After an unexpected hiatus, the Appalachian Queer Film Festival returns to West Virginia with a series of shows at the Floralee Hark Cohen Cinema, in Charleston, beginning Thursday.
Festival organizer Jon Matthews said it was a struggle to bring the festival back from the brink of oblivion, but it important to do so.
“So, yes, having this festival is part of a mission to reach out and open some minds,” Matthews said. “That stereotype about small-mindedness in Appalachia fits sometimes, but the festival is also about showing the outside world that West Virginia is really tolerant. It’s awesome that we have a festival like this in West Virginia, when other states just don’t.”
The Appalachian Queer Film Festival opened in Lewisburg in 2015, and Matthews said it was a clear success. The shows did well, and the festival was covered by national media, specifically Indiewire and the Huffington Post. But then a year later, the Koch Brothers sponsored a study on government waste.
The Applachian Queer Film Festival was targeted in that study, mostly, Matthews said, because of the use of the word “Queer.”
“Oh gosh, look they’re using this inflammatory word and our funds were cut,” the filmmaker said.
It wasn’t that the film festival received a lot of money from government-related sources, but it was enough to throw them off balance.
They hobbled along through the next two years, but then took last year off. They needed time to regroup and come up with more support, which they managed to raise.
“I decided that if I had to fund the films myself or get my film school friends to donate films, we were doing this,” he said.
Matthews did get some help from friends, but he noted that a lot of other people pulled together to bring the festival back.
There’s a lot to see over the next few days, he said. There are stories and documentaries exploring different aspects of the LGBTQ community.
There’s no need to be afraid of the word “queer.”
“That was a word that used to be used to denigrate people, but the LGBTQ community picked it up,” he said. “They turned it on its head and made it empowering.”
Once, it was a word that meant exclusion. Now, it means inclusion.
“Everybody is welcome,” Matthews said.
Appalachian Queer Film Festival schedule
At Floralee Hark Cohen Cinema, 230 Capitol St. (in the basement of Taylor Books).
“To The Stars,” 7 p.m. Friday (unrated, drama) — A farmer’s daughter becomes involved with a reckless, new girl in 1960s Oklahoma.
“Gay Chorus Deep South,” 4 p.m. Saturday (unrated, documentary) — After a wave of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws and a divisive election, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus embarks on a tour of the Deep South.
“Jules of Light and Dark,” 7 p.m. Saturday (unrated, drama) — Two young lovers are found wrecked on the side of the road after a party. During rehab, their relationship falls apart.
“Outspoken” short film & discussion, 4 p.m. Sunday
“Before You Know It” 7 p.m. Sunday (unrated, comedy) — Sisters discover their mother isn’t dead and is starring on a soap opera.
Tickets to all shows: Adults $9. Students $5.