We lost something important when Ottawa’s Making Scenes festival folded in 2004 – access to films celebrating our queer history and diversity. Now, showings of queer films are few and far between. Caitlyn Pascal hopes to change all that with Divergence Movie Night.
“Every month we’ll have an underground film in Ottawa,” she says. “We’re going to be showing movies all across the board: lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, AIDS, sex worker, queer people of colour.”
A well-known presence in the Ottawa queer community, Pascal is a computer engineer with a bent for social activism. She’s also an articulate defender of diversity and a community builder. Many will be familiar with the Divergence parties she plans every few months to feature what she calls “the underground queer music scene” and to support Trans Youth Ottawa, where she’s been a fixture for years.
Pascal says that the seed for the movie series was her desire to see some films she’d heard about online. When she looked into buying them, she found the cost prohibitive – up to $300 for a DVD. Last year, in what was supposed to be a one-time event, she rented the auditorium at the downtown public library and invited anyone interested to come see Enough Man, an intimate look at the lives of nine trans men. About 50 people showed up, and their donations helped cover costs. The success of the event spurred Pascal to plan a whole series this summer.
Divergence Movie Night debuted Jun 26 with Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria. While most people peg the start of the queer revolution to New York’s Stonewall Riots of 1969, the film looks at an equally important, if lesser known, riot at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco three years early. Pascal chose Screaming Queens to start with a history lesson: it marks the first organized queer uprising and highlights the role trans people have played in the gay rights movement.
“Back in the day, it didn’t matter if you were trans, if you were gay, if you were a female impersonator, if you were a lesbian, you were all in the same boat together,” she says. “It was trans people that started that revolution [at Compton’s Cafeteria]. They bore the brunt of societal oppression because they were visible. They did not have the luxury of being able to be in the closet. The trans community and the gay community weren’t so separate back then. There was the same oppression and they came from the same place. And I think that’s something very important to remember, especially in this day and age.”
If you missed Screaming Queens, next up is Third Antenna: The Radical Nature of Drag on Tue, Jul 18 at 7:00pm. It explores the world of drag kings and queens. As the name suggests, it looks beyond your typical drag diva. Instead, it delves into ways people have made drag political, even revolutionary. The film also explores issues like race and physical disability in the drag world. Pascal hopes it will help Ottawa audiences to see drag in a new light.
“In the Ottawa queer scene there’s not a lot of comprehension of the variety of drag,” she says. “We get a lot of bread-and-butter drag shows and we just think, ‘Okay, gay guys dressing like Bette Midler.’ There’s so much more that drag is capable of and that drag has done historically.”
For Pascal, one of the primary goals of Divergence Movie Night is to tear down some of the barriers between different parts of the queer community.
“I want the queer women to come to the gay men films and I want the gay men to come to the trans films and I want the trans people to come to the lesbian films,” she says. “I really want that crossover to occur. I think that would be very exciting to help breakdown some of the ‘niche-ism’ that exists in Ottawa. It’ll bridge that knowledge gap.”
Accessibility is Pascal’s other mantra. She’s made Divergence Movie Night a free event, although she’s asking for donations of $5 or more from those who can afford it. All proceeds will go to pay for rental of the auditorium and purchase of the films.
“It gets rid of the whole ‘classist’ thing in Ottawa where you have to have money to do something,” she says. “It provides a low budget alternative for people who don’t have tons of money to spend at the bars.”
The films continue Aug 22 with Gay Sex in the 70s, timed to coincide with Pride. It’s a nostalgia trip to the era of pre-HIV sexual freedom. Then, on Sep 12, The Salt Mines and Two-Spirit People make up a documentary double-header. Once again, diversity is front and centre. The Salt Mines looks at the lives of Latino transvestites in New York and explores issues like addiction and prostitution. Two-Spirit People gives an historical overview of Native American views of gender and sexuality. If there’s a strong community response to the series, Pascal will add more films through the fall and beyond.