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Filmmakers share how their movies reflect their experiences, opinions

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Photos courtesy The LGBTQ Center of LB
The short documentary Jeanne Cordova: Butches, Lies & Feminism, playing at the Long Beach QFilm Festival at 1:15pm on Sunday, Sept. 10, presents the life of the late activist through footage of interviews with her.

Movies and shorts featuring queer themes will be screening at the Art Theatre Sept. 7—10 as part of The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach’s QFilm Festival. Many of the films playing over the four days have underlying universal messages or parallel closely with the lives of its creators.

Extra Terrestres (Extraterrestrials) will play with subtitles at 7:15pm on Sept. 9. Carla Cavina— a Puerto Rican poet, photojournalist, photographer, short-story writer and filmmaker— produced, directed and wrote the screenplay for the foreign queer film.

The main character, Teresa, is an astrophysicist, a lesbian and a vegetarian but comes from a wealthy, conservative family that owns most of the poultry farms in Puerto Rico.

“It’s a story of self-acceptance,” Cavina said in a phone interview with the Signal Tribune, translated from Spanish. “[Teresa] connects with her family, whom she hadn’t seen in years because she was afraid to tell them who she really is.”

The reason for the allusion to aliens in the title has to do with the major point Cavina was making with the film: we are all extraterrestrials.

This message is communicated in large part through Teresa’s nephew, who has Asperger’s Syndrome.

“The boy provokes situations from a very innocent place [!] that create chaos in the family, and this chaos, little by little is pushing all the characters to accept that they don’t have control of anything or over each other,” she explained.

And this idea that nobody really has control is one that Cavina relates to as a filmmaker.

“I’m very controlling,” she said. “As a director, I’m a controller of everything. I control the acting. I control the camera. But I’m also clear that control is an illusion.”

But for her, she explained, it’s also a commentary on the patriarchy.

“Patriarchy is based in the desire to control everything,” Cavina said, “starting with the control of women’s bodies and reproduction, and passing a bit into the movie with the control of animals.”

In a sense, Cavina explained, the movie is like a Russian nesting doll, with messages hidden deeper within.

In Lisa Tedesco’s film August in the City— which will play on Sept. 10 as part of the Women in Shorts short-film series— the writer and producer mixes an underlying message of love and loss with a short story her mother wrote about her several years ago. Tedesco’s mother wrote it about when her daughter first brought home a girlfriend.

When Tedesco’s mother gave her the short story, she considered turning it into a film but couldn’t find the right angle.

Editorial Intern Zoe Adler talks to Lisa Tedesco in this phone interview about her film August in the City.

“At first, I was going to make it all about me; I was going to make it all about the film student,” Tedesco said in a phone interview with the Signal Tribune, “and then I [thought], ‘Well, what if I made it about the mom instead?'”

Tedesco then used the story as a launching point to develop August, she explained, who reflects her mother’s struggles with depression and alcoholism.

Aspiring drag star Leo from Alaska is a Drag flaunts his fierce look while showing off his boxing muscles in this Hedwig-Rocky lovechild, which will be screened at the Long Beach QFilm Festival on Sunday, Sept. 10 at 7:30pm.

In the story, when August sees her daughter happy with a woman, it sends her into a flashback of when she dated a woman in 1978.

“You can notice a little jealousy almost in her facial expressions,” Tedesco said of August. “She chose to live a life that society accepts more [!] instead of being with the love of her life.”

In many ways, August in the City parallels Tedesco’s own life, and this is also true for Alaska is a Drag, written and directed by Shaz Bennett.

The movie— originally a short film, also written and directed by Bennett, by the same name— follows Leo, an aspiring drag star who works in an Alaskan fish cannery and lives with his supportive sister, who has cancer. Because of his sexuality, he is often bullied and must learn to defend himself. The cannery manager, who runs a small boxing ring, recruits Leo as a fighter.

Bennett herself once worked at a fish cannery in Alaska and performed a sister act with a drag queen. One of Bennett’s sisters growing up had cancer, she told the Signal Tribune in a phone interview, and all of her siblings, friends and family were and are supportive like Leo’s sister.

