Even without qFLIX, queer films endure

“In from the Side,” directed by Matt Carter.

qFLIX, Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ Film Festival was supposed to start screening dozens of features, documentaries, webseries, and shorts at the Suzanne Roberts Theater on Broad Street June 19, but an alleged IRS error put the kibosh on the plans, postponing the festival until the situation can be corrected.

The cancellation of the fest is heartbreaking, not just for the qFLIX team, but also the dozens of filmmakers and actors set to screen their work for audiences that have been starting to return to theaters. 

“In from the Side,” directed by Matt Carter.

I am disappointed because I was most looking forward to doing a post-screening Q&A with Alexander King, who was coming into Philadelphia for the East Coast Premiere of “In from the Side,” the festival’s closing night film. I was keen to probe King about his auspicious screen debut as well as his formidable rugby skills. (The homoeroticism on the pitch in the film is a real plus for viewers who know nothing about the sport). 

Moreover, King has a smoldering chemistry with his costar Alexander Lincoln in this fantastic romantic drama that chronicles Mark (Lincoln) and Warren (King) — who play for different rugby teams on the same team and are both attached to other men — embarking on a passionate affair. 

“In from the Side” leisurely builds its tension as to whether and how the adulterous lovers will be discovered, but it is easy to root for them to be together — especially as they hook up during an away game, or when Mark invites Warren to spend the holidays with his family abroad. Lincoln and King are appealing, attractive actors, and the fine supporting cast provides both dramatic and comic relief. I am really hoping this film, one of my favorites from the fest, gets another chance to screen.

I was also excited to do a Q&A with Russell Brown, the director of “Loren and Rose” who was scheduled to appear. (I kept hoping we could work out getting his film’s leading lady, Jacqueline Bisset, to attend.) I’ve known Russell for years; he was last in Philly at qFLIX for his warmly received 2016 film, “Search Engines.” I know he was eager to share his passion project with audiences and discuss the film and get feedback from audiences. 

And I was all ready to take photos at the World Premiere of “El Exito de Amor” for Argentine filmmaker Pablo Oliverio’s fabulous, animated, gender-bending comedy which he finished just in time for the festival. It has been gratifying to track Pablo’s career; he has also screened twice at the fest — the fabulous short, “Hairy Tales,” a few years ago, and his feature, “Postcards Over the Skin,” last year. I helped Pablo with some subtitling for this film, and he gave me a shout out in the credits and a cameo in the film. Since he couldn’t attend, he asked me to record the experience for him. 

Terracino, the director of “Elliot Loves,” which played qFLIX a few years ago, was all ready to premiere his sophomore feature, “Waking Up Dead” at the fest. Terracino shot this film about Danny (the handsome Gabriel Sousa), an actor trying to resuscitate his career. Traci Lords has a role in the feature as well and she is always fun to watch. But we’ll have to wait. 

“Cop Secret,” directed by Hannes Þór Halldórsson.

Speaking of fun, “Cop Secret” from Iceland, is a crowd-pleasing action comedy that puts a clever spin on the buddy-cop drama as Bússi (Auδunn Blöndal), the top cop in Reykjavik becomes partners with Hördur (Egill Einarsson), his rival in Gardabaer, the next district over. The guys, who loathe each other, team up to solve a string of bank robberies where no money is stolen. Of course, they fall in love. (Bússi has been questioning his sexuality; Hörder is openly bi). The film leans into the genre’s conventions, and the villain, Rikki Ferrari (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) is as comical as he is mischievous. “Cop Secret” may play up gay stereotypes but, its tongue is firmly in cheek. 

I was also anxious to see the festival’s program of New Media/Webseries. The sexy and thoughtful relationship dramedy, “Open to It,” written by and starting Philly Native Frank Arthur Smith, has Greg (Smith) and Cam (Tim Wardell) opening up their relationship to include the younger Princeton (Jason Caceres) — only to wonder if that is such a good idea. I really liked what I saw from this series so far and was hoping to talk with Frank, who was attending about it. And Alex Ringler, who I interviewed last year, was set to debut Season 2 of his webseries, “Annoyingly Fit Neighbor.” So, now I have to wait to see what happens!

And from the shorts program, Sam McConnell, another favorite filmmaker, was primed to get audiences laughing at “Brutal,” about a newscaster (Cheyenne Jackson), determining the politics of handling a breaking sex scandal. 

One of the documentaries scheduled for qFLIX was the eye-opening “Being Black in Porn.” The film is more talk than action, but it was an informative and entertaining look at the adult film industry. The filmmaker, Dwight O’Neal, who was scheduled to appear with some of the film’s participants, addresses issues of racism and perceptions about Black gay men. His codirector, DeAngelo Jackson, an adult film star, wanted to create a dialogue with his peers, which include Max Konnor, Rock Rockafella, and Dillon Diaz (who’s especially great), among others. They discuss everything from fetishization and stereotypes to fair pay rates and crossing over to mainstream porn, as well as the debate over only fan sites vs. studio productions. There is also talk about politics as various models object to “thug porn” scenarios and explain how the Black Lives Matter movement impacted porn. Judiciously selected clips illustrate many of the points being made. But perhaps the most shocking content in “Being Black in Porn” is when models recount being told they are either “safe” or “not Black enough,” indicating just how ingrained the layers of discrimination are in the industry. I found it to be a fascinating portrait of a community.

And this is what I most enjoy about qFLIX; it’s not just discovering new films like “Cop Secret” and new talent, like Alexander King, or reconnecting with old friends like Russell Brown, it is having the sense of community. I love talking with folks and asking, “What have you seen? What have you liked?” and gauging their reactions. I will miss these opportunities this year, but hope qFLIX will come back soon and strong, with more films to see and discuss and more filmmakers to meet and befriend.

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