(*homocinematically inclined)

Monday, September 2, 2019

Reverend's Preview: Q Stands for 'Queen' at Qfilms 2019


Raise your hand if you have heard of Jose Julio Sarria, a.k.a. Empress the First of California, a.k.a. the Widow Norton. I was humbled to learn recently that I did not know about this gender non-conformist who reigned over San Francisco gay society for more than 50 years.

Everyone who attends the opening night of this month’s QFilms, Long Beach’s annual LGBTQ film festival, will bear witness to Sarria’s incredible life. Nelly Queen: The Life and Times of Jose Sarria, a new documentary about this inspiring figure who became one of the founders of the national Imperial Courts movement, will kick off this year’s event with an exclusive sneak preview screening on Thursday, September 5th.

Now in its 26th year, QFilms remains the longest-running film festival — LGBTQ or otherwise — in the ocean-side “international city.” The 2019 edition will run September 5th-8th at the historic Art Theatre, 2025 E. 4th Street, and the neighboring LGBTQ Center of Long Beach. All net income from pass, ticket, and drink sales during the weekend as well as sponsorships go directly to the non-profit Center’s numerous, critical community services.

2,400 people attended the fest last year, an increase of 30% over 2017, to view a mix of West Coast, Southern California, Los Angeles and Long Beach premieres. Several of the feature-length and short films being shown this year are among the most acclaimed currently on the film festival circuit. Jury awards will be given in several categories, as well as audience awards for which attendees get to vote. All-access passes and individual tickets are available for purchase through the festival’s website.

“QFilms is one of the most anticipated LGBTQ events in Long Beach every year,” says Porter Gilberg, the festival’s Executive Producer as well as Executive Director of the LGBTQ Center. “This year, both our VIP Filmmaker’s Lounge and lobby lounge will feature craft cocktails and exceptional mixology hosted by Lola’s Mexican Cuisine. Our VIP pass holders will also receive access to a delicious Sunday brunch hosted in the Filmmaker’s Lounge.”

In addition, Gilberg is “incredibly excited to be hosting an exclusive sneak preview of Nelly Queen: The Life and Times of Jose Sarria on opening night.” I was able to watch a rough cut of this new documentary that holds universal appeal. Even in unfinished form, it is amazingly insightful and delightfully entertaining.

Sarria was many things: a World War II veteran; a singer known as “the nightingale of San Francisco”; the first openly gay man to run for political office in the US, more than a decade before Harvey Milk; and the aforementioned Empress 1st, the Widow Norton. Regarding the latter, Sarria satirically claimed to be the wife of the late Joshua Norton, a gold prospector who died in San Francisco way back in 1880 but not before proclaiming himself Emperor of the United States. He even went so far as to print his own currency.

Director Joe Castel reveals in Nelly Queen that Sarria’s use of the title would have socio-political repercussions to this very day. As Empress, Sarria challenged anti-gay laws, called out undercover police officers during performances, and helped established the first chapter of the Imperial Court in San Francisco. Today, the Imperial Courts of drag queens have grown throughout the US and have raised millions of dollars to support worthy causes and organizations.

“I had no problems believing in myself,” Sarria states in the film. Castel makes great use of archival photos, videos and interviews to illustrate his subject’s pioneering efforts. After more than 50 years of activism in San Francisco, Sarria retired to Palm Springs but ultimately passed away in New Mexico in 2013. It is definitely time for his story to be told. I have no doubt it will inspire today’s viewers as well as future generations.

And that’s just QFilms’ first night! Many more LGBTQ stories will unspool during the weekend. According to Gilberg: “QFilms will be hosting our first ever LGBTQ Asian Shorts programming, featuring this year’s best short films about the Asian and Asian- American queer and trans experience.” This will be in addition to “Gaytino!” a unique selection of shorts spotlighting Latino gay men.

“QFilms always features unrivaled opportunities to engage directly with some of the brightest LGBTQ filmmakers and actors around,” Gilberg truthfully exclaimed, “and we can’t wait to welcome back the thousands of fans that look forward to our festival every year.” Naturally, newcomers are welcome too.

Several other noteworthy movies scheduled for the festival include:

Making Montgomery Clift, Robert Anderson Clift’s acclaimed, intimate documentary about his late uncle: the closeted, Oscar-nominated actor who starred in such classics as From Here to Eternity, A Place in the Sun and Suddenly, Last Summer.

The Garden Left Behind, a potent drama centered on a young trans woman, Tina, preparing for her transition. Things get increasingly complicated for her as she draws closer to her dream. The film’s cast includes 89-year old, Emmy-winning actor Ed Asner in a great turn as Tina’s sympathetic psychiatrist.

Dykes, Camera, Action!, which provides an enlightening overview of the history of lesbian cinema and the women who contributed to it.

From Zero to I Love You, a new and sexy dramedy from actor-filmmaker Doug Spearman (Noah’s Arc) about the fraught love affair between a gay black man (played by Noah himself, Darryl Stephens) and a white man who happens to be married to a woman. Other familiar faces in the movie include The Bay’s Scott Bailey, original Queer Eye-r Jai Rodriguez and Ann Walker of Sordid Lives fame.

Good Kisser, a romantic saga in which a lesbian couple hooks up with a stranger in hopes of spicing up their relationship. Instead, the experience exposes faults in the pair’s foundation.

There will be even more quality feature-length and short films shown during QFilms 2019 that reflect the diversity of our community. Everyone who attends can truly be queen for more than just one day!

Reviews by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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