At the 25-Year Mark, QFilm Fest Is as Relevant as Ever

Award winner TransMilitary. Photo courtesy TransMilitary LLC

UPDATE: Mapplethorpe and Wild Nights with Emily are Big QFilm Award Winners 

As my colleague Aimee Murillo mentioned in her Horrible Imaginings Film Festival preview last week, September is when the fall film festival season kicks off, so it is fitting that the 25th anniversary of Long Beach’s longest-running film fest happens in the beginning of the month.

Robert Cano, the pride of Cal State Long Beach’s College of Business Administration, founded the Long Beach QFilm Festival in 1993. He was a cinema fan who hosted movie nights for friends in his small apartment. Since the AIDS epidemic was raging at the time, Cano, who was also a volunteer with the LGBTQ Center in Long Beach, decided to mix his love of movies with his compassion for those in his community who were dying.

“I wanted to start something more positive,” Cano told the Long Beach Press-Telegram’s Richard Guzman recently. “I wanted to create a cultural event for the LGBTQ community and also a way to see us in a more positive light.”

His QFilm Festival—or Qfilms, as the hepcats now call it—has gone on to raise funds for and awareness of the LGBTQ Center ever since. That’s a good thing because just when you think modern medicine has successfully managed HIV/AIDS and marriage equality has swept the land, along come renewed threats, such as HIV infections being forecast to rise among black American men . . . and the Trump administration.

So, yes, we need Qfilms, the 2018 run of which begins Thursday, Sept. 6 with an opening-night party at the LGBTQ Center that starts before and continues after the opener, A Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate Celebrates 50 Years, screens next door at the historic Art Deco movie palace the Art Theatre—or the Art, as the hepcats now call it.

Partying; movie-watching; and mingling with filmmakers, actors, critics and other industry professionals continue at the Center and the Art through Sunday. The narrative features, documentaries and short films presented aim to embody the rich diversity and experiences of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities. Many pictures make their Long Beach, California, or West Coast premieres, and several include audience Q&As with actors and filmmakers after the end credits roll.

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Mapplethorpe. Photo courtesy Goldwyn Films

Narrated by Laverne Cox of Orange Is the New Black, featuring music by Melissa Etheridge and making its Long Beach premiere, the acclaimed documentary A Long Road to Freedom chronicles how the PRIDE (Personal Rights in Defense and Education) gay-rights newsletter of 1967 later morphed into the Los Angeles Advocate news magazine and, finally, The Advocate. It’s not only the largest LGBTQ publication in the country, but also the only surviving one of its kind that started before the 1969 Stonewall riots.

Biographical feature films making their local premieres Friday night are: Wild Nights With Emily, an irreverent exploration of the famous poet Emily Dickinson, who is played by the genius comedic actress Molly Shannon, and Mapplethorpe, an eye-opening look at the life of controversial gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who is portrayed by the supremely talented Matt Smith of Dr. Who and The Crown fame.

Saturday brings: the West Coast premiere of the French comedy Embrasse-Moi! (Kiss Me!), in which a lesbian serial romantic crushes on her new obsession; the Southern California premiere of Just Friends, an off-kilter love story between two young men from very different backgrounds; and the Long Beach premieres of two documentaries with compelling subjects. The award-winning Man Made follows transgender bodybuilders, and Every Act of Life examines out Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally. The Queer and Trans Shorts program also screens Saturday, as does the docu-series Finding Home, which looks at LGBT immigrants and asylum seekers in Los Angeles.

Mi Mejor Amigo. Photo courtesy Pensa y Rocca Producciones

It’s another strong lineup Sunday, with the Southern California premieres of two South American films. Mi Mejor Amigo (My Best Friend) is an award-winning coming-of-age tale from Argentina, and Las Herederas (The Heiresses) is the intense story of two Paraguayan women from wealthy families risking it all to be together. A couple of documentaries make their Long Beach premieres: the award-winning TransMilitary, which profiles trans service members who challenged the Pentagon, and Shakedown, which provides a lesson on LA’s African-American lesbian club scene. Sunday’s shorts programs are Men In Briefs and Women In Shorts, although none of the 14 films are about fashion.

Jury and audience awards will be given to worthy films in several categories at the closing-night party at the Center. Indeed, there is at least one party every day that those holding festival passes or tickets can attend at no additional charge, as well as an ice cream social on Saturday afternoon and a Sunday brunch. A filmmakers lounge overflows with schmooze all day Saturday and Sunday.

All net proceeds from Qfilms benefit the Center, and guess what? Starting in October, submissions will already start being accepted for the next festival (via www.withoutabox.com), which, along with the way things are going, leads to this bold prediction: 2019 Qfilms will be needed more than ever.

Long Beach QFilm Festival films screen at Art Theatre, 2025 E. Fourth St., Long Beach; arttheatrelongbeach.com. Thurs.-Sun., Sept. 6-9. Check website for a full schedule and show times. $12 per screening; $45 per five-film pass; $120 for an all-access pass. Opening-night party at the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach, 2017 E. Fourth St., Long Beach; qfilmslongbeach.com. Thurs., Sept. 6, 6 p.m. Free to all pass and ticket holders.

Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.

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