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Calgary’s Fairy Tales queer film fest opens May 23

Organizers expect 4,000 guests over seven days

Fairy Tales programmer James Demers ranks Kidnapped for Christ (pictured) among his top picks for this year’s festival. The film offers a behind-the-scenes look at American teens taken from their homes to a Christian behaviour-modification program in the Dominican Republic. Credit: Fairy Tales Film Festival

Calgary’s annual queer film festival, Fairy Tales, will celebrate its 16th season this year with seven days of more than 25 feature and short films from Canada, the United States, Belgium, Brazil, Poland, Spain and Switzerland.

“Queer film is an interesting idea because it’s independent film, frequently,” says James Demers, executive director of the Fairy Tales Presentation Society. “The directors are struggling to get their work made, and in a way that is authentic to how we actually live our lives.”

Demers says reclaiming media representation of queer people has been key to creating our own cultural heroes.

“I started coming five years ago and just sat and revelled,” says James Bellamy-Henn, president of Fairy Tales’ board of directors. “The first time you’re in a theatre watching a good story that actually involves people going through common struggle and discoveries as you would, it affirms who you are.”

A film buff, Bellamy-Henn came out at age 41 and appreciated finding the film festival when he was new to the community.

Now, he says, the festival is anticipating up to 4,000 guests, almost double the attendance from two years ago.

“Gala attendance increased last year,” Demers notes, partially crediting programming changes. “Last year, we made decisions like mixing our shorts packages. We used to have a men’s, a women’s and a family package and decided to mix them all based on the theme of the short, not split by orientation.  

“That meant a gay male audience would see something they would never normally see; same with a lesbian audience. They would see trans content. It generated discussion, and we had really positive feedback,” he says.

He adds that last year’s Retro Night, featuring a giant, Rocky Horror Picture-style party around a classic film, also got great reviews.

This year’s film festival carries with it some loss, because of the untimely death of one of its regular volunteers, who was murdered in April. “Lawrence Hong was our Volunteer of the Year last year,” Bellamy-Henn says. “He was a big part of Fairy Tales.”

Between the festival’s growing popularity and a new awareness associated with Hong’s involvement, Bellamy-Henn is expecting a larger turnout this year. “We anticipate some new film seekers rather than just the old hardcore,” he says. “We anticipate a lot of allies, a lot of people who just want to know more . . . People are no longer just tolerating the LGBT community but are curious and [would] like to know more. They want to understand this very real part of Canadian society.” 

“We don’t have a neighbourhood or a street,” Demers points out, “so what holds a community together is its events. Fairy Tales is a backbone event. ARGRA [the Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo Association] is a backbone event. Pride is. Because the Calgary queer community is based around events, it’s a place to meet and reconnect.

“Considering that we had bomb threats our first year, I think we’ve done well,” he says.

James Demers’s Fairy Tales film picks

Valentine Road: A groundbreaking documentary about the murder of an eighth-grade boy in Oxnard, California, by the classmate he had a crush on. Sat, May 24, 4pm.

Kidnapped for Christ: A shocking behind-the-scenes look at American teens taken from their homes to a Christian behaviour-modification program in the Dominican Republic. Wed, May 28, 7pm.

Test: A drama set in 1985 San Francisco that explores the dynamics of friendship during the discovery of the first AIDS test in the physically intimate world of a contemporary dance company. Fri, May 23, 9pm.

The Circle: A documentary about underground gay newspapers in Europe during the Second World War. Sun, May 25, 7pm.

Boy Meets Girl: A love story about a straight man who meets a trans woman and the romance that unfolds. Wed, May 28, 9pm.