Over a quarter century ago, a small group decided to pull together a presentation of queer films to enjoy among friends. Now, 27 years later, Out on Screen carries this tradition forward, presenting the second largest annual film festival in Vancouver: The Vancouver Queer Film Festival (VQFF).
“The founding directors actually conceived the event as a cultural component to the Gay Games,” says Shana Myara, VQFF’s program director. “They’d seen it done in California and felt it would be a great fit for Vancouver as well.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing at first. When VQFF first began, it was during the years that saw Little Sister’s bookstore battling with Canada’s customs agency over gay materials crossing the border from the US. Out on Screen found similar resistance when attempting to import LGBT films.
“They had to smuggle films across the border,” Myara says. “Fortunately, we had friends working in the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), and if the NFB ordered something, it arrived without question.”
Such strictures are thankfully a thing of the past. With over 80 films from 20 countries, this year’s 11-day festival also offers live performances, panels, workshops and, of course, one hell of an opening night gala at the Vancouver Playhouse. It will also highlight queer film’s long and varied history with a retrospective called Still Not Over It: 70 Years of Queer Canadian Film.
“It’s a short program we’ve put together with Media Queer, who are launching a big queer database because they don’t want any queer films to be lost to the ether,” Myara says.
“We have some Norm McLaren, old NFB stuff, and some black and white films that are likely unknown to the majority of our audience. I think many will be surprised that queer film even goes back that far.”
Choosing the films is a massive undertaking. Out on Screen receives around 800 submissions from all over the world each year, and it’s up to Myara and her team to pick not only the most entertaining pieces, but also films that spotlight members of the LGBT community whose lives may be very different from what viewers experience.
“I think that’s where the festival has always been really successful in the past,” she says. “We’ve always been intersectional and sort of ‘queer plus.’ The main story has not always been just one story or just one community.
“The next trend we are educating is around gender identity. Film is so successful at transporting you to a situation, a dynamic, that you may not be living in yourself, creating empathy and awareness and helping people to expand their worldview. And that’s what we’ve always done, to try and nudge people past their own viewpoint and more fully understand another.”