Talking 'Wicked Queer' With Festival Director James Nadeau
Every city brands its LGBTQ film festival -- in San Francisco it is Frameline; LA has Outfest; Toronto calls its Inside Out; Reeling is Chicago's; Philly has QFest; and London's was recently renamed BFI Flare. Wasn't it about time that staid Boston joined the queue?
It does so with its 2016 Festival that's been rebranded Wicked Queer -- the former word as a nod to the local colloquialism that has seeped into the national consciousness. The Urban Dictionary defines it as "New England slang that adds emphasis"; such as to emphasize amazement ("Wow, that game is wicked awesome!") or to show to show aggravation ("This fucking guy is a wicked asshole!")
The latter word relates to the changing nature of identity politics. While some view the term "queer" as a pejorative, many see it as taking an epithet and turning it on its end, making it an expression of something positive, aggressive and edgy -- terms that can describe this year's festival, which opens on Thursday at the ICA with a party to follow at the nearby restaurant Empire.
Take the opening night film -- "Viva," an Irish-Cuban collaboration about Jesus, a young Havana hairdresser and drag performer forced to reconcile with his macho father -- a convict recently released from prison. "Irish director Paddy Breathnach is far from the first film-maker to seek inspiration in the lives of a troupe of drag queens," writes the critic from the British newspaper the Guardian, "but with 'Viva,' shot and set in Cuba, he calls on a set of remarkable performances to wring something vivid and often fresh out this narrative of redemption."
Or "Paris:05:59," Saturday night's screening at the Museum of Fine Arts. The film was already something of a sensation at the recent Berlin Film Festival, where it won the Teddy Audience Award; and at the International Film Festival in Guadalajara two weeks ago where it won the Maguey Award for best LGBT film. And it will likely spark much conversation in the U.S. as well due to its 18-minute opening sequence set in a Paris sex club where the film's protagonists, Theo and Hugo, hook-up. When the pair hit the streets, a sober reality undercuts the romance. "Theo and Hugo's world isn't perfect, and their relationship holds no guarantees," writes Jay Weissberg in reviewing the film for Variety, but as in Andrew Haigh's 'Weekend,' there's something thrilling about watching a gay couple meeting with such honesty and potential for future happiness."
Over the Festival 11-days, there are some 150 films from over 30 countries being screened in venues throughout Boston and Cambridge. For tickets to this event and a full festival schedule, visit the festivals newly designed website at http://www.wickedqueer.org.
Putting the festival together is a task that takes a full year to bring together a slew of dedicated volunteers under the leadership of James Nadeau, the festival's director. Nadeau was involved in the Festival from 2000 through 2004; then again 2008. In 2010 he was made the festival director; in the ensuing five years Boston's has grown to become one of the country's leading LGBTQ festivals. EDGE spoke to Nadeau (full disclosure: he is also a music critic on the site) about this year's event.
EDGE: Why the rebranding of the name?
James Nadeau: One of the main reasons for the change was to update the festival and shift away from a title that had become a bit unwieldy. The festival itself has always modified its name. When I started it was the Boston Gay and Lesbian Film and Video Festival. Talk about out of date! We also felt that we wanted a name that reflects where we are from -- hence the 'wicked.' As a local colloquialism you really can't beat it. And it was also to take an opportunity to expand our reach. There are lots of people who may not identify as LGBT but are definitely queer. And we wanted to be a space for them as well. The fact that it rolls off the tongue pretty easily also helps.
EDGE: What has the response been like in the community?
James Nadeau: Most has been positive. I think everyone (at least locally) gets the joke. It's funny. It was interesting to see that it also resonated outside of New England. When we were in Berlin for the film festival, most people got the name right away. It must be the Damon/Affleck connection? Maybe they've all seen 'The Departed?' I expected some sort of cultural dissonance but nope. People loved it.
EDGE: The Festival's website has a new look. Can you talk about how that came about?
James Nadeau: Well, the old site was getting creaky and I felt like I was constantly plugging holes in a leaky boat. It just wasn't serving us anymore. And bringing in younger eyes definitely made us realize that there is a better way to go about it. So one of our programmers (and a filmmaker from the 2015 festival) whipped it up and tweaked our old look. I think we needed a bit of a make over and we couldn't be happier with our new face!
EDGE: What was the selection process like this year?
James Nadeau: Submissions were down a bit from last year. Which was fine as we always have more than we can chose from and honestly once you have more than 1,000 films to look at you really don't need more. And I think the smaller pool of films forced the programmers to think differently. You have to see threads that you might not have seen when you have 1,500/1,600 films. And there were definitely lots more features to choose from. This was a very productive year for LGBTQ filmmaking.
EDGE: Do this year's slate of films live up to the festival's new moniker?
James Nadeau: There are certainly films that are pushing the envelope. With 'Fursonas' and 'Hunky Dory,' you have two films, one doc and one narrative, that explore people and characters that challenge the LGBT paradigm. These films are certainly queer but 'gay?' That could be arguable. And we made this decision (to go in the queer route) prorammatically in the last two years. There are really great films that might not be specifically the gay experience but definitely queer. And the question becomes, where do those films go? And I think we happen to live in a place that responds positively to queer themes. It is about expanding our concepts of who we are not only as a festival but as a community.
EDGE: This may be a bit unfair to ask, but do you have any personal favorites amongst them?
James Nadeau: Ha, yeah. At the moment that is a tough question. I stand behind every film we program and certainly there are films that are more up my personal alley than others. But I like dark, complicated films. 'Downriver' was a film I saw on a jury for another festival last year and fell in love with it. But it is a difficult and hard film to watch. But it is a wonderful story and beautifully shot and acted. If you catch a film that is slow, dark, arty and with subtitles you can bet that I picked it! That is why we have a team of 15 people though. Everyone's favorite films get included. It's a team effort.
EDGE: Aside from the films, what other events are there in this year's festival?
James Nadeau: We have put a bit more effort into parties this year. Opening night is once again at Empire who have hosted us for several years now and couldn't be better. Cambridge opening night we are going to Parsnips in Harvard Square following the screening of 'That's Not Us' at the Brattle. We are partnering with the Welcoming Committee again so doing a couple of events with them. And our festival watering hole is going to be Trophy Room in the South End. You can catch us and the filmmakers there after screenings.
EDGE: What do you have planned in the festival off-year?
James Nadeau: We are in the process of starting up a monthly series. Weighing which venue we want to locate ourselves in and plotting out the next six or seven months of films. We had to say 'no' to so many great films and we can program for the next 10 years with our backlog. But we also like the idea of a 'Queer Film School' where we can also show obscure films and bring in speakers -- it is an exciting idea.
To find out more about the Wicked Queer Film Festival, visit the Festival's website.