Opening the Door for the Celluloid Closet in Pittsburgh

Reel Q, Pittsburgh's LGBTQ Film Festival celebrates 35 years.

Reel Q, Pittsburgh’s premier LGBTQ film festival, celebrates a milestone with a plethora of diverse, wide-ranging films about the Queer experience from documentaries about foreign cultures to a West Hollywood Halloween horror film.

The 35th Annual Reel Q Festival began on October 8 and runs through October 17. The event is mostly online this year (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) but will feature a socially distanced drive-in screening of “Hellbent” at the Central Outreach Wellness Center parking lot on the Northside.

I was offended by the stereotypes:  the killers, the funny best friend…

Rich Cummings

Over thirty-five years ago, Rich Cummings, the festival’s founder, was at the GLCC (Gay and Lesbian Community Center now the Pittsburgh Equality Center) and decided to start a film series. The impetus for Cummings was reading Vito Russo’s “The Celluloid Closet.” Cummings did not like the depiction of gays and lesbians in cinema in the voluminous book. He said, “I was offended by the stereotypes:  the killers, the funny best friend, etc.”

With help from Jim Fischerkeller (GLCC Board Member) and the University of Pittsburgh, Cummings launched the film series. One of the first films was “Before Stonewall,” a documentary detailing the history of the LGBTQ+ movement in America. It is a foundational film in the community that still has relevance today.

Cummings was able to grow the film series into a festival with help from Bob Marinaccio at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. They screened the 1984 film, “Another Country,” a fictionalized biography of British spy Guy Burgess starring a young Rupert Everett and Colin Firth, at the Fulton Theater downtown.

Cummings has screened many great films during his tenure as the festival director (roughly 1983 – 1993), but not without controversy. Cummings said, “We screened a 1980’s German film, ‘Taxi Zu Klo’ about a gay man who cruised men’s rooms and such. We have been picketed. At one point, we thought we were going to have to hire bodyguards.”

Fred Honsberger basically called me a faggot on the air.

Rich Cummings

Cummings garnered attention for the LGBTQ Community during his time with the festival. He said, “During the Bush administration there was a lot of talk about cutting NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] funding. I went on Larry King’s radio show, and I went on KDKA to talk about the NEA cuts with [the late] Fred Honsberger who basically called me a faggot on the air.”

It was not always a smooth road, but the festival is one of five leading LGBTQ festivals in the country, just behind New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Cummings, a longtime movie buff, cites “The Killing of Sister George” as a historically important movie, but picked “Moonlight” as his favorite.

The festival continued to grow every year. Mitch Leib, who was both the programming director (from 2008 – 2017) and the executive director (from 2010 – 2017) said, “I think the festival is a very important component of the Pittsburgh LGBTQ community and the Pittsburgh arts community in general.” He added, “I think it’s important for us to come together and watch films together, to react to them together, and celebrate our community together.”

T.J. Murphy, the  current executive director, said, “We work hard to bring the best films of the year to the festival and I think each one; features and shorts, are important and impactful in their own way.”

I’m so excited to be screening this film this year. It’s incredibly timely and a powerful story set in our wonderful city.

T.J. Murphy

While Murphy would not pick a favorite, he spoke highly of “The Rehabilitation of the Hill,” a film shot in Pittsburgh. He said, “I’m so excited to be screening this film this year. It’s incredibly timely and a powerful story set in our wonderful city.

“I want to remind everyone that the film is free and open at attendees across the world! Our live Q&A with Demetrius Wren, the cast, and crew is sure to be a treat. We urge audience members to get their questions ready!”

The Reel Q Festival also features “Monsoon,” with Henry Golding (“Crazy Rich Asians”) as a Vietnamese man returning to Vietnam for the first time, and the Portuguese language film, “Alice Jr.” about a Trans teenage YouTube sensation who moves from big city Brazil to the more conservative countryside. There is the lesbian drama, “Tahara,” a documentary “Queer Japan,” and a series of short films about the LGBTQ Black experience, “Black Excellence,” among many others.

The Reel Q Festival runs from October 8 through October 17. The festival is an online event with a socially distanced drive-in screening of “Hellbent” from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM at the Central Outreach Wellness Center, 127 Anderson Street, parking lot, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. The screening features food trucks, drag shows, giveaways and more. The full schedule of the festival content can be found online here reelq.org/2020-festival/

Michael Buzzelli is a stand-up comedian and sit-down author. As a comedian, he has performed all around the country, most notably, the Ice House, the Comedy Store and the Improv in Los Angeles. As a writer, Michael Buzzelli has been published in a variety of websites, magazines and newspapers. He is a theater and arts critic for 'Burgh Vivant,’ Pittsburgh's online cultural talk magazine. He is also a Moth Grand Slam storyteller and actor. His books, "Below Average Genius," a collection of essays culled from his weekly humor column in the Observer-Reporter, and his romantic comedy,  “All I Want for Christmas," are on sale at Amazon.com. He is working on a LGBTQ romantic comedy called, “Why I Hate My Friends.” You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. (He / Him / His)