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The Future of Queer Film: Meet Ruthie Doyle and ‘La Vernia’

The Future of Queer Film: Meet Ruthie Doyle and 'La Vernia'

What is the future of queer film? Is it going off the boil or is there no reason to worry? Is increased visibility and legal recognition a boon or a menace to a sector of the industry so known for innovation, creative risk, and otherwise sidelined stories? Some worry about mainstream acquiescence, a loss of “transgressive fury” which animated so much 90s queer cinema. Others notice a paucity in production: there was no lesbian film in contention for the Teddy at this year’s Berlinale. 

Here at /bent we’re not pessimists. Every day we learn about new projects and new filmmakers with exciting scripts and more than enough subversive vision. The problem, as we see it, is one of money and exposure. That’s where we step in. We want to introduce you to the most impressive of the stories that come to our attention and give you a chance to help along those that spark your imaginations too. In this series we’ll profile a number of up-and-coming queer filmmakers and introduce you to their projects. The rest is up to you!

First up is writer and director Ruthie Doyle and her short film La Vernia“.

“La Vernia” caught our attention immediately for the sheer number of stunningly talented women it has on board. This might sound a patronising thing to notice, but its hard not to when film sets are so frequently dominated by men.

More importantly we loved the story. “La Vernia”, a narrative film, follows EstherAnn Graber, and her trip back to her rural Texas home. The queer homecoming is an old trope, but Doyle recasts it with a gently subversive insistence that the challenges facing EstherAnn are not around her sexuality per se, but her current relationships and old family dynamics. Being queer, here, isn’t the only lens mediating her experiences, it sits with each of the other cross-cutting realities of her subjective experience.

I asked Ruthie to tell me a bit more about the film, her team and how “La Vernia” relates to previous traditions in queer cinema:

There are some autobiographical elements, but “La Vernia” is definitely a narrative film

It’s really about family (blood and chosen), the ways people (don’t) connect, and intimacy.

I grew up in San Antonio, Texas. I moved to New York and was based in Brooklyn for 11 years, spending a lot of that time in the EU (Paris, Amsterdam), and then moved to LA a few years ago. My parents now live on 100 acres of trees in rural Texas, so visiting them is pretty different from anywhere I’ve called home since leaving (the next closest town to where my parents live is the titular La Vernia, which has a population of 1200 people). I know my family loves me and is proud of me, but everything I do is pretty “weird.” I really identified when I heard the choreographer Bill T Jones tell the story of how his mom got on stage with him once and prayed, “Lord, bless my son in whatever it is he thinks he’s doin’.”

I was really close to my grandparents (I even lived with my grandma when I came home for summers during undergrad). My maternal grandfather died when I was little, but a few years ago, all three of my remaining grandparents died one after the other, within about a year of each other, my grandmothers really unexpectedly. While dealing with my own grief, I was shocked to experience how much family politics come into play during these difficult transition times.

Some of the debates around women in film are so sad they’re almost funny

A couple of years ago there were no films directed by women in competition at Cannes (and only around 2 in the Un Certain Regard section), and there was this crazy discussion swirling around, like “where would programmers find these women?” And “there shouldn’t be ‘pity slots’ to up the woman quota,” or that “all the women finished their films later in the year…”

I happen to have a lot of rad female and trans friends who are doing really interesting things and a lot of them are queer. Those are the people in my community, the people I feel comfortable with, and so of course I was drawn to working with them—especially because “La Vernia” has such intimate moments. I also love the kind of collaboration and less-hierarchical leadership that seems generally more common when working with women.

The cast of”La Vernia” is also female-driven. It’s kind of wild learning that only a third of speaking characters are women (and I wonder how deep “speaking” needed to be to qualify). And maybe unsurprisingly, these numbers go up when women direct.

We’re experiencing a renaissance in queer filmmaking but there’s still plenty to do

It’s 20 years after B. Ruby Rich named “New Queer Cinema,” and I feel so privileged to work within this milieu. But at the Berlinale this year I was shocked by how many films (spoiler alert!) still ended with the LGBT character beat up, killed, etc. (And on a more personal note, a lack of women kissing!) “La Vernia” has a queer lead, but that’s just a fact of who she is, it’s not a point of conflict. Luckily I think it’s clear that’s the direction that we’re moving in with gay films.

I adored Stacie Passon’s “Concussion” last year; while it doesn’t use that kind of formal innovation, the characters and plot are constructed in such a sensitive and subtle way, which I’m really attracted to and don’t remember seeing often (or even ever, in relation to its subject matter). Also, my favorite film for a long time was “The Piano”. I was a kid in Texas when it came out and I was mesmerized (to bring it all back together-Jane Campion was the only woman to win the Palme D’Or). We didn’t really get indie movies at “a theater near me” growing up, but I learned to look for the laurels in the video store. Indies like “Concussion” and “The Piano” seem to center more often on the subjective experience of women, too, much like “La Vernia”

There is support out there for new queer and female talent

Being an independent filmmaker I’m sure has never been easy. Crowdfunding, VOD and self-distribution put even more responsibility on individual filmmakers, but they’re certainly also allowing more eyeballs on a wider variety films, as evidenced by the emergence of support programs like the Sundance Institute’s #ArtistServices. This is great for new queer and female talent.

Also, filmmaker Lizzie Borden donated to the “La Vernia” Kickstarter campaign, and I think that will remain a highlight of my life! It’s pretty amazing to have people you admire reach out to hold you up, and to feel a part of a legacy of queer indie filmmaking.

Watch clips of the in-progress footage from “La Vernia”, learn more about the film and team behind it and, more importantly, donate to the Kickstarter here. (Today – May 2nd – only the first $500 donated will be tripled and all pledges will be dollar for dollar matched.)

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