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Thursday, September 12, 2019

The 26th annual QFilms Fest highlights the importance of showcasing an array of LGBTQ+ experiences through film. By Jorge Paniagua

The 26th annual QFilms Fest highlights the importance of showcasing an array of LGBTQ+ experiences through film. 

By Jorge Paniagua
Article from The Pride

Lights. Camera. Representation!
"Director Castel claims that this documentary, which showcases the life and trials of the first openly gay candidate for public office in the United States, remains in production. However, the documentary not only looked but felt finished. Furthermore, the documentary went on to win the Audience Award for Best Film Feature at the QFilms Festival, which is impressive considering it’s not entirely finished yet. 
The film walked audience members through the little-known, yet massively influential, life of Jose Sarria. Sarria who served in the military and fought in one of the most violent battles in World War II, the infamous Battle of the Bulge, would go on to use the leadership skills he acquired in the military to lead members of the LGBTQ+ community to new heights. 
During his life, Sarria, along with other members of the community, were oppressed by the police and local politicians. For instance, It was illegal for LGBTQ+ people to congregate in a public space during the ‘50s and early ‘60s. The documentary showcases Sarria’s passion for LGBTQ+ rights and a new kind of activism — one involving a highly-regarded mock court system, The LGBTQ+ Imperial Court. This court is still around to this day and fundraises thousands of dollars each year through a network of courts throughout the country. The documentary successfully highlights the importance of Sarria’s never-ending activism and does a vibrant job of educating those who may be unaware of the great feats accomplished by Sarria, also known as The Grande Mere, Absolute Empress I of San Francisco. Such an icon!"

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Nelly Queen: The Life & Times of Jose Sarria opens the Long Beach QFilm Festival Sept. 5, 2019

Nelly Queen: The Life & Times of Jose Sarria at the opening of the Long Beach QFilm Festival Sept. 5, 2019
Photos by Hara AlarconOrange County Imperial CourtJoe Castel, DirectorDanny De La Paz, Producer
Mario J. Novoa, ProducerGregory Davila, Contributor Editor

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

QFilms Highlights LatinX Films in Long Beach This September

QFilms Highlights LatinX Films in Long Beach This September

If you missed Outfest this year, you can still get your queer flick fix from QFilms Festival in Long Beach, September 5-8. 

This year’s festival serves up a cinematic feast of diverse feature and short films, including,Nelly Queen: The Life and Times of Jose Sarria,Gaytino! Made in America,and The Garden Left Behind.

Long Beach is noted for its active LGBTQ community, and QFilms can count on their loyal followers to support the city’s second largest gay gathering after Pride. is right next door to the spacious LGBTQ Center on Fourth Street. Unlike Outfest that’s spread throughout LA, this single location makes it convenient for filmgoers to attend pre and post party receptions, the festival’s closing Sunday brunch, and offers a comfortable place to chill between screenings. It's a great space to mingle with the filmmakers, actors and producers. Last year, there were hordes of friendly volunteers dishing out food, drinks, and just being incredibly helpful.

This year’s opening film’s red carpet party should be unlike any other since Nelly Queenis about the Imperial Court’s Founder, Empress I, Jose Sarria, aka the Widow Norton. The Imperial Court of Long Beach,  (founded in 1970) along with the other Southern California courts, San Diego, LA/Hollywood, Orange County and the Emerald Kingdom promises to roll out the rhinestones and a couture red carpet to put the Windsor’s to shame.

Nelly Queen: The Life and Times of Jose Sarria

Nelly Queen,a work-in-progress preview, was selected to open up the festival in a savvy move to nab the film before it’s release next year. Nelly Queenis directed and written by yours truly, and took decades to make, beginning when I met the royal diva herself in 1990.

After reading about Jose in an academic journal, I knew I had to meet this legendary drag activist, who in 1950 San Francisco stood up on café tables to expose the vice squad that was there to entrap unsuspecting gay men. She’d sing “God, Save Us Nelly Queens,” a take off of Britain’s national anthem, and that musical cue would let the gay men know that undercover cops were in the house. 

After I moved to Los Angeles, I found out Jose was not only still alive, she wasstillperforming in cafes, and singing (in her own tenor voice) opera parodies like Carmen and Madame Butterfly. She just wasn’t singing on tabletops any longer, and she had grown a little hefty and was nearly 70-years-old. But her comedic delivery was on point and her cabaret shows were politically caustic. 

Jose’s real claim to fame, however, is that he was the first, openly gay man in 1961, to run for political office in the United States – and she ran in heels. Jose ran for office because San Francisco was about to shut down all the gay bars. Without political representation, Jose knew the establishment would have its way. He had nothing to lose. She was the queen bee with a tremendous following, so she turned her popularity into votes, representing the unrepresented. Although he did not win a seat for City Supervisor (Harvey Milk would win it in 1977), Jose proved for the first time in America, there was a gay voting bloc.

Nelly Queenis intercut with contemporary interviews of people who voted for him and saw him perform at the Black Cat Café and rare archival interviews of her highness himself. Jose’s interviews span from 1992 to her majesty’s death in 2013. When Jose died, he left behind more than 500 photos, dating from the 1930s, and he probably had more photos taken of him during World War II, than I had of my entire childhood. Many of these cultural pictorial gems of his underground gay parties in the 1950s, his Black Cat Café performances and the early days of the Imperial Courts, help visualize an epic tale of heroism in the face of insurmountable odds. 

Jose’s story is an amazing testament of the human spirit, as he survived World War II, McCarthyism, and the AIDS crisis. Four years before Stonewall, Jose established the second largest LGBTQ nonprofit in the world in 1965, and currently there are 70 Imperial Courts throughout North America, including Long Beach, that continue to carry out his legacy by providing hundreds of charities hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. God, Save the Nelly Queen!

Gaytino! Made in America

Dan Guerrero, 78, son of singer songwriter, Lalo Guerrero (Chicano icon activist and entertainer) turns his award-winning one-man show into, well, basically a taped version of his standup staged performance. It’s a comical tale of a queer Latino boy growing up in East LA in the 1950s, and then spreading his sequined wings over Broadway as a dancer, only to return to LALA Land. Like his iconic father before him, Guerrero has the ability to tell a remarkable story with provocative social and cultural insight peppered with humor. If you missed his riveting theatrical performance, here’s your chance to see the film version and an opportunity to actually interact with Guerrero after the film during a Q&A session. 

The Garden Left Behind

This film from Brazil/USA traces the relationship between Tina, a young Mexican trans woman and her grandmother, Eliana, as they navigate through Tina’s transition.  As Tina begins the process of transitioning, Eliana struggles to understand her granddaughter and fears that their life together in America is no longer what they dreamed it would be. Tina finds camaraderie in a small but fierce transgender advocacy group, while suffering violent threats, insurmountable medical costs, and harassment over her immigration status. Then to top it all off, she faces increasing skepticism from the man she loves. Just as Tina begins to lose all hope, she unwittingly becomes the only hope for a shy young man who has been watching her closely from afar. 
For more information on Long Beach’s QFilms Festival, visit

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Trailblazer Jose Julio Sarria ran for San Francisco Supervisor in 1961.

Trailblazer Jose Julio Sarria ran for San Francisco Supervisor in 1961.

"Everybody has the right to run for office! They said, 'you can't run for office, you're gay. They ain't gonna let you'. And I said, watch me."

- Jose Sarria

Trailer - FB End credits 2 from Joe Castel on Vimeo.