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Celebrating Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Communities

‘Summer Qamp’ Review: Bullies Need Not Apply in This Heartwarming Queer Documentary

Summer Qamp, the latest from filmmaker Jen Markowitz, is a celebration of queer and trans expression from the point of view of teenagers at a unique summer camp at the foothills of the Canadian Rockies…

By Matthew Creith

“I feel like it’s very important to kids growing up and anyone in the community to see that there is a place where people can come together and don’t have to worry about being judged.” – Mia, 15, She/Her.

For some introverted kids, camp can be a daunting experience full of outdoor activities and forced friendships. Archery, swimming in the lake, hikes, and arts & crafts all sound fun on paper, but some campers might not prefer to be away from their friends or loved ones during the summer months. However, for the kids attending Alberta’s Camp fYrefly, going to camp is on another level: their own.

Camp fYrefly caters to teenagers who identify as trans, bisexual, non-binary, gay, lesbian and many who are still trying to figure out who they are. Director Jen Markowitz shines a light on these teens through their new film, Summer Qamp, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this week. The film explores the idea that for many kids, school might be about bullying by those that don’t understand queer people. But this camp, in particular, is designed with these teens in mind, meaning that it might be the first time some of these kids get the chance to be around those who are just like them. 

Not having to explain themselves to fellow campers, the teenagers interviewed and captured on camera in Summer Qamp feel they are not alone in this sacred space. The camp is surrounded by a gorgeous topography for queerness to be celebrated, keeping in mind at all times that the area where the events take place in this documentary are traditional territories of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta. 

Summer Qamp divulges many of the individualistic experiences of its campers by listening to them rather than painting a story on their behalf. Markowitz is skilled in their endeavor to present a welcoming place that depicts real-life celebrations of queerness. They are intelligent enough to use a censor bar sound effect to edit out any dead naming when counselors or parents refer to some trans kids, as they are still adjusting to what they prefer to be called. Often frightened in their everyday lives, these campers embark on adventures with similar kids, all attempting to gain confidence during a summer they’ll never forget.

Considering the 2SLGBTQI+ community’s progress for the last few years, this new documentary isn’t hard-hitting or revelatory. It indeed discovers itself as the subjects move into their comfortable surroundings. These are teenagers often discriminated against for being “the other,” yet a community of shared experiences brings them together. Much like gay bars, ball culture, and drag performances have done for queer people for decades, this summer camp helps bring a younger group of similar people together to celebrate their individuality without fear of retribution or slander. It’s hard to be a kid today, but these folks seem to have the confidence to come out to their parents at a young age and be comfortable with who they are. 

Summer Qamp is bare bones about its approach to finding out more about these teenagers, the counselors that mentor them, the outside parties that shed light on more adult issues within the community, and what Camp fYrefly can offer a group of teenagers who don’t have much figured out quite yet. Many of these kids use various pronouns while still questioning who they are and what they want for themselves, and they are keen to discuss their journeys on camera for the world to witness.

It’s all quite fascinating, considering how far the 2SLGBTQI+ community has come in recent years regarding representation in media and gaining acceptance on familial levels. Despite a short runtime of 80 minutes and an unfortunately ill-timed cover of Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” during a camp talent show, Summer Qamp is full of meaningful interviews, insightful interpretations of what it’s like growing up queer in today’s Canadian landscape, and how much the campers crave more out of life than what they have at home in their rural small towns. Between dance lessons and horseback riding, campers discuss their coming out journeys with other campers, solidifying their connection and willingness to open up to others. 

How many of us can say we had such enlightenment at 15? 

This review was filed from the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. 


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