appalachian queer film festival

The Appalachian Queer Film Festival (AQFF) has been showcasing films by, about, and for queer people in the Appalachian region since 2014 and this year they brought an exceptional selection of films to the Foundry Theater in Huntington’s City Hall. Film enthusiasts gathered all weekend excited to see a diverse array of stories about everything from the lived experience of black trans women in sex work to cultural reflections on the appreciation of the horror film genre among the LGBTQIA+ community.

Throughout the course of the weekend I spoke with a lot of folks who expressed similar sentiments of feeling like at one point or another in their lives they couldn’t have ownership of both their queer and Applachian identities as if the two were somehow at odds with each other and that a festival like AQFF has helped them see that there is a place for them here. AQFF offers fresh perspectives on queer life in the region and allows viewers to see themselves represented in a way that perhaps they hadn’t before.

AQFF dedicated the weekend to KoKo da Doll, a black trans woman and one of the subjects of the documentary Kokomo City screened on the festival’s opening night who was sadly killed after the making of the film. Additionally, AQFF indicated that they hope to create a scholarship fund in KoKo’s honor.

Jon Matthews (he/they), co-founder of AQFF and co-director of this year’s festival, said his interest in having the festival in Huntington began with hearing about the city’s ban of conversion therapy and its reputation as an inclusive place for the queer community in West Virginia.  Matthews said, “ Huntington has been really receptive. It’s full of great artists and great filmmakers. There’s just so much talent here. I think that sets it apart from so many other places. We try to, of course, pull as many films from all of Appalachia as much as we can but it’s great when we are based in a city and we can pull from the talent that is right here.”

Matthews expressed that while the main goal of the festival is to uplift the voices of queer and trans people in Appalachia he also hopes that it draws people in from outside of the region so that they can see beyond stereotypes and see the talent and potential of Applachians. Matthews said, “There are great artists who live here. There are great queer activists that are here and fighting… I think that’s what makes a place like Huntington so special. There’s so many artists and so many activists and I want to show that off.”

J Galliene (they/them), co-director of this year’s festival, said that they have been an attendee of AQFF since 2015 and that this was their first time working on it as an organizer. They said, “It’s been amazing. It’s been a lot of work. I always say it’s kind of like heart work. It just comes from something that you want to do for your community. It’s been really rewarding. Like I said, tiring and hard work but really great especially to see what you’ve put in and try to build and see that come to life. That’s been really cool.”

Galliene said that in addition to showing some of the bigger films that have been making a lot of noise on the festival circuit, AQFF held open submissions for the first time with the intention of making the festival more accessible to Appalachian indie filmmakers. Galliene said, “We want to make sure there’s a diverse amount of storytellers, filmmakers, people that are in the films, and stories being told. It was a mixture of getting some big films and also having chances that sometimes people don’t get. Some of these are student shorts and films shot on their phones and stuff like that.”  

AQFF may have come to a close but the spirit of the festival remains. The impact of the stories shown over the course of the weekend will linger in the minds of the attendees. The message that there is a place for queer people in Appalachia and their stories and lives have value and meaning .

For more information about the Appalachian Queer Film Festival visit their website or find them on Instagram @appalachianqueerfilmfest.

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