After 31 years of being in love, New England lesbians Dot and Stella find themselves eloping to Canada to get married and live out their golden years. One is almost deaf, the other is blind. They pick up a young hitchhiker along the way. He's on his way to visit his dying mother.
Toss in an opportunistic, conniving bitch of a granddaughter, a couple of Oscar-winning actors — that would be Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker — and out comes Cloudburst, the opening film of the 16th QLBTQ International Film Festival (QFest), titled "Swish Sixteen," which starts Thursday and runs through July 30.
The five-day film bacchanal comprises international, American and documentary films, revivals, regional and world premieres, a tribute to George Kuchar and a special presentation that focuses on works of Asian provenance. That the curators chose to open with a niche film — and not with one that some would consider to be a typical male gay film with plenty of skin — nods to their efforts to reach across smaller subgroups of the GLBTQ community.
"The 'queer term' is politically edgy. It gives you more freedom. It breaks away from a term that describes who you sleep with, with whom you have sexual relations, which is how mainstream society wants to define our community."
For this screening of Cloudburst, set for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, QFest is joining hands with Lesbians Over Age 50 (LOAF) to bring awareness about this social group. A reception follows with food and music.
"I feel Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker absorb the characters really well; they embody their roles through and through," Kristian Salinas, QFest board president, says about why this film typifies that festival's ethos.
"It's not just another white gay male movie. It talks about big issues that affect us today like marriage, health, growing old — and it's funny."
When Salinas isn't busy working at Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts, he's one of a handful of avid volunteers that organize QFest — on less than a $10,000 budget. His love for motion pictures started before he was a student at the University of Houston's film school. He was on staff at Rice Cinema and MFAH, worked in film production, promotions and marketing. He produces small films on the side and stays abreast of what's happening in the show biz industry.
As film with gay subject matter becomes more mainstream, for better or for worse, there's a trend of towards watering down the content to appeal to a larger number of moviegoers, Salinas explains. But it's just as important to balance films like that with edgy works that delve deeply into the cultural zeitgeist of gay life. When QFest added the "Q" for queer in LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender), it was to append the ideology that comes with the implications of such a label.
"The 'queer term' is politically edgy," Salinas explains. "It gives you more freedom. It breaks away from a term that describes who you sleep with, with whom you have sexual relations, which is how mainstream society wants to define our community."
The lineup of films have been organized around anchors. For the American Centerpiece, Travis Matthews' I Want Your Love bridges narrative dramatic film with soft core pornography. The International Centerpiece is Oliver Hermanus' Beauty (Skoonheid), a story about a straight, married man who develops an obsession for the son of his best friend. Jobriath A.D. by Kieran Turner is the Documentary Centerpiece. The film chronicles the first openly homosexual rock megastar.
"This year, more venues are participating, there are more screenings and we'll be hosting our first live performance with film."
The Revivals choice is Showgirls starring Elizabeth Berkley (better known for the television series Saved by the Bell). A special tribute to George Kuchar presents six short films, and Focus on Asia, hosted by the Asia Society Texas Center, programs two documentaries that survey Indonesian and Indo-Muslim transgender issues.
"I know everyone and their dog says that this year is their best," Salinas says about the lineup of films. "We enjoyed great success last year that we had more funds and time to dig deep for submissions and take more time during the selection process.
"And this year, more venues are participating, there are more screenings and we'll be hosting our first live performance with film, one which welcomes other forms of expression. That's very exciting for our growth."
In collaboration with Aurora Picture Show, Vincent Morisset's Inni will be screened with music by Two Star Symphony. Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast will be offering free HIV testing onsite at Aurora at this Friday screening.
More than just 30-plus films that appeal to the gay, lesbian, transgender, transsexual and queer demographic and friends, QFest sees itself as a celebration of identity that also partners with local services organizations under the auspice of cultural exchange and entertainment festival. Among them are the Lesbian Health Initiative, Houston Gay and Lesbian Community Center and Baylor College of Medicine.
QFest runs from Thursday through July 30 with screenings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Rice Cinema, Aurora Picture Show, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Discovery Green and Asia Society Texas Center. Some shows are free, others range from $5 to $10. An all-access pass is available for $75. Tickets can be purchased online. Click here for a detailed schedule.