When Houston summers become unbearable, there's nothing better than finding relief inside a cool movie theater. QFest delivers that and more, screening thoughtful films that address current events, show inspirational stories of triumph through creativity, and bring guest appearances by noted directors like Harrod Blank (Why Can't I Be Me? Around You), Daniel Beliavsky (Secret Music) and Jonathan Caouette (Tarnation).
Making its Texas debut is a biopic about Italian writer, director and poet Pier Paolo Pasolini. Director Abel Ferrara borrows a page from the controversial filmmaker's rulebook with a gut-punch opening: A young woman or teen, fully nude and in shock from her mother's sudden drowning, is presented as a plaything for four fascist libertines in WWII Italy. The scene depicts Pasolini's final film, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, itself borrowing a page from the Marquis de Sade and where nine adolescents undergo four months of sexual and mental torture; it was and remains a shocking statement about society's voyeuristic compulsions.
Ferrara's Pasolini made its 2014 debut at festivals in Venice and Toronto, and it was only in May of this year when it came to North America after it was picked up by Kino Lorber. Starring Willem Dafoe as the passionate filmmaker who lived for pleasure and was brutally murdered after engaging a hustler, Ferrara takes us through the last 24 hours of the filmmaker's life and introduces some fascinating concepts, including one in which heaven is depicted as climbing steep stairs toward a light and looking up to see the earth spinning rapidly in outer space.
Symbolism was important to Pasolini and Ferrara has interspersed beautiful images of sculpture and architecture; making it all the more poetic that it's being screened at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "I'm happy. It just played at the Museum of Modern Art and the Louvre; I guess that's kind of the venue for Pasolini who was a great artist," says Ferrara.
Pasolini isn't for everybody; there are those in the mainstream who will be shocked at a group of men lining up for blow jobs in the park or a dinner party a la the Rothschild Surrealist Ball where a man bares his rump for penetration while others dine. But Pasolini's message, one that is echoed in Ferrara's film, is that, 'Shouldn't we all stop to think about what we're doing and what we believe and consider that maybe a different way of thinking might be better?' In a scene from Pasolini during an interview with a reporter, the late filmmaker elaborates on what he sees as the problem:
“The tragedy is there are no more human beings. There are only strange machines colliding into each other. And this tragedy starts with the universal compulsory, perverted, system of education that shapes all of us from the so called ruling class right down to the floor. It pushes us to the arena of having things, everything, at any cost. That’s why we all want the same things and behave in the same way."
"For Pasolini, this was 45 years ago, this was pre-Amazon. You know what I mean, pre-consumerism, international consumerism," says Ferrara. "Even in his time he was a communist before there was such a thing as the concept of consumerism but now the whole world is consumer crazy. He saw it immediately. He lived through WWII, he lost his brother in WWII, Europe lost [almost] 100 million people. He thought that consumerism was worse than fascism and you can’t fight it. People want, you want, and you're conditioned to want, to buy, to have."
There's a brutality in Pasolini's murder on a dark beach in Rome. It's difficult to watch but it's also a poignant and timely warning as pockets of hatred continue to pop up around the world and on our shores.
"The point is he died because of his lifestyle, it was politically motivated. He was an out gay person and in 1975 in Rome believe me it wasn’t so easy a position to take but he took it, he was a radical," says Ferrara. "He was a free gay man and that was his pursuit. It wasn’t random, he searched out what he was looking for. What he was looking for, what can you say — he wasn’t hanging out at museums — he was going to the darkest side of town looking for kids, some of whom were killers. It was some kind of primal, vital thing."
We'll also be seeing a few regional premieres in QFest's 23rd year. Blank's film is making its Houston debut and his subject Rusty Tidenberg — the auto mechanic and drag-racing aficionado who shocked friends by coming out as trans — will be in attendance. Another Houston premiere is Cassandro, the Exotico! and the gender-bending cross-dressing Mexican wrestler itself will be flamboyantly in the house over at MFAH.
The QFest schedule runs deep, with a few warnings in place: Fisting: Never Tear Us Apart, Pasolini and Until Porn Do Us Part... are reserved for the 18 and up crowd, while Cinema Poverté isn't for the photosensitive. But over at the Holocaust Museum Houston they're showing an uplifting movie where Leslie Kee, one of Asia's top fashion photographers, hopes to use art to change society in an ambitious goal of photographing 10,000 LGBT subjects.
