By Kendell Yan
Pride week may be over, but the tireless efforts of Vancouver’s bold and beautiful LGBTQ2+ creatives continue as the 29th annual Vancouver Queer Film Festival (VQFF) kicks off August 10-20th! This year, the festival will screen Stay Gold, March Forward, a hyperlocal documentary by Vancouver filmmaker Ray McEachern that focuses on the gender performance spectacle, Man Up at The Cobalt.
As is customary with the VQFF, the lineup is packed with tremendous films by filmmakers from around the world aimed at creating positive and lasting social change through gorgeous storytelling and screen artistry. In keeping with the 2017 festival mandate, “your heart is the size of your fist…Love. Resist,” these films celebrate diversity, question heteronormativity, challenge misconceptions, and provide visibility on issues that are critical in negotiating LGBTQ2+ living.
Stay Gold, March Forward is a glimpse into the incredible community of Man Up, a monthly gender bending drag spectacular built up over the past 9 years by Paige Frewer AKA Pony Boy. Ray began working with Man Up as a photographer in February of 2016 when they were working on another documentary series called Spectrum. Since then, Ray has photographed and filmed nearly every Man Up show and has grown closely with the family of performers which includes The Brokeback Brothers, Rose Butch, Grimm, That Syren Goddess, Lady Jem, Dee Blew, and Vixen Von Flex. “There is so much talent and love radiating through the community that come together for this event,” McEachern says, “I feel so loved and supported by those involved in Man Up.”
“My first Man Up experience was not actually the greatest,” Ray confesses, “it was at the beginning of my transition and I don’t think I was ready to take in all of what Man Up is.” Being a “sober and anxious dysphoric baby queer” (Ray’s words), made it difficult to participate in the safe space that Pony Boy and their family work hard to sustain. Newcomers who are curious but nervous can “go for the performances, stick to the back area which is a bit less cramped and know there is a buddy there if you need and you can leave whenever you want,” Ray says, alluding to Man Up’s buddy system which employs sober stewards to help assist anyone experiencing unwanted attention or offensive action.
As Stay Gold illustrates, Man Up is a collaborative and interactive performance process. The audience feeds the performers with energizing love, and sometimes treats, like when Rose Butch asked Ray to bake them cookies to use in a Gene Wilder Wonka themed tribute. “We did 50 rainbow sprinkle heart cookies decorated in a variety of colours saying “resist”. Part way through the number they brought out a tray, did some twirls and handed them to the front row. They got passed out among the crowd respectfully and people really enjoyed them. They also did one huge rainbow sprinkle heart cookie which said “devour the patriarchy” that they used on stage and took a big bite out of while putting up a middle finger to the patriarchy. “It was a pretty sweet performance,” they tell me. Sweet indeed!
For many in the community, Man Up is a critical institution for radical queer arts and safety. For Ray, the space is a beacon and safehouse for the weirdos and the outcasts, a place to explore yourself and your body through your own expressions. “I hope this film shows a diversity of what drag can mean to different people. I hope it gets them asking questions,” they tell me when asked about why the film and Man Up are so important. “…I hope they are confused about some of the gender expressions and can confront themselves, I hope they can enjoy the blurred lines of drag and feel freed knowing they don’t have to fit into a box if they don’t want to. Drag is not one type of performance or performer, Man Up and this film prove that. Drag is for Every Body!”
You can see Stay Gold, March Forward on August 14th at 7pm at the VanCity Theatre, followed by a Q&A with Ray McEachern and some of the Man Up performers. You can see Man Up on the last Friday of every month at the Cobalt!
Kendell Yan is a queer, second-generation POC who navigates the hyphen of mixed ethnicity LGBTQ2+ living in Vancouver. Kendell has a penchant for drag Queens and Kings that borders on obsession, and he favours events that encourage free expression, inclusivity, and love in all flavours.
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