Opening-night host Cecilia Gentili. (Photos: Mycah Hazel)

The East Village Queer Film Festival brought rebellious sons and snappy elders to the big screen for a packed opening on Monday night. Hosted by mixed-arts space the Wild Project, the weeklong festival features an array of short and full-length films, webisodes and music videos all focused on LGBTQ+ experiences.  

This year’s selections shed light on the joys and complexities of the queer experience – rather than sticking to the dismal tales that have been the standard in queer film for decades. “Growing up in my years, it’s always a medical disorder, they’re crazy or suicide,” said Wild Project’s artistic director, Ana Mari de Quesada, in an interview with Bedford + Bowery. “And it’s true. Yes, that is part of the LGBTQ reality of life. But also, there’s real life experiences. It’s not always tragic.”

The opening-night films were centered on the theme of self-awareness. Writer Jeffrey James Keyes debuted his baby-fever-inducing film Uniform (directed by Ellie Foumbi and Michael Niederman), which follows a lesbian couple torn when their son gets sent home from school for wearing a dress. Writer and director Carey Kight also stepped into a new editing role for his film The Sun Shines at Night, a fiery short about a couple at odds when one partner denies intimacy. Other films included The Family Album, writer/director Anthony Chapman’s short about a teenage home health care worker who forms an unlikely bond with her elderly trans patient, and Faun Harjo’s Self Portrait, a mind-bending short on the intersection between gender and culture. All films touch upon different stages of life for queer individuals, from characters who know they’re queer but don’t tell, to characters who are publicly queer but are still coping with queerphobia.

The festival’s nightly themes include horror and sci-fi, where queer representation is especially spotty; there’s even a Future Cult Classics category for the next generation’s Rocky Horror Picture Show.

“Growing up watching queer movies, I feel like we rely on film festivals to see a part of us, to see us on screen,” said de Quesada, a theatrical stage and production manager who has been working at Wild Project since its inception in 2007.         

David E. Harrison, Leah Wasilewski, Carey Kight and Jeffrey James Keyes talk at East Village Film Festival Q&A. 

During her teenage years in the nineties, De Quesada was a closeted lesbian. “Whenever I happened to see a film with one gay character or even a bi character, it was something to latch onto,” she recalled. “But now I feel like queer filmmakers have more of a freedom now. It’s about storytelling and things that they like, allowing filmmakers to enjoy sci-fi and spooky things for a bit.”

East Village Queer Film Festival will feature new hosts nightly along with new films starting at 7pm every night this week. Tonight’s films include writer/director Ethan Fuirst’s Come At Me, Bro, about two men who adopt a new way to blow off steam, and Queen for a Day, a short comedy on drag queens and marriage in the Midwest

Savannah Rodgers, director of Queen for a Day, said she was inspired by “people who don’t conform to a specific gender, as I don’t.” An LA-based narrative and documentary filmmaker, Rodgers has been a TED resident, OutSet Fellow and an Adobe Project 1324 award winner. Having put out the documentary short Dragtivists in 2017, she’s traded the intense narrative on activism and drag performers for a comedy on the private life of these larger-than-life personas.

“I thought my angle with Queen for a Day was so specific that perhaps it would maybe make an impact in some small way. Maybe someone would see it and think, ‘Oh! I identify with that.”

Similar to opening night films The Family Album and Uniform, Rodgers’ film touches on coping with queer identities in spaces that are less than welcoming. “I’m from the suburbs and I would go out to gay bars pretty infrequently when I was still living in the Midwest,” said Rodgers. “And I would think, you know, these people have families. They’re not just their drag personas. What does everything behind that look like?”

The East Village Queer Film Festival runs from today through Saturday. Tickets cost costs $11 per night. 

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