By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly
As QDoc grows into a preeminent festival for queer documentary film, it is expanding its reach into the LGBTQ community and the world of cinema with its biggest opening night ever.
Now in its seventh year, the festival will kick off May 16 at the more expansive Bagdad Theater — before moving to McMenamins Kennedy School — with a film about larger than life performer and queer icon, Divine, aptly titled “I Am Divine.”
“We think that there’s a big audience for [the film]. We thought, ‘Let’s go all out go for a big theatre,’” says David Weismann, who co-created QDoc with former San Francisco International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival operations director Russ Gage. “It’s always great to start a festival with a splash, and there’s not a much bigger splash than Divine.”
Following the screening will be a Q&A session with director Jeffrey Schwarz and frequent Divine costar Mink Stole. Last year’s festival also kicked off with a celebrity appearance — country singer Chely Wright was on hand for the screening of her film “Wish Me Away.”
While Weissman says it isn’t part of the agenda to always kick off with a celebrity, he does try to bring as many directors to the festival as he can. And this year is no exception. A number of filmmakers will be on hand during the weekend, including sex educator Annie Sprinkle and her partner Beth Stephen (“Goodbye Gauley Mountain”), Travis Matthews (“Interior. Leather Bar.”), Deb Tillman (“Born This Way”), Portlander Eric Slade and Stephen Silha (“Big Joy”), and Marta Cunningham (“Valentine Road”).
“It’s a community experience, it’s a shared experience, it’s a meet the artist experience,” Weissman says.
QDoc attracts filmmakers largely because the festival gives documentaries a kind of attention they don’t get elsewhere.
“The filmmakers love it,” Weismann says. “So often documentaries can be relegated to second tiers at mainstream festivals.”
Between the special attention (QDoc is one of only two queer documentary film festivals worldwide) and the organizers’ industry connections (Weissman is also a filmmaker whose documentaries have been twice short-listed for Academy Awards), the festival is able to draw high caliber films. Putting on a small festival means they get to select the best of the best, without having to pad the program with fluff.
Despite the limited number of films, Weissman says they are careful to select ones that represent a diversity of content, styles, and identities.
“We try to be very conscious in our selection and speak to a broad range of themes,” Weissman says. He tries to include something that speaks to all the various segments of the LGBTQ community while still maintaining a flow. “It’s like curating an art show; things have to work together as a unit.”
The festival also has to strike a balance between attracting a larger audience and keeping the festival intimate. Because QDoc is about more than screening films, it’s about bringing community together.
“Part of our intention really was to help foster a sense of the value of community. I think to some degree our community in Portland is fairly assimilated and there isn’t as much of an emphasis on queer politics as there is in a city with a more focused gay community,” Weissman says. “We want to remind people how fantastic it is to have these stimulating queer cultural events and engage around share things in our community.”
QDoc runs May 16-19. All screenings take place at McMenamins Kennedy School, except for opening night. Tickets are $10 per film, $8 for students and seniors, and a free for people under 23 (limited number). Festival passes are $75 and admission to the opening night and reception and film is $25. For more information, visit queerdocfest.org.
Thursday, May 16 – Opening Night (Bagdad Theater)
8 p.m. “I Am Divine” tells the story of the larger than life drag queen and actor who starred in so many John Waters films. Director Jeffrey Schwarz and actress Mink Stole will be in attendance. divinemovie.com
Friday, May 17
7 p.m. “Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story” documents activism and performance art aimed at stopping mountaintop removal in West Virginia. Directors Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens will be in attendance.goodbyegauleymountain.org
9:15 p.m. “Interior. Leather Bar.” Reimagines the 40-minutes of gay S&M footage allegedly cut from the 1980 film “Cruising” in order to avoid an X rating. Directed by James Franco and Travis Matthews (“I Want Your Love” and “In Their Room”). Matthews will be in attendance. interiorleatherbar.com
Saturday, May 18
2:30 p.m. “Born This Way” creates a poetic portrait of day-to-day life for gay Camaroonians, exploring both their private lives and their public struggle for equality in a county with more arrests for homosexuality than anywhere in the world. Directed by Deb Tullman and Shaun Kadlec. Tullman will be in attendance. bornthiswaydocumentary.com
5 p.m. “Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution” profiles elder lesbian activists who were active in the women’s and lesbian rights movements in the 1970s and 1980s. Directed by Myriam Fougére. lesbiana-film.com/en
7 p.m. “Big Joy” tells the story of experimental filmmaker, poet, and Radical Faerie James Broughton. Filmmakers Eric Slade and Stephen Silha will be in attendance. bigjoy.org/news
9:30 p.m. “Mr. Angel” explores the life of transgender activist, educator, and porn pioneer Buck Angel. Directed by Dan Hunt. mrangelmovie.com
Sunday, May 19
12:30 p.m. “Bayou Maharajah” highlights the life and music of gay New Orleans piano legend James Booker. Directed by Lily Keber. bayoumaharajah.com
2:30 p.m. “Wildness” dives into the history of a Latino gay bar in Los Angeles called the Silver Platter, exploring how things change when a multiracial group of young artists start a weekly night there. Directed by event organizers Wu Tsang and DJs NGUZUNGUZU and Total Freedom. wildnessmovie.com
4:30 p.m. “I Am A Woman Now” tells the story of the first generation of trans women to undergo gender transition in Casablanca in the1950s and 1960s. Directed by Monique Busman. catndocs.com
7 p.m. “Valentine Road” is a new film from HBO about the in-school murder of gender-questioning 15-year-old Larry King by his 14-year-old classmate Brandon McInerney. Director Marta Cunningham will be in attendance. valentineroaddocumentary.com