Reelout brings representation to the big screen

Matt Salton reflects on 20 years of the film and video festival 

Justin Ducharme’s film, Positions, will be playing as part of the Indigiqueer short film selection. 
Photo from Reelout website

In its 20th year, the Reelout film festival has come a long way from its origins on the dance floor of Kingston’s only gay bar.

On Friday night, the Reelout Queer Film + Video Festival will be hosting its opening night gala at the Tett Centre to kick off the 15-day festival that will take place from Jan. 31 to Feb. 15. With 116 films and representation from 14 different countries, the festival has grown substantially since its inception.

Reelout started as a working group of OPIRG in 1999 and was founded on campus by Marney McDiarmid, who was fascinated with film festivals and especially those highlighting marginalized communities.

McDiarmid thought that Kingston could benefit from such a festival.

“We were in a climate where we did have a gay bar [in Kingston], but its windows would randomly get broken, people would get harassed, and the government didn’t recognize us as human equals,” Reelout Executive Director Matt Salton explained in an interview with The Journal.

McDiarmid joined forces with a group of academics, Queen’s students, and Kingston locals to put together a festival—all with zero experience.

“[They] put together a test-screening at the gay bar, and they packed the place for two nights,” Salton said.

Since then, Reelout has been a champion of LGBTQ2+ issues in Kingston and works to demonstrate solidarity with marginalized groups. 

Today, the festival recognizes the value of diversity on screen. The programming selection committee makes an effort to be representative of its audience, and each member is given an equal vote in selecting from over 300 films.   

While representation on screen can be a no-brainer today, it hasn’t always been the case for Salton, who grew up in a religious family in Calgary.

“I’ve learned a lot over 19 years. [I had] to be explained why a mediocre film about black lesbians was a better choice to show at the festival over this fantastic film about gay white boys—I didn’t understand that early on,” Salton said with a laugh.

This type of commitment to learning and adapting has served Salton well. Today, as cinema and festival attendance rates decline, Reelout’s had to find new ways to attract and engage younger audiences.

While many organizations assume social media is the solution, Salton and his team are hoping to engage young film-lovers by inviting filmmakers to connect with their audiences.

A new program this year, called the 20/20 visionaries, will feature two filmmakers—Jason Karman from Vancouver and Dana McLeod from Montreal—who’ve been asked to curate 20 minutes of their short-film work and participate in a 20-minute moderated Q&A session.

“It gives audiences a chance to really have an intimate conversation with the filmmaker,” Salton said.

For those less interested in sitting and watching a movie, on Feb. 9 Reelout will also be hosting the all-male Burlesque troupe, Boylesque—who will be putting on their show A briefs history of time—at the Mansion.

While this year is proving to be promising for the festival, significant changes are expected in the coming months—this will be the last year with RBC as its title sponsor. Though the banks replacement is yet to be announced, Salton said Reelout has found its new sponsor and is very excited about the partnership.

“They’re an Indigenous company, and they focus a great deal on Indigenous communities and youth—two communities that we also care deeply about,” Salton said.

While the financial sponsors of the festival change from year-to-year, the support for Reelout from the Kingston community has been unwavering. For Salton, the best part of his position is being able to shine light on the amazing work of community groups such as Flesh and Blood Productions, a queer theatre company here in Kingston; the Queer Youth Support Group; Queen’s EngiQueer’s; and many others.

“They all get a chance to stand in front of the audience and tell them what they do,” Salton said. “It’s like doing what the film is doing—putting marginalized people on the big screen and also giving representatives of these groups who are championing marginalised communities a chance to shine as well,” Salton said.

These voices and groups will be represented throughout the 15-day event, though their work continues year-round.



February 1, 2019

This article incorrectly spelled Jason Karman and Dana McLeod's names and has been corrected.

The Journal regrets the error.

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