Living Reel to Reel :: James Nadeau on Boston's Wicked Queer Film Festival

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday March 27, 2018

Each year Boston's Wicked Queer Film Festival offers the city's LGBTQ residents and cinephiles a chance to peek at what gay cinema from around the world has to offer. This year's edition -- the festival's 34th -- offers a mix of short films, documentaries, and features, and hits all the letters on the LGBTQ spectrum, as well as bringing cinema from around the world to area theaters.

This year's edition kicks off March 29 at the Museum of Fine Arts with the Finnish cross-cultural romance "A Moment in the Reeds," in which a young Syrian man and a Finn find love. The festival continues through April 8, but its official closing night selection is on April 7 with a screening of the Spanish lesbian family comedy "Anchor and Hope."

In between are a mix of documentaries (like "Bixa Travesty," about black trans pop singer Linn da Quebrada, the shoestring essay film "Paternal Rites," which depicts the impact of abuse on a Jewish family, and "Abu," in which a young Pakistani faces coming out to his family after they emigrate to Canada), dramas (like the romance "Un Lugar Algun," in which two Latinx men - one of them undocumented - fall in love on the eve of Trump's election, and "Porcupine Lake," about first love between two young women in Canda), and already-popular fare like "Professor Marston and the Wonder Women" and "BpM (Beats Per Minnute)," as well as themed short films programs like "First Timers," "International Shorts," "Trans Shorts," and "Coming of Age Shorts."

Wicked Quer Film Festival Executive Director James Nadeau spoke with EDGE about the challenges and joys of programming, organizing, and presenting the annual event.


EDGE: This year's opening night film is a Finnish same-sex love story called "A Moment in the Reeds." Why did you choose this film to kick off the Wicked Queer Film Festival this year?

James Nadeau: There were a couple of reasons for picking this film. It is a very beautiful and well-made film. And it is also a nice romantic film that will play well with our audience. The actors are also extremely talented (not to mention good looking), which is very helpful.

We want our opening night to tell a strong story that will relate well to events and moments that are currently happening in the LGBTQ community. As the film is also about LGBTQ refugees, we felt this is a story that is going untold. Immigration and the state of refugees around the world is a hugely important issue - even more so given our current administration's attitudes towards these communities. People seem to forget (or not know/ realize) that LGBTQ people are also immigrants and refugees, and in many ways, it is even more complicated, if not impossible in some cases, for queer people to be openly LGBTQ when trying to immigrate or apply for refugee status. This is one of those stories, and we felt it was important to make a statement like this right out of the gate.

EDGE: LGBTQ film seems to be moving away a little from "coming out/coming of age" stories and plots about rent boys, and embracing a wider cultural and political significance. One film on this year's slate that tackles our current national angst around immigration is "En Algun Lugar." Would you say this sort of LGBTQ filmmaking is going to continue as a trend, or is this more a blip?

James Nadeau: Well, from our perspective, these stories are being told because people are living them. They are real experiences that are happening to members of our community. Over the twenty years that I've been doing queer film programming, I've seen narrative trends come and go. But there is a seriousness behind these films.

As I noted above, our government is making serious strides in limiting (if not outright stopping) immigration and refugees from coming to the US. In some ways, I hope this is a blip in that I hope that we move beyond this moment and stop the vilification of these communities. But sadly I feel this is just the beginning, which makes these films and these stories so much more important.

EDGE: It looks like this year there's a good mix of documentaries, shorts, and feature films. Do you have any particular rules of thumb when it comes to selecting films for the festival and balancing the ratio of documentaries to features, including gay and lesbian movies as well as trans-themed work, drawing work from a number of different countries, and selecting what short films to include?

James Nadeau: There is no particular sort of path. The programming is really driven by the films that are being made. That said, we certainly approach the process with our audience and the Boston community in mind. We do aim for more complex stories and stories that we haven't seen before. And if we haven't [seen it], you can bet our audience hasn't either. We are fortunate to be in Boston/Cambridge. We have a demanding audience that expects us to bring the best. And I'd like to think that the team really accomplishes that.

