Last year, programmers rather quietly kicked off an annual effort, qFLIX, to host a queer film fest in Worcester.
The only other distinctly LGBTQ film fest in the state is Boston's Wicked Queer, which marked its 35th anniversary this year. But something special has been happening in central Massachusetts, says qFLIX Worcester producer James Duggan, who has been visiting friends in the area for more than a decade. He and fellow qFLIX producer Thom Cardwell live in Philadelphia where they run a similar festival Cardwell has been programming for nearly 25 years.
They wanted a second outpost and Duggan says Worcester more than fit the bill. He points to a thriving downtown, anchored by the historic Hanover Theatre -- where qFLIX will take place from Thursday, Oct. 11 to Sunday, Oct. 14 -- as well as a dramatic uptick in the city’s Municipal Equality index, a measurement of LGBTQ inclusiveness. “The city feels much more alive than it ever has been,” says Duggan.
Now in its second year, qFLIX Worcester has become what Duggan calls “the largest LGBTQ+ event in Central Massachusetts.” The festival again features 15 programs shown over four days. While the film selection team chooses international titles and nabs premieres when they can, Duggan says stories that matter get top priority.
That stance gives Watertown filmmaker Lisa Olivieri a chance to share her first film “Blindsided” with a new audience, even though it premiered in 2015. (Independent films typically travel a festival circuit for a year or two.) Olivieri says that since she spent nearly 20 years of her life working on the film, she keeps trying “to get it out there.”
Olivieri’s magnetic main character Patricia loves to paint and make films despite having a disease that causes progressive sight and hearing loss. Almost 10 years into filming, Olivieri had a finished cut but felt something was missing. That’s when Patricia opened up about surviving an abusive relationship with Karen, her girlfriend then roommate of 17 years.
Oliveri says she knew she needed to cut an entirely different film.
The powerful result combines Olivieri’s footage of life inside Patricia and Karen’s claustrophobic apartment along with goofy, satirical role-play videos Patricia shot in ostensibly happier times. Olivieri re-watched hours and hours of those videos to find clues about the aggression to help her reshape the film. She also kept a poignant thread about Patricia’s desire to finish a painting.
In a remarkable interview shot after Patricia moves out and marries Bella, Karen openly discusses her aggressive behavior and worries about Patricia falling into a similar situation. “I see in Bella the same things that were in me,” says Karen. Her candor offers the missing piece in so many pubic discussions about partner violence.
But it’s the scenes of everyday interactions, like sharing meals, that reveal Karen’s intractable sadness and the deep-seeded pattern of how the pair (and many couples in unhealthy relationships) relate. In this case, Karen’s impatience with Patricia’s disabilities and Patricia’s dependence on Karen for the same reason. The film opens the door to wonder, is Karen simply jealous when Patricia finds love? Can Bella give Patricia the happy ending we all want for her?
“Blindsided” movingly depicts what often goes unsaid in close relationships, especially between women. Olivieri describes one technique: “When Patricia was painting it would be just her and I. She would talk to me and I wouldn’t answer. I would just keep filming and we got comfortable in those interviews.”
When asked if making the film changed her perspective on domestic violence, Olivieri says, “I thought this film would bring stuff to light but I found a lot of people didn’t want to talk about it.” Even still, she’s glad women are speaking up more in the wake of #MeToo and she's heartened by viewing requests from LGBTQ groups at colleges, from women’s studies and sociology classes, and from social work schools.
Earlier this year Olivieri picked up a jury award for Best Documentary at a joint Women’s Film Festival/qFLIX Philadelphia screening. She says it made sense to find out if qFLIX Worcester would also show her film.
“Definitely,” says Duggan, “we had to present it in Worcester.”
Duggan explains that some but not all films that play Philadelphia will play Worcester and vice versa. This year only Worcester will see “Devil’s Path,” “Ideal Home,” and “My Big Gay Italian Wedding,” for example. “We don’t like to make mirror festivals because there’s so much new material out there,” says Duggan. “There are so many good filmmakers making great LGBTQ+ films, there seems to be an abundance of material to look at.”
Some films, like Olivieri’s, need to be seen no matter what year they were made says Duggan. “We have a film from 2014 that’s hardly ever seen by anybody but we felt it was important,” he says of the Danish film “Speed Walking.”
“A good story that needs to be told doesn’t have an expiration date,” he says.
qFLIX Worcester runs from Thursday, Oct. 11 to Sunday, Oct. 14.