“No one knows where the front door is,” says Molly King, greeting visitors in the breezeway of the long low graphite-gray midcentury home she shares with her wife, Deb Kemp. Or maybe it’s that visitors are too entranced with the view from the carport, with its sweep of patio and 1955 Crown trailer parked beside a pool with an auto-retract cover – which Deb demos with the touch of a button – to bother looking for the front door of the house in Southwest Portland.
Molly, an event coordinator, and Deb, a realtor, first attended QDoc, the Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival, in 2015. Two years later, they took over as the festival’s directors.
As longtime sponsors of QDoc, Ristretto recently met with Molly and Deb to talk about the evolution of one of only two festivals in the world devoted exclusively to LGBTQ documentaries (the other is in Bucharest), and to drink some coffee, black for Deb, full cream for Molly.
Before we get started, Deb, what city are you from in New Zealand?
Deb: Wellington – the capital of coffee making. New Zealanders are pretty snooty about coffee, and a lot of the whole vibe is focused on coffee making and coffee making and coffee culture.
Is New Zealand the home of the flat white or is that Australia?
Deb: There will no doubt be countless wars, but I think we claim flat white.
When and where did you two meet?
Deb: We both came here in 2008; I’d been in the States since 2005. We met in Breckenridge, Colorado. I worked for an apparel company, Icebreaker; they do outdoor clothing. Icebreaker was a VIP sponsor for the event and Molly was working for the music side.
Molly: It was this event called the Honda Ski Tour. We went to high-end resorts and did ski competitions by day and music concerts by night. Some of the marquee guys were Sean Paul and Michael Franti.
When did you first you hear about QDoc?
Deb: Our friend Dave Robinson had been involved with QDoc for a long time. We started talking about film and Dave asked, “Do you want to come to a fundraiser for this event called QDoc?” We actually had never heard of it, which we were sort of surprised about. That was 2015. That’s where we met you guys, at a dinner at Thomas Lauderdale’s; we were talking about “The Cult of JT Leroy,” which screened that year.
And which I appeared in. What a wacky story that was.
Deb: Yeah. We got really passionate about it, which led us to, how do we promote [QDoc]? We figured more of Portland should know about it. So we put our hands up as sponsors and also, as volunteers, with social media and promotion but we also came in as financial supporters.
Molly: Deb and I at the time were both working in the corporate world; that was kind of sucking up a lot of our time. We set an intention: what can we do to be more involved in the community? We were literally like: we need more gay friends.
Deb: It was this bizarre; we are going to find more friends! Without being geeky about it, without stalking anyone. Actually I think we said, we had quite a few gay guy friends, but we needed to meet more lesbians. We were like; we don’t know one lesbian couple. How is that possible? How is it possible for anyone let alone a gay couple themselves?
David Weissman and Russ Gage founded QDoc in 2007 and were actively running it in 2015. How did you go from background support to running the show?
Deb: We were getting pretty excited about having grown ticket sales; we’d seen year-on-year growth so we were pretty happy about that. And bizarrely, we never even thought of running the festival at all. But as we call them, the dads, David and Russ—or “Duss.” We became “Dolly” and they became “Duss.”
Deb: Yes, in just became easier in emails: What does Duss think of this? Anyway, they said to us two years ago, “Let’s go out to dinner.” It was about four weeks before the festival and in all honesty, Molly and I thought, oh god, we’ve screwed something up.
Molly: We did something majorly wrong.
The dads are mad.
Molly: You’re grounded!
Deb: We’re history! They basically sat us down, Dave Robinson was at the dinner, too, and David [Weinstein] said, “We’ve decided it’s been an amazing ten years but it’s time for the festival to move on and we would like to know if the three of you are interested in continuing the festival.”
I always equate our responses to children who have just been told their parents are divorcing, because, you should have seen around the table. I just went [she hangs open her mouth]; Dave Robinson didn’t know what to do, and Molly was, wow, cool!
Molly: I was like: I’m in!
Deb: Apparently, Dolly is in. But the short of it is we said, “This is huge; very flattered, but I don’t know if we can do it.” This was 2016. It was more a concern of; can we do a great job of this? Can we follow the leadership?
Molly: We went into that festival knowing, we could we run this. And it was secret. Not, “secret!” but: we’re not ready to tell everybody. We went into that year like, could we run this next year? I was like, hell yeah! We’ll kill it!
The fantasy can be different than the reality. What have been some of the delights and challenges?
Molly: Honestly? We feel honored to even—and I’m not trying to be cheesy, it’s so special and it’s such a passion project that we feel lucky to even be involved. If I had to choose any stressor, May is hard for us, timing-wise; it’s a busy time of year, it’s busy for Deb, but other than that, there really aren’t any negatives.
Deb: It felt a little bit like being given someone’s prized baby and make sure we didn’t drop it. That was the fear last year, and some this year, too.
Is the audience going to see you imprimatur now that you’re two years in?
