Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Atlantic Film Festival opens in Halifax

That's So Gay series woos queer audiences

Sarah Kazemy and Nikohl Boosheri in Circumstance. Credit: Xtra files
What’s so gay? The 31st annual Atlantic Film Festival is.
“I think queer cinema is important. Film is a very accessible medium with which to educate, entertain and enlighten,” says Andrew Murphy, the programming manager of the Atlantic Film Festival. “They can teach us about different cultures, make us laugh, make us cry and often make us relate to things we might not otherwise understand.
“The key to a great film, no matter what the subject matter or theme, is telling and successfully executing a good story.”
Murphy, who founded the festival’s That’s So Gay screening series in 2005, wanted to find a means to highlight films with queer content. Instead of leaving filmgoers to leaf through a festival guide of 200-plus films in search of gay content, he curated a clearer, more accessible route. But each year, he finds, programming gets tougher, his expectations harder to meet.
“For instance, try finding new lesbian films where one of the protagonists doesn’t either go back to a man, go to jail or kill herself,” he says. “I’m serious. As for the boys, contrary to what the internet wants you to think, we aren’t all gaga for campy rom-coms. Those typically drive me crazy, and personally, I think they give us a bad name should anyone outside a big city centre happen to see them.”
This year’s That’s so Gay features Andrew Haigh’s stunning award-winning film Weekend. In it, Russell heads out to the club after a night with friends. Just before last call, he meets Glen and they embark upon a weekend of drugs, booze, sex and stories.
Inspired by his transgender cousin, director Rashaad Ernesto Green’s Gun Hill Road stars Esai Morales as an ex-convict father who returns home to the Bronx after three years in prison to find his teenaged son transitioning into his daughter.
Feature-length documentary Wish Me Away is a personal and intimate look at country singer Chely Wright’s struggle to come out as the first gay country music star. Inspiring and dynamic, she pushes cultural and religious boundaries in Nashville, her family and herself.
Queer Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and you’ve got Verona, a story of two star-crossed gay lovers separated by their fraternities and facing expectations that they will go on to corporate success. 
Presented in sponsorship with OUTeast, Halifax’s inaugural queer film festival, is Circumstance. The film explores the lives of two young Tehrani women who struggle against the Iranian morality police and their love. Directed by Maryam Keshavarz, Circumstance took home the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
“There’s something really incredible and important about seeing parts of yourself and your community reflected in film,” says OUTeast co-founder Krista Davis. “And film is powerful. It reflects our culture and simultaneously produces it. In this, there’s a lot of space to educate and bring about change.”
Following Circumstance, get your groove on at the That’s So Gay-la closing party at Niche Lounge. Much on some pink popcorn and raise a toast to the forthcoming Atlantic Canadian queer OUTeast Film Festival, scheduled for June 2012.
“I am so excited we are able to partner with the OUTeast folks,” says Murphy. “They have a great new initiative and our That’s So Gay program is a great opportunity to get the word out for next spring. When I was able to negotiate the film Circumstance to play AFF this year, it was the perfect fit to package with their Gay-la idea. It’s gonna be the party –think pink. Think fun. Think dance party.”
This time last year, OUTeast co-founders Davis, Jenna Dufton and Andria Wilson followed up a That’s So Gay screening with drinks and schemed up a plan to create an Atlantic Canadian film festival dedicated to showcasing queer independent cinema that challenges, educates and unites.
“There’s a long list of Canadian cities with successful queer film festivals, but there’s nothing east of Montreal,” says Davis. “We have an audience for it, so let’s bring them some really fabulous queer film. We have an incredibly talented community of artists, so let’s bring them a stage to show their work.”