherwood’s “Parting Glances” (1986), “The Line of Beauty” BBC mini-series directed by Saul Dibb in 2006, and Robert Altman’s “Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” (1982).
Another title that will fascinate is Gillian Armstrong’s “Women He’s Undressed,” an Australian documentary about Orry-Kelly, a queer costume designer who worked on 285 films, won three Oscars, and dressed Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, and may or may not have had an affair with Cary Grant. As Cardwell says it, “you learn a lot about Cray Grant – he would not like this film.”
Other centerpiece films include “Bears in the City 3,” a trilogy focused on Bear Week in Provincetown, MA with a little help from Kathy Najimy; “Lazy Eye,” a Cardwell fave; “Guys Reading Poems,” the co-founder says is unusual, wonderfully-casted and very smart; and “Downriver,” an Australian rumination on queer teenagers coming of age. But inclusion is a huge theme to qFLIX, too, and Cardwell heralds the inclusion of “Breaking Free,” a documentary from India about their LGBT civil rights movement, and “Eat Your Father For Dinner,” a “gay Chinese film from Beijing – we don’t get too many submissions from China.”