TIFF 2023 | Summer Qamp (Jen Markowitz, Canada) — TIFF Docs

By Will Sloan

Saying “a camp for queer youth in rural Alberta” tends to summon an image of something very different from Camp fYrefly, the three-day retreat for teens who self-identity across the queer and trans spectrum. This documentary chronicles one such retreat, during which friendships are made, shy kids emerge from their shells, kids are emboldened by peers to come out to their parents, and queer elders share mentorship. For the teens, this camp represents an oasis in the desert. Contrary to what you might have heard from politicians and op-ed writers, these kids arrived at their identities without the intervention of some rogue gender-studies professor, and most are used to being the black sheep of their families and schools. While YouTube and social media have opened new horizons of possibility, the camp offers a first opportunity for many to be part of a real-world community.

Summer Qamp is a capital-N Nice movie. To observe that it’s not exactly pulsing with drama runs the risk of expecting these subjects to perform victimhood, and there is a lot of value in simply having a nice time with them. The drama takes place mostly offscreen, with the teens often alluding to the limits of their liberal parents’ tolerance (bisexual is one thing, trans is another). A little more might have been made of the socioeconomic factors behind running and recruiting for a camp like fYrefly—most of the kids are from visibly middle-class backgrounds, and when one black teenager notes that it would be nice to see more queer black people in Alberta, the relative invisibility is surely not because they don’t exist. The movie’s best instinct is letting the kids—all sharply intelligent, and frank about what they know and don’t know about themselves—speak for themselves.