Celebrating Diversity: The Reelout Queer Film Festival

By Sara Smith

Hollywood does its best, but sometimes you have to look outside of the mainstream for the most interesting and important movies. A great place to start is this month’s Reelout Queer Film Festival. Now in its 21st year, the fest brings together the talents of filmmakers from across the globe to tell honest, heartwarming, funny, and fearless stories.

Still from Take Me To Prom, Photo via Reelout Queer Film Festival

Opening on January 30th, Reelout promises to provide a rainbow of options for every type of movie-goer: from die-hard film aficionados, to folks looking for a lighthearted weekend activity, to those who are simply curious about lives and perspectives different than their own. “This is a queer film fest, but it’s not just a film festival for the queer community,” says Matt Salton, Reelout’s executive director. “Everyone is more than welcome. It’s about much more than just gender and sexuality – it’s about celebrating diversity through the powerful medium of film.”

Changing the Game, a documentary that has been raking in awards across the festival circuit since its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival is Reelout’s opening gala selection.  The film follows three transgender high school athletes who must train with the added pressure of daily harassment and discrimination.  The film will be followed by a panel discussion moderated by Lee Airton, PhD an Assistant Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies in Education at Queen’s University. Another highly-anticipated feature, Song Lang, is a gorgeous feature film from Vietnam set behind the scenes of a gorgeous opera stage production in the 1980s.

Still from Changing the Game, Photo via Reelout Queer Film Festival

The rest of the diverse 43-film lineup includes comedy, romance, drama, and horror, presented as shorts and feature-length films, in both narrative and documentary form. Reelout’s programming committee, made up of Kingstonians from all walks of life, helped to select this year’s films from over 200 submissions from countries all over the world.

In addition to 10 days of fascinating films, Reelout invites the community to celebrate with them at the festival events: the Reelout/Three Things Consulting opening gala screening of Changing the Game and reception on Thursday, January 30th at Montel’s Lounge in the Tir Nan Og Irish Pub!) and the Closing Gala drag cabaret Drag Me to the Movies at The Screening Room at 9pm on Friday, February 7th.

Still from Good Kisser, Photo via Reelout Queer Film Festival

The driving force behind the entire festival is its focus on diversity and representation. Salton believes that the stories and perspectives shared through the festival’s films and events can have an illuminating, even uniting effect on the community. “This festival bridges some of the gaps that exist within the diversity of our city,” he says. “It brings together the town and the university, and the heterosexual community and the queer community – but it also highlights the voices of Kingston’s people of colour, people from different countries, and people who are differently-abled. We always need to look at our struggles for equality through an intersectional lens, and our films demonstrate that queer lives and struggles can be vastly diverse.”

Still from Henry’s Heart, Photo via Reelout Queer Film Festival

Reelout has also done a lot to lift spirits – both of viewers, and those whose stories are being told. “I’m celebrating 20 years as a film festival programmer and still to this day my favourite moment was five years ago when our opening gala documentary was about a young transgender girl who lives in Timmins, Ontario,” says Salton. “This girl was horribly bullied – she was once thrown in a dumpster – and seemed to be destined for a really sad life. Her mother heard about an international roller derby league that accepted trans-identified people, and they also had a children’s league. Through the sport of roller derby, this little girl became empowered. It was a really moving documentary.”

Still from I Am Me, Photo via Reelout Queer Film Festival

“We brought this girl and her mother to Kingston for the opening gala at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, and the guy who does our carpet service even offered a red carpet. A lot of our volunteers wanted to help out, acting as paparazzi. So when our guests showed up in a limousine at the Isabel, they were treated like the stars we saw them as.”

Through the exciting experiences offered by the fest, and the different perspectives provided to Kingston’s moviegoers through the medium of film, Salton hopes that Reelout will continue to make a positive impact on the community. “Film has a powerful, mobilizing influence for change,” he says. “Festivals like Reelout give unseen members of the community a chance to be seen and heard.”

“I think the more different stories we see and hear as a community, the more respect and empathy we will have for one another.”

Reelout Queer Film Festival runs from January 30th to February 8th, 2020 at The Screening Room (120 Princess St). Screening times, tickets, event information, and more are available at reelout.com.