QFest Is Here and All About Town

QFest is here. It's queer. Attend it.

Houston's Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival, also known as QFest Houston, begins today and lasts until Monday, July 30. The film festival will celebrate its 16th anniversary with 19 films at six locations: the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Rice Media Center, Aurora Picture Show, Discovery Green and adding the newly opened Asia Society Texas Center and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to its list of venues. "The Board of QFest welcomes our new collaboration with Asia Society and Alamo Drafthouse with open arms," said QFest board president Kristian Salinas in a press release. "We are grateful for the enthusiasm both organizations have expressed towards our festival, and we thank them both for giving QFest the opportunity to open up our programming to new audiences."

There will also be screenings in Katy, HIV testing at select screenings and a tribute to late filmmaker George Kuchar, who passed away from prostate cancer last September.

This year's collection of narrative, short and documentary films varies from sweet (Gayby), to sensual (Mosquita Y Mari), to sexual (Man at Bath), to super-serious (Rites of Passage).

"Rites of Passage" is a 20-minute documentary by Jeff Roy about Maya Jafar, a transgendered Muslim woman who travels to Bangkok, Thailand, to undergo sex reassignment surgery. The film is a POV look into Jafar's insecurities and anxieties as she goes through the surgery alone; without the support of friends or family ("I hated my father my entire life," she says), she feels "as insane, as crazy, as anxious, as hyper" as a mental patient. "I had reached a point where I would either commit suicide or I would do the transition." ("Rites of Passage" will show on Saturday, July 28, at 3 p.m. at the Asia Society Texas Center. Roy and Jafar will be in attendance.)

Jobriath A.D., screening Saturday, July 28, and Sunday, July 29, at Alamo Drafthouse and Rice Media Center respectively, chronicles the rise and fall of openly gay '70s rock musician Jobriath. The documentary mixes moving first-person graphic novel imagery with photograph-led narrative throughout.

Director Kieran Turner, who has been making LGBT-themed films for 20 years, sought to reclaim the legacy of the fallen rock star with the documentary.

"To me, Jobriath was one of the great lost musicians of all time, said Turner. "Everyone had all but forgotten about him, and his reputation was such that all anyone knew about was that he was a flash-in-the-pan joke. I wanted to make sure that his legacy was preserved, both as a groundbreaker in the GLBT community and also as a kick-ass musician."

"I would love for people to become more curious about their history, the history of the GLBT community, and realize all the amazing people who came before them and broke down the barriers so they could have the freedoms they enjoy," Turner added. "I would also love it if people were inspired to live their lives honestly and take chances and create their art no matter what the challenges. Because that's all Jobriath wanted to do -- he wanted to make music for people."

QFest Houston was the 1996 brainchild of several Houston arts organizations: DiverseWorks, Rice Cinema, Landmark Theatres and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. At the time, the festival went under the moniker of HGLFF. Later, the Angelika Film Center and the Aurora Picture Show would join the cast of collaborators.

In 2007, under the direction of current board president Salinas, the film festival shortened its two-week duration to the current five-day one, and changed its name from HGLFF to the quirky, queer-friendly QFest title.

According to the QFest Web site, its purpose is "dedicated to promoting the arts as a powerful tool for communication and cooperation among diverse communities by presenting programs by, about, or of interest to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer community."

The festival closes Sunday with a 7 p.m. Rice Media Center showing of Gayby, a rom-com directed by Jonathan Liesecki, in which a straight woman and her gay male best friend decide to have a baby -- by having sex -- with each other.

To attend QFest and to view the complete calendar, visit q-fest.org.

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