Following up on an earlier vow to watch and review more short films, I decided to kick off my reviews from the 15th annual QFest St. Louis with one of the shorts programs. As with the other three programs of short films at this year’s QFest, Queer Shorts 1: Sublime Journeys is available for home screening over the duration of the festival (April 29-May 5) as well as having one in-person screening (April 29 at 6:30 pm for this program).
Like all the best road trip movies, David Luis Perez’s “Living Our Lives” (33 min.) involves both a real and a metaphorical journey. The director travels to various countries to interview a variety of GLBTQ+ people, whose homelands range from Bermuda to Cameroon to Wales to Argentina. Perez intersperses thoughts about his own life between the interviews, journeying to a better understanding of his own life through insights gained from his 60+ interview subjects (only a few are seen at length, with the rest included in a photo montage at the end of the film). The results are sometimes quite profound, and the mood is generally upbeat (aided by beautiful cinematography and calm music) despite many of the interviewees recalling times of distress and difficulty.
“Prayers for Sweet Waters” (16 min.), directed by Elijah Ndoumbe, focuses on three people who moved to Cape Town, South Africa, and became sex workers there. Wes is a 22-yar-old who reflects on the positive aspects of his line of work: he found community among other sex workers, clients have helped him “get through a lot of hard times in my life,” and through sex work he’s learned to love his body again. Gulam, a trans woman, calls herself “an individual with a path” who has taken a leadership role among sex workers and says she’s managed to “carve out my existence against all odds.” Flavi, identified male at birth in Burundi, says her mother accepted her identity but that clients sometimes react badly when they learn she is trans. Dreamlike sequences complement straightforward interviews, while the soft jazz soundtrack creates a calm, secure mood.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Steph Borklund’s “Two Sides” (15 min.) is a documentary, right up to the end credits, when it becomes clear that you’ve been watching actors in a scripted film. The story told, of a father (Rob Doyen) and lesbian daughter (Emme Perkins) who learn to accept and understand each other after a break and difficult period of conflict, is told straightforwardly but with careful visual choices (note where the “interviews” take place, and how that changes) that mimic the journey to understanding taken by the two characters.
Joss Barton’s “When the Oracles” (14 min.) offers the least straightforward narrative of any film in this program. The first half consists of the recitation of a poem by the St. Louis director (and spoken word poet and writer and journalist) against a background of intriguing, sometimes abstract images. The second half features the performance of a song complementary to the poem of the first half, and the experience is heightened throughout by the evocative cinematography of Sergio Buchanan.
Leanne Hanley’s “Sapphire” (14 min.) makes visual the attempt of a man to imagine a new life for himself, courtesy of an alter ego named Sapphire. Hanley uses drab black and white cinematography to present “real” life, while the fantasy sequences take place in a candy-colored dream world of glamour, and not coincidentally one in which Sapphire appears to have pinched the red dressing gown from Sidney Lumet’s 1974 Murder on the Orient Express (not coincidentally since the dressing gown in Lumet’s film was used to both express and disguise character). | Sarah Boslaugh
All QFest films will be shown at the Galleria 6 Cinema in Richmond Heights. Individual tickets are $15 for general admission and $12 for Cinema St. Louis members and students with valid ID; five-film passes and all-access passes are also available. The shorts programs and two features—The Unabridged Mrs. Vera’s Daybook and Two Eyes—are also available for home viewing in Missouri and Illinois from April 29 through May 5. Proof of full vaccination or a negative PCR test from the previous 72 hours is required for in-person screenings. Further information is available from the Cinema St. Louis website.