24th annual ReelOut Queer Film Festival kicks off this week

The 2023 ReelOut Queer Film Festival runs from Thursday, Jan. 26 to Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, at The Screening Room in Kingston. Image provided by ReelOut.

This month marks the return of another annual Kingston winter tradition which was sidelined during the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, the ReelOut Queer Film Festival makes its triumphant return to in-person programming following two years of digital offerings.

“I’m just really excited about an in-person festival after having to pivot the festival to an online platform for the past few years,” said Matt Salton, Executive Director of the festival. “It just makes such a difference to see films on the big screen with an audience.” 

For its 24th edition, the team at ReelOut has planned 11 exciting days, with 76 different films showcasing LGBTQ+ stories from 15 countries, all centred around the theme “Better Together.” Festival organizers have put together a wide variety of cinematic offerings, including full-length feature films, short-form narratives, and documentaries. “Our programming committee went through a little over 300 submissions, and one of the things that we noticed was there were a lot of films that touched on nostalgia — films set in the 80s, the 90s — and so we thought that was kind of fun. And then we also noticed that there were a lot of great little Canadian films that we’re really excited to see,” remarked Salton. 

This year’s festival features two special programming focuses, one of which is Trans Cinema and includes films made by and for members of the transgender and non-binary communities. “There seems to be a lot more films with characters who are trans, or non-binary, or gender fluid, and they seem to be films that were made for people who are trans or non-binary… as opposed to films made for cis people to understand trans people,” Salton said.

Trevor Anderson’s Before I Change My Mind plays on Saturday, Jan. 28 , 2023, at 4 p.m. Image via ReelOut.

Among the Trans Cinema offerings are Before I Change My Mind, a Canadian feature film directed by Trevor Anderson. “While the other students wonder if new kid Robin is a boy or a girl, Robin forges a complicated bond with the school bully, making increasingly dangerous choices to fit in,” described the 2023 Festival Program Guide. Before I Change My Mind plays at 4 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 28, 2023, at the Screening Room.

Also on tap as part of the Trans Cinema program is A Run For More (Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, at 6 p.m.), a documentary about Frankie Gonzales-Wolfe, the first openly transgender elected official in the state of Texas: “Unfolding amidst an onslaught of trans legal attacks, A Run For More immerses viewers on Frankie’s journey as she finds her voice, questions her relationship to community, and tries to win an election.”

Returning for another year is RealOut’s popular Gender Benders: Shorts Program, which features a number of different short films centred around issues of gender diversity, where attendees will “meet memorable characters both real and imagined from rural Tennessee, the arid Turkish desert, to pastoral Japan. You’ll fall in love with Spanish 6-year-old Elsa and adorable nerds Tiffany and Thanh, and you’ll enjoy the experimental artistry in so many of these short documentary works.” The Gender Benders: Shorts Program is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023. 

Spotlight on Iran plays at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, at The Screening Room. Images via ReelOut.

On top of the Trans Cinema focus, organizers have also lined up a series of short films celebrating the works of Iranian artists. Spotlight on Iran (Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, at 6 p.m.), features five different Iranian short films, all of which will screen in Persian with English subtitles. According to Salton, organizers wrote letters to the Iranian embassy, hoping the filmmakers would be granted permission into Canada for the festival. “Unfortunately, we’ve heard nothing back from the embassy,” he shared. 

In fact, the festival has faced additional challenges securing the files containing the Iranian short films, due to actions taken by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“We’d gotten to the point where filmmakers were to submit their films electronically, [but] because of the ongoing revolution there, the Islamic Republic has turned off the internet. So, we’ve had to sort of work around these challenges to get their films,” Salton explained.

“It’s scary. It’s sad. But it’s also a moment in history that they haven’t seen before. So, I think films like these, and this program, are so vital and important,” added Salton. While ReelOut has often tapped into contemporary political and social debates, the Executive Director noted that organizers have tried to prepare a festival that reflects the issues impacting LGBTQ communities abroad, while also shining a light on matters close to home. 

“We always try to tap into the zeitgeist… the pulse of social movements. It would be weird if we didn’t, as a queer film festival… Even the American films that we’re showing this year… We want to talk about Iran not being a hospitable place for the Queer community, but we don’t have to look any further than our neighbours to the south to see that they’re not much better.” 

ReelOut’s Opening Shindig! takes place on Jan. 26, at 6 p.m. at The Broom Factory (305 Rideau Street)

The 2023 ReelOut Queer Film Festival officially gets underway with a special Opening Shindig! on Thursday, Jan. 26, 20223, at 6:00 p.m. at the Broom Factory (305 Rideau Street), featuring special performances by The Gertrudes, Connie Artiste, Rhapsody Blue, and hosted by Dare De LaFemme. Tickets for the special opening event are $15, with special rates available for students and seniors at $12 a ticket. 

The film portion of the festival kicks off on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, with the Canadian feature film Rosie highlighting the festival’s opening gala: “A film about family, love, and misfits, Rosie tells the story of a young, orphaned, Indigenous girl who is forced to live with her reluctant, street-smart Aunty Fred (Frédérique),” according to the Festival Guide. Programming then continues throughout the week, with at least one film on offer each day. 

All films will play at the Screening Room (120 Princess Street) in downtown Kingston, with the local independent cinema serving as the festival’s main hub throughout the 11 days. For a complete list of films and showtimes, visit hwww.reelout.com/films/. Individual tickets to each film can be purchased online for $15, with student and senior tickets available for $12. 

This year, organizers are also offering a special “Transtastic Pass” for $50, providing access to the five major trans, non-binary, and gender-fluid films. Prospective attendees can also purchase All Access Passports, gaining access to all films and programs over the 11 days. 

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