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North Hills Monthly

Reel Q Celebrating its 34th Year of Highlighting LGBTQ+ Themed Films

Sep 24, 2019 10:47PM ● By Vanessa Orr

An Almost Ordinary Summer

Reel Q, Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ+ film festival, will be celebrating its 34th year in October. The 10-day festival, which will take place from Oct. 3-12, features a mix of approximately 20 first-run LGBTQ+ themed films and 30-plus shorts ranging from comedies to dramas, avant-garde films, documentaries and more. We spoke to Reel Q Executive Director T.J. Murphy about why the festival is so important to Pittsburgh.

North Hills Monthly (NHM): How did the film festival get its start?

T.J. Murphy (Murphy): The film festival started in 1985 as part of a partnership with Pittsburgh Filmmakers. It was a weekend-long event for the first two years, but then we started to grow, and in 1987, we registered as a nonprofit, formed a board and started running as an independent organization. We are now the fifth oldest LGBTQ film festival in America and the sixth oldest in the entire world. We are also the longest consecutively running film festival in Pittsburgh.

NHM: How do you choose what films will be shown?

Murphy: We have a committee of volunteers who meet once a week year-round to screen brand new, first-run festival circuit films from every corner of the globe. We look at roughly 50 feature-length films when we’re deciding and more than 300 shorts. It takes the entire year to sift through everything. We keep an eye on what will be meaningful for the Pittsburgh community, and what people need to see that they might not necessarily be able to access elsewhere. A lot of the films we screen end up disappearing or falling into obscurity—you might not be able to find them on Amazon or Netflix or be able to buy a DVD; we look for films that are impactful and then make them accessible.

NHM: Does the festival take place at different venues around town?

Murphy: The 10-day Reel Q festival takes place at Row House Cinema in Lawrenceville, but we do hold events throughout the year in different places. We have a free film series at Alphabet City in the North Side that runs every month (except September) that focuses on international queer cinema—marginalized voices from countries where it’s not okay to be who you are. This is our fourth year of doing that program. We also host screenings every other month at the Glitter Box Theater in Oakland, which is a small, volunteer art space. Those screenings are for 14- to 21-year-olds and enables us to engage with a teen audience who may not be old enough to attend the film festival.

NHM: What are some of the other events that take place during Reel Q?

Murphy: We will have both an opening and closing night party at Row House—opening night will feature a local queer DJ, drinks, and food from Lawrenceville restaurants. It’s a great time to learn all about the festival and to meet all of our volunteers and board members. The closing party will feature a documentary called Gay Chorus Deep South, which follows the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir on a tour of the deep south. It won the best documentary film at Outfest, which is LA’s LGBT festival. This will be followed by a mini-performance by the Renaissance City Choir.

On Oct. 5, we’ll have our annual party with iCandy Pittsburgh, which focuses on women who love women events. And on Oct. 6, we’ll be hosting Transtastic Shorts, which is a series of shorts with a trans theme. A happy hour will follow that will include information booths, and an informal space to talk and to learn about resources.

On Oct. 9, we’ll be showing Where Justice Ends, a fantastic documentary that deals with trans people being incarcerated at a dangerous rate in America. The director, George Zuber, and its subject, CeCe McDonald, are traveling in for the film, and Ciora Thomas, the founder of SisTers Pittsburgh, a POC (people of color) trans organization, will be moderating the panel.

NHM: What are you most excited about this year?

Murphy: That’s a tough question! I think maybe our new location. We love Lawrenceville—it's such a fun neighborhood. And we couldn’t have felt more welcomed there. We’re incredibly excited to be in a space that really cares about movies and our community. We’ve worked with Row House in the past on some smaller events, and it was a wonderful experience. I’m so excited that we’ve found a home.

NHM: Speaking of other events, tell me about PUFF.

Murphy: The Pittsburgh Underground (Queer) Film Festival (PUFF) grew out of us looking at our demographics and realizing that we weren’t building a strong sense of diversity, whether you were looking at age, geographical location or race. We wanted to find a way to address that, so we decided to hold a smaller festival in the spring that is way more informal than our 10-day event. We wanted to just invite people to come watch movies and hang out. The event has really come into its own this year; held at Alloy Studios, part of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, we screened some very off-the-wall films, including many directed by women and people of color. It also had an incredibly successful art market with 25 local queer vendors and organizations.

NHM: Why is it so important to Pittsburgh that this festival exists?

Murphy: The film viewing experience has changed so dramatically, even in the past several years with so many streaming services, that it’s important to bring people together. There’s something to be said about having successful small theaters, like Row House, which caters to sold-out crowds every week. There’s an audience hungry to see films—who want to talk about them in the lobby afterwards or at dinner. And this way of creating community—especially for the queer community—is so important. So much of what we do, like in most cities, is centered around the bar scene. This is a different way to meet people—to find new friends or form relationships. It’s a great way to build a sense of community with like-minded people.

NHM: How has the film festival changed over the years?

Murphy: I’ve been around seven years and when I started, more or less, it was just an October festival. Over the course of the last five years, we’ve expanded to the point of doing something every month in the city and in several different neighborhoods. We’re heavily involved with other organizations that share the same values. We’ve got a much more diverse and engaged board and volunteer base than we did when we started. 

Our goals have always been to give people the opportunity to experience a new fantastic film, have their ideas challenged, and to come to laugh and hang out with friends. A film festival should be an experience, and it should be festive—it’s even in the name. When you add all of these elements together, you create a stronger sense of community, which elevates the experience even more.

Ed. Note: To view the Reel Q film schedule, visit www.ReelQ.com. The festival is also always looking for volunteers; if you want to help, fill out the online form in the volunteer section.