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Photo courtesy Fairy Tales Film Festival

Fairy Tales Film Festival 2024: Summer Qamp is a celebration of queer joy

By Dianne Miranda, July 2 2024—

Summer Qamp, directed by Jen Markowitz, follows a group of 2SLGBTQIA+ kids in a five day overnight camp, Camp fYrefly, at YMCA Camp Chief Hector in Kananaskis, Alberta. It documents campers’ stories and for many, their first experience in a space dedicated solely to the queer community. Camp fYrefly is a space for these kids to be kids again without having to hide their identities or try to be someone else.

The film opens with intimate in-depth interviews with teens in their bedrooms, extending a welcome to the audience to reflect and reminisce the innocence and awkwardness of their youth. This invitation reflects the universal experience that comes with self-discovery while also shedding light on some of the struggles queer kids uniquely face in a world that still and often marginalizes them.

The film does not shy away from the difficult realities faced by the campers. It celebrates their resilience and the joy they find in being able to express themselves freely. Despite discussions of some painful realities such as experiencing homophobia and transphobia in their schools and self-harm, the film effortlessly interweaves these stories with candid shots and laughter such as those from the Lip Syncing 101 workshop led by Marshall Vienne, then artist-in-residence, and camp activities like archery and rock climbing.

Summer Qamp has a touch of care, raw honesty and authenticity as the film refreshingly allows the kids to bravely lead the conversations. Markowitz’s sensitive and empathetic direction — not painting lived experiences of the kids’ behalf and having the care to censor any dead names — ensures that each camper’s voice is heard and their existence respected and celebrated. The film also allows spaces for celebrations of queerness in all its forms as the audience watch Marshall helping a trans camper with her makeup in preparation for the Drag workshop. 

The camp connects these kids with mentors from the community. One of the most touching scenes in the documentary includes a camper and a counsellor connecting over shared identities and experiences being queer, adopted and Haitian. This special connection and the desire to find someone like them speaks to the inherent human want to simply find belonging. 

The 2022 camp also invited Rainbow Elders Calgary to share their life stories and offer this intergenerational dialogue, illuminating on the progress within and for the queer community while reminding viewers of the enduring challenges and the work that still needs to be done. 

Within queer spaces, camps can evoke some thoughts and ideas about conversion camps, but as one camper has said, Camp fYrefly is an “anti-conversion camp”. Camp fYrefly provides these kids not only this physical place of refuge for five days in their summer from the forever changing and uncertain Canadian landscape, but also a community and transformative experience that extends to impact their everyday lives, home, schools and communities. 

Summer Qamp is a celebration of queer joy — aided by the beautiful cinematography of Treaty 7 Territories, well paced editing and evocative soundtrack that includes Canadian artists like Tegan and Sara — and a call for more braver spaces where these future queers no longer have to squeeze themselves into gaps, but demand to not be tolerated and rather conform to who they are. 

As the movie ended, the Flanagan theatre of The Grand echoed with soft whimpers of the crowd and eyes filled with tears as viewers were given the opportunity to ask Marshall questions, who was in special attendance at the screening. Summer Qamp was a standout from this year’s Fairy Tales Film Festival selection. 

To learn more about the Fairy Tales Film Festival, please visit their website here

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