by Sara Michelle Fetters -
SGN A&E Writer
SEATTLE QUEER FILM FESTIVAL
Jennifer Kroot and Bill Weber's engaging and thought-provoking The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin kicked off the 2017 TWIST: Seattle Queer Film Festival last night at the SIFF Cinema Uptown, the screening of this award-winning documentary launching 11 straight (or should we say LGBTQ) days of LGBTQ cinematic goodness as programmed by the good folks at Three Dollar Bill Cinema. Technically the 22nd year for the festival, but only the second since rebranding itself with a new moniker in 2016, the lineup for this year's annual October event in Seattle is pretty extraordinary. https://www.threedollarbillcinema.org/ - http://3dollarbillcinema.org/twist2017
Featuring a variety of films from around the globe, major releases like Robin Campillo's BPM, Trudie Styler's Freak Show and David France's controversial The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, captivating archival presentations of Robert Wise's The Haunting and Donna Deitch's landmark drama Desert Hearts, and special programs and forums like the return of 'How to be a Trans Ally' and a 'SaturGay Morning Panel' focusing on queers and women in the comic book industry, there's pretty much something for everyone happening during TWIST's 2017 incarnation. There's even a SaturGay Morning cartoon series featuring a vegan-friendly cereal bar, onesies, blankies and stuffed animals not included (if still encouraged).
I sat down with new TWIST festival director Danny Tayara to chat about this year's festival. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation:
Sara Michelle Fetters: So, this is kind of a big deal for you this year, isn't it?
Danny Tayara: [laughs] You could say that, yes: First year as Festival Director. It's exciting!
Sara Michelle Fetters: How are you feeling?
Danny Tayara: I'm feeling definitely a mix of excited and nervous at the same time. It's nothing new for me. I've been in this organization, involved in this organization for more than five years, so it's very familiar terrain, but with very new responsibilities.
Sara Michelle Fetters: What was that moment like for you when Three Dollar Bill Cinema came to you and said, 'Yeah, we do think you're the right person to take this on. We want you to run this year's Festival.'? I mean, it wasn't a shock. You obviously applied, you wanted the job, but then to be given it, to have it offered to you, what was that moment like?
Danny Tayara: Kind of disbelief, because I had been working toward a job like this for a long time, and I had really started considering this position last year when Keith Bacon was [brought back] as Festival Director last year. When he took over it was pretty last minute. So, understandably, we went with the safe decision and brought Keith back. But we also knew he was coming back to do this as more of a one-off than as a full time gig. I thought, this is a great opportunity to spread my wings. It was a great reality check. I knew I needed to really be involved helping Keith more than I usually did, taking on a lot more so that I could gain the skills in order to apply for the position this year. And now here I am.
Sara Michelle Fetters: What was your vision for this year's festival? I mean, it's only the second year of the name change to TWIST Seattle Queer Film Festival, after all. Did you feel any pressure?
Danny Tayara: Well, that name change last year was a pretty big deal, so there was definitely some pressure to keep the momentum we generated in 2016 going into this year's festival. Personally, I definitely wanted the programming for this year's festival to reflect the name, 'Seattle Queer Film Festival.' In that regard, I was looking for more Trans content, I was looking for more content directed by women and Trans filmmakers. I wanted to have a wide range of films and programs that really, truly reflect our community.
Sara Michelle Fetters: As part of that, one of the things that struck me were the number of features, docs and shorts from directors of color. Was that an emphasis?
Danny Tayara: Definitely. Absolutely. I think the filmmakers and the films are out there, it's just a matter of doing the research to find them and select them. Because the more we program their films, the more that encourages content that represents minority communities. It sort of feeds into itself.
Sara Michelle Fetters: You've also managed to program a handful of fairly high profile features, films like Freak Show and BPM. Were those hard at all to acquire?
Danny Tayara: It was great, landing films like those. I think TWIST has established itself. I mean, we're in our 22nd year. Filmmakers really enjoy their experience here in Seattle. We've got a guest from Freak Show coming. We've got a guest from Saturday Church coming. One of the co-directors of the opening night film, The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin, is going to be here. People really enjoy this festival, and I think filmmakers are just happy to screen with us. That doesn't mean I get everything that I want, but I can still try, and this year I managed to get a lot of what I wanted. That's made me very happy.
Sara Michelle Fetters: It also seems like there is a real emphasis on forums and panels for this year's festival.
Danny Tayara: There is. Yes. Thank you for noticing that. It was never a huge priority for this festival to have panels. Some years, we didn't have any at all. I feel like I was kind of one of the people pushing for more panels, because as a filmmaker, what I appreciate is meeting other filmmakers and meeting directors who have something to teach me. You can learn a certain amount from Q&As but panels are a particular kind of way to access content that you can't get in any other way.
As for forums, we've brought back our 'How to be a Trans Ally' forum from Translations. It was so successful. We ended up doing two of them at Translations, there was so much demand. For TWIST, it will be facilitated by Aidan Key. He's the founder of Gender Diversity, the foundation that runs the Gender Odyssey Conference.
