VLAFF’s Queer Pix short films tell compelling stories of resisting oppression

The pieces packed strong messages into 15-minute shorts

VLAFF short films explore intersections of queer and Latinx identities. IMAGE: Brianna Quan / The Peak. Images courtesy of Vancouver Latin American Film Festival

By: Michelle Young, News Editor

 

Vancouver’s Latin American Film Festival (VLAFF) ran from August 27 to September 6, featuring a variety of programs available for virtual screening. I bought the Queer Pix selection, which featured short films, documentaries, and one animated short. Coming from Venezuelan heritage — and only visiting Latin America twice as a child — I was especially excited to dive into Latin American short films. As detailed on the event page, the pieces “celebrate courageous characters who stand strong against oppression.” 

The first film in the series, which was 15 minutes in length, was The Orphan (O Órfão). It was directed by Carolina Markowicz and took place in Brazil. The film follows Jonathan, who is searching for a family and a home. Once adopted, the audience watches him grow closer to his new family — despite his initial distrust. However, they decide they don’t want to keep him upon watching him apply bright-red lipstick. 

Throughout the film, the audience watches in a flashback as household objects and slurs are hurdled at Jonathan in his old foster home — but he throws the items back. The film didn’t have a concrete conclusion, however it established that Jonathan was ready to face the world, was comfortable with his sexuality, and would always stand up for himself. While it was heartbreaking to watch a child grow far beyond his years, it was also reassuring to watch the character settle for nothing less than he deserves — a family who will fully accept him.

The second short film, Before It’s Too Late (Antes que seja tarde) was directed by Leandro Goddinho and spanned around 15 minutes. This film follows two young men discovering “what they mean to each other.” The film begins with a voice recording of Brazil’s 2018 far-right then-presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, proclaiming he’s a “proud homophobic.” Then, there’s a cut to Cauê, one of the protagonists, who is having a panic attack in a hotel room. The second character, Julian, promptly aids him in stopping the attack. 

Someone bangs at their door, dismissing the panic attack as “another girly-queen drama,” but Julian refuses to let him in. This quickly establishes the dynamics of their relationship and also portrays a prejudiced society. It demonstrates that these ideas seep through into people’s lives — dismissing any kind of notion that Bolsonaro is merely one uneducated man. 

The film illustrated how Cauê and Julian spend time together, with a slow build-up of physical affection: a kiss on the hand, a stroke on the mouth, a soft kiss. Bolsonaro wins the presidency the next morning, claiming he will “focus on the majority, and not on the minorities.” The film ended with Cauê and Julian sharing a kiss in front of an audience; a public statement that they refuse to stand in the shadows.

 My only grievance with this film was the pacing — as if it was trying to desperately give the audience a happy conclusion. I found it odd how the two characters had only discovered their feelings for one another, and were suddenly ready to share it with the world. I appreciated the message the film is trying to send: to stand boldly against oppression. However, I felt the rushed events undermined the complexity that can come with navigating a brand new relationship and discovering your own sexuality.

The third short film, Reminiscence (Reminiscencia), was directed by César Zamudio de Souza and was around 10 minutes. It follows a taxi driver who is on her way to pick up a client. Upon arriving, she watches Yorget, a transgender woman, suffer verbal and physical abuse — and defends her. 

The films, understandably, left me wanting more of these characters and their stories. They all explored the constraints of Latin America’s conservative society and highlighted some of its traditional practices. For instance, I appreciated the small references to Catholicism — which is widely practiced in Latin America. To see la Virgen dangling from the rear-view mirror, and watch the driver in Reminiscence make the sign of the cross before she began driving felt like a detailed touch, and also reminded me of the family practices in my own Venezuelan home. 

Though short, these pieces were emotional and left an impression on me: in only fifteen minutes they had moments that made me sad, angry, and happy. The portrayal of LGBTQ2+ issues did not rely on pity, but rather, called upon the audience to challenge oppression alongside the characters that were fighting it. Most notably, the films were successful in demonstrating the necessity to stand for LGBTQ2+ rights and served as a testament that the fight is far from over.