“A little bit more brash … a little more gritty … I want us to be naughty”
This year marks the 39th anniversary of Boston’s longest-running queer film festival, Wicked Queer. Starting March 31 and running to “Gaypril” 9th, the festival features an eclectic collection of domestic and international films, shorts, and documentaries, all up on the big screen.
Founded by George Mansour and birthed in the depths of Boston’s demolished Combat Zone (the city’s unofficial red-light district), the festival has come a long way from its humble beginnings. The idea for Wicked Queer came about when a gloryhole that Mansour put in the men’s bathroom of a derelict movie theater became a smashing success, raking in $10,000 a day. Executive Director Shawn Cotter weighed in on the importance of honoring the festival’s history and their hopes for its future.
“That’s the kind of vibe that we come from. And I kind of want to make sure that we sort of honor that, too,” they said, citing the festival’s unconventional start-up. “I want us to have a different point of view, I want us to be a little bit more brash, I want us to be a little more gritty, I want us to be naughty.”
The festival favors more experimental films, ones that wouldn’t normally be shown in other queer film festivals. Cotter’s goal for the festival is to showcase stories that aren’t shown on the big screen. Being a filmmaker, Cotter is familiar with the predilections of the queer film industry and works to create a space outside of them.
“My films are often too queer for experimental festivals and too experimental for queer festivals… So I wanted to make sure that folks like myself had space.”
The festival features 140 films over ten days and four locations. This year’s theme revolves around queer joy with special attention paid to the art of drag.
“The world is shitty right now, for lack of a better word, and we’re under fire still, as a community, and I want to make sure that we are celebrating queer joy when we can,” Cotter said. “I also like really, really was actively trying to make sure that we had some drag in our lineup as well because drag queens are under fire and drag is one of my favorite artistic expressions.”
With programs like Drag Story Hour becoming the target of extremist groups all across Massachusetts, Cotter noted the importance of valorizing the practice as the art that it is.
“To get into heels and wigs and pads and all that kind of stuff and transform yourself, you’re a soldier. And to go out into the world and present yourself and live with that takes a lot, it takes a lot of chutzpah and, you know, I want to celebrate that bravery.”
Representation isn’t the only focal point for the festival; community and connection are also at the center of its ethos. Coming back for its second year post-Covid, the fest still struggles to overcome the new inclination for streaming services and reclaim its community.
“I want connection, because I feel like that’s something that we all lost during the pandemic was a lot of connection,” Cotter said. “And I feel like gathering in the dark, in front of the fire telling stories is primal and ancient. And the cinema and the projector is that same flickering light that a fire would give. And I wanted to sort of recapture that sort of community and that storytelling tradition with and within the film festival.”
“Come to the movies! Come gather with the community!” they added. “We all deserve to spend some time with some other queers and also walk in the shoes of some folks that you may not know… There’s universality in all of our stories that connect us all and I want to make sure that folks are really feeling that kind of connection.”
The main festival runs from March 31 to April 9 with showings at the ICA, the Brattle Theater, the MFA, and Brighton Family Screening Room at Emerson College. Virtual encores will start April 10 with featured films available for seven days and shorts available until the end of April. More info and tixx at wickedqueer.org.
Avery Fitzgerald is a second-year undergrad at Boston College studying English. She has written for the progressive student publication on campus and is active in other organizations on campus.