This year's festival also has a good number of competition films: Several Conversations About a Very Tall Girl, Secret Music, Stabat Mater Dolorosa, Fisting: Never Tear Us Apart, Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life, Until Porn Do Us Part…, Khejdi, Being Impossible, Fornacis and Portraits of the Rainbow.
Read more about 2019's QFest; note that movies still continue to be added:
Wednesday, July 24
7:30 p.m., Paris is Burning, directed by Jennie Livingston, Rice Media Center, 2030 University Boulevard, $15
Thursday, July 25
7 p.m., Cassandro, the Exotico!, directed by Marie Losier, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, $8 to $10
9:30 p.m., End of the Century (Fin de siglo), directed by Lucio Castro, Regal Edwards MarqE, 7620 Katy Freeway, price to be announced
Friday, July 26
7 p.m., Several Conversations About a Very Tall Girl, directed by Bogdan Theodor Olteanu, Rice Media Center, 2030 University Boulevard, $10
7 p.m., Tongues Untied, directed by Marion Riggs, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, $8 to $10
8:45 p.m., Secret Music, directed by Daniel Beliavsky, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, $8 to $10
9 p.m., Stabat Mater Dolorosa, directed by Piotr Macha, Rice Media Center, 2030 University Boulevard, $10
9:30 p.m., Lies and Other Sweet Nothings My Lovers Told Me: Narrative Shorts 1, Brasil, 2604 Dunlavy, $10
11 p.m., Fisting: Never Tear Us Apart, directed by Whammy Alcazaren, Rice Media Center, 2030 University Boulevard, $10
Saturday, July 27
2 p.m., Cinema Poverté: a collection of rarely seen music videos, shorts, & works in progress, made with little to no money, directed by Jonathan Caouette, Rice Media Center, 2030 University Boulevard, $10
5 p.m., Before Stonewall, directed by Greta Schiller and Robert Rosenberg, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, $8 to $10
5 p.m., Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life, directed by Tomer Heymann, Rice Media Center, 2030 University Boulevard, $10
7 p.m., Pasolini, directed by Abel Ferrara, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, $8 to $10
7 p.m., Experimental Shorts, Aurora Picture Show, 2442 Bartlett, $10
9 p.m., Men's Own Stories, programmed by Bill Arning, Aurora Picture Show, 2442 Bartlett, $10
9:30 p.m., Tales from the Passenger Seat, Brasil, 2604 Dunlavy, $10
11 p.m., Until Porn Do Us Part..., directed by Jorge Pelicano, Rice Media Center, 2030 University Boulevard, $10
Sunday, July 28
2 p.m., Khejdi, directed by Rohit Dwivedi, Rice Media Center, 2030 University Boulevard, $10
3 p.m., Stranger Than Fiction: Documentary Shorts, Mystic Lyon, 5017 Lyons Avenue, $10
5 p.m., Tarnation, directed by Jonathan Couette, Rice Media Center, 2030 University Boulevard, $10
7:30 p.m., Angel, directed by Robert Vincent O'Neill, Rice Media Center, 2030 University Boulevard, $10
9:30 p.m., Sexy Shorts (NSFW), Brasil, 2604 Dunlavy, $10
Monday, July 29
7 p.m., Being Impossible, directed by Patricia Ortega, Rice Media Center, 2030 University Boulevard, $10
8 p.m., A Bigger Splash, directed by Jack Hazan, Regal Edwards MarqE, 7620 Katy Freeway, price to be announced
9:30 p.m., Fornacis, directed by Aurélia Mengin, Rice Media Center, 2030 University Boulevard, $10
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Tuesday, July 30
6:30 p.m., Portraits of the Rainbow, directed by Ayumi Nakagawa, Holocaust Museum Houston - Lester and Sue Smith Smith Campus, 5401 Caroline, $10
8 p.m., Celebration, directed by Olivier Meyrou, Regal Edwards MarqE, 7620 Katy Freeway, price to be announced
Wednesday, July 31
7 p.m., Why Can't I Be Me? Around You, directed by Harrod Blank, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, $8 to $10
QFest is a sponsored project of Aurora Picture Show, a 501(c)3 presenting artist-made, non-commercial film and video.
QFest is scheduled for July 24 through July 21 at various locations. For information, visit q-fest.com. $8 to $15, or $75 for a QPass.