Art about oppression can be a tricky one to pull off: too somber and only the most committed of activists attend showings, too cheerful and it might disrespect the content. But for almost three decades, Reel Pride - Winnipeg’s LGBTQ film festival - has been achieving near-perfect equilibrium.
“The films can’t all be Matt Shepard stories, as much as beautiful and strong as those are,” notes Eric Plamondon, alluding to the 21-year-old gay man who was tortured and killed in 1998. “Everyone would be too overly depressed. You try to find those stories, but you also want to find the light-hearted and the comedy, and stories that feature men, women and everything in between. It is quite a process.”
Luckily, there’s a huge contingent of support for Reel Pride. The website features a lengthy list of “Friends of Reel Pride,” ranging from individuals, to venues, to organizations; the Canadian Museum for Human Rights recently screened Forbidden Love and Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine at a pre-festival event. And since its inception, the entire festival has been organized and executed by volunteers.
“It’s a volunteer crew,” says Plamondon, laughing, noting that commitment levels aren’t always the most predictable. “There are fluxes of intensity and people stepping up. But we’ve survived this long. There’s an obvious community interest in keeping this alive.”
But it’s the movies, of course, that make the festival. This year’s line-up features 16 full-length films and 20 shorts. Most of the features are American. On the other hand, the short film competition - which screens on Wednesday, Oct. 15 - will exclusively present Canadian works. A new record’s been set with the number of submissions.
“This year has been absolutely insane,” he says. “When we went to print, the program said 45, but between then and now there’s more that came in, so we’re up to 63 submissions. It’s interesting on how the quality of films we’re receiving with gay content has absolutely risen in all aspects.”
Plamondon points to a number of causes for the abundance of films: more accessible equipment, a wider range of festivals to screen the products and an increased social awareness of the stories. It’s the latter point that he emphasizes, noting that high-end production companies are finally recognizing the value in investing in such works.
The very existence of 52 Tuesdays proves his point. Screening on Tuesday, Oct. 14, the Sophie Hyde-directed film tells the tale about a teenage girl’s experience of witnessing her mother transition to a male. It’s already scored awards at Sundance and the Berlin Film Festival. It’s only recently, Plamondon says, that such a high-quality work would be made about a trans person.
“The producers who are receiving these scripts are now realizing that the market is not just a niche market of the gay community,” he says. “It is the larger community that will be interested by these kinds of films. It’s very reflective of that emerging reality.”
Reel Pride runs from Oct. 14 to 19. Tickets can be purchased online at reelpride.org/tickets. Regular tickets are $10 per show. Accommodations can be made for low-income people who wish to attend.