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Queen - still #1
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Queen - still #3


World Premiere

Director: Kai Nealis

United States, 2024, 10 min

Shooting Format:Super 16mm to HD

Festival Year:2024


Genres:Experimental, Queer, Narrative

Cast:Thee Suburbia America, Kellik Dawson, Candice Tiffany Gordon, John Burger, Alisha Day, Sarah Caneles, Joseph Simpson, Q.

Crew:Writers: Kai Nealis, Thee Suburbia America. Producer: Kai Nealis. Sound: Zach Chapple, Patrick Pearce; Directors of Photography: Kai Nealis, Jacob Schaffel-Scherrer; Assisstant Camera: Tyler Macri; Music: Randall Taylor, Patti Smith, Thee Suburbia America; Sound Design: Zach Chapple; Color: Ryan Graves


While visiting their estranged grandfather in a rural trailer park, a teenager searches for their father's ethos amid socioeconomic, environmental, racial, and gendered binaries.


About the director

Kai grew up in Great Falls, Montana and Olympia, Washington. He graduated from Ithaca College in Upstate New York with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Cinema and Photography Production and Latin American Studies. His work ranges from the documentary study of site-specific economic and environmental concerns in Latin America to narrative inquiries into social realist issues in contemporary domestic American life. The direction of his research continues to be influenced by the Latin@ community as well youth urban mentorship initiatives and immigrant youth case management for The Office of Refugee Resettlement. Focusing on issues of land use, class, and globalization, his films have been exhibited most notably at The Cannes Film Festival and The Ivy Film Festival, among others. His video art has been featured in the Ladder exhibition, a pop-up gallery in Upstate New York, and in Feast Your Eyes at Root Division in San Francisco. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

Website Filmography

Filmmaker's note

I made this film after a friend, prominent New York City drag queen Thee Suburbia America, and I struck up a conversation after one of their performances in early 2018. We wanted to portray drag in a way that it hadn't since earlier queer cinematic classics like Jennie Livingston's iconic 1990 documentary 'Paris Is Burning'. In an era where iconic drag queens were buying ranches and leasing fracking rights to oil companies, what did it mean to be a big young black drag performer in rural places like Upstate New York?

I wrote a short script for my college thesis film based around the loose narrative of a teen discovering their father's roots as a drag performer. We wanted to make this film collaboratively, and for its core to draw you in just like a great performance might at a club. The film would be as much an expression of Suburbia's talent as a performer as it was a narrative of discovery. It had to rely on camera work and an atmospheric sense of place in a rural trailer park. It also had to draw the viewer closer in a slow cinema sense, not so heavily referencing the camp and gore of 'Pink Flamingos'.

Shot on Super 16mm, this film took six years to finish. While drag continued to increase in prominence in the public eye, we chose to depict a social and geographic landscape that is foreign to many iconic drag portrayals in the queer cinematic landscape of the 2010s and 2020s. We did reference early John Waters as well as experimental minimalist films about working-class characters in small communities like those of Kelly Reichardt.

In the end, it became Queen. It's a film about Suburbia's evocative home life with a teenager, as well as their explosive drag persona. Suburbia's story, while avant-garde, is a portrait of binaries. They are socioeconomic, environmental, racial, and gendered.

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