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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

‘Criminal Queers’ premieres at the Pickford Film Center

It is like “Prison Break” all over again, but this time it is Lucy Parsons and her gang of transgender activists who are breaking out.

After seven years, assistant professor in time-based art Chris Vargas and group of fellow artists finally finished their film “Criminal Queers,” which premiered on Thursday, Jan. 21, at the Pickford Film Center.

“Criminal Queers” is an hour-long film exploring the prison abolition movement, which seeks to find a more effective solution to imprisonment, through the lens of the transgender and queer community.

This film is a sequel to Vargas and Stanley’s first film that came out in 2006, “Homotopia.” Both films center on topics relating to the transgender community.

“It was a lot of people’s first introduction to queers being critical of marriage as an activist project,” Vargas said. “ We saw how fruitful conversations can be, often combative but also really productive.”

The goal of “Criminal Queers” is to grow the transgender/queer community’s collective liberation by working to eliminate the ways their genders, desires and hearts are confined, according to Vargas’ website.

The film follows a group of friends  working to rescue their friend Lucy Parsons from wrongful imprisonment, while also liberating all transgender and queer people from the terrible conditions of the prison system.

Stanley and Vargas toured their first film, starting conversations about the gay marriage rights movement that was very prominent at the time, Vargas said.

“I love art, but I love art most when it is political. Most art is political. Even if it’s not political it’s making some type of statement,” Vargas said.

Vargas said once the gay marriage topic started, it was the only conversation people were having.

The movie is the first in a series of transgender films to be shown at the theater.

Vargas and life partner Greg Youmans, assistant professor of English, organized “Criminal Queers” as part of their series called “The Queen’s Vernacular,” which will present a new film once a month.

Vargas and Youmans will be selecting a new transgender/queer film for every month to be shown at the Pickford. Vargas said he hopes to start accepting submissions from filmmakers to be played in the series.

Youmans starred in the film and wrote his own monologue, he said.

They were open to input from people who were involved, as they were putting it together and reformulating it as it went, Youmans said.

“It was a film that was responding to political events unfolding at the time it was being made, things would shift as the world shifted,” he said.

The film had a rough aspect to it as Vargas said he was not interested in the “polished Hollywood style.”

He was inspired by filmmaker John Waters, Vargas said.

“[Waters’] early films were really low budget and campy and trashy, and he made it with all his friends in Baltimore,” Vargas said.

“Criminal Queers” was made over so many years that the filmmakers would meet prison abolition activists and would want to add them in. It was a non-professional production, Vargas said.

Senior Tristan Olson is a creative writing major and attended the film for a class assignment.

The film presented itself in a fun and easy way, it took a look at the transgender community but it is the humor everyone is going to be able to recognize, Olson said.

Olson said he could relate to the theme of activism presented in the film.

“We showed a lot of rough cuts of [the film]. When we showed it [in 2009] we didn’t have an ending,” he said.

Vargas said his favorite place in Bellingham is the Pickford. It’s been so supportive of the film, he said.

“Politics can circulate in all kinds of conversations, but there is great potential in art to creating how information is talked about or delivered,” Vargas said.

*Editors Note: This article was updated from a previous draft that incorrectly stated that Greg Youmans was Chris Vargas’ film partner instead of life partner.

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