Q&A with Three Dollar Bill Cinema's Executive Director Kathleen Mullen
by Sara Michelle Fetters: -
SGN A&E Writer
If one were scripting how the 25th annual Seattle Queer Film Festival (SQFF) was going to proceed in 2020 pre-COVID-19, it's safe to say running this silver anniversary milestone virtually and not in local theatres wasn't a part of any initial drafts. But in the midst of a global pandemic, with local theatres still pretty much closed (a scant few are reopening this weekend to 25% capacity limits), it's not like the folks over at Three Dollar Bill Cinema had a lot in the way of options.
Yet, after a successful virtual edition of the Translations: Seattle Transgender Film Festival back in May, and with other festivals all over the world making similar adjustments, it only makes sense SQFF would take its 25th edition online. In doing so Three Dollar Bill interim executive director Kathleen Mullen and her determined team of festival programmers made sure to pull out all the stops and put together a diverse slate of features, shorts, documentaries, forums, Q&As and special events audiences will undoubtedly be eager to get a look at. As the old adage goes, there's something for everyone, this 11-day event chockfull of intriguing opportunities worth getting excited about.
I had the opportunity to Mullen for a brief ten question Q&A. Here's what she had to say:
Sara Michelle Fetters: : It's the 25th anniversary of the festival. I'm guessing this isn't exactly the way you thought this anniversary was going to be celebrated?
Kathleen Mullen: Absolutely not, but we adapted and have completely pivoted to be an online organization starting with a successful Translations: Transgender Film Festival this past spring, Pride screenings in the summer, and now our flagship program, The Seattle Queer Film Festival. We also managed to produce the Reel Queer Youth virtual camp with six participants and are screening the three films they created in our youth shorts program, "The Kids are Alright." It has not been easy, but it's certainly been interesting and rewarding.
Sara Michelle Fetters: : What new opportunities does a virtual festival offer? What's surprised you the most?
Kathleen Mullen: We are excited to be able to put on a festival in our 25th year! A virtual festival offered us the opportunity to expand our geographic audience to all of Washington, Idaho and Oregon. We have become more accessible to people who could not attend the prior festivals in-person. We hope this will bring vital queer visibility to new communities we have not reached in the past. Also, audiences get to watch on their couch or wherever they are comfortable, and with popcorn!
Sara Michelle Fetters: : In that vein, what were some of the unexpected challenges that you've encountered?
Kathleen Mullen: Getting the word out!
Conveying the how-tos of the festival. Even though many people have started watching films at home, the notion of experiencing a film festival virtually is still quite new. We try to say it's similar to a video-on-demand scenario for a 72-hour time period once you click the link. You have access to all the films from October 15-25. We have suggested watch times to coincide with live Q&As with some very special guests.
Sara Michelle Fetters: : Even though we won't be seeing one another at a local theatre or a community space, you still have a number of forums, programs and special events planned, including an entire program for deaf viewers. Talk to us more about these events and programs. What excites you the most about them?
Kathleen Mullen: We have many interactive opportunities, including our DJ Zoom Parties following the Q&As after the opening film (DJ Vinnie) and closing film (DJ MIXX America), free workshops including "How to be a Trans Ally" and "How to be an Effective Ally" and live Q&As streamed to Facebook Live, Youtube Live and Cinesend (the platform for viewing festival films).
I am excited we are still able to offer a version of the film festival experience. Dancing in your living room is not the same as an Opening Night Gala, but we hope it can evoke some of the same feelings, especially in this milestone anniversary year.
Sara Michelle Fetters: : Most of the films, forums and events are geo-blocked (but not all). What does geo-blocking mean and who does this apply to?
Kathleen Mullen: Most of the film programs are geo-blocked to Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Only people in those states can buy tickets and watch those films. This is per the distributors and filmmakers wishes. We have some films that are not geo-blocked which we list on our website including Our Dance of Revolution, which is part of the QTBIPOC series called "Many Rivers to Cross: Diaspora Stories."
All events and workshops presented via Zoom are not geo-blocked and can be accessed by people from all over the world! All live Q&As can also be watched on Facebook Live and Youtube Live.
