Shana Myara has a theory.
“There are these kind of waves in queer cinema,” she proposes. “I’d almost put Brokeback Mountain in the first or second wave. The goal is to create empathy: ‘I want you to see how our lives are ruined because of the lack of understanding’—the end. It’s the only point. But we’re in another wave now.”
A much happier one, as it turns out. And it’s bringing a distinct sense of joy to this year’s Vancouver Queer Film Festival, which opens this Thursday (August 13). While Myara’s programming continues to respond to evolving issues within the LGBT community—“We’re hosting discussions and films [Breaking Free] that talk about regressive legislation in India, for instance,” she says—the balance looks pretty cheerful.
Consider the Youth Gala doc In the Turn. What begins as a devastating profile of a bullied 10-year-old in Timmins, Ontario, quickly becomes the story of a roller-derby team called the Vagine Regime that takes the trans youth under its wing and changes her life.
Not that the 27th edition of VQFF is any less engaged than the festival ever was. “We want equality, but do we want sameness?” Myara asks. “I think the answer is we don’t want sameness, but so often we are fighting for a piece of the pie and we have to remember as people working for change that much of that pie is still rotten. We have to have our analysis working at several different levels.”
To this end, Myara points to the feature How to Win at Checkers (Every Time), which hinges on Thailand’s reformed position on LGBT people in the military. “It’s what filmmakers do really well,” she says. “They can expose the intersectionality of all of this.”
The other thing that filmmakers do really well, generally, is entertain. This year’s VQFF features horror (Lyle, The Blue Hour), comedy (Guidance), and unmissable local content (Bearded Ladies: The Photography of Rosamond Norbury), along with solid arthouse and mainstream flicks, like South Korea’s highly touted A Girl at My Door, starring Doona Bae (“A rip-roaring film”, in Myara’s words), and the Lily Tomlin vehicle Grandma.
“Which is a celebration unto itself because it’s still so rare to see an older woman [Tomlin] in a leading role in cinema playing a lesbian,” Myara adds. “A real-life lesbian playing a lesbian. It feels very joyful in bucking all the trends.”
As for this year’s gala opening film, Eisenstein in Guanajuato, it arguably embodies everything Myara hopes to achieve—and then some.
“This film just shows that it’s really fuckin’ amazing to come out,” she says with a broad laugh. Easily the most luxuriously entertaining film that Peter Greenaway has made in a long time, Eisenstein in Guanajuato proposes that the Russian filmmaking giant received a life-changing buggering during his visit to Mexico in the ‘30s, an event that the filmmaker depicts with typically Rabelaisian and very explicit glee.
“It just reads as completely cheeky, and it does seem to be a call to arms for the filmmaking community and audiences to just get over it, already,” suggests Myara, who reserves particular admiration for its deflowering scene.
“It has this whole soliloquy about how the colonized becomes the dominant presence in their lovemaking, and it’s really quite an exceptional analysis on colonialism,” she says. “Plus, it’s hot.”
The Vancouver Queer Film Festival runs August 13 to 23.