Every film fanatic has an origin tale that opened their eyes. Be it a slow fade or conversational jump cut into a memory, they know what made them devote their lives to the movies.
Keith Garcia, the artistic director of Denver Film’s Sie FilmCenter and the instigator and impresario of the nonprofit’s queer programming, was 11 years old that fateful afternoon when he first saw Robert Zemeckis’s mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, animation-live-action wonder, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."
Had that scene been scripted, it could've read like this:
INT. MOVIE THEATER IN DENVER. THE YEAR, 1988. AFTERNOON
A young boy sits in the dark. The trailers have rolled. He awaits the main event: a showing of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."
Close-up of the boy’s eyes widening, his popcorn missing his mouth.
Cut to close-up: boy alone in theater, covered in popcorn.
Cut to low pan of an empty men’s room. Overhead shot of the boy hiding, sitting with feet up on the toilet.
INT. THEATER. EARLY EVENING.
Boy sitting in crowd, watching opening scenes of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" once again.
Later the same year, Garcia expanded his horizons by checking out maestro Pedro Almodóvar’s iconic romp, “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” from the Denver Public Library.
“The soup those two make is essentially my taste,” Garcia said one recent summer afternoon.
So, imagine another scene where the camera focuses on a calendar and the pages flip by in a flurry to arrive at the present. It's now early August 2023 and the Garcia-led CinemaQ Film Festival has celebrated its 15th year. Among this year’s highlights? More sold-out screenings than ever, and indie icon Udo Kier (“Swan Song”) holding court about his time working with Andy Warhol and one of the key associates from Warhol’s Factory, director Paul Morrissey. This followed screenings of two Morrissey-directed cult faves, “Flesh for Frankenstein” and “Blood for Dracula.”
Shortly before the fest opened, Garcia took a break to chat at Savageau Coffee and Ice Cream on Colfax Avenue. The city’s storied—alternately tawdry and hip—strip of bars, restaurants, fast-food joints, off-brand motels, includes a legendary bookstore (Tattered Cover), an equally legendary music store (Twist & Shout Records) and the Sie FilmCenter, home theater of Denver Film, one of the city’s vital arts organizations.
Local's Tip: Inclusive, Empowering Experiences
X Bar: “All-inclusive queer bar, giant patio, drag shows…right off Colfax, so you get a slice of life.”
Worth the Fight Boxing and Fitness Studio. Or “WTF.” CinemaQ is partnering with this woman-owned gym for the Sie FilmCenter's opening of the high school fight club romp, "Bottoms." The fitness studio offers seven-day and two-class passes for those who are visiting the city or want to try it out.
Queer Walk. Amble at your own pace through Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood—arguably the nexus of the city’s LGBTQ+ community—with a GPS app-aided audio walking tour crafted by the center’s history project, Denver Walking Tours and AARP.
Back in 2006, Garcia launched the organization’s CinemaQ programming at the behest of Denver PrideFest. He seized on the let’s-show-some-movies-during-Pride-month idea and quickly grew it into a monthly series. A mini slate of queer movies within the Denver Film Festival followed. And two short years later CinemaQ became the annual festival it is today.
“So, yeah, that was how CinemaQ and the festival were born,” he says, with his trademark Cheshire grin and pert matter-of-factness. “I gave that name to the series from the start. And I’ve tried to keep a tagline throughout, too, which is ‘Queer Voices. Queer Visions. Queer Visibility.’ As long as I stick to those three Vs as a rule, then the rest of it just comes out.”
Garcia knew that although the membership of Denver Film wasn’t his target demo they, too, would be drawn to quality films. He also trusted in the community. And LGBTQ+ folks show up and continue to. This year’s gathering opened with a sold-out screening of the raunchy high school comedy “Bottoms.”
In 2022, with the support of William LaBahn, a local film producer and patron of CinemaQ, the festival launched its inaugural Ikon Award. Multi-hyphenate Colman Domingo was the recipient.
“It’s perfect timing,” Garcia said at the time. “I wanted to lay the groundwork for future icons who have increased the Three Vs. And to me, there’s no one else right now who is riding that forward momentum at a very important point in their career than Colman.”
Garcia turned out to be spot on. Shortly after his visit to Denver, Domingo won the Emmy for his work in HBO’s “Euphoria.” The animated short film Colman and his husband, Raúl Domingo, made was shortlisted for an Academy Award nomination. And he’ll soon star in “Rustin,” the biopic of the gay Civil Rights maverick Bayard Rustin, and the new adaptation of the musical “The Color Purple.” Icon, indeed.
If you missed the CinemaQ festivities, fear not. Like the three-screen arthouse, Garcia keeps a buzz going with independent film fare since CinemaQ’s programming is a year-round affair. (Just check out denverfilm.org.)
And on the (high) heels of this year’s festival, Garcia has been in talks to bring another wowing talent to this year’s behemoth Denver Film Festival (Nov. 3-12, 2023) for the latest Ikon Award. If Garcia pulls this rabbit out of his hat, you may want to add another V to his mantra: Visit.