As theatres are inundated with the usual stream of blockbuster fare and self-perpetuating franchises, modern mainstream cinema offerings may seem less and less authentic. But one Winnipeg film festival is keeping it real.
The Reel Pride Film Festival, Canada’s oldest exposition of queer filmmaking talent, runs this month from Sept. 26 to 30. Hosted at the Gas Station Arts Centre on River Avenue, the festival has programmed a diverse array of feature films, short films and artist exhibitions.
First established in 1987 by the then-nascent Winnipeg Gay and Lesbian Film Society under the name Counterparts, the festival has maintained a long tradition of celebrating 2SLGBTQIA+ content.
“The idea really is just to provide an opportunity for queer people to see themselves represented,” Greg Klassen, Reel Pride publicity director, says.
“When I used to go to films back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, there wasn’t really a chance to watch a lot of gay content on Netflix and other streaming services.”
As a niche celebration of quality cinema, Reel Pride has long ago made its mark. But Klassen is hoping to bring the wonder of diverse movies to the huddled heteronormative masses.
“Our audience can be a lot larger than we sort of give it credit for. We’re marketing it to a community well beyond the queer community at this point. This is about understanding and seeing queer lives and what they feel like in 2023,” Klassen says.
Among the programming for this year’s festival are a slate of nine feature films and 11 short films competing for a prize, as well as daily art shows with all proceeds going to the respective artists.
“Queer artists can use the Gas Station Arts theatre during that week that we’re on to show their work,” Klassen says.
Eric Plamondon, a decorated Manitoban short filmmaker, returns to Reel Pride with his newest project, Arc-en-noir, influenced by mid-20th-century Americana.
“Arc-en-noir was originally birthed for a multimedia project in Montreal that wanted to celebrate 100 years of Jack Kerouac writings,” he says.
“My film is inspired by the beatnik era in that stream-of-consciousness poetry that is unapologetically from an era both very personal but very much observing what’s around.”
Plamondon cites the festival itself as the reason he began making pictures in the first place.
“I was going to the films as an actor, and people kept saying that it was too bad we don’t have a lot of local content. Rarely were Manitoba filmmakers submitting to the programming. They said ‘You’re in the medium. Why don’t you make something?’” Plamondon says.
“When I look at the lineup and this year’s programming, and there are tons of Manitobans on it, I think, how amazing is that? Now I can talk about my queer filmmaking peers and how we have a venue in Winnipeg. It feels pretty good now.”
And despite the wealth of viewing options afforded in modern times by streaming services and the like, Klassen stresses the importance of the festival’s distinct draw.
“The world has changed. A festival like ours has to really figure out how to stay relevant. Honestly, I believe it’s by showing as many diverse and talented people as we can,” he says.
For more information, visit reelpride.org.
Published in Volume 78, Number 03 of The Uniter (September 21, 2023)