SUMMER IS COMING, and while you may be excited to numb your brain with glossy explosions at the nearest multiplex, maybe try to make it work a little bit first? Lucky for all of you, QDoc—the Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival—takes over the Hollywood Theatre this weekend, bringing a dozen options for stimulating minds and hearts alike.
Described as "the only festival in the US devoted exclusively to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) documentaries," QDoc is now in its 10th year. It's quieter than other festivals. It's smaller, because it's carefully curated. And while that focus can make the fest appear narrow, y'all know in 2016 that the queer community is huge and varied. QDoc's films share a common thread of sexual or gender identity, but otherwise, their subject matter is all over the place: During what other weekend do you get to observe the true stories of Palestinians, dancers, lesbian innkeepers, and Cuban revolutionaries? People from all across the Kinsey scale will be able to find something worth their time.
I was most excited about the opening night film, Strike a Pose (screens Thurs May 19), which revisits the lives of Madonna's backup dancers from her Truth or Dare/Blond Ambition tour era. These dudes were thrown onto an international stage 25 years ago—either as props to help Madonna become more risqué and famous, or as partners in creativity and showmanship, depending on how you interpret their attitudes during the interviews presented, which I could have watched for hours. Plus: dancing!
In keeping with that performance theme we have Clambake (Fri May 20), about Provincetown, Massachusetts, and the handful of clever lesbian innkeepers who organized the town's annual Women's Week, which started as a tourist gimmick but over three decades has evolved into a premier gathering for lesbian comics, musicians, and artists to come together and walk down the street holding hands. While I'd never go—both the film and the gathering itself seem geared toward women who are already participants—it's nice to know that it happens. They seem like fun gals. I'd like them as aunts.
Clambake and Strike a Pose met my joyous and flamboyant needs, but on the opposite side of the emotional experience are Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four (Sun May 22) and Last Men Standing (Sun May 22). Southwest of Salem is about four lesbians who were convicted of gang-raping two little girls in Texas, and the role that their sexual orientation had in their conviction. I don't want to give away much more than that, but I will say that after losing 10 hours of my life to Making a Murderer, Southwest of Salem left me with some hope. Last Men Standing, meanwhile, quietly introduces us to several men who were diagnosed with HIV in San Francisco in the '80s, but for whatever reason, didn't die when the rest of their friends did. These long-term survivors are now dealing with having to retire after never thinking they'd live so long—and in San Francisco, no less, where it's impossible to be poor. This film made it rain on my face. Bring a towel.
If I'd had more time, I would've checked out Kiki (Sat May 21), a doc about voguing ballroom dancers that also addresses the Black Lives Matter and transgender rights movements; Suited (Sat May 21) about the importance of clothes in creating our identity; and The Same Difference (Sat May 21), featuring self-described "stud" lesbians. That's basically the rest of the program. So, yeah, it's a good lineup.
Individually, any of the films at the festival are worth your time—and when viewed in quick succession, like I've done to write this piece, or like festival-goers will this weekend, the experience is both devastating and inspiring. Those are emotions most new movies don't make me feel. So before the sunshine and blockbusters melt your brain, do a little thinking—and feeling.