Then there's the SaturGay Morning panel, the first Saturday of the Festival. We've also got SaturGay Morning Cartoon programming, which will be happening both Saturdays. The first weekend also includes the panel of Queer Women Comics, talking about the intersection between comic books and film from a queer, gender queer and Trans women perspective. There's so much happening right now, especially with Professor Marston and the Wonder Women coming out.
Sara Michelle Fetters: From an outside perspective, did you feel any additional pressure due to all that's happening in the world right now? I mean, just in light of recent political events. Just today we hear that women's reproductive rights are getting thrown backwards by the Trump Administration saying that businesses don't have to put birth control in their medical plans, and the Justice Department wants to rescind protections for Transgender people at the work place.
That's just the most recent end to a long list that has gotten longer and longer since February. Did you feel any of that when you were programming this year? Were these things that were in your mind as you were putting the schedule together?
Danny Tayara: Yes. Definitely. I think everybody comes to the festival for a variety of reasons. I personally come to events like this, events like TWIST, to celebrate my identity and to celebrate our community. To be in a community with others. I also, on certain days, do want to elect to educate myself with documentaries or workshops and panels, things like that, to help me know more about what might be happening in the world right now. I made an effort to program the Festival in a way that, kind of depending on your mood or what you're into that day, you can self-select. You can find programming that best fits what your needs are right there and then.
Hopefully, the festival is accessible for anybody. Whether you're looking to kind of wind down and let go and forget about what is happening in the world right now, you can definitely go chill out and have a good time. Then there's our more educational track like the 'How to be a Trans Ally' workshop. We also have a bunch of documentaries this year and have brought back our 'Five at Five' programming, documentary films at 5pm at Northwest Film Forum that you can see for only $5.
Sara Michelle Fetters: I love that deal.
Danny Tayara: Yeah. It's a great deal. And we've got some outstanding documentaries this year in my opinion.
Sara Michelle Fetters: Going back to the name change, how did that go over last year? How do you think festival goers responded?
Danny Tayara: I think it went well. As with anything, you can't please everybody, so we did get a couple of comments on the name change, people who didn't like it so much. But for the most part it went over really well. I think around the transition from 'Lesbian and Gay' to 'Queer,' we did get a little bit of pushback. We felt a little bit of tension. But we felt that Seattle is a city that's progressive and can handle change; change in a way that includes more people, because that's what we're going for.
Sara Michelle Fetters: Did you notice if it became more difficult to let people know about the festival? Because of the name change from Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival to TWIST: Seattle Queer Film Festival?
Danny Tayara: No. Actually it was easier, if you can believe it. Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival was a mouthful, so Seattle Queer Film Festival rolls off the tongue a little bit better. It was a year of kind of saying, we've renamed, we're rebranded, but we're still the same great festival. We've always had a diversity of content. It's just now we're more explicit about it.
Now that we're in the second year of the name change people get it right away. They're not like, 'Oh, you changed your name' or 'What is this festival? I'm confused.' They get it. They understand. I think we did a pretty good job of using our language in a way that helped people through that.
Sara Michelle Fetters: You've been here for five years now.
Danny Tayara: Affirmative.
Sara Michelle Fetters: What does working for Three Dollar Bill Cinema mean to you?
Danny Tayara: What's it like working here? Wow. Nobody has ever asked me that before.
This is my dream job. I love working here. I love what I do. I love that my job is to talk to queer people, watch queer movies and talk about queer movies. Outside my job, I make queer movies, and so this is like, it's just my life, you know?
It does feel like a big part of my identity. I'm really grateful for it, and I'll be here for a while. I'm not going anywhere. It also, it gives me, I'm trying to think of the right word. I guess it gives me the ability to provide a platform for voices that are otherwise not heard or not celebrated. It feels good to be able to bring content to the Seattle queer community that they wouldn't have heard of otherwise.
Sara Michelle Fetters: Where do you want this Festival to go from here? Where do you see it going next?
Danny Tayara: I'd like to have more special and dynamic programming. I feel like I kind of jumped in last minute this year in this role, so having more time next year in the lead up to the festival, I feel like that is going to give me more room and more time to develop some like really unique programming that's engaging in different ways as opposed to just sitting in the theater. As always, I would love to see more films featuring and directed by women and Trans folks and people of color and all variations in-between.
Sara Michelle Fetters: At the end of the day, what do you want people talking about in regards to this year's festival? What do you hope the chatter is?
Danny Tayara: I hope that the films open windows and doors in people's minds. I hope people talk about racism and anti-racism. I hope people realize how much work these filmmakers put into their films. I hope that meeting these filmmakers face-to-face really brings that to light. I hope people find the theater to be a safe space to be themselves, that they feel that sense of family and community the festival has been generating for over two decades now. And I hope people enjoy themselves and are entertained. After all, isn't that what most of us go to the movies for in the first place?
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