Contrast Film Festival Pushes Boundaries, Defies Gender

New fest presents America: The Remix

photo by John Anderson

Contrast Film Festival is not your typical film fest. Intermixing fringe movies, music, and performance art, the new event aims to push boundaries, defy gender, and just might be the queerest fest in town – but then that depends on your definition of queer.

Longtime collaborators Jeremy von Stilb and Tish Sparks, creators of the Homo Arigato film series and the annual Y'all or Nothing showcase at South by Southwest, have spent the better part of a decade spotlighting queer art in a wide variety of mediums. But when Sparks suggested they create a film festival, von Stilb proposed they go beyond queer to avoid limitations. What they produced is Contrast.

The event follows Y'all or Nothing's evolution, which Sparks said morphed from an exclusively queer music showcase to spotlighting "[the] wildest stuff we can find that's also feminist and queer and representative of people who aren't represented." With their three-day festival, they hope to create a platform for creators who typically don't get much mainstream screen time.

Of course, von Stilb confirmed it's still "very queer," but also dares to ask the question: What is queer in 2018? As he sees it, queer identity today is so much more than same-sex relationships. Contrast, said von Stilb, "reflects the emerging understanding of what that word means – it's more inclusive than ever and more about an attitude." Basically, don't expect to see a Love, Simon type tale here.

Instead, Contrast is bringing in a bevy of Texas premieres from women and queer filmmakers to multiple venues around Austin, including AFS Cinema, Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, Kinda Tropical, and Cheer Up Charlies. Headliners include the opening night film Shakedown, a "dreamlike" documentary on L.A.'s black lesbian strip club scene (with director Leilah Weinraub attending); New Queer Cinema icon Bruce LaBruce's The Misandrists (see below); and South African director Jenna Bass' High Fantasy, about a group of friends who accidentally swap bodies in the wilderness of South Africa. The fest also features performance art pieces by The Misandrists star Viva Ruiz, a comedy showcase by Los Angeles-based Casey Jane Ellison, music by San Antonio's House of Kenzo, plus some local queer DJs. On Sunday, The Love Witch filmmaker Anna Biller hosts a screening of the 1933 film Female (by Casablanca director Michael Curtiz) along with three of her own shorts.

Aside from pushing boundaries (Sparks and von Stilb threw around words like "femmesupremacy," "freaky," and "nasty"), the founders want Contrast to be accessible and enticing to those who wouldn't normally attend a festival. Sparks elaborated: "It's for people to maybe fall in love with film for the first time." As self-described fans, they hope to share and expose movies they love to a wider audience. That's one reason badge prices are so low – to keep the event affordable.

But why now? Both creators agree, it's the right time for them – describing Contrast as a culmination of the last seven years of their work – and for the country. Referencing the Trump administration, von Stilb continued: "The white male ruling class are starting to see the writing on the wall: marginalized people are coming to power. But, instead of handing over the keys, they'd rather drive off the cliff. ... I like to think that some of these artists will be the ones that take the steering wheel. Because either it's all going to fall apart or we're going to survive this and there will be a new era of expression ... America the Remix."

Contrast Film Festival

July 20-22. Info, badges, and single screening tickets at

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More Contrast Film Festival
Bunny Michael’s Higher Self Will See You Now
Bunny Michael’s Higher Self Will See You Now
Instagram’s spiritual meme-maker comes to Contrast Film Festival

Beth Sullivan, July 19, 2019

Contrast Film Festival Flick Picks
Contrast Film Festival Flick Picks
Our selection of the cross-media event's boundary-pushing films

Beth Sullivan, July 19, 2019

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Contrast Film Festival, AFS Cinema, Alamao Drafthouse Ritz, Bruce LaBruce, The Misandrists, Anna Biller, Contrast Film Festival 2018

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