By David Esteppe
“Having grown up with the term ‘queer’ being used as a supremely negative slur word, I was impressed with the boldness of the act of reclaiming and redefining the word, but also unconvinced that small town America was ready for its boldness.”
The Appalachian Queer Film Festival (AQFF) returns to Lewisburg for its second year on Oct. 1-4. In an interview with AQFF, Lewisburg Mayor John Manchester explained his initial thought about two notions: a film festival coming to town being a great thing and that the moniker was “An April Fool’s Day joke.” It was not.
“However, as the weeks passed, I came around to believe that the choice of the word ‘queer’ within the title of the film festival was an act of genius,” said Manchester. “How better could anyone present a festival of ideas to debunk stereotypes of LGBTQ individuals, especially those with connections to Appalachia (known as a very socially conservative area of the country), than to deal head-on with one of the traditional words contributing to that stereotype?”
Manchester’s words echo the mission of the film festival co-founders, “to bring queer films and filmmakers to the beautiful state of West Virginia to break down stereotypes and broaden minds throughout Appalachia.” Manchester went on to say that there was no significant pushback to last year’s film festival.
“Lewisburg has a healthy mix of people who have been here a long time and people who are newcomers who chose to move here to work, retire, go to WVSOM. We are also a tourist town which encourages a good mix of visitors. These factors lend themselves to a greater acceptance of new ideas. The festival attracted a wonderful mix of people, and at the end of the day, everybody enjoyed the festival, ate at local restaurants, shopped downtown and had fun in an attractive and safe environment,’” Manchester said.
Co-founder and director of AQFF Tim Ward explains that this year’s festival will include six features and five shorts. There will be interactive Q-and-A with actors and producers of the films after each one is shown. Many artists will be in the theater, others via Skype.
One standout film this year already has Oscar buzz, according to Ward. “Tangerine” is an official Sundance Film Festival selection on limited release from Magnolia films. It is a Sean Baker film shot using three iPhone 5s smartphones. In the film, a transgender sex worker, SinDee Rella, finds out her boyfriend and pimp is sleeping with a cisgender (non-transgender) woman. It is described as a comedy on the IMBD movie database.
Huntington native Ward added. “We have a unique opportunity to create a safe space for conversation and thrive in an area that most folks consider to be intolerant or backward. This weekend of film is such a strong vehicle for promoting a more nuanced understanding of
Appalachia for outsiders, and an even stronger vehicle for fostering a deeper understanding of LGBTQ issues for those who live within the region’s borders.”
Tickets and information are available online at www.AQFF.org or at the box office of the Lewis Theatre on Court Street in Lewisburg.
Everyone is invited to an after-party at Hill and Holler on Saturday, Oct. 3. Dance music by DJs Francis Sharp and Merrick Tracy will be spinning by 9:30 p.m. after the last film and discussion.
6:30 – Bare
8:00 – Q&A with filmmaker
1:45 – Shorts
3:00 – The Cult of JT LeRoy
4:30 – Q&A with filmmaker
7:00 – Tangerine
8:30 – Q&A with filmmaker
11:00 – Panel: The Importance of Diversity in LGBTQ Film
2:00 – Add The Words
3:30 – Panel: The Fight for Equality in WV (Sponsored by Fairness WV)
7:00 – From This Day Forward
8:40 – Q&A with filmmaker
10:00 – That’s Not Us
11:40 – Q&A with filmmaker
AQFF is presented with support from the Greater Greenbrier Valley Community Foundation, the West Virginia Humanities Council, Fairness West Virginia, and SRE Inc. with additional support from the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, Dwight Foley, and WV FREE.