Schenectady may end up being the first real test for producer and writer Mark Jones’ new film “Tennessee Queer.”
The indie comedy, about a gay man who returns to his small hometown in Tennessee and organizes the city’s first gay pride parade, has already screened at various gay and lesbian film festivals, including its world premiere screening at the Philadelphia QFest in July. The film has also screened to positive response in Memphis, Tenn., where it was made; Indianapolis; Oxford, Miss.; and Atlanta, among others.
On Saturday, “Tennessee Queer” will close out the third day of Proctors’ third annual QFest, running from today through Sunday. Jones will be on hand for a question-and-answer session after the movie is screened. This will be the farthest north that the film has played, and Jones is looking forward to seeing how regional cultural differences might affect the film’s reception.
“It’s more of a Southern film, so maybe the jokes are laughed at a little harder in the South,” Jones said recently from his home in Memphis. “This will be a good test in Schenectady, to see how it plays really outside the South. But people have really enjoyed it everywhere; they’ve laughed really hard. Some people say they kind of tear up — a few people have cried during the parade sequence [at the film’s end].”
This film marks the first time at Proctors’ QFest that one of the filmmakers will be present. It’s also not the only film making its regional premiere at the festival — other new movies, including “Keep the Lights On” and “Stud Life,” will also be debuting regionally at the festival.
Last year, QFest included eight feature-length films and a final evening of short films. This year,
the festival has increased to nine features, covering the spectrum from drama to comedy to documentary to musical — “Any Day Now,” “The Celluloid Closet,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “Cloudburst” and “How to Survive a Plague” (also making a regional premiere) round out the lineup.
Where: GE Theatre at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
When: Today through Sunday
How Much: $40 for QFest Pass; $9 per film
More Info: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
In 2011, former Proctors employee Joe Hunziker started the festival and was involved with organizing for the first two years (he’s attending graduate school in Seattle). This year, Proctors’ special events and group sales coordinator Katherine Stephens spearheaded the organization with Amanda Jo Marshall, Aray Montalvan and Proctors’ film coordinator Robert Warlock.
“[Hunziker] saw a need in our community, the whole Capital Region — we have a very strong and thriving gay community, and they have stories that deserve to be told,” Stephens said. “And so as Proctors has the mission of being the community’s living room, it seemed like the perfect fit. We have the space and we have the resources, and we were very lucky that people were so willing to work with us.”
This year, Proctors worked with the Pride Center of the Capital Region, Planned Parenthood, the AIDS Council and Albany’s In Our Own Voices, an organization for gay, lesbian, transexual and bisexual people of color. In Our Own Voices suggested bringing in British film “Stud Life,” which deals with homosexual relationships in working-class England.
“This was a true team effort — everybody, our marketing department chipped in, the film department [helped],” Stephens said. “We have people tabling at the event; we have the Pride Center tabling, the AIDS Council is going to table, Planned Parenthood. The Albany All-Stars [roller derby team] are going to be there on Thursday night.”
More info, go to www.proctors.org
7 p.m. — performance by Capital Pride Singers; roller derby musical chairs with the Albany All-Stars; games with It Came From Schenectady
8 p.m. — “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”
5:30 p.m. — “Celluloid Closet”
7:15pm — Film talk-back with Rob Edelman, contributing editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and Audrey Kupferberg, SUNY Albany film lecturer, about homosexuality in film
8 p.m. — “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”
2 p.m. — “Keep the Lights On”
4:30 p.m. — “How to Survive a Plague”
8 p.m. — “Tennessee Queer”
2 p.m. — “Stud Life”
3:30 p.m. — Closing day lunch catered by Homestyle Catering and a discussion about LGBTQ issues with In Our Own Voices
4:30 p.m. — “Cloudburst”
6 p.m. — “Any Day Now”
Each year, the festival allows Proctors to focus on a different issue in the LGBT community. Last year much of the discussion was focused around bullying; this year Stephens hopes to focus on community advocacy.
“One of the movies we’re showing is ‘How to Survive a Plague,’ which is about AIDS activism in the ’80s,” Stephens said. “So, when I watched it I was ready to go [participate], and so I figured this would be a perfect opportunity for us to have a conversation about how to do that.”
“Tennessee Queer” was also inspired at least partially by community organization for gay and lesbian rights. Jones began writing the script in early 2011, inspired by the struggle behind a recent ordinance in Memphis for same-sex couples to receive equal work benefits. Eventually the ordinance was watered down to a resolution with no mention of the gay and lesbian community in it.
“We have two governments, a county government and a city government, in Memphis — that’s how they do it,” Jones said. “The gay community went before the county government a few years ago wanting an ordinance passed allowing equal protection for county workers, gay and lesbian county workers, for same sex benefits. It came up for a vote, and one of the Tennessee missions held a big press conference where they had six ministers — three black, three white — who just railed against the gay community, saying, ‘This is horrible, it shouldn’t happen, the county commission can’t vote on this.’”
‘Don’t say gay’ bill
The film was also inspired by the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, proposed by Tennessee state Sen. Stacey Campfield in 2010, which would ban the use of any words related to homosexuality in public schools from kindergarten through eighth grade.
“If seventh-grader Johnny has two dads, you can’t talk about that — you almost couldn’t discuss Walt Whitman,” Jones said. “It passed the state Senate but did not pass the state [House of Representatives], but now sadly [it’s] come back — it’s a fresh new year, and he brought the bill back and added another bad part to it, where if a kid tells his guidance counselor he’s gay, the state will require the counselor to report it to the parents.”
Jones hopes the film will bring more attention to these issues, along with issues of bullying and suicide, to a broader audience, both in Tennessee and across the country.
“Memphis has got a great community at its center, and there are great advocates in Tennessee,” Jones said. “But this is just shining more light — the light’s already there, but this is bringing in a bigger spotlight to help bring in the conversation, or bring another voice to the conversation.”
Catalyst for discussion
Other films in the festival are not overtly gay or lesbian films, but nonetheless serve as a platform to discuss LGBT issues. “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” will screen on Friday night following “The Celluloid Closet,” a documentary examining changing attitudes toward homosexuality in Hollywood films.
“I wanted this to be a catalyst to talk about how far we’ve come. What some people don’t know about the movie is that it’s different from the stage play in that [in] the stage play, it’s clear Brick is struggling with sexuality,” Stephens said. “It’s never spoken because of when it was written, and the same thing with the movie — and they downplayed it when they released the movie. . . . I feel like with ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,’ after showing ‘The Celluloid Closet,’ it sort of makes sense that there’s this movie that shows how this can affect everyone, and not just the person who’s not open about it.”
Reach Gazette reporter Brian McElhiney at 395-3111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.