Molly: And that it’s still presented cool, in that it’s not completely different. But it it has its own touch; we wanted to add some flair and the female touch to it. Whatever that means.
Does it skew more female in 2018?
Deb: Film follows society so really we don’t get to drive where content is going; we see it as a reflection of what’s is happening in the world. Whatever the key issues are going on, are the films we get to choose from, are the films we get to select. It’s cool because film selection is showing you what’s going on really in the world, but it’s also a little frustrating because you want to find these other stories and they’re not being told. We might want, for example, more lesbian films—which we definitely would love to see—but we don’t get the films. Not necessarily [too few] women filmmakers, because we do get more women directors and producers. What we are not seeing is, women as subjects.
David and Russ are in the film business. Neither of you are. You bring have a different and perhaps more objective eye, and the politics are different, as well, in that you’re not coming from a world where, this filmmaker is a friend from way back.
Deb: One hundred percent. It’s kind of been nice not being involved [as a filmmaker]. You come in more as an audience member; you haven’t seen twenty-six uses of that camera lens focus blah blah blah. You’re looking at much more of a maybe wide audience appeal, and you don’t come with the politics. As we go on, I’m sure we will start to come to the politics.
What is the selection process?
Molly: We’re a curated festival so we don’t have open submissions. Last year, we relied on Russ and David’s introducing us to industry folk. We spent time in Berlinale the year before last, and Frameline several years, to meet the past industry folk and get to know them. Now we rely on word of mouth, and we’re looking for recommendations.
How deep is the pool?
Molly: For the last few years, we’ve watched forty-five-plus films. We’re at least at that this year. And we just got some films this week.
Deb: One last night that was really good!
How many will show this year at QDoc?
Molly: It has to be twelve.
Deb: We had to do a last minute swap last night.
Because what you saw was so awesome?
Deb: We both looked at each other and go, dammit! That’s good.
You’d been living in Portland since 2008 and only heard about QDoc in 2015—the same year Ristretto heard did and became a sponsor. Where is QDOC now and where is it going?
Deb: We’re marketers at heart, and so we would love to always continue to grow the reach of the festival, for sure. We have some pretty big aspirations of growing it, not just as a Portland festival, but also nationally maybe even internationally, as well as working closely with Travel Portland and maybe Travel Oregon, and seeing it as a destination event. We meet a lot of people who come down from Seattle, or heard of it in LA, but people haven’t heard about it here.
Why not get 5000 people to descend on Portland for the festival? Why not, QDoc New York?
Molly: We have talked about that. One of the idea we’ve had is to do QDoc year round, so it’s not just once a year, but we do a special screening quarterly, we have five events a year.
Deb: Keep it fresh.
Are there any films you want to mention from the 2018 lineup?
Deb: I know which one I could do but you go first.
Molly: “Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution.”
Deb: Agh! She stole mine.
Molly: It’s just such a cool film.
Deb: It’s about the punk movement and the effect of punk on the LGBTQ scene.
Molly: And how ‘zine culture basically created their own movement.
Deb: It reminds me of JT Leroy, funnily enough, kind of, fake it ‘til you make it. Let’s just make up this bullshit, and say everyone is passionate about it, and we’re going to make it this huge scene and then it is this huge scene.
Molly: And there is this huge movement in gay punk scene and we’re going to own it!
And it’s actually three guys in a room!
Molly: Totally! Then you promote it through this ‘zine and everyone is like, oh, man, there is such a cool underground culture in Toronto!
Deb: It’s huge!
Molly: And then everyone believed it, and it expanded.
For people who have not been to QDoc, why do they get in gear and come this year? What’s your pitch?
Molly: Anytime you have the opportunity to have a more open mind and a more open heart, why not take advantage of that? I feel like we offer that opportunity through really awesome stories and we hope that people leave with a more open mind and a more open heart, and if they do, we’ve succeeded. I think there’s something so special about sitting in an audience of LGBTQ people and allies and others listening to history or education, there’s just something really powerful about seeing these stories on screen and then having the opportunity to talk about it amongst your people in this comfortable setting, ask questions of the director or the subjects themselves. The first time we went, we were so moved.
I’ve cried at every film I’ve seen there.
Molly: I had no idea until I experienced myself, I mean, whatever, it’s just a documentary; we’ve seen a million of those on PBS. But there’s something special about being at the Hollywood Theatre, sitting in the seats, the questions that are asked and answers given, and just the vibe that’s around. It’s pretty special.
Deb: Ditto that. That’s exactly how I feel about it, yeah. I think it’s just different, being with an audience. And having Q & As.
It’s a more interactive experience.
Deb: Isn’t it awesome? I love seeing an argument brew in the audience, people are so passionate they’re going to stand up and argue with a complete stranger and the director while they’re sitting here. Bring it on!
QDoc Portland Queer Documentary Film Festival runs May 17 – 20 at the Hollywood Theatre. More information and festival passes at https://qdocfilmfest.org.