VOICES: Finding commonalities, celebrating differences through film

THE NEON, the cinema I have managed in downtown Dayton for almost 23 years, is more than just a movie theater. It’s a community asset utilized by numerous grassroots organizations, universities, businesses, churches and artists. We are a space where diversity is celebrated, civic-minded missions are implemented, and intellectual stimulation is revered – all through the power of international and independent cinema. I believe in this statement so much that it’s posted on our website.

Though June is known as Pride month, we actually host our queer film fest at THE NEON in the Fall. October 2024 will mark the 19th year that I have overseen the OUT HERE DAYTON Film Fest (formerly known as The Dayton LGBT Film Festival) – celebrating the best in LGBTQIA+ films from around the world. We don’t host the festival in June because we don’t want it to get lost amid all the activities related to Pride. In addition, we look toward festivals in big cities in June and July to see what’s winning awards so we can potentially program those films that are resonating with audiences in larger markets… and still be fresh for the Midwest a few months later.

That said, we don’t want June to escape without acknowledging and celebrating the Queer community. On Wednesday, June 12 at 7:30, we will screen The People’s Joker. “This revolutionary DIY parody film and hilarious reimagining of the classic autobiographical coming-of-age story follows an unconfident, closeted trans girl as she moves to Gotham City to make it big as a comedian by joining the cast of UCB Live – a government-sanctioned late night sketch show in a world where comedy has been outlawed. The People’s Joker features a superhero-sized cast of celebrated comedic talent in both voice and live action roles behind the vibrant kaleidoscope of characters that lampoon the iconic heroes and villains of the DC comics world. Helmed by writer/director/editor/star Vera Drew and using her own life experiences as a basis for the film, The People’s Joker is a deeply personal journey that’s as much documentary as it is parody.” (taken from the film’s press notes)

I had read about this film a couple years ago when it was supposed to have screened at The Toronto International Film Fest. In an 11th hour announcement, the film got pulled from the TIFF line-up due to copyright reasons from DC Comics - which only helped to generate more buzz. The film screened in underground ways over the next several months, and earlier this year, it got picked up for legal distribution. When Claire, one of our customers, reached out and asked if we would consider playing this “transcendent transgender coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a Batman film,” I decided it would be the right film for a special Pride screening. Claire had seen the film in Columbus and it struck a deep chord. I reached out to Claire to make certain I could quote her in my marketing, and she was quick to confirm. “Feel free! A more visceral review from my partner was, and it may not sound like it but this is high praise, ‘it was like going to 25 therapy sessions all at once.’ I promise it was a good thing.”

I watch a lot of movies (at TIFF, I screen 35 or more in just 9 days), and I understand how certain films can provide invaluable catharsis (last year’s All of Us Strangers is a recent title that comes to mind). Showcasing films that provide visibility and inclusion to underrepresented groups is a cornerstone of THE NEON’s mission, and we’re proud that we can bring a film that will resonate with many people in our community. Finding commonalities while embracing and celebrating differences is what Pride is all about.

The People’s Joker screens Wednesday, June 12, 2024 at 7:30. Tickets are $10 each and can be purchased in person at THE NEON’s box office or on-line at www.neonmovies.com. Stay tuned for details about this year’s OUT HERE DAYTON Film Fest, scheduled for Oct. 11-13 at www.outheredayton.org.

Jonathan McNeal, a graduate of Wright State University’s Motion Picture program, has taught film production at the high school and college levels and has managed THE NEON in downtown Dayton for more than 22 years.

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