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Kaleidoscope brings treasures of LGBT cinema to Argenta 

With films 'big and loud.'

click to enlarge A LAND OF EXTREMES: Evangelia Kranioti's "Obscuro Barocco" is among the films screened this weekend at the 4th annual Kaleidoscope Film Festival.
  • A LAND OF EXTREMES: Evangelia Kranioti's "Obscuro Barocco" is among the films screened this weekend at the 4th annual Kaleidoscope Film Festival.


At their worst, film festivals are exercises in an echo chamber of self-congratulation and manufactured prestige. At their best, they're immersive marathons of transformative observation and conversation. In the three-year tenure of Film Society of Little Rock's Kaleidoscope Film Festival, organizers have kept their compasses pointed toward that latter North Star, acting as conduits for engaging pieces of art to be seen the way they were meant to be seen. They've programmed Annalise Ophelian's "Major!", Cheryl Dunye's "Watermelon Woman," João Pedro Rodrigues' "The Ornithologist," Jay Dockendorf's "Naz & Maalik" and a host of other films that traversed the wide ground between social justice commentary, lowbrow camp, incisive documentary, interfamilial drama and soundtracked revolution. We talked with filmmaker Mark Thiedeman, who serves as Kaleidoscope's artistic director/director of feature film programming, ahead of the festival's fourth year. Kaleidoscope kicks off Friday, Aug. 10, and concludes Saturday, Aug. 18.

You, as Kaleidoscope Film Festival's programmer, along with Tony Taylor and William Moon and others, have shown a dogged devotion not only to films that are visually memorable, but films that represent women and people of color, both on and off the camera. Why, for you, does this matter?

First, as a filmmaker, many of my heroes are women: Claire Denis, Catherine Breillat, Lucrecia Martel, Kelly Reichardt. They are the best of the best, period. They reshaped the way I think and work, and any system that might potentially stop audiences from seeing work like theirs is not acceptable.

I remember seeing "Moonlight" on the big screen back in 2016. That movie meant so much to African Americans in the LGBT community. Their story had so rarely been told (it still is [rare]), and usually only in films that played exclusively in big cities. The glory of "Moonlight" was that people everywhere could see it, and on a big screen. We have to make these films available to people. That's our responsibility as programmers, distributors and producers. They should be played big and loud. The 13 films in this year's lineup are treasures, and in Arkansas, Kaleidoscope may be your only chance of seeing them as they should be seen.

click to enlarge EVANGELIA KRANIOTI'S "OBSCURO BAROCCO"
  • Evangelia Kranioti's "Obscuro Barocco"

"Obscuro Barocco," one of the films I understand you're particularly excited about screening, centers on the life of a Brazilian transgender activist, Luana Muniz. The mesmerizing trailer's through-line is a voiceover about self-creation and self-discovery, and it occurred to me that those ideas are, in a way, mirrored in this idea of representation — seeing people on screen that give us permission to become more like our real selves. What, for you, will be a sign that the needle has really moved in the film industry as regards representation? What victory would you long for or celebrate?

That's a really lovely observation, and yes, "Obscuro Barroco" and also "Bixa Travesty" are films that describe the body as a beautiful work in progress, one that is constantly changing. And it's also true that films and popular culture in general shape the way so many people present themselves — the way we cut our hair, the clothes we wear. Seeing proud characters who exist outside of the worlds we usually see in movies is a kind of affirmation. It suggests that we are all cinematic in some way, which is really beautiful.

It seems to me that the industry is moving in the right direction, at least on the independent level. The diversity of this year's lineup really speaks to a sudden surge of amazing work being made by women and people of color. That means, to me, that these filmmakers are beginning to find more support to create films and get them seen. That said, I'm not sure I'm qualified to set a standard or a particular victory I'd like to see accomplished. I would prefer to ask our audience that question. What victory do the women in our audience hope for? The people of color in our audience? Our transgender audience? Every year, those conversations are my favorite part of the festival.

OBSCURO BARROCO TRAILER from Evangelia Kranioti on Vimeo.

Passes are a pittance and the nine-day lineup is stacked. Can you name a few other films you think people will be talking about this year? Or two or three things people should make a point to catch if they're new to the festival?

I hope they talk about all of them, but I'm particularly excited to hear people's response to Leilah Weinraub's "Shakedown," which is a mind-blowing work of art. I'm also thrilled that we are showing "Bixa Travesty," a film about a Brazilian transwoman whose music is an assault on many social problems, not least of which is chauvinism within the gay male community. I love "Skate Kitchen," a film in which young women talk at length about things that young women never talk about in movies. And "Good Manners" is sure to delight everyone — in fact, I can't tell you anything about it, because I don't want to spoil anything.

Outside of films, I can't wait for this year's Queer Arts Street Fair, which takes place from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, and will be a great place to meet people and celebrate.

Finally, every year we try to focus on an art form outside of filmmaking, and this year's focus is fashion. At the Argenta Gallery, running through the festival, there will be two shows. One explores the interplay of fashion and the movies, and includes an installation of experimental fashion advertisements that are as cool as any movies in the festival. The other is "1681," the new show by Michael Shaeffer and Andrea Bolen, which combines illustration and the construction and design of garments. I cannot wait to see what they've created.

See kaleidoscopefilmfestival.com for passes, $6-$100, and a festival schedule.

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