Some of Ry Levey's fondest memories involve watching Stampede Wrestling in Edmonton in the 1980s. So it's going to feel particularly sweet to come back to the city to screen his documentary about the hidden history of LGBTQ wrestlers at the Rainbow Visions Film Festival.
Out in the Ring chronicles the rise of queer representation in professional wrestling, from the closeted wrestlers of the mid-20th century to the out-and-proud performers of today.
"I wanted to tell the story of these amazing people doing something that I love," Levey told Taproot in an interview from Argentina, where he is screening Out in the Ring at the Festival Asterisco, an international LGBTQ film festival in Buenos Aires.
His homecoming to Edmonton's own queer film festival will include a Q&A after his film is shown at Metro Cinema, bringing the festival to a close on Nov. 6.
While he's here, he's hoping to reconnect with Dennis Mayhew, a "legendary teacher in the city" who made all the difference in setting him on the path to a creative life.
"He was always about cultivating a student's dreams, mostly artistic dreams," said Levey, who attended elementary school in Mill Woods.
Mayhew's enthusiasm spurred Levey to pursue a career in film, but for a long time, his work was in production and promotion. Then in 2013, he directed a documentary short about a lifelong love affair called The Closest Thing to Heaven. That made him want to do a feature-length documentary.
"What story is going to be my first story?" he asked himself. "I just kept coming back to wrestling."
The film features interviews with wrestlers, historians, fans, and writers about how wrestling has both depicted and challenged homophobia. Levey said he's hoping to show the queer community that modern-day professional wrestling — at least in some promotions — is a safe space. And he'd like to encourage all wrestling fans to learn the history and become allies.
The Rainbow Visions Film Festival, which is running at Metro Cinema from Nov. 3 to 6, has been showcasing LGBTQ2S-focused short and feature-length films in Edmonton since 2015. It began when NorthwestFest, the long-running documentary festival, moved from November to May, and organizers floated the idea of starting a second festival to fill that space.
Film festivals like Rainbow Visions and its predecessors perform an important service by allowing queer people to see, tell, and experience their own stories, said Kristopher Wells, the Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth and MacEwan University and a member of the Edmonton Queer History Project.
"It's particularly important to feel that you're connected to, and you're part of, a larger community. Many people grew up feeling like they were the only one in the world because there wasn't that visibility," Wells said. "Even to this day, these festivals are really important, because young people are not getting to this information in their K-to-12 schools, for example."
Opening night for Rainbow Visions features the Edmonton premiere of Before I Change My Mind, Trevor Anderson's much-lauded feature film set in 1987 about a kid trying to navigate adolescence in a world that wants to put people in boxes.
Although this is the seventh year for the festival, the interruption wrought by the pandemic makes it feel like starting all over again, said festival director Guy Lavallee.
"We hit Year 5, and we were really starting to get a bit of nice momentum," Lavallee said. "And of course, COVID hits. So, in a lot of ways, this year is kind of like starting from scratch."