With queer films becoming increasingly accessible through Netflix, OutTV and even Youtube, one may be forgiven in thinking that the Vancouver Queer Film Festival may not play the same role it has in previous years. But even with the increasing number of queer entertainment options, the new Director of Festival Programming says nothing could be further from the truth.
“I think it comes down to that human element,” explains Director of Festival Programming, Shana Myara. “The overall Festival experience is so much fun with so many queer folk all in one place at one time.”
Beyond the human and celebratory aspect of the Festival though, Myara points to the job that she and her selection committee does in curating the festival. Watching over 400 films she and her team helps ensure that 79 that made it into this year’s Festival are those that deserve an audience.
“Everything that comes to us has been watched,” explains Myara as to the process in choosing the films that will be shown. “The Festival is that showcase of films that are new and have been curated. We think our audiences are in pretty good hands.”
Besides, she says, the Festival also makes for a great place to meet people, bring a date or even find a date as each year the Festival touts an increasing “hook-up rate”.
No stranger to the Festival, having previously held the role of sponsorship coordinator, Myara returns after a number of years away to complete her Masters in Fine Arts at UBC, to work with organizations such as The Roundhouse and the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition and even finding time to get published (her writing will appear in the next edition of Coming Attractions from Oberon Press this fall).
Despite her varied career and interests though, there continues to be a special place in Myara’s heart for the Festival as she remembers the impact her first Queer Film Festival had on her own life.
“I think it was 1998,” she recalls. “I remember going to Video In and seeing a short film called Treyf, which means non-kosher, and I remember it blowing my mind. I grew up in Nanaimo as one of a handful of Jews and having just come out I went to this festival that was talking about other Jewish lesbians. It was such an incredible experience.”
Other highlights through the years include the 2006 South Korean film Like A Virgin and 2008’s Butt Hole Lickin’ which Myara says remains one of the funniest shorts she has ever seen. But ask her about a favourite from this year’s batch of films and she starts to get a little coy.
“I’m not sure I’m supposed to have a favourite,” laughs Myara. When pressed though she finally admits that one that touched her this year is the comedy Bwakaw from the Philippines. “It’s this wonderful story of this old curmudgeon who has this dog as his best friend. It is only when this grumpy guy starts to come out that he finally gets happy with the world.”
Myara is also excited for Who Are We, Cinema, the PechaKucha-powered event that is being presented in conjunction with UBC Alumni Affairs and Faculty of Education.
“I’m really looking forward to the PechaKucha because it is a live event and not a screening,” says Myara. “It is something that will only exist in that particular time and space and is a great opportunity to bring in so many local filmmakers as well as another way for us to hear from Adam Goldman, our special guest from Brooklyn.”
With a focus on India and its ongoing commitment to having some films classified for youth, Myara reinforces the Festival’s central philosophy in letting the films speak for themselves.
“We’re not trying to push any ideas or film agendas to our audience,” insists Myara. “Our mandate is to celebrate queer lives through film.”
And what does Myara see coming in the next 25 years for the Vancouver Queer Film Festival? Perhaps ironically it is the changing nature of how films reach an audience that is on her mind.
“Social media and sharing some of the online work that is out there is definitely on the radar which will allow more and more filmmakers to share their work,” says Myara.
Screening 11 days of films at six venues across Vancouver from August 15 to 25, the 25th annual Vancouver Queer Film Festival offers something for everyone. Featuring 79 films from 20 countries, VQFF is Vancouver’s second-largest film festival, and is the largest queer arts festival in Western Canada. Tickets are available now at queerfilmfestival.ca and at participating venues.