In 2009, when Rachel Chanoff had just begun programming at the 92Y Tribeca in New York, she asked Ira Sachs (the director of the ’12 Sundance hit “Keep the Lights On” and ’05 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner “Forty Shades of Blue”) if he’d be interested in programming a queer film series for the space’s ambitious and eclectic film program. Sachs had recently met a young filmmaker, Adam Baran (who was then Contributing Editor at the iconic Butt Magazine and is currently working on a short film, “Jackpot”), and the two had been talking about approaching film from an art perspective. Together, Sachs and Baran joined forces to accept Chanoff’s offer.
Three years later, the monthly film series is one of the best programmed and most community-centered in the city, regularly selling out shows at their new, larger venue, the IFC Center in the West Village. Last night, they debuted at Cinefamily’s Silent Movie Theatre, where they will stay for an undetermined amount of time, at least until Baran ends his new job at Outfest this July. Each month, they invite a queer artist who works in any medium to present a film that informed their work.
But what made Ira say yes to Chanoff’s offer? “I’d been working the year before on the Obama campaign,” Sachs recalled. “I had learned then that I could organize my friends in a way that was effective and rewarding. [Starting up Queer|Art|Film] seemed like a continuation of the idea of bringing togehter the people that I know in New York: interesting, competent, creative people. And so, I decided I wanted to do a series with Adam.”
The series began with performance artist John Kelly, who introduced Jean Cocteau’s “Blood of a Poet.” Recounting the experience, Sachs told Indiewire, “He spoke about the importance of being a gay teenager in New Jersey who was able to come over the river and saw this Cocteau film. He said he felt the film gave him a permission to make work in a different kind of way and live in a different kind of way. That idea of permission is the thing I take most personally from the series — the films and the existence of this audience makes me feel the permission to approach my own filmmaking in a different way. I can see that this audience exists concretely.”
Saying that the series is definitely not post-gay, Sachs added, “What we’re trying to do is expand and re-examine the notion of queer cinema. We’re looking at Chantal Ackerman and Fellini, not necessarily films with queer content, and seeing a wider context for difference.”
For the duo, a sense of community is essential for Queer|Art|Film. Sachs noted, “It’s important that we’re physically based within a specific community. We’re working with local artists and a local audience.”
Baran added that he was surprised at how quickly he was able to find that same sense of community in Los Angeles. After noting how surprised he was that the city’s art resurgence fostered great film programming all over the city, Baran said that when it came down to it, Cinemafamily was the obvious home for Queer|Art|Film in the city of angels: “The programming they put on is so wild and innovative. It really appeals to my sensibility, good art film, good camp film, just good film. They were really excited about it. They didn’t have an ongoing series with a queer focus.”
Outside of the film series, Sachs is preparing to release “Keep the Lights On” and is currently in the middle of facilitating his inaugural class of Queer|Art|Mentorship’s, which focuses on artists in multiple media. Three filmmaker teams have formed (Barbara Hammer with Xavier Marrades, Matt Wolf with Hima B., and Jennie Livingston with Edward McDonald). Baran is busy at work on his short “Jackpot,” for which he has an expanded feature script, and he is currently the Programming Coordinator at Outfest, LA’s LGBT Film Festival.
This past week, New York’s Monday screening of “Postcards from America,” hosted by Rose Troche (“Go Fish”) sold out, and last night’s Los Angeles debut was a double feature of Jean Vigo’s “Zero de conduite” (1933) and the Joan Rivers-penned TV special “The Girl Most Likely To….” (1973), starring Stockard Channing, presented by “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” director John Cameron Mitchell.
If you could bring back someone from the dead to present a film at Queer|Art|Film?
Sachs: Rainer Werner Fassbinder or Charles Ludlam
Baran: Fassbinder or Derek Jarman
If you weren’t the organizers and you were asked to present a film at a Queer|Art|Film event, which would you choose?
Sachs: “L’homme blessé” by Patrice Chéreau
Baran: Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused”; I always identified with the Wiley Wiggins character, and I’ve tried to put some of that into my script for “Jackpot.”
What was your favorite moment from a Queer|Art|Film event so far?
Sachs: It was great seeing [Charles Ludlam’s] “The Sorrows of Dolores” with Everett Quinton and Lola Pashalinski. It felt like seeing cinema history happen in front of our eyes. I also really enjoyed re-watching [Marlon Riggs’] “Tongues Untied.” I saw it when it first came out and didn’t respond to it. Twenty years later, I had a completely different perspective. Those twenty years made it an incredibly profound experience, based on age and a different perspective.
Baran: The “Mademoiselle” screening with Wayne Kostenbaum was great. It’s a film I adore, and seeing it on screen and having him engage the audience, talking about paganism and pagan rituals. Wayne, of course, is brilliant, and he was able to deal with the queer underside of the film in a way unlike anything I’ve encountered.
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