The Queer Arts Film Festival brings life back to a dormant niche of the local film scene
The film festival scene in Las Vegas is full of events that cater to specific communities, including the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival and the Nevada Women’s Film Festival, but it’s been nearly 10 years since there was an LGBT-focused film festival in town. Local filmmaker and event coordinator Kris Manzano is helping to fill that niche by putting on the first Las Vegas Queer Arts Film Festival, which takes place November 2-4 at Eclipse Theaters Downtown.
While the NeonFest LGBT film festival attracted decent crowds for a few years, it closed down after its 2009 edition, and Manzano sees the local LGBT film community as a bit fractured now. “I don’t see a lot of members of our community in major roles in the local film industry,” he says. “I created the festival to bring the community together, not only to bring in the LGBTQ artists, but also connect them with the local Las Vegas film industry. To have an event every year that everyone can get excited for.”
Manzano recruited other members of the LGBT community who are active in local film, putting together a six-member board that includes people with film festival experience who could plan an event in less than a year, “from just having an idea while I was sitting on my couch to what it’s become today,” as he says. That event will feature four blocks of short films (including works from local filmmakers Jake Ryan Pepito, Jason Robertson, and Heidi Moore, among others), along with an opening reception, an awards ceremony, and a ball inspired by underground LGBT ballroom culture, as seen on the recent FX series Pose.
Hosted by model and performer The Ghaddess Ajá (who’s also a member of the festival board), the ball will feature four categories for participants to show off their looks and win prizes from festival sponsors. “We wanted every category to not just be based on what you were born with, but more what your talent is, what your skill is, what your artistry is,” Manzano says. “It’s a fun thing that sets us apart from other film festivals.”
Shows such as Pose are part of the increased LGBT representation in mainstream entertainment, and Manzano hopes the festival can contribute to that. “It is really important for film and TV to continue to push forward, because you’re always going to get resistance,” he says.
Locally, LVQAFF has received support from organizers of other film festivals, as well as sponsors such as Las Vegas Pride and the Human Rights Campaign. “It’s been quite a few years since Las Vegas has had a queer cinema festival, so I’m glad someone’s taken it up again,” says historian and Nevada State Museum director Dennis McBride, author of the book Out of the Neon Closet: Queer Community in the Silver State. “It provides us affirmation, context, and connection in the world — more vital today than ever.”
For Manzano, his hope is to bring together the close-knit local film community and the diverse LGBT community, giving inspiration to both. “I hope that it inspires more LGBTQ artists to go out and make stuff, to create art and to connect with filmmakers and to make projects together,” he says. “I’m hoping that they’ll be so excited about it that they’ll want to make stuff for year two.”
Las Vegas Queer Arts Film Festival November 2-4, various times, $12, Eclipse Theaters Downtown, lvqueerarts.com