Arts & Entertainment
4 min

A showcase for local artists

Queer expression from a video camera to the silver screen

HOME GROWN SHORT FILMS: Michael V Smith and co-curator Helen Reed selected the film shorts for this year's The Coast is Queer, which includes Clark Nicolai's 2004 piece, Fluid in Motion.

We’ve all experienced it.

You pay for your movie ticket, get the popcorn, the film starts, and about five minutes into it you realize: ‘Oh god, this is awful. Should I leave? Will it get better?’ You squirm in your seat, thinking you’ll give it 10 more minutes. It has to get better, right?

But it doesn’t get better. So, you waste two hours of your life watching a piece of crap you hate, or you walk out. Either way, you lose: money or time.

But short films have inherent beauty, says Michael V Smith, who is with Helen Reed, a co-curator of this year’s The Coast is Queer program for the Vancouver Queer Film Festival. “If you don’t like one film when you’re watching it, you’re bound to like the next one,” he says.

Smith and Reed have assembled a diverse queer program by BC filmmakers and video artists that touches on trans issues, anger, the nature of drag and even the world of gangs.

“There’s something for everyone. I think that’s one of the real advantages of shorts,” Smith says. Even though the dozen films chosen to be part of The Coast is Queer vary in style and content, he and Reed also wanted them to have some cohesion, noting that during the selection process, there were three main criteria they wanted to fill: the films had to be visually interesting, they had to push boundaries and they had to have something new and unique to say.

Juxtaposed with a disturbing scene of a tranny climbing into an oven in an apparent suicide attempt in Sacha Fink’s I Cum I, are the silly antics of people venting frustrations in The Tantrum Project, its cheesy video effects seemingly an homage to early ’80s MTV.

Speaking of the ’80s, Julie Saragosa’s The Outsiders, is a takeoff on Francis Ford Coppola’s film of the same name with scrappy dykes standing in for Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon and Emilio Estevez.

Mark Kenneth Woods’ My Heart Belongs to Data finds a home beside the more serious, thought provoking, split screen What Don’t You Understand About “I’m Leaving Again”, directed by Amey Kazymerchyk.

Reed helped her good friend Kazymerchyk on that project, which she recalls was shot on a chilly day in November by the train tracks near Lion’s Bay. They had a lot of fun, considering the film’s heavy themes of heartbreak, hope and growth. “A making-of documentary about the production most definitely would have been a comedy,” Reed relates. When she finally saw the completed work during the selection process, Reed was a little surprised by how moving she found it.

Only one filmmaker has two works on the program. Clark Nicolai contributes Yankee Lust, shot at a leather festival in San Francisco; and an older piece, 2004’s Fluid from Motion. The latter is a haunting, atmospheric piece shot on Wreck Beach with a pinhole camera. Nicolai took a video camera, removed the lens and stuck a pie plate with a hole in it in its place. The aesthetic effect, when combined with images of the sea, the sun and a naked man who frolics by the water and plays with himself, is startlingly original. Words–loneliness, oozing, flowing–are superimposed while an eerie soprano voice warbles what sounds like an old European art song.

Don’t expect traditional storytelling, or even much dialogue from The Coast is Queer short films. There’s only an hour to fill, which is why one 24-minute submission didn’t make the cut. “The narrative stuff [that was submitted and rejected] tended to be too long,” Smith says. And one or two documentaries were rejected because they didn’t fit the overall feel of the rest of the program.

Reed also allows that her personal bias towards more experimental work might have had something to do with the final choices. She says screening shorts like The Tantrum Project and Julianna Barabas’ What Feels Right? are “an excellent way to proliferate performance work which sometimes has a short lifespan.”

What Feels Right, a commentary on drag, women’s bodies and identity, is a simple, starkly shot video played in reverse of a woman dressing and applying makeup to become a man. Men’s clothes, women’s panties, taped down boobies and an aggressive accompanying tune by The Skinjobs complete the scene.

“A lot of queerness is about reversing expectations, and that film does that,” Smith explains. “It’s the reverse of what you expect from a naked woman. So much of our identity is about what we wear… So much of gender is what we wear and how we embody the clothes we put on.”

Some might charge that the level of filmmaking in The Coast is Queer is amateurish. A few of the films are produced by Emily Carr art students and several of them are first-time filmmakers.

In defence, Smith says you have to look beyond the small, sometimes tiny, production values to find the real artistry behind the work. You have to look at how it’s framed, how it’s edited and what the film is trying to say.

The do-it-yourself feel of some of the works may not appeal to everyone, but Smith sees that as part of the Vancouver Queer Film Festival’s mandate. “The film festival is as successful as it is because it appeals to a really wide range of filmmakers and tries really hard to make room for new people,” he says.

Besides, not liking something can be useful, too. We don’t all like the same things, he continues. “The films you see that you don’t like are just as important, just as valid as the films you do. It helps you draw a line.” So, if a film ruffles your feathers, makes you yawn, annoys you or gets you fidgeting in your seat, Smith feels he’s done his job. “That’s how you know you’ve covered a broad enough spectrum,” he says.