The ninth annual Queer Women of Color Film Festival took place from June 14 to 16 at the Brava Theatre in San Francisco’s Mission District. Presented by the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project, the festival seeks to promote the creation, exhibition and distribution of films that increase the visibility of queer women of color and authentically represent their life stories. This year’s festival was expanded from previous years and featured 57 short films over five screening programs. Ranging from reflections on feminist movements and simmering revolutions in Southwest Asian, North African, Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities to depictions of queer culture across the United States, the lineup was filled with films conveying a sense of possibility and addressing vital social justice issues.
Opening Night Screening
The festival’s opening night screening, “Tender Possibilities,” featured a collection of short films concerning the joys, hopes and fears connected to dating. Touching on the difficulties of dating for trans individuals, the films “Talking” and “Chasing Love” discuss the issue and importance of being accepted for who you are — regardless of gender identification — and explore the necessity of openness, courage and conversation in the search to find someone. Other films, like “Miss Nizhoni” and “The Roots of Struggle,” focus on the struggles of queer people belonging to minority cultures in the United States. In “Miss Nizhoni,” the winner of a Navajo pageant is caught between being loyal to the traditions of her community and her own identity as a lesbian. Ultimately, the conflict comes to a head when the pageant committee becomes aware of the sexuality of their new role model, leading the young Miss Nizhoni to make a bold announcement. In “The Roots of Struggle,” a young queer Filipino couple attempt to navigate their relationship amid the contradictions of their upbringing and cultural legacy.
Also included among the opening night program were films such as “I’ve Been to Manhattan” and “Dinner for Two,” which draw on the music video genre to convey a more comic take on queer life. In “I’ve Been to Manhattan,” a heartbroken trans zombie roams around the city streets, finding solace in deep cocktails and singing out his sorrow. In “Dinner for Two,” a nervous young queer woman is faced with the task of preparing a romantic meal for a first date while facing certain dietary limitations (what can you make that’s vegan AND gluten-free?). Luckily, despite some setbacks in the kitchen, the evening reaches a happy conclusion when the date finally arrives and announces — followed by enthusiastic audience applause — that “she didn’t come there to eat.”
“Obachan,” which translates to “aunt” in Japanese, is a term of endearment used for filmmaker Tio Eshelman’s mother by her new queer family, which includes people that identify as gay, bisexual and transgender. “Obachan” is also the title of Eshelman’s film.
“Obachan,” which runs less than five minutes, focuses on Obachan’s transition from Japan to a small town of mostly white, conservative residents in Arkansas — and then the radical change of environment that was her transition to Eshelman’s home. After several get-togethers at Eshleman’s place, Obachan went from “not knowing a gay person” to having a queer family take her under their wing. “I had nobody,” she says in the film. “But because of them I didn’t feel alone.”
Eshelman was able to make the film because of the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project — a program that held film workshops and taught a selected number of students how to make their own movies in four days. “It was an incredibly intense four days,” Eshelman said. “They taught us how to work a tripod, work shots and create a theme for the movie. It was like having a personal filmmaker by your side for four days.”
Another film shown at the festival was “Ka Mana O Ke Ola,” which translates to “the power of life” in Hawaiian. The film, which takes place in the distant future, focuses on director Megan Cabral’s attempt to reclaim the memories of her deceased father as well as Hawaiian culture, which is gradually dissipating in the film. “Hawaiian culture isn’t really disappearing,” Cabral said. “But it can eventually if we’re not careful.”
In “The Green House,” director Sugriel Reyes focuses on a group of queer 20-somethings trying to find their place after graduating from college. Reyes moved to Oakland from Los Angeles, and the separation from her biological family left her longing for a familiar connection. She eventually gathers a group of friends who become a support system for her —on par with her biological family.
“Everyone in the house identifies as queer, even the child, as you can see in the film,” Reyes said. In the film, the child admits to having a crush on one of her female roommates.
Many of the filmmakers showed gratitude to the program for providing them with a creative outlet, including Cabral, who said, “We should use whatever creative process to express ourselves through different ways and make a space for ourselves that we don’t have in the mainstream.”