Will LaBahn has loved movies since he was a kid listening to his grandmother spin backlot tales about Hollywood in the 1920s. Her husband had been a movie exec when the sign on those arid hills still read “Hollywoodland.”
“It was a small but wildly growing industry then,” recalled the local businessman and nascent film producer in an email. “There were many mergers, and many actors who got involved with the business side of the industry, and who also started their own production companies. So, you can imagine I got the ‘film bug.’
“My interest in film focused less on the actors and their acting, but rather on how a film project was put together and produced,” wrote LaBahn, a co-founder and partner in Story Mountain Entertainment, a Denver-based film production company.
Denver Film’s artistic director Keith Garcia, too, recalls when his relationship to cinema was cemented. He was 12 and had gone to see “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” Robert Zemeckis’ delightful, visionary braiding of live-action with animation.
After the showing, Garcia hid in the theater’s restroom so he could see it a second time. Later that year, he checked out his first subtitled movie, Pedro Almodóvar’s “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” at the library. “The soup those two make is essentially my taste.”
For the past four years, Garcia and LaBahn have intertwined their movie love, working together to heighten the profile of the Denver Film’s Cinema Q Film Festival: LaBahn as the fest’s presenting sponsor; Garcia as its savvy, boundary-pushing programmer.
Cinema Q will celebrate its 13th installment beginning Aug. 26. When it opens with the splendid documentary “My Name Is Pauli Murray,” the fest will become the first of Denver Film’s mini festivals to have an in-person component since the pandemic. The rest of the festival’s film screen virtually, through Aug. 29.
The economics of film festivals require deft grant-writing, robust audiences and, most of all, committed benefactors. The most visionary patrons see opportunities to build not only personal and professional brands but also shape community through the storytelling arts. LaBahn credits arts patron Barbara Bridges, the force behind Denver Film’s most successful niche festival, Women + Film, for some of his insights.
If you go
Cinema Q Film Festival, Denver Film’s annual festival of LBGTQ cinema. Opening night Aug. 26 at the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 E. Colfax Ave: “My Name Is Pauli Murray” in-person showing at 7 p.m. with a post-screening virtual Q&A. Virtual screening available that day as well, starting at 7 p.m. All other films screen virtually on the Denver Film’s Virtual Cinema platform at denverfilm.org and by downloading the Denver Film app for Roku TV or Apple TV. Go to denverfilm.org for ticket information.
“Barbara is a good mentor of mine. She has her thing, and it’s a tremendous success. But we see a lot of growth potential with Cinema Q,” said LaBahn, sitting with Garcia in the Sie FilmCenter last week.
“One of my dreams is to — for lack of a better word — do outreach, where we bring Cinema Q to the other festivals in the state, even if it’s just one screening,” LaBahn said. He sees an opportunity to enhance the offerings of the state’s general film festivals that don’t have (or haven’t cultivated) the curatorial chops to program films with LGBTQ content.
“It expands our audience,” he said. We can take this national, and I would love to do that because we have a unique product.”
A festival that creates space for LGBTQ filmgoers and filmmakers isn’t segregated or unapproachable; it’s unapologetic. “I think it is a trajectory that we’re already on and that a lot of queer film festivals should be on, which is bringing this visibility to filmgoers in general,” said Garcia. “These are amazing stories that affect everyone. And these are films made for everyone.”
Some of this year’s offerings: Well-reviewed out of the SXSW film fest, “See You Then” reunites former lovers 15 years later, after one has transitioned; the French dramedy “My Best Part” finds its protagonist, a fortysomething actor, headed from Paris to his mother’s home in the country; the Martin Scorsese-produced “Building a Bridge,” about a Catholic priest set on making the church more welcoming; and “Raw! Uncut! Video,” which tells the story of Palm Drive Video, a porn biz that may have saved lives during the AIDS crisis with its kink and fetish titles.
“In fact, a good documentary should show you something you have no idea about, something that really makes you think. We start with the jumping-off point that this is focused on queer content — queer visions, queer voices, queer visibility — but it’s a movie. Everyone should be looking for good movies.”
Cinema Q’s film lineup
This year’s roster exemplifies the space that festivals create for their communities by prioritizing under-represented filmmakers and their stories. There are moments of recovery and discovery, celebration and advocacy — sometimes all in one movie. Four high points among this year’s 12 films:
“My Name Is Pauli Murray”
Seemingly years if not decades ahead of her time, the civil rights, women’s rights, human rights champion Pauli Murray also was a queer maverick. Betsy West and Julie Cohen, the directors of this year’s opening night film, became intrigued with Murray when they were working on their Oscar-nominated doc about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “RBG.” What they share — with the aid of Murray’s biographers, her niece, Bader Ginsburg and a mix of other sharp interviewees — is humbling. But it’s the impossibly rich trove of Murray’s writings — intimate, incisive, lyrical — that proves nothing short of stunning. After the showing, there will be a virtual chat with Cohen and West, moderated by Lisa Kennedy. Screening Aug. 26 at the Sie FilmCenter.
“No Straight Lines: The Rise of Queer Comics”
For her joyous, illuminating plunge into the world of queer comic book artists, director Vivian Kleiman sought out five groundbreakers of the genre: Howard Cruse, Jen Camper, Rupert Killard, Alison Bechdel and Mary Wings. She also spotlights a roster of the young creatives who they inspired and made room for. There is no letter in LGBTQ+ not represented here. Race, ethnicity and disability status get their beautiful flourishes here, too. But it’s just plain fun to listen to Bechdel talk about her tools of the trade (like a Hunt 100 dipped in rapidograph ink, for you pen-curious types). Screening virtually Aug. 26-29.
Watch “Jump, Darling” for Cloris Leachman’s final performance. Stay for the tart and tender story of Russell, a thwarted actor and newbie drag performer, and his grandmother Margaret. A split with his partner sends Russell reeling from Toronto to his grandmother’s house in Prince Edward County. He’s not there for entirely altruistic reasons. Margaret’s growing increasingly forgetful, and her daughter wants to relocate her to an assisted-living complex. One might assume that Leachman nailed the role of a fading senior with dementia because she herself was a fading senior. (Leachman, who died in January, was 92 during production.) Instead, hers is a refined performance, infused with vulnerability and deadpan truths. Thomas Duplessie makes Russell at times infuriating, yet leaves room for kindness and growth, too. Writer-director Phil Connell’s debut film (a grappling with his own grandmother’s decline) navigates the warts and wonders of family. And, yes, there are some mighty fine moments of drag swagger to boot. Screening virtually Aug. 26-29.
“The Leather Boys”
Rummaging the vaults of queer cinematic history is often intriguing if not necessarily uplifting. The gorgeous restoration of 1964’s “The Leather Boys” is a case in point. It provides rich sociology lessons in film pushing the boundaries of gender and sexuality in ’60s Britain. Director Sidney J. Furie’s drama about biker culture features the budding friendship of Reggie and Pete. When young marrieds Dot and Reggie run aground and then Reggie’s grandfather dies, Reg and Pete move in together. Theirs is a romantic friendship, even if it’s triangulated, even if Reggie is rather clueless. Throughout much of the film, Pete reads as a confident hail-fellow-well-met, or, as someone describes him, “eccentric.” Dudley Sutton is compelling for his tempered performance of the gregarious biker. And the movie’s depiction of gender and marital expectations is engrossing, thanks to Rita Tushingham’s turn as Dot. Screening virtually Aug. 26-29.
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