For a quarter of a century, the Reelout Queer Film Festival, held over several days every February in downtown Kingston, has showcased the diverse perspectives of queer filmmakers from all over the world. For the 25th anniversary of the festival — set to begin Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024 — organizers have put together another impressive lineup of diverse talent and voices, featuring over 90 films from 35 different countries/diaspora.
Executive Director Matt Salton explained that, in preparing for the 25th anniversary, he did not want this year’s event to be a retrospective of previous programs, something Reelout did for its 20th edition.
“It doesn’t actually seem that long ago that we celebrated our 20th anniversary, [and] obviously a good chunk of those five years were during COVID,” he said. “[In 2019] we sort of did an archaeological dig, if you will, and we curated a lot of past content that we screened over the years. I didn’t want to do that with our committee of programmers [for this year]. I felt it was a little too soon.”
While Salton said the team decided to move forward with a focus on more “contemporary” works, organizers have found ways to recognize the past by breathing new life into some of the themes of previous festivals.
He explained, “In the past, we’ve had something called ReelPeeps, which is a documentary series on individual people… We’ve had ReelOutintheDark, focusing on the darker side of queer life and queer characters; we’ve got some great horror and erotic thrillers… So a nod to the past, but keeping it fresh.”
This year’s festival has been broken into several different programming blocks. In addition to ReelPeeps and ReelOutintheDark, the RealOut Doc Series includes documentaries that explore topics like queer representation in film and television, as well as the politics of gender identity. This year’s festival also includes several additional feature-length narratives, including the opening night screening Peafowl, which takes place on Friday, Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. at the Screening Room.
In total, this year’s festival has been broken down into 28 film programs, providing audiences with a wide range of different options.
“For example, our Friday night late show is a horror film called Saint Drogo, which has some really funky gore effects. And then the very next morning, we have a family-friendly program of cartoons and a documentary about queer teens at summer camp,” Salton shared, noting that, during most programs, a short film will accompany a feature-length title.
The 25th annual edition of Reelout also includes some local content, with a 34th anniversary retrospective screening of Dreamers of the Day. Patricia Rivera Spencer’s 1990 “lesbian romantic comedy” was filmed in Kingston and features many recognizable locations. Salton explained he initially discovered the film several years ago when he was going through some local queer artifacts at the Queen’s University Archives.
“I was like, ‘What is this movie? Why have I not heard of this movie? I need to know more.’ So on Facebook I went around and started asking people if they had heard of this movie, and eventually I did find out who it was and who distributed the movie,” he said.
Salton eventually travelled to Toronto to view the original beta version of the film.
“I thought it was a great sort of ‘time capsule’ film. It was [released in] 1990, so they would have filmed it in the late 80s, and it felt that way in every sense: the fashion, the hair, and the video quality,” he added.
After connecting with Queen’s Film and Media professors Tamara de Szegheo Lang and Dan Vena, who are working on a related project, Salton was able to program a screening of the film as part of the festival’s 25th anniversary.
Dreamers of the Day will be screened at 7 p.m. on February 3, with a talkback with Rivera Spencer to follow.
As for how the festival has evolved over the past two and a half decades, Salton noted the event has grown over time, while still maintaining its intimate charm.
“We used to be three days in March; now we’re a 10-day festival,” he said.
“It seems to me we’ve sort of leaned into this ‘little festival that could’ niche boutique. We still lean into the little festival feel because it is more intimate than a lot of larger festivals.”
According to Salton, the intimate nature of Reelout has allowed the festival to attract filmmakers from all over the world, as the Kingston locale offers a more relaxed setting than the hustle and bustle of other major queer film festivals in cities like San Francisco or Calgary.
“[At our festival] artists really get to engage with audiences in sort of a no-pretense and comfy-cozy atmosphere… The artists seem to really like that,” he noted.
With the 2SLGBT+ movement having evolved considerably over the years, Salton said the festival still serves the critical role of establishing a safe space for queer people and their allies.
“The fact the acronym is so long, it’s indicative of the fact the 2SLGBTQ+ movement involves many different people, and we’re not all similar,” he mused.
With transgender rights remaining a hot button issue in North America, Salton said the Reelout festival has worked to ensure trans artists and audience members have a safe space.
“Every time we hear about trans lives, it always seems to be in the negative, or they’re being victimized again. So we’ve made a conscious effort to focus on trans films and lift their profile and their visibility, and have a place for [trans people] to go and feel represented,” he said.
“Our community has progressed leaps and bounds legally, and society has definitely been changing, at least on the surface. But there will always be a need for spaces for marginalized populations to gather.”
However, Salton stressed that ReelOut has something for everyone, and audience members of all ages and backgrounds are welcome to attend over the ten days.
“Everyone is welcome. The films are queer but the audiences aren’t [exclusively].”
Festival to include special guest filmmakers
With close to 100 films included in this year’s festival, Reelout will welcome a number of special guests to the Limestone City throughout its 10 days, as directors, actors, writers, and other filmmakers come to town to present their work. One artist making the trip to Kingston this weekend is Tanesha Morris, whose short film A Tender Date is being screened on Saturday, Feb. 3.
The short, which depicts a first date between two women who recently met on Tinder, offers up some interesting observations on everything from dating life to tipping culture. According to Morris, the film was directly inspired by a date she once had: “I went on a date in 2020 with someone I met online shortly after COVID hit. I was bored, and it was my first experience of meeting people online. I don’t know how the conversation came up about tipping between us, but her response to it annoyed me so badly that I wrote a film about it.”
In A Tender Date, Morris serves as both director and star, an experience the filmmaker said was more challenging than she anticipated.
“You can’t look at yourself while you’re acting; you have to watch playback on set, and that can take a lot of time. You’re doing two roles at once, which I’ve learned can be difficult because they’re both very important roles,” she explained.
As an independent queer filmmaker, Morris reflected on the social significance of events like Reelout.
“As a queer and indie filmmaker, I believe festivals like Reelout provide a safe space for queer people and allies to celebrate our existence,” she expressed.
“In a world where we’re often marginalized and discriminated against, events like this offer a sense of belonging.”
A Tender Date screens at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 3, alongside the feature-length documentary Leilani’s Fortune.
The 25th annual Reelout Queer Film Festival opens Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024, with the festival’s 25th Opening Shindig featuring a performance by Dare de LaFemme. The opening night event will be held at The Broom Factory (305 Rideau Street). Then, beginning Friday, Feb. 2, at 7 p.m. it’s nine consecutive days of queer cinema, with South Korea’s Peafowl serving as the Reelout opening selection.
ReelOut will present close to 100 films, with all screenings taking place at The Screening Room. Show times and ticket information are available on the festival’s website.