Reel Affirmations screens “Queen of the Capital” today at 5 p.m. at Gala Hispanic Theatre (3333 14th St., N.W.).
This 80-minute documentary filmed by Josh Davisburg, a University of Maryland professor and his then-students, Alex Glass, Alanna Delfino and Brandi Vincent, follows Muffy Blake Stephyns, a D.C.-based drag performer, through her year-long competition for an Imperial Court Crown. In the process both professor and students learned about the city’s colorful drag history.
“There used to be house parties, and the members would come and dress up,” Davisburg, who identifies as an LGBT ally, says. “It would be very glamorous.”
Davisburg says early feedback he received on the film was that he didn’t capture the “raunchiness” of drag. But he learned from interviews how the AIDS epidemic changed the art.
“We lost a generation,” Stephyns (aka Daniel Hays) says, adding gentrification destroyed early drag venues and forced change as well.
The cultural documentary began as Vincent’s class project, but Davisburg was encouraged to develop it into feature-length by Stephyns’ charisma, the Imperial Court’s charity work and the idea of introducing local commuters to another side of Washington.
“I can’t tell you how many people who work in D.C. and have seen the film say they never knew this was there,” Davisburg says.
Glass, the student director of photography, had never known this side of the city either.
“This was my first experience directly with the LGBT and drag communities,” he says. “And the shows were really different, really fun. The atmosphere was upbeat and it was really open to us. We became good friends with the performers.”
Stephyns was philosophical on the issue.
“Every drag character is just that, a character,” she says. “It’s theater, but it also tells a story. There’s a story about that individual that’s also being told and their connection to the community.”
Though this film has screened in Palm Springs and Atlanta and will also screen in Maryland and Virginia, Davidsburg says it’s important to screen in D.C. as well.
“We knew we wanted to screen at a film festival in D.C., so we applied to Reel Affirmations and we were lucky to get accepted,” he says. “It would be nice to show it here in our hometown.”
The Reel Affirmations film festival runs today through Sunday. Tickets start at $40 and are available at reel-affirmations.ticketleap.com.