Queens’ GLBT film series celebrates its ninth year

By Kevin Zimmerman

When Hector Canonge approached the Queens Museum of Art about hosting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender film screenings, he spent a lot of time convincing officials “Shaving Ryan’s Privates” wouldn’t be on the bill.

“At first they asked, ‘Is this going to be porno?’” Canonge said. “My job was to show them that gay and lesbian film is more than X-rated movies.”

For the last nine years, Canonge and his series Cinemarosa continues to prove GLBT movies offer stories and points of view that go far beyond the sexual act. Canonge has also shown an audience for these movies exists right here in the borough.

After a stint in film studies at Princeton, Canonge returned to Queens in 2004 and quickly realized the borough offered GLBT residents plenty of options when it came to bars, clubs and restaurants but lacked much beyond that.

“There was not a cultural place to go to experience something separate from the clubs,” Canonge said.

So he gathered colleagues, friends and directors he had met at film festivals around the country and convinced them to bring their movies to a community house in Woodside. At that first screening, Canonge was forced to borrow a projector and find the cleanest white sheet to hang on the wall as a make-shift screen.

But as word spread beyond Woodside and even Queens, Cinemarosa found it had outgrown the community house by the end of 2004 and needed a bigger space. That’s when Canonge approached the museum.

“He has really energized the space here,” David Strauss, the museum’s director of external affairs, said. “It’s another way for the museum to activate another community. We are really happy to say Hector’s project has found a home here.”

Besides outgrowing the initial viewing space, Cinemarosa also has expanded its programming beyond movies. Canonge now schedules performance artists and spoken word pieces to accompany the monthly screenings.

“This is not a movie house where you get your popcorn, watch the film and go home,” Canonge said. “Here, you stay, make friends and create a community.”

Movies, however, remain the main draw for Cinemarosa and Canonge pores over dozens of submissions to select the ones that are screened. Although he appreciates Hollywood’s ever-growing willingness to incorporate gay and lesbian characters and story lines into its productions, Canonge isn’t really interested in showing those movies.

“I like to focus on films that are not widely released,” Canonge said. “And I want to find something with essence that speaks to the community. These films are a reflection of our diverse community and they reflect the experiences and lives of the GLBT community.”

Brooklyn resident Wim Deronde has made the trip to Flushing Meadows Corona Park for the last five or six years to catch the screenings. He enjoys the opportunity to view GLBT films in what he calls a comfortable and friendly environment. “It’s cozy here and very pleasant,” Deronde said. “I’ve come with friends and have met other people here. It’s nice here in the park.”

Queens resident Luis Padilla, who is originally from Peru, said he has been attending screenings for the last two years. He first discovered the film series through one of the city’s gay guides and makes a point of attending shows.

“Here, people share different opinions about gay life,” Padilla said.

Canonge plans to share Cinemarosa with the GLBT communities in South America this summer as he takes the screenings to Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. The road trip coincidences with the museum’s closure this summer to complete its renovation project.

But when the new Queens Museum opens in October, Canonge expects to be there on Oct. 20 to kick off Cinemarosa’s 10th year.

“We have made it a point of being here in public. We are not hiding,” Canonge said. “Nine years we have been building a queer community here in the borough, the city, the world. We have a loyal audience that makes a point of coming here every third Sunday of the month. It’s kind of like a religion.”

Contact news editor Kevin Zimmerman at kzimmerman@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4541.

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