Fairy Tales film fest continues to 'push boundaries of representation'

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Fairy Tales Queer Art and Film Festival, one of the longest-running and largest queer film festivals in the West, is set to run from June 27 to June 30, capping off Pride Month at the GRAND Theatre.

In its 26-year history, the annual festival has showcased nearly 1,600 films, providing a platform for 2SLGBTQIA+ artists from around the globe. This year’s lineup at the GRAND Theatre has an eclectic mix of 33 short films, seven feature films, as well as an array of local artists and makers.

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Calgary Queer Arts Society’s new executive director, Shone Thistle, says they are energized by the passion and drive of festival volunteers and community members participating in this year’s festival. Thistle answers our questions about what audiences can expect going forward.

You are taking over one of the most established film festivals in the city, what changes would you like to see?

The first few months in my role were defined by community conversations, and listening to feedback on how we might continue to grow. What’s clear is that Fairy Tales has a strong reputation for bringing people together to experience queer joy through art, storytelling and representation in a community setting. This is what makes our community thrive and the festival represents a legacy to honour and build on.

From there I’m excited to work with our board on programming that builds on our strengths. Thanks to a grant from the City of Calgary, we’re piloting an art exhibition and makers market in the lobby of The GRAND, and we plan on continuing this during the Coming Out Monologues later this fall. I’m also keen to collaborate more with other organizations. So far this year, we’ve partnered with Calgary Spoken Word Society for National Poetry Month, joined forces with Vogue YYC on a Kiki Ball for International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, and just last week, partnered with Black Pride YYC on their Juneteenth screening of 14 Years and A Day. Our strength lies in our partnerships. Our next big collaboration will be with BUMP Festival this August, and an announcement about that project is coming out soon!

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Summerqamp is being shown at the Queer Arts Film Festival. Photo by Theresa TET Millare /cal

 There were 347 submissions this year, were there any recurring themes in the films being submitted and the films programmed?

Our shorts packages reflect themes of love and resistance, desire and passion, parenthood and the wisdom of queer aging and elders. Our feature films include the relatable hilarity of managing long-distance relationships in Cora Bora, the discovery of trans identity in Desire Lines, the amazing local story of what it means to be a queer kiddo in Summer Qamp, and the story of reclaiming parts of yourself lost from estranged family in Peafowl. There’s so much relatable content and there’s truly something for everyone.

Activist films or films with political themes have always been a part of queer cinema. At one time, programmers at Fairy Tales were looking forward to a time when they wouldn’t have to be. Given the anti-trans legislation in the United States and, arguably, in Alberta, what role can artists and the film community play?

Queer bodies, women’s bodies, Black and Brown bodies have all been politicized for generations. As a result, every time we are visible, we own our right to exist, our right to bodily autonomy and our right to thrive in the face of discrimination. When governments stop pitting citizens against each other for political gain and start focussing on things like health care, education, housing and climate action, then queerness will be less political. 

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Queer artists and storytellers play many roles in confronting discrimination: pushing the boundaries of representation, challenging stereotypes, raising awareness, creating empathy, advocating for change, and documenting history. That said, great art reflects and reframes life, both for the artist and the audience. The world is absurd, beautiful, brutal and cruel and artists must be allowed to pull on one, some or all of these threads depending on where they’re at. Slave Play by writer Jeremy O. Harris is a phenomenal example of putting it all on display; people either love or hate it, depending on where they see themselves in Harris’s characters. When I think about the great art of our generation, Slave Play will always stand out in my mind. Hannah Gadsby’s Nannette also fits the bill. When an artist commits to the process, we get to experience the world through their eyes, opening our hearts and minds. Artists play a powerful role, but we all can and should play a part in dismantling discrimination.

Peafowl is being screened at the Queer Arts Film Festival. cal

What qualifications does a film have to possess to be considered?

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First and foremost a film needs to move us. Fairy Tales has a dedicated group of 16 volunteer previewers who watch thousands of hours of film, so as you can imagine it takes something special to stand out from the rest. Beauty, humour, unabashed truth, exquisite cinematography, bold creativity and remarkable storytelling – all of these things matter.

 Since the borders of queer cinema are always broadening, can it still be defined?

Queer cinema used to be defined by a single character who was often deranged or killed off as part of a broader narrative, but it’s these kinds of stereotypes that further marginalize queer lived experience. Thankfully the New Queer Cinema Movement of the 1990s included bold, unapologetic storytelling, and today queer cinema includes broader global contexts, highlighting the dynamic, vibrant and more often than not, intersectional lived experience of queer people. I think the definition of Queer cinema will continue to evolve, but I don’t think it’s going anywhere.

Catboy is being shown at the Queer Arts Film Festival. cal

 At one point, the audience for Fairy Tales was largely from the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Has that changed?

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We attract audience members from all walks of life, but the majority remain 2SLGBTQIA+ community members. In a world that isn’t always friendly to us, there’s an affirmation that comes from seeing ourselves thrive on screen. Not only do we get the sense of community that comes from shared laughter or tears, but we are given the gift of possibility, our thriving becomes normalized, and we get to imagine what it means to grow old authentically.

Queer film festivals are often the only places where we get to see authentic representation for more than a single episode in a series as captivating as The Last of US. Bill and Frank’s story in episode three of the series is a prime example of when Hollywood gets it right, but one episode isn’t enough and this is why independent filmmakers and film festivals remain relevant and vital in platforming the lives and stories of queer leading characters.

 Are there any films this year you would like to highlight?

Oh my gosh, they’re honestly all so great. Cora Bora, because we don’t get enough laughter in life these days and it has a killer cast. Desire Lines, because of its creative use of documentary filmmaking and fiction woven into a tapestry of self-discovery. Baldiga, because it tells a story of such historical significance surrounding Jurgen Baldiga’s capturing of West Berlin in the 1980s and ’90s before he succumbed to AIDS. Peafowl is beautiful and anyone who’s ever had estranged family will appreciate the hero’s journey. Summer Qamp because it’s about Camp fYrefly, powerfully captured and so relatable. And then who doesn’t love closing a film festival with a musical sing-along? Does that help narrow it down?

Visit fairytalesfilmfest.com for a full schedule. Tickets available at https://www.thegrandyyc.ca/ftqaff26#



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