Sometimes it is hard to say goodbye to films you love, but we don't have room for. I tell the team to "say goodbye to your babies," because there is only so many slots and way too many good films. So we approach the festival program in its totality. What theme or story are we aiming to present? How does each film work with each other and are we really showing the breadth of the LGBTQ community? It is complicated and hard, but oh so worth it.

I'm the doc person, so I usually have to curtail my programming a bit. I might have to start a queer doc fest on my own. There are some great films out there!

EDGE: Brazil seems to be big in recent years as a purveyor of LGBTQ movies, like "Bixa Travesty," which is part of this year's lineup at the Wicked Queer Film Festival. But then again I remember "Pixote," from 1981, so I wonder whether it's the case that Brazil has always made a lot of LGBTQ movies and we're just paying more attention these days?

James Nadeau: Brazilian filmmaking has always been strong. I think they are getting more attention lately because people have realized that the stories are just amazing, especially for the queer community. "Bixa" is a fantastic film, as is "Tinta Bruta (Hard Paint)," which we just added to the lineup.

The films from Brazil are just astonishing. Strong stories and excellent filmmaking. Brazil is a large part of our programming this year. And it is important to realize that they are making these films in the face of huge discrimination. Anti-LGBTQ violence is on the rise in Brazil, and it is manifesting in the art that is being made. It is what makes the films so complex and important to show/see.

EDGE: We hear a lot about "intersectionality" these days, and "Shakedown," which takes a look at underground parties in the African American lesbian scene, seems like the fruit of some very potent communities coming together. Are LGBTQ filmmakers breaking down the partitions between the various groups within the larger community?

James Nadeau: I'm not sure if the filmmakers are breaking down these walls so much as exploring their own cultural moments and communities. Many of these films ("Shakedown" being one) are being made from within. They come from a space inside those communities, and you see it in the very honest portrayals they present. They live and breathe these stories. And from there they move into the greater community, and it is our job (as a festival) to put them out there. Let everyone see that the LGBTQ community isn't monolithic. It isn't white, cis, gay men. Our community is as diverse as the world, and we should show that.

You are also looking at accessibility. These films are being made because they can be made. You don't need an institution or a trust fund to pick up a camera (or a phone) anymore. You tell your story. And then share it.

EDGE: Early films about coming out and accepting one's own sexuality tended to focus on white Christian guys. But now we're seeing films like "Abu," in which that story is told from the point of view of a young Pakistani immigrant. Do you have the feeling that there's a continuity between those earlier films and the ones we're seeing now, which show us similar stories of generational conflict and progress toward self-acceptance in the Muslim world, or the Asian world, or the Latinx world?

James Nadeau: There is certainly a path to how these stories are being told. Just as there are many ways to tell these kinds of stories. Again, having seen "coming out" films for my entire life (and curating them for almost twenty years) there is a commonality, but I think that is simply because there is a process that all LGBTQ people have to go through in telling those we love who we are and who we love. This is the same all over. We all have to go through this.

I'll steer clear of universalisms, but as family members we are confronted by the need to be ourselves and the desires of our families to be who they want/expect us to be. For some this path is easy, and for others very hard if not downright dangerous - see "Mr. Gay Syria" [also part of this year's lineup]. We can hope that this collective desire to be ourselves, whomever that may be, will help to overcome differences and divisions.

EDGE: If you're eager to get a particular film on the lineup, but it just doesn't work out, what are the reasons for that? Money? Access? Clearing the film for import? Other legal considerations?

James Nadeau: The predominant reason we don't get a film is usually timing. We go to Berlin and see tons of films and return hoping to book them. But Berlin is all about buying and selling films, and sometimes the process is drawn out and we can't get a film because the producers are holding on to it.

Sometimes it is because the producers don't feel we are a "big enough" festival in that we aren't a large market like L.A. or San Francisco. They prefer a "splashier" festival. And less frequently it is about money. Some films are just too expensive, and I can't justify spending a fortune. We are an all-volunteer festival and don't have staff to pay, so all of our money goes directly to films and filmmakers. That said, we don't really need to make money, but I really try not to lose it. Sometimes the math just doesn't work.


The 34th edition of the Wicked Queer Film Festival plays at venues around the Boston area. For tickets, schedules, and information about the films, please go to http://www.wickedqueer.org/

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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