PLGFF presents nuanced narratives of LGBTQ life through film

Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly
“I Want Your Love”

Folks who want to see LGBTQ life in all of its poignancy and hilarity flashing upon the big screen should clear their calendars from Sept. 28 through Oct. 6, when the Portland Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (PLGFF) sets up residency at Cinema 21.

“The Portland Lesbian and Gay Film Festival was technically started about 20 years ago by Tom Ranieri, who owns Cinema 21,” says festival organizer Gabriel Mendoza, who became active with the festival during its fourth year. “In the beginning, there just wasn’t much open representation in the media at all. There were very few television characters or films that showed queer people. Over the years, though, the sophistication of the characters and the filmmaking has really increased dramatically. Film festivals allow films that may not otherwise find wide distribution to show before large audiences.”

Mendoza sees a particular promise in queer cinema to represent the totality of the LGBTQ experience — a promise that has taken time to fully actualize.

“Part of it is the medium,” he explains. “There’s lots of thoughtful queer literature, and there has been for hundreds of years. The medium of film, though, is an amazing one in that it’s very accessible, and even more so now that high-quality cameras are available to all sorts. I think the education required for high-quality filmmaking wasn’t available or wasn’t seductive to a lot of the people that made queer cinema. They wanted to tell their stories, and their stories were often happy — lots of parties, lots of sex. Many of them were focused on the basic narrative of coming out or finding a boyfriend, for example. Now that the narrative’s been expressed in film for several decades, we’re able to go into nuance. It’s no longer specifically shocking to have a gay storyline; in this era, we can look more at the human dimension, the gay person as person first.”

“The Falls”

One such exploration comes in “The Falls,” local director Jon García’s look at Mormon missionaries who fall in love while preaching the “restored gospel,” showing on Sept. 30. Filmed in Portland with local actors, “The Falls” brings together the timely theme of Latter-Day Saint life while exploring more fundamental and timeless truths about the struggle to reconcile the disconnect between our desires and the worlds we find ourselves in.

Another film with both local influence and national controversy is “I Want Your Love,” which hovers somewhere in the grey area between narrative and pornography. The story of a man in his 30s who is about to move back home to the Midwest after years in San Francisco, the film features very explicit and intimate sex scenes as a fundamental aspect of its examination of how gay men come together as a community. “I Want Your Love” features extremely revealing performances by local artist Wayne Bumb and former Portlander Ferrin Solano, both of whom will be in attendance at the showing on Sept. 29.

“Sister Paula: The Trans Evangelist”

While the PLGFF is bringing many of its films to Portland for the first time, it is also hosting a world premiere of a film that is sure to garner attention far beyond its Portland roots. “Sister Paula: The Trans Evangelist” tells the fascinating story of Paula Nielsen, a transgender pioneer who has been featured nationally for her passionate (and at times surreal) calling as a Pentecostal Christian preacher. The film, while still a work in progress, will have its world premiere on Sept. 30; Nielsen herself, as well as producer Daniel Spiro, will be in attendance at the showing.

The PLGFF’s programming ranges from the tenderly introspective to the hilariously goofy, ensuring that all festival-goers will find at least one of the offerings that speaks to their experience.

“I encourage everyone to take a look — there’s something for everyone,” Mendoza says. “The [festival’s] programming is driven by aesthetics, and not politics; however, we always have a few films that appeal to any given segment of the community. The selection of films this year is particularly strong.”

The PLGFF runs Sept. 28-Oct. 6 at Cinema 21 (616 NW 21st Ave, Portland). For a full schedule, more information about the films, and ticket information, check out