For anyone in the Portland, Oregon area this weekend, I’d urge you to head over to McMenamin’s Kennedy School to partake in QDoc, which opened last night and runs through Sunday. Or if you’re feeling formal, you can call it by its full name: the Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival, which is shockingly the only festival in the country, and only the second in the world, devoted to queer documentaries.
I’ve been lucky enough to see some films at this festival in the past, and it’s a really solid event. The films are always diverse and fascinating; the two guys who run it are experienced in the business and oh-so-enthusiastic; and overall it just has a really wonderful, supportive queer community vibe.
However, even for those of you who aren’t in the Pacific Northwest, here’s a look at a few of the queer selections that’ll be featured that you can keep on your radar, with information about how to find out more.
The LuLu Sessions, a film by S. Casper Wong
“I’d never heard of a friendship like this one before I lived it. Maybe ‘friends’ isn’t even the right word for it. But let’s just go with it for now.”
This film is one of those intensely personal ones, documenting the final adventures of a sassy old white lady battling cancer, and her best friend who’s along for the ride, Chinese-American queer filmmaker S. Casper Wong. LuLu is in fact Dr. Louise Nutter, a cancer researcher who had spent her life searching for cures for the disease that ended up finding her anyway. And LuLu is a character. Watch the first thirty seconds of this trailer, and tell me you wouldn’t want to sit and hear this lady tell you curse-infused stories all night. (The genius tagline of this movie reads: They say love knows no beeping boundaries.)
LuLu and Casper seem to be an unlikely pair, but it’s clear their relationship is beautifully unique and genuine, even if we’re not even exactly sure what the boundaries and definition of that relationship was. From the looks of it, Casper still isn’t completely sure either, and this is what makes this film seem so interesting to me. It delves into confronting and examining that most terrifying of all subjects, death, yes. But it’s showcasing the intimacies of this remarkable friendship that seems so nuanced and lovely. This isn’t just a story about cancer, it’s a story about love. And these words—friendship and love—they can mean so many, many things. The fact that it took ten years from LuLu’s death for Casper to finish this project shows the personal depth it has for her.
And if I told you I didn’t already well up just by looking through the film’s website, I’d be a big blubbery liar.
This one has already been through some different film festival circuits and won some awards, and attracted raving reviews from a medley of big publications. In other words, this really seems like a special one. After QDoc, it appears to be heading international, showing in New Zealand and India before returning to North America with a showing in August at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival. To find out more about when this film will hopefully become more widely available, you can sign up for a mailing list at lulusessionsfilm.com.
Girl or Boy, My Sex Is Not My Gender, a film by Valerie Mitteaux
“Are you a man or a woman? If you’re an inbetween—people get enraged. Because they get scared. What does that mean for them, and what does that mean for the future of the entire world?”
This film comes to us from France, and the only trailer I could find is the French one — but if you speak French, Spanish, OR English, you’ll be able to understand something in this trailer, because this is not just one person’s story in one place. The four subjects of this piece, Lynne (from the punk band Tribe 8), Rocco, Kaleb, and Miguel live in San Francisco, New York, Paris, and Barcelona. They’re different ages and of different life experiences, albeit one — they are all transitioning in some capacity from one gender to another, or to somewhere in between.
What seems meaningful about this film is that it’s not necessarily just a story about trans people, but a movie that engages trans people in discussing their thoughts on the role of gender — particularly masculinity — in society in general, as well as the complicated, personal meanings of gender. In my opinion, this is a conversation that can never be had enough.
It appears this film was shown on some European TV channels last year, but I unfortunately had a hard time finding more information about future showings. If you’re interested in procuring a copy, there are some contacts for the French film company which produced it here.
Difficult Love, a film by Zanele Muholi and Peter Goldsmid and Not A Man in Sight, a film by Mette Aakerholm Gardell
These two films are booked as somewhat of a "lesbian double feature" at QDoc on Sunday afternoon, since they both examine lesbian life, but in two very different parts of the globe.
Difficult Love examines the challenging, diverse, yet often tender community of black lesbians living in South Africa by profiling the courageous and tremendously talented artist Zanele Muholi. The timing of this showing is strangely heartbreaking since, as we just reported the other day in Morning Brew, Muholi recently had over 20 external hard drives of her work stolen from her home. Especially after viewing some of her stunningly gorgeous photographs, this is nothing short of devastating, and I can’t fully express my rage over it. Perhaps if more people viewed Difficult Love, and if her bold act of documenting lesbians wasn’t so unfortunately controversial in her home country, there would be more of an outrage over this cowardly crime.
Yet, you are in luck — because you can watch Difficult Love, whether you are in Portlandia or no. IMDB has the entire film on their site for free! If you have an extra 44 minutes, I would highly recommend it. It’s upsetting, yet moving, and I can’t stress enough how wonderful and important Muholi’s pictures truly are. I hope justice can be served for Muholi, and that the thieves realize that while you can steal some hard drives, you can never take away an artist’s vision, and the impact she’s already had on the world. Muholi discusses the film in the video below:
To switch to a completely different region as well as a completely different tone, Not A Man In Sight showcases three generations of lesbians in Norway and the variety of issues each group is currently dealing with. There’s the sassy, happy older couple who are part of an interesting historical landmark — the first generation of lesbians who were able to be out and proud are now starting to die out. There’s the middle aged couple, desiring to have a child of their own and struggling with the myriad of philosophical issues that come with that territory as a lesbian —"We were supposed to break what was traditional." Then there’s the youngest generation, which includes a girl who in fact doesn’t necessarily fit under the label of lesbian at all, but a young person attempting to explain how she sees her gender identity and how that affects who she should or shouldn’t date.
This sounds like a downright enjoyable film, which I believe is important to include in a field that’s often perceived as overly-dramatic and depressing. And as soon as I saw the old Norwegian lady making fun of men’s toilets and hanging up a framed cross-stitch on the wall that read, “Homo Sweet Homo,” I knew I was in.
For a glimpse of some of the other films that’ll be highlighted in the festival, you can visit their website at queerdocfest.org, or watch their overall festival trailer:
My other favorite thing about this festival? There are free seats reserved for youth under 23. Such a fabulous idea.
I’ll be watching as many of the films this weekend as I can fit in to my schedule, and tweeting some of my reactions @daffodilly if you’re interested in continuing the nerdy gay documentary conversation. (As a warning, I suspect most of my commentary will involve crying, or continuing to freak out over Zanele Muholi.)