Born in San Francisco 23 years ago, the Queer Women of Color Media Access Program (QWOCMAP) offers radical programming year-round with free trainings. And their annual festival, QWOC, accepts films from around the globe, as long as the director is a queer woman or gender non-conforming person of color. This year, QWOC Film Fest walked with the integrity that follows two decades of honoring local Bay Area legacies and the struggles of people of the global majority as I saw in everything from their opening program to their disability justice panel.
QWOC Film Fest 2023 was tucked away in the Presidio Theatre, one of the city’s most remote historical buildings. Tickets were free as was transportation (provided by Presidi-GO) and the N95s at the door. Disabled people were not left behind, but centered. The event featured subtitles, an ASL interpreter, and a Care and Safety crew. Childcare was also available all three days. “We’re basically creating a very temporary time period and small space [that is] the kind of world we want to live in: a world that is accessible,” T. Kebo Drew, QWOCMAP’s managing director, told KQED.
And create it they are. Film is an expansive medium with the potential to suspend belief, holding room for almost all mediums of expression. But it’s also arguably the most recent and most expensive art form, bringing up questions of who has access to create it. Founder Madeline Lim has been conducting free filmmaking classes in San Francisco for years, telling Outlook Video “I saw the need. I didn’t know there was a demand. This was pre-internet, I put up workshop flyers, folks showed up and there was a two-and-a-half-year waitlist… The heart of QWOCMAP is our filmmaker training and those films are showcased at our film festival.” These and international films made the six programmed films a true revelation.
Moon and The Brightest Star by Kendra D. Lee was an astronomical highlight of the QWOC Film Fest centerpiece screening, themed “Gathering Sweetness.” In it, a magical book germinates seeds for Black queer love. It’s a sci-fi romance where the moon falls in love with her brightest star. Which means the lighting, wardrobe, and set design are all sublime. However, what brings us back to Earth is the score, featuring a saxophone performance and vinyl of oldie “Thee Only One x Thee Sinseers.” When I asked her about casting, Kendra shared she had to cast talent in a week. It’s hard to believe as the film paints a stunning picture of love and astronomy.
#LaGaybie is a coming-of-age story in San Francisco’s historic Mission District about a young Latina blooming after being outed by her queer cousin, the self-proclaimed “Fairy Gaymother.” ”The film opens with an excerpt from The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, “I am the Smokey Mirror, because I am looking at myself in all of you, but we don’t recognize each other because of the smoke in-between us. That smoke is the Dream, and the mirror is you, the dreamer.” Director Alma Herrera-Pazmino tells LatinaMediaCo, “The Toltec proverb refers to the metaphorical smoke in our lives which can be our self-hate watered by beliefs or narratives rooted in shame (such as catholic guilt) that stop us from seeing and loving ourselves for who we truly are.” This ancient concept is one she triumphantly brings to life in a contemporary context with support from the local cast and crew. Her community helped secure the iconic La Reyna bakery as a location while her father worked as its composer.
Femme Rage originated with producer/co-director Aïma Paule coming to Bolivian-American filmmaker Sara Taborga with an idea for a smash room, an experiential space to release rage, designed for femmes of color in the Bay Area. The pair created a teaser to promote the experience and realized that they were sitting on something much bigger. Aïma used her talents as an MC to write a poem that functions as the audio backdrop, featuring words from bell hooks and Angela Davis. Director Sara Taborga shot and edited visuals of Black and Brown femmes sharpening machetes, releasing screams, and marching in the streets, evoking catharsis and awe. Femme Rage is the first of a trilogy of short films, so we have much to look forward to from these award-winning filmmakers and the growing Femme Rage movement.
In a time of growing awareness around equity and inclusion, and growing commercial interests in its language and aesthetics for brand profit, relevance, and even defense from criticism — it’s important to pay tribute to those who have always championed our value. Our ideas, our love, our myths, and even our rage all deserve to be accessed with ease and that’s what QWOC Film Fest provides.
If you are reading today, you can still register for their encore screening and watch all films for free tonight!