Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | September 17th, 2023
Summer Qamp (Jen Markowitz, 2023) 3 out of 4 stars.
Despite what one might think upon a quick glance at the title, the new documentary Summer Qamp is not about a group of kids learning the latest QAnon conspiracy theory. Rather, the “Q” here stands for something much nicer. The subject is the Canadian province of Alberta’s Camp fYrefly, where queer and trans youth are able to gather in a safe place and make friends.
For many, the experience is the first time they meet people like themselves. The film beautifully showcases the power of such a place to make a difference. The majestic scenery of the region forms a wonderful visual backdrop, as well.
Director Jen Markowitz, making her feature debut, trains her camera on a variety of participants, listing first names only, along with pronouns. Alberta is apparently a fairly conservative part of the country, so most of the movie’s young subjects have yet to find a time and a place where they can practice the fullness of their self-expression. Watching them connect and bloom proves quite poignant.
Beyond the activities specifically tailored to fYrefly’s population, there are the usual outdoor pursuits, familiar to anyone who has at one point attended any kind of summer camp. This makes the documentary, one would hope, especially accessible to all, no matter how they initially feel about LGBTQ+ rights. If you can’t find joy in the exuberance of late childhood, there’s something missing within you.
The ages range from 14 and above. We meet folks like Ren and Wren (both trans, which makes them quite the homophonic pair, much to their delight). Ghoul and Spider are among the other lively protagonists, as is Kingston, a transmasc teen whose parents think is a bisexual girl. While at fYrefly, he comes out as trans to his mother via text. She responds with generic platitudes, not yet ready to process the latest truth (but hey, at least Kingston is at camp, surrounded by love).
The counselors, also queer, play a big part, too, as when Haitian adoptee Manessa connects with the older Grace, also adopted from Haiti. Meeting people who look like each other is a key part of the journey. We go from good time to even better time.
All of the above said, one might wish the film had a little more substance, in terms of contextualizing the lives of its characters. Perhaps, however, Markowitz’s goal is merely to celebrate the magnificent conviviality of the place and the people. If so, she amply succeeds.
[Summer Qamp just had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), as part of the TIFF Docs Programme.]