LeeAnne Lowry’s short film “The Treadmill Switcher” is based on an actual incident.
One day, she was in the gym and saw someone get on a treadmill a short distance from her and start running.
“I couldn’t tell if they were a lesbian or a child,” she says. But the story didn’t occur to her until the next time she was in the gym. Lowry was on her treadmill, the same one she always walked on, and the runner hopped on the one next to her.
“I couldn’t tell if they were running next to me because they were interested or because they felt comforted by my presence,” Lowry remembers. She still couldn’t tell if the other person was a lesbian or a teenager.
Lowry was in graduate school at the time earning her MFA. She wrote a short story about the incident, which now, years later, has become a short film that’s having its world premiere at QFest, which is a program of Cinema St. Louis and runs Thursday, May 4, through Wednesday, May 10.
The festival includes 10 feature length films and two shorts programs, all showing at the Hi-Pointe. The focus of QFest is queer films and filmmakers, and this year’s fest includes local and international films, including The Blue Caftan, a story about a talented and handsome young apprentice in a traditional caftan store in one of Morocco’s oldest medinas, who develops a close bond with married shopkeeper Halim. There’s also the comedy The Sixth Reel, starring drag legend Charles Busch, who finds a long lost final reel to a classic horror film and antics ensue as he tries to cash in on the find.
Each year, QFest also shows a classic film, and this year’s is the restored 1995 film The Doom Generation, from queer director Gregg Araki, about two runaway teens who pick up an attractive hitchhiker. The films are alternatively heartbreaking, hilarious and poignant — and for everyone.
“You don’t have to be anything but a breathing human being, who likes movies and wants to experience something interesting with a nice community,” Chris Clark, artistic director of Cinema St. Louis, says.
That made it the perfect fit for “The Treadmill Switcher.”
“We wanted to have a Midwestern, queer premiere,” says Lowry, who identifies as queer.
The short film largely follows the gym incident as it happened to Lowry, and the protagonist, known simply as woman, is Dakota Hommes, a popular transgender TikToker, who Lowry knew through True/False Festival. Lowry is the press and marketing manager for the documentary film festival, while Hommes has volunteered there (and has volunteered at QFest).
The TikTok popularity is important because in the short, the woman talks directly to the camera as Hommes does during her TikToks. “We needed to find someone comfortable talking to camera and who would do it for no money because this was a no-budget film,” Lowry says with a laugh.
The short isn’t so much about a gym incident but about the roles that women play in film: lover or mother, Lowry explains. When the woman (Hommes) can’t figure out if the person in the gym is a child or a lesbian, it becomes a crisis about what role she is playing in the film, which she is aware of, since she’s always talking to the camera.
The result is funny and bizarre. The fact that the main character is trans adds another layer to the meaning. It’s a critique of “what we’ve been fed our whole lives,” Lowry says. “Cinematic language is built off the male gaze.”
You can see “The Treadmill Switcher” at Queer Shorts 2, on Sunday, May 7, at Hi-Pointe Theater. This collection of shorts, and Queer Shorts 1 on Saturday, May 6, at 1 p.m., are both free, though tickets are required. Tickets are $15 per film, $12 for students and Cinema St. Louis members. You can also opt for a five-film pass for $50 to $65 or an all access pass form $105 to $140.