Reelout brings global LGBTQ+ cinema to Kingston

Local festival continues to celebrate diversity through film

Song Lang is Reelout's first Vietnamese film to be included in the festival.
Supplied by Matt Salton

In 1999, Queen’s student Marney McDiarmid, a member of the OPIRG Kingston, was interested in art and queer activism. With a group of students, along with a few faculty and community members, McDiarmid arranged a small weekend movie screening of queer films at a local Kingston gay bar, Club 477, and saw line-ups out the door. That’s when the Reelout Queer Film Festival was born.

Running from Jan. 30 to Feb. 8, the festival is now in its 21st year. Executive Director Matt Salton emphasizes that this year’s Reelout will continue to prioritize increasing the visibility of marginalized artists and sharing stories from a diverse variety of ages, races, sexualities, genders, abilities, and classes.

“Film is a great way of promoting visibility in that it's very much a popular medium for the masses,” Salton said in an interview with The Journal. “It's almost like rolling out the red carpet for people who are underseen and undervalued.”

Now a 10-day festival, Reelout has received international recognition, curating Canadian short films series for festivals in Turkey and in the UK. A registered charity since 2006, the not-for-profit Reelout Arts Collective has expanded from the festival, incorporating educational programming through Reelout in Schools, the family-oriented Drag Queen StoryTime program, and a community library of LGBTQ+ films.

Salton began at the festival in its second year after attending McDiarmid’s original screening. He highlights the festival as a bright spot amidst the otherwise dreary winter season.

“It creates a space that's inclusive, bright, happy, loving, caring, and respectful. I think that the world could use a lot more of that,” Salton said.

Each year, the festival’s committee curates programming from a wide variety of submitted films. This year, 43 films will be screened at The Screening Room, interspersed with creator talks across a variety of Kingston locations, including the Isabel Bader Centre, the Tett Centre, The Mansion, and Tir Na Nog.

Standout films in this year’s line-up includes a mix of documentary and narrative film from around the world.

Reelout will be screening its first Vietnamese film, the award-winning Song Lang, or Two Men in English, from first-time director Leon Le. It tells the endearing story of the unlikely relationship between a debt collector and struggling actor set in vibrant 1980s Saigon. 

Short film series Tales from Turtle Island tell a wide range of Indigenous stories, like Walk with my Spirits, which follows dancer and fashion designer Tyler Jacobs as he reclaims his Two-Spirit heritage. The films range in format from live action to animation, and feature both documentaries and narrative shorts.

A new addition to the festivities this year is the closing gala, which will feature five of Kingston’s drag queens and kings performing music from the movies in a show titled Drag Me to the Movies at The Screening Room. 

“I don't know what [songs] they're doing,” Salton said. “I’m assuming that somewhere in there there's going to be some Lady Gaga['s] A Star is Born.”

First created at Queen’s by its students, the festival still maintains strong ties to the university. Besides Salton, the festival is staffed entirely by students and sponsored by the Department of Gender Studies and the Department of Film and Media, as well as Queen’s Human Rights Office. It also receives a large portion of its donations from optional student fees.

Salton is glad that the festival remained relatively untouched by the effects of the provincial government’s Student Choice Initiative, which cut funding to many student initiatives on campus.

“Students who really believed in what Reelout does didn't opt out,” Salton said. “We’re grateful for that.”

“If we want to continue this trajectory of equality and respect for everyone, we can't let our guard down. I think it's really important that students—who are the future generation—remain empathetic and learn how others live throughout the world.”

For LGBTQ+ students and Kingstonians who still struggle to see meaningful depictions of their identities on screen, the festival provides an opportunity to feel part of a global community of diverse creators.

Still, Salton wants to emphasize that the festival is meant for anyone passionate about film.

“Don't feel that you're not invited if you don't identify in the rainbow alphabet soup,” said Salton. “It’s important that we create dialogue and build bridges between our community and the larger communities.”

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