Sara Michelle Fetters: : Let's talk about the films themselves. At first glance, it doesn't appear that you had to pare down the number of features, shorts and documentaries even though due to current events you had to shift to a virtual festival. Am I correct on that?
Kathleen Mullen: We did have to pare down the number of film programs a bit, but we tried to maintain a rich variety of narratives, documentaries, shorts programs and features. There was so much great work out there that we had to make some tough decisions.
Sara Michelle Fetters: : It's also a pretty varied and diverse selection. How exciting is it to put a program like this together? What are you most proud of as far this year's schedule is concerned?
Kathleen Mullen: Being able to curate some great films!
I love our three spotlight films (opening, closing and centerpiece). Breaking Fast is such a great romantic comedy. Gossamer Folds is by one of our alumni filmmakers and stars the wonderful Alexandra Grey, who will be with us for a Q&A along with director Lisa Donato and producer Yeardly Smith. It focuses on the friendship between a young boy and a Black trans woman in the '80s. And, of course, Ahead of the Curve is such an important documentary about the history of this quintessential lesbian magazine and its founder, Franco Stevens.
So many highlights to give you! Cooper Sealy who has been on the SQFF and Translations programming committee for the past few years spearheaded the QTBIPOC committee that was formed to create a series of programs for the festival. I am totally looking forward to the discussion around Our Dance of Revolution and the pre-poetry event before the film Alice Júnior!
I would like to highlight the preview of the series Equal. It is directed by Stephen Kijak, who directed last year's opening night film Sid & Judy. I am looking forward to the Q&A for this program featuring Kijak, Cheyenne Jackson, Jai Rodriguez and moderated by Jenni Olson.
We also have 11 shorts programs that are spectacular and bring new stories to the forefront. Check out "Queering the Narrative," "Plugged In: Sci Fi Shorts," and "Spectrums of the Spirit: Indigenous Showcase."
Sara Michelle Fetters: : Are there any surprises or special events that might be also part of the festival this year that we're not currently aware of?
Kathleen Mullen: We have the opening and closing night Zoom parties with DJs. If you buy a ticket you are invited to a Zoom dance party! Also, we have two former Three Dollar Bill Cinema Executive Directors moderating discussions. The free screening of Vito (in honor of our 25th anniversary) will have a Q&A afterwards between Jason Plourde the film's director, Jeffrey Schwarz, and the Q&A for our closing night screening, Ahead of the Curve, will be moderated by Rachael Brister.
Sara Michelle Fetters: : How do you recommend people approach this year's festival? If you were a regular viewer eager to get a look at some of these films and events, what would your game plan be?
Kathleen Mullen: The film guide on the website is divided into categories, so I suggest people start there based on the types of films they typically like to watch such as documentaries or short films. The guide also has categories for films that would be considered lesbian, gay, bi/queer, trans and BIPOC. However, I always encourage audiences to try something new and watch a program you might not usually attend or gravitate to at first glance. That's another great entry point into the festival!
Sara Michelle Fetters: : What happens next? Where do you, the festival and Three Dollar Bill Cinema go from here?
Kathleen Mullen: We want to leverage the success of this year's online festivals and our milestone 25th-year festival to continue to bring new programs to the forefront in our 26th year. Whether we remain virtual for some part or all of next year, the important thing is that we continue our mission-based work to strengthen, connect and reflect diverse communities through queer film and media and bring vital visibility to queer voices both on-screen and behind the camera. To support this, we need our community's support through membership, donations, and, of course, ticket sales.
Like so many arts organizations, we have been significantly impacted by COVID-19, but we are working to build momentum for 2021. We have been a part of the Greater Seattle community and the international landscape of queer film festivals for 25 years, and want to be around 25 more.
The 25th annual Seattle Queer Film Festival runs from October 15 thru October 25. This year's festival is a completely virtual event with many of the features and shorts geo-blocked to Washington, Oregon and Idaho. All forums, events and workshops presented via Zoom are not geo-blocked and are open to viewers everywhere. For more information including the full schedule, tickets and full-series passes please go to https://threedollarbillcinema.org/.