A celebration of queer culture on film

Fairy Tales Film Fest brings unity to LGBTTQ community

Fonts convey a story. That premise is more or less what keeps type designers employed and is also part of why the logos of Wikipedia Time Magazine and Run-D.M.C. are so recognizable. Feature-length documentaries such as Helvetica and Typeface are about fonts although it’s safe to assume that art college students make up a majority of the viewers.

The organizing committee of the Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival obviously understand the importance of typography. Last year promotional materials used a typeface intentionally similar to the Campbell’s Soup logo which assisted in proliferating the witty message that “labels are for soup cans.” This time around the font used for the non-profit festival’s posters and fliers is the western-themed Cattlebrand which looks exactly like the name suggests.

“It’s a bit of a poke at what culture’s perceived to be in Calgary” explains Melody Jacobson the programming and producing director of the festival. “The Stampede’s 100 years old. I think that anyone who’s involved in culture in the city knows that it’s a lot more diverse than the Stampede but we wanted to have fun with it.”

If any festival has the authority to satirize Calgary’s diversity it’s Fairy Tales; the fest has been screening feature films documentaries and shorts made about the lives and experiences of people who self-identity as lesbian gay bisexual transgender two-spirited and queer (LGBTTQ) for 14 years. Originally started as a program under the umbrella of the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers (CSIF) the now-independent festival extends over 10 days and features filmmaker panels master classes and wild parties in addition to the screenings.

But just because the festival is well established — it’s now the largest queer film festival east of Vancouver and west of Toronto — doesn’t mean that the organizing team is afraid of altering the tried-and-true formula. In fact the small changes that are being implemented this year may serve to provide the perfect ironic contrast to the cowboy-esque font and the centennial of the predictable Stampede.

Short film nights at past Fairy Tales festivals have been divided into gay lesbian transgendered Canadian and youth programs. Anyone could attend but the intent was to provide safe spaces for those who identified as belonging to the LGBTTQ community to view the films. This year that system has been replaced by spreading the programming across nights and titling the short programs with names such as “Family Shorts” and “Feisty Shorts.”

Jacobson explains the rationale for the decision by saying that “there’s a time now for the community as a whole and that includes allies and all orientations to really learn from each other through film and to see the similarities and differences so that they can actually speak as a community again.” She cites how issues like the AIDS crisis in the 1980s affected every corner of the community (which festival audiences can witness in the documentary United in Anger: A History of ACT UP ). That’s just one example of the need for integration and conversation between disparate corners of the community.

Change was also forced upon the festival when Club Sapien a popular gay nightclub closed in February. In the past many Fairy Tale parties have been hosted there; Jacobson says that it was a comfortable spot for the queer community and that the closure of the nightclub required the festival to find venues to host special events.

Everything appears to have worked out in favour of the festival’s inherent commitment to diversity: the musical Leave It on the Floor was screened at the EvelineCharles Academy earlier this month by the festival which Jacobson says likely wouldn’t have happened if there hadn’t been a venue shortage. The downtown Marriot and Good Life Community Bike Shop will also serve as spaces for the festival’s catered opening party and glam rock-themed closing party while most of the 17 features and four shorts segments (with 32 individual films) will be screened at Kensington’s Plaza Theatre.

So how will Calgary respond to the rapid growth of the fabulous queer culture that Fairy Tales celebrates? Encouraging letters written by MLA Kent Hehr and Mayor Naheed Nenshi about the festival are published in the opening pages of the program guide. TD Bank and First Calgary Financial are two of the many sponsors. As Jacobson summarizes “Calgary has a hidden side where it’s not actually as conservative and close-minded as it is portrayed.” Perhaps in a couple of years Fairy Tales won’t have to satirize the perceived predominant culture through its font choice: It’ll be a celebrated part of that very culture.