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Queer film picks from Winnipeg’s Reel Pride Film Festival 2016

Instead of hosting mainstream LGBT films, the fest brings lesser-known works to the community

Front Cover, directed by Ray Yeung, explores the rarely captured experiences of Asian men in the gay community. Courtesy Ray Yeung  

Small but mighty, Winnipeg’s Reel Pride Film Festival has been bringing LGBT cinema to the city for 31 years. Run by a volunteer board, the event eschews mainstream works likely to have theatrical or online releases. Instead, they bring films to the city’s queer community that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to see.

Daily Xtra has surveyed the 2016 program for a few of this year’s highlights.

Front Cover

Directed by Ray Yeung

Precious few directors tackle the experiences of Asian men in the gay community. But it’s a topic Ray Yeung has dedicated his oeuvre to. His first feature since 2006’s uneven Cut Sleeve Boys, Front Cover charts the relationship between a rising Beijing actor (James Chen) and the New York City stylist (Jack Choi) he’s hired to Americanize his image.

Unlike 1998’s Yellow Fever, Yeung keeps his current work in glossy rom-com territory. It suffers somewhat from its aim to be oh-so accessible, but its soft touch while examining racism and internalized homophobia may be how it ultimately succeeds. Front Cover manages to ask us to reconsider our biases while being light, sexy, and only occasionally melodramatic.

Hurricane Bianca

Directed by Matt Kugelman

As any high school teacher will tell you, teenagers are the most horrible human beings on earth. Bianca Del Rio’s debut film functions like the glamorous revenge fantasy every educator has wanted to enact. Richard Martinez (Del Rio) is a struggling chemistry teacher in New York who jumps at the chance to relocate to a school in rural Texas. He’s soon fired from his new post for being queer, but returns as his drag alter-ego to take down the school that tossed him out.

The film uses humour to point to the uncomfortable reality that while gay marriage is legal across the US, you can still be fired for being gay in nearly half the country. Rife with insults and over-the-top outfits, Hurricane Bianca manages to be two things at once; a campy yet surprisingly heart-warming look at employment discrimination and a template for responding to oppression with pizzazz.

Hurricane Bianca, directed by Matt Kugelman, follows a chemistry who returns to the school that fired him, dressed as his drag alter-ego.
Courtesy Matt Kugelman

Same Difference

Directed by Joshua Sweeny and Kyle Wentzel

Same Difference follows the divergent lives of two gay teens in the last decade. Graeme Taylor rose to notoriety after speaking out against the firing of a Michigan teacher who intervened in homophobic bullying. Justin Aaberg, by contrast was one of nine kids tormented to death in neighbouring Minnesota around the same time.

The side-by-side stories demonstrate two very different approaches schools can take on this issue, and the devastating results that come with following the wrong path. Same Difference hammers home the fact that “No Homo Promo” policies are life-destroying for queer students. But educational tools for teachers and GSA’s can actually help.

Same Difference, directed by Joshua Sweeny and Kyle Wentzel explores how “No Homo Promo” policies are life-altering for queer students.
Courtesy Reel Pride Film Festival

Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things

Directed by Mark Kenneth Woods and Michael Yerxa

For most Canadians, our northern frontier is a land of conflicting stereotypes. It’s a panorama of unspoiled wilderness, populated by a rugged people who’ve developed a unique way to survive over thousands of years. At the same time, it’s a dark and dismal wasteland, inhabited by a population struggling with countless health and socio-economic issues.

Mark Kenneth Woods and Michael Yerxa’s documentary cuts through this to examine the reality of Nunavut’s LGBT population. It looks at the work of local activists trying to facilitate greater acceptance of queerness and those who’ve fled south as a means of survival. But despite its dark underpinnings, Two Soft Things offers a surprising portrait of our country’s northernmost queer population; a small but resolutely optimistic group committed to making change, one small step at a time.

Mark Kenneth Woods and Michael Yerxa’s documentary examines the reality of Nunavut’s LGBT population.

Women Who Kill

Directed by Ingrid Jungermann

Women Who Kill is being described in some circles as a comedy. In others, it’s been called a thriller. But Ingrid Jungermann’s genre-bending debut is really an unlikely melding of the two. Morgan (Jungermann) and Jean (Ann Carr) are former lovers who’ve continued to host a female serial killer focused podcast since splitting up. Their professional relationship continues to be functional — until Morgan meets Simone (Sheila Vand, from the Iranian vampire flick, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) at the food co-op where she volunteers.

Morgan is smitten. Jean is concerned. And the third wheel-induced tension begins to wear on their relationship. Mixing the deadest of deadpan humour with genuine on-screen shocks, Women Who Kill perfectly satirizes Park Slope progressive culture at the same time it captures the true terror of falling in love.

Ingrid Jungermann stars in her film as one of two ex lovers who continue to host a female serial killer focused podcast — until she falls in love with a new woman.
Courtesy Reel Pride Film Festival