If we’re looking for a single word to capture both the diversity and the parapolitical complexion of this year’s Vancouver Queer Film Festival, let’s go with transfinite. This also happens to be the title of an especially striking feature screening roughly midway through the 31-year-old fest’s 11-day run.
Directed by U.K.-based Neelu Bhuman, the omnibus Transfinite explores the experience of gender-nonconforming people of colour through stories that all share themes of magic, the sacred, and the occult. Not surprisingly, VQFF artistic director Anoushka Ratnarajah singles out the film—screening with Bhuman in attendance at the Vancity Theatre on Monday (August 19)—for its aesthetic and narrative daring.
“I’d love to see more queer and trans people in sci-fi and fantasy,” she says during a call to the Georgia Straight. “When marginalized folks are facing unbearable living conditions, it’s a way for us to imagine a way out of that. It’s a tradition that’s very rich from people who have experienced historic and current marginalization: ‘Look at what we can imagine; look at what we can create.’”
There’s a whopping 70-plus films coming to VQFF 2019, but Transfinite joins a number of titles loosely gathered under a program called A Higher Power. Ratnarajah explains: “Themes of spirituality, religion, and the idea of a connection to the supernatural or a higher power were repeating in a lot of the film submissions that were coming through this year. It seems like an ideal theme for a spotlight. And it doesn’t really surprise me that artists in queer and trans film are reflecting upon this sort of existential crisis.”
Other fare programmed by Ratnarajah for the festival is somewhat more earthbound, if no less poetic.
Opening the festival with a gala screening at the Vancouver Playhouse on Thursday (August 15), Song Lang stars Vietnamese pop star Isaac as a member of a folk opera company facing retribution from a loan shark in 1980s Saigon. Directed by Leon Le, the film recalls the high style of Wong Kar-wai energized by bursts of explicit violence.
“As soon as I saw it, I wanted it to be a gala film,” Ratnarajah enthuses. “I knew right away.”
Premiering at the Playhouse next Wednesday (August 21), José again emphasizes the border-transgressing nature of the festival. Chinese-American filmmaker Li Cheng (in attendance at VQFF) made his low-budget wonder inside Guatemala City with 19-year-old Mayan Enrique Salanic as his lead. Of its multiple awards, the most impressive might be the Queer Lion prize the film picked up at last year’s Venice Film Festival—beating out The Favourite and Suspiria in the process.
“It has this depth to it because Salanic’s Indigenous heritage isn’t explicitly addressed but is implicitly present through ceremony, imagery, his relationship with his mother, and the things he has around him,” Ratnarajah says. “Colonization has, obviously, really impacted this place. It’s a dangerous place to live, and the film is really a testament to the strength of young folks living in Latin America.”
The festival wraps on a high note with the August 25 screening of An Almost Ordinary Summer at the Playhouse. Described in VQFF’s program notes as “La Cage Aux Folles meets Mamma Mia! on the sexy Italian coast,” Simone Godano’s sun-dappled comedy lampoons Italy’s class system with its tale of two aging patriarchs who spring the news of their engagement on their families during a seaside get-together.
“It’s definitely a crowd pleaser,” remarks Ratnarajah, who likens it to Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers collaborating on a queer family romcom. “It’s very funny; the setting is beautiful; the fashion is amazing. When we were watching the submissions, it was, like, ‘Wow, it’s a dark year! Everyone’s going to be depressed!’ But some films are uplifting and humorous, and this is definitely one of them. It’s a delight.”