Wicked Queer is here: alum-programmed film festival uplifts LGBTQ voices

By Ryan Yau, Living Arts Co-Editor

The Boston LGBTQ+ Film Festival—now known as Wicked Queer—has survived the ups and downs of queer history. It was founded in 1984, before gay marriage was even legal in Massachusetts.

The 39th annual Wicked Queer festival will be held from March 31 to April 9. The Brattle Theatre will be its primary venue, but screenings will also be held at the Bright Family Screening Room in the Paramount Center, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and Boston University.

Tickets can be bought on their website or at the individual venues.

Wicked Queer is one of the largest LGBTQ+ film festivals in the U.S. However, while Frameline, Outfest, and other such festivals are nationally funded, Wicked Queer is a fully volunteer-driven effort.

Multi-hyphenate filmmaker and Emerson alum Katie Shannon ‘10 acts as the festival’s director of programming. After receiving her masters from Emerson, she went on to found Thompson Films, a video production company that creates commercials and films. She also teaches film at her alma mater, Stonehill College.

The festival is an opportunity to broadcast a wide variety of voices to New England audiences, Shannon said. The Wicked Queer staff includes people from different countries and backgrounds who work virtually, which gives the festival a richer, more diverse purview.

“We make a point to represent everyone we possibly can, from men to women to trans and nonbinary voices,” Shannon said. “You can’t always help what is submitted, but within what’s submitted you can make sure you have as much representation as you possibly can.”

The vast lineup includes 27 feature films and 13 shorts programs, including films and filmmakers from all over the world.

The festival will open with the U.S. premiere of “Big Boys,” the feature debut of LA-based director Corey Sherman. The movie follows the coming-of-age and coming-out journeys of a young boy who experiences his first crush in the form of his older sister’s boyfriend. The screening will be followed by a Q-and-A with some of the movie’s cast and crew.

“It’s poignant, heartwarming, and it’s funny. It’s really well-written, directed, and the lead is great,” Shannon said in an interview with the Beacon. “I don’t think we’d ever screen a coming-of-age film for an opening night if it wasn’t phenomenal.”

Queerness is the throughline that threads the entire lineup, but Wicked Queer includes works from across the genre gamut. As Shannon’s background is in comedy, she leans towards more lighthearted selections, but the program also contains historical dramas, musicals, and bizzaro sci-fi premises, among others.

For instance, Colombian filmmaker Juan Felipe Zuleta’s “Unidentified Objects” follows a woman and her dwarf neighbor on a road trip to find the aliens she believes abducted her, using an offbeat sci-fi metaphor to represent the sanctuary that queer communities can provide.

Or Dutch filmmaker Urszula Antonak’s “Splendid Isolation,” a movie about two lesbian lovers—one of whom has a fatal illness—living peacefully but separately on a desolate island. One day a stranger appears there, who seems to have followed them. The premise combines a classic European arthouse setup with dystopian COVID-era paranoia, mixed with queer intertext.

Documentaries were a big focus of this year’s lineup, especially against the tide of national anti-queer and especially anti-trans legislation.

“With what’s going on with trans rights, and the ridiculousness against drag queens, we tried to find more documentaries,” Shannon said. “Even if you identify one way, we encourage you to see films that maybe you don’t identify with, just to see through someone else’s eyes.”

“Fiona Clark: Unafraid” celebrates the radical work of queer photographer Fiona Clark, who documented the New Zealand LGBTQ community in the 1970s, even against censorship and public backlash. And “Heels Over Wheels” documents a group of Spanish drag queens who assemble to put on a show for a kid who was bullied for being queer.

These documentaries emphasize the importance of upholding history and historical figures, especially for marginalized groups with often-suppressed histories. Towards this, the festival also incorporates throwback screenings of classic LGBTQ movies.

Among these are Alice Wu’s “Saving Face,” a 2004 intersectional rom-com about a lesbian Chinese-American surgeon, her girlfriend, and her pregnant mother that opened doors for Asian American women–led movies in Hollywood; and Patrice Cheréau’s “L’Homme Blessé,” a 1983 French film about a man who develops an obsession with a stranger he encounters on the train.

“We make it our mission to continue screening our history,” Shannon said. “‘Saving Face’ in particular was a really helpful coming-of-age for me, so I’m excited to bring these to a new generation who maybe haven’t seen these films before.”