Velvet Cinema’s monthly queer film night at the Plaza Theatre aims to bring the LGBTQ community closer together

Two young, proud and down-to-earth guys have organized a monthly queer film night at the Plaza Theatre in hopes to bring the Calgary queer community together in a new way.

Produced by Amara McLaughlin

David Cutting and Garrett McCoy have launched “Velvet Cinema, a monthly film event, in order to provide more frequent gatherings of the LGBTQ community.

The first event is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 17 at 6 p.m. at the Plaza Theatre. Cutting’s idea for the event stemmed from an annual LGBTQ film festival, known as “The Fairy Tale Film Festival,” which is held at the Plaza Theatre every year.

It was during the time of the Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival this summer, in June 2014, that Cutting created the idea for Velvet Cinema. McCoy joined in on the project in August and the two worked with Plaza Theatre, a venue known for supporting the LGBTQ community since its first queer movie weekend in July of 1980.

“Velvet has that connotation of being a little cheesy but also fabulous,” says McCoy. “You think of the old velvet seats of cinemas, the gold lining in the seats, and the detail of the carvings and the roof.”

The historical resonance of the Plaza not only inspired Velvet Cinema’s name, but will also influence the type of movies being shown.The men behind Velvet Cinema’s event, Garrett McCoy (left) and David Cutting (right). While these two friends are hoping for this event to be a fun time for all they are aiming for it to be able to bring people together and break down barriers.

Photo by Amara McLaughlin

The Birdcage, released in 1996, is the first film to be presented. Cutting and McCoy are bringing old films to the screen again by transforming the screenings into a social experience. Cutting and McCoy encourage patrons to laugh along, shout out lines, interact with the film and interact with each other.

By presenting movies with strong queer characters in a fun setting, these two hope to present something different than the “typical” silent movie screening.

“I was too young to see The Birdcage when it first came out,” says 23-year-old McCoy. “I would have only been five years old, but for a straight actor like Robin Williams to play a character like that in 1996 would have been so powerful for the gay generation back then.”

Cutting recognizes the power film has as a medium to change perceptions and bring people together.

“Everyone enjoys movies,” Cutting says. “That’s part of why I ran with this idea. I really want this to be something that comes together as a central hub for people because it’s very neutral. It’s not a dance party and there’s not necessarily alcohol involved.”

Although he can’t recollect one particular film that changed his life, being a member of a theatre troop helped him come to terms with his sexual orientation.

“Theatre had its influence,” says Cutting. “I would say the people I did theatre with were so wacky and weird that it helped me understand my own wacky, weirdness. They were one of the easiest groups I had to come out to.”

McCoy also has close ties to film and performing, as it was a movie that caused him to accept his sexual orientation.

“There’s a British film called Weekend,” says McCoy. “I remember watching it five times before coming out. The movie just captivated me because the main character is also in the closet, but he is trying to have this relationship. Seeing how it emotionally affected him made me really gravitate towards it.”

James Demers, the executive director of Fairy Tales Presentation Society, advocates queer content in video form for the purpose of improving justice and education.

“Film as a medium is especially important to LGBTQ people because it is so rare for us to see reflections of ourselves in mainstream media, particularly in movies where the person’s sexual orientation is not the focus of the film,” says Demers.

Garrett McCoy—one of the co-organizers of “Velvet Cinema”— says the British film Weekend empowered him to accept his sexual orientation. He is hoping that he and his friend, David Cutting’s, “Velvet Cinema” event can inspire other people to do the same. 

Photo by Amara McLaughlin

A queer film festival or film event is powerful in that it enables the LGBTQ community to take control of their own storytelling.

Kevin Allen, founder of Fairy Tales Film Festival and the research lead for the Kickstarter campaign “Calgary Gay History Project”, attends the festival each year and still feels the powers of this unique experience.

“I find this interesting phenomenon that when I come out of the theatre and blink, the whole world seems strange because it’s so straight,” says Allen. “I get totally immersed into this alternate universe where everyone is queer.”

According to Allen, the more LGBTQ culture that is present, the better for society and cultural consumers who want different experiences.

Demers says that Fairy Tales looked into having a monthly movie night in the past, but was not able to pursue it due to manpower constraints and a lack of community support.

“I think the majority of your general audience is still intimidated by queer film in a really big way,” says Demers. “For example, I would consider a movie like Brokeback Mountain a gay movie for straight people because that is not a story that queer people are unfamiliar with.”

Movie nights like Velvet Cinema will bring the community together —gay, straight, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual —to create hope in breaking down barriers.

“The focus is the queer community, but it’s for everyone,” says McCoy. “Everyone is a little queer. No one is normal. Everyone has their own little thing that’s personal and deviates from the norm. When we use the word queer we use it as a way of saying we’re all a little crooked.”

Stepping into their first event, Cutting and McCoy want it to be fun — a space where people will turn off their phones, get off the apps and talk to each other. They exude charisma and carefree spirits that allow for the playful and themed film nights to come to life, like a raucous Rocky Horror Picture Show screening, but for a new genre of movies — queer film.

amclaughlin@cjournal.ca