The third comedic feature from writer/producer Mark Jones (following Eli Parker is Getting Married and Fraternity Massacre at Hell Island), Tennessee Queer stars Christian Walker as Jason Potts, a gay man who left his small Tennessee hometown for New York but is lured back for what he thinks is an intervention for his alcoholic brother. Instead, Jason finds his supportive family angling for a full-time return, insisting that the town has become more gay-friendly.
Tennessee Queer was written in February of 2011 and filmed the following fall. After a one-night local premiere and a festival run last year, it's getting an encore Memphis screening this week as a fund-raiser for Outflix, Memphis' annual gay and lesbian film festival.
"I was sort of reacting to events in Memphis and Tennessee over the previous couple of years," Jones says of the film's concept, which finds the film's protagonist petitioning for a gay pride parade in his ostensibly conservative hometown. Jones cites a rally against gay rights sponsored by some Shelby County elected officials and the controversy over the state-wide "don't say gay" bill as influences.
Back home, Jason seeks to disprove his family's claims by petitioning to hold a gay pride parade down the town's Main Street and is shocked to find his petition approved by the positive vote of conservative council member DeWayne Cotton (Billie Worley), who has his eye on a mayoral race and may have ulterior motives.
"I wanted it to have a positive message," Jones says of a film where his protagonist finds some resistance but also plenty of support. "He's sort of a reluctant hero, but one person can make a difference."
Tennessee Queer sketches a legacy of small-town homophobia with a tidy opening sequence that reveals a "smear the queer" wall in the locker room of the high school football team, where the humiliation of suspected gay students — including Jason — has been noted for decades.
"I wanted to do something to get across to the audience that it's not a new issue in this town," Jones says of the opening conceit. "It's a quick way to present the history and establish that Jason has been a part of it."
The film turns Midtown's Broad Avenue into its small-town main street and also uses locations such as the P&H Café and Minglewood Hall.
Jones collaborated again here with cinematographer/editor Ryan Parker — whose technical hand is as sure as ever — and a talented crew that includes assistant directors Sarah Fleming and Morgan Jon Fox, both significant figures on the local film scene. Jones was initially set to direct the film but had some health problems on the eve of the shoot, making the direction a collective affair. To acknowledge this, the film is credited to "Earl Goshorn," a mash-up of Parker's and Jones' middle names.
The film debuted last year at the Philadelphia Q Festival and has had screenings at gay and lesbian festivals in Atlanta, Indianapolis, and North Carolina. It's set to screen at the Oxford Film Festival, in Mississippi, next month. Proceeds from this week's local screening will go to the Outflix Film Festival, which is sponsored by the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center and which will run September 6th through 12th.
Studio on the Square,
Thursday, January 24th, 7 p.m.; $10