By Niall McArdle
Kingston, Ontario is a college town with a young and friendly vibe, and I highly recommend a visit there if you are a person in your middle years in need of a sip from the fountain of youth. As I walked along Princess Street surrounded by students eagerly chatting about their studies, their art/music/film projects, the latest cool alternative venue, I felt young, alive and vibrant. There was a definite spring in my step. But at the same time I also felt terribly old, shabby, grey and frumpy. It’s an odd thing to be surrounded by kids with their whole life ahead of them, still full of hope. I felt a little sorry for them: were they looking at me and thinking “Jesus, is that the future!” Luckily, I found several pubs with dim lighting, and one, The Toucan, that knows how to properly pour a pint of Guinness.
I would also recommend a cosy little pub, Sir John’s. When it comes to food choices, you’re spoiled in Kingston: the city has more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in Canada. I found a wonderful little place called The Sleepless Goat that serves excellent fair-trade, organic food and decent beer. It’s a worker-owned co-op, meaning, I suppose, the staff take a vote on the special of the day. The cafe is very popular with hipster types.
I’m not sure I would make a good hipster. I have the requisite scruffy facial hair and old clothes, and a distaste for lightning speed technology – my skills don’t extend much beyond being able to stop the 12:00 flashing on the video recorder – but how many self-respecting hipsters have to take a nap in the afternoon? If I do decide to give the hipster thing a try, Kingston is the place to do it, and I would start at The Screening Room, Kingston’s only alternative cinema. It screens arthouse and indie films. There are vintage movie posters and an old giant projector in the lobby to remind cinemagoers what life was like in the old days (the cinema went fully digital a year ago). Before going into to see a film, a nice lady offers me curried lentil soup.
My guide to The Screening Room was the very laid-back and friendly Brandon. If there is an arthouse cinema in Heaven, I want Brandon to run it. When he’s not making popcorn and serving coffee (in a proper mug, no less, not a disgusting styrofoam cup), he spins music on the record player behind the counter (they play LPs that are appropriate to the themes of the films currently showing). I should talk to Brandon more. He could offer me some fantastic hipster fashion tips: he has the checked shirt, national health glasses, fantastic beard, and genially dazed but unflappable attitude.
I was at The Screening Room for the Reelout Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and I was there on behalf of my brother, Denis, whose short film Barry’s Bespoke Bakery was being screened. Reelout is now in its fifteenth year. In 1999 a small collective banded together, screening films in what was then Kingston’s only gay bar, 477, to see if the city could sustain a weekend-longh gay film festival. It has grown over the years and is now firmly established in the arts calendar. Very much a community festival, it was honoured with the Queen’s University Human Rights Initiative Award for their contribution to the community, and in 2008 established the Reelout in Schools Project specializing in diversity and gender diversity education.
It seemed somehow appropriate that I should have arrived in Kingston for a gay film festival on the same day as the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics. It felt a privilege to be able to witness some of these films. There has been much talk of homophobia in the news, whether it’s gay-bashing in Russia, a call for a TV boycott, or Panti Bliss’s speech at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. As it turned out, the Opening Ceremony had one little hitch when one of the Olympic rings didn’t open, inspiring all sorts of parodies on social media:
There was a rich variety of films at Reelout. Worth seeing was Getting Go: The Go Doc Project, a bittersweet tale of love and online obsession.
Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution is a highly interesting documentary on the history of 1970s lesbian feminism, which was followed by You’re Not My Target Audience, a short documentary on the lesbian performance arts scene in Toronto.
There were also several short comedies – good, bad and indifferent. Among my favourites was this wonderful, brilliant argument for gay marriage
and Spooners, a very funny film about two men in their quest for a bed
Reelout is already planning its 2015 Festival. Follow the Festival on Twitter here.
In the meantime, Kingston will be host to another film festival at the end of this month.
I stayed in Kingston courtesy of the Four Points Hotel, which I can highly recommend, especially the bed: I haven’t slept that soundly in ages (and no, it had nothing to do with the Guinness).
If you’re planning a trip, check out Tourism Kingston first.