The combination of boxing and drag not only relates to her life but also reflects the extremes of gender norms.
“I always think there’s something sort of like a funhouse mirror to drag queens and boxers,” Bennett said. “One is overly feminine, and one is overly masculine in a way that barely exists in real life.”

However, boxing and drag aren’t things to which everyone can relate, but romance is.

In Carlos Pedraza’s musical and adapted screenplay Something Like Summer, he presents a traditional-style summer love story, but between two young men.

The story, based on Jay Bell’s novel by the same name, is accessible for queer and straight audiences alike because their emotional experiences are universal.

“I don’t think love and romance is the province of any particular sexual orientation,” Pedraza said in a phone interview with the Signal Tribune. “A good love story is a good love story, and we’ve watched plenty of heterosexual love stories that we’ve connected to, and so we wanted to make the kind of movie that anyone of any stripe could connect to as well.”

Astrophysicist Teresa stares up at the stars with her sister in the Puerto Rican film Extra Terrestres, playing with subtitles at the Long Beach QFilm Festival on Saturday, Sept. 9 at 7:15pm.

The story told in Something Like Summer follows Ben and Tim, who live in Texas and love in secret. As time progresses, their relationship changes while the friendships they developed along the way grow and strengthen.
The LGBTQ Center Executive Director Porter Gilberg explained that having films like Something Like Summer that are relatable for audiences was a key factor when choosing the movies.

“We have a volunteer selection committee of around 15 people that break into program selection committees,” Gilberg explained in an interview with the Signal Tribune. “One of the things we really strive to do on our selection committees— which might be a little different than other LGBTQ film festivals— is our selection committees are reflective of the people that will be watching the films.”

In this way, he explained, The Center can ensure that more Long Beach residents will be interested in coming to see the movies screening during the festival.

In addition to picking films that reflect what audiences will find interesting and appealing, the committees also put together short-film categories based on themes that continually pop up in the submissions, Gilberg explained.
This year, on top of the always present Women in Shorts and Men in Briefs categories, there will be a Queer & Trans Shorts program at 5pm on Sept. 9 and a Latinx Shorts Spotlight at 12:30pm on Sept. 9.

One Latinx short being screened is the mini-documentary Jeanne Cordova: Butches, Lies & Feminism, directed and edited by Gregorio Davila.

Through a combination of three different interviews with Cordova, the film tells the life story of the butch activist who passed away in January of 2016.

Davila said that he felt a bond with Cordova because they are both Latino. He added that in general, Mexicans in film are not presented in a positive light, like Cordova is in his documentary.

“Our stories are not told,” he said. “The Hollywood industry is an industry that seems to love Mexican filmmakers but not Mexican films. The television industry seems to love Mexican actors but not Mexican characters.”

By telling the stories of women like Jeanne Cordova, Davila is able to be the remedy and portray Mexican and Latinx people as the multi-dimensional, culturally rich individuals they are.

Secret lovers Ben and Tim struggle with their relationship as they graduate from high school in Texas in the adapted screenplay of Jay Bell’s novel Something Like Summer, which will play at the Long Beach QFilm Festival on Friday, Sept. 8 at 9:15pm.

Movies and shorts will be playing all four days of the festival, and the dates and times for all the films are listed below.

Thursday, Sept. 7
The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin at 7:30pm

Friday, Sept. 8
The Feels at 7pm
Something Like Summer at 9:15pm

Saturday, Sept. 9
The Lavender Scare at 10:45am
Latinx Shorts Spotlight (short-film series) at 12:30pm
A Million Happy Nows at 2:45pm
Queer & Trans Shorts (short-film series) at 5pm
Extra Terrestrials (Extra Terrestres) at 7:15pm
Sebastian at 9:30pm
The Rocky Horror Picture Show with live shadow cast at midnight

Sunday, Sept. 10
Men in Briefs (short-film series) at 11am
Women in Shorts (short-film series) at 1:15pm
Saturday Church at 3:45pm
Signature Move at 5:15pm
Alaska is a Drag at 7:30pm

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Filmmakers share how their movies reflect their experiences, opinions