After battling lymphoma, Program Director Michael McQuiggan looks forward to good health and upcoming film festival
By Ken Williams | Editor
Chances are, if you have attended a movie or a festival presented by FilmOut San Diego, you have been cheerfully greeted by longtime Program Director Michael McQuiggan.
Filmmakers from across the globe know McQuiggan, who has built a stellar reputation for helping to produce one of the top LGBT film festivals in the United States.
“For over 15 years, Michael McQuiggan has been my mentor, my friend and my hero,” said Kaleb Nicola, FilmOut’s executive director. “His tireless efforts to enlighten, educate and inform our community through the use of a medium that no one knows better, film, have always inspired me.
“His countless hours of labor to produce a world-class LGBT film festival here in San Diego often go unnoticed, but the positive effects can be seen/felt throughout our various communities,” Nicola said. “Thank you Michael, for believing in the power of film to unite our communities and thank you for believing in me.”
Nicola’s tribute to McQuiggan comes just ahead of FilmOut’s 19th annual San Diego LGBT Film Festival running June 9–11 at the historic Observatory North Park theater.
McQuiggan is eagerly looking forward to the festival — and putting a little distance from his battle this year against lymphoma.
So far, 2017 has been a year that McQuiggan will never forget. After being diagnosed with lymphoma in January, he has undergone six rounds of chemotherapy that required him to be hospitalized for a week at a time.
In February, he took a leave of absence from his full-time job as team coordinator at Ascent Real Estate in North Park to devote full time to his treatment and recovery. Yet he has somehow found time to continue working his second job at FilmOut, which he describes as a labor of love.
This spring, two monthly FilmOut board meetings were rescheduled to be held at Scripps Mercy Hospital. McQuiggan was receiving chemotherapy as he, Nicola and board members carried on their business of preparing for the film festival. Talk about being a real trooper!
Here are five questions with McQuiggan:
- What is your history with FilmOut San Diego? Are you one of the founders? How has the festival changed over the years?
I am not one of the original founders. FilmOut began with my good friend Joe Ferrelli. FilmOut was his thesis project at San Diego State University in the 1990s. FilmOut has seen many incarnations since then, including a couple of gap years and also when we were associated briefly with another entity from Los Angeles (where I volunteered for a few years and observed everything). That entity didn’t last and we bounced them and we rebranded FilmOut back in 2004 with me as program director. I have been involved in that capacity ever since.
Before program director, I came on board with FilmOut as the volunteer coordinator (where I recruited current Executive Director Kaleb Nicola) when Krista Page was the executive director and Joe was the program director.
The festival has changed in terms of the number of days. We were initially a seven-day, then five-day, and now a three-day festival. Reason being the number of days cut is this: Audiences simply weren’t attending the films Mondays through Wednesdays. So to save embarrassment to us and filmmakers in attendance, we simply decided to streamline the festival down. It is hard to pass on some quality films, but we manage to squeeze those films into one of our special event screenings throughout the year.
As far as the quality of films, it has improved, but I can honestly say that the quality has been there all along. Lastly, bringing on a team to help with film selection has helped tremendously. I was for years a one-man team. I do need to give credit to my right-hand man, Jeff Howell, who is our outstanding senior film programmer who will disagree with me, challenge me and is always there to listen to my concerns.
- Predict what will be the highlights of the 19th annual festival?
Well, obviously, our Opening Night film “A Very Sordid Wedding.” This will be the exclusive San Diego premiere of the sequel to the cult classic film, “Sordid Lives.” We are super excited that writer/director Del Shores (making a return appearance to FilmOut) and most of the entire cast will be in attendance. Plus, you can mingle with them at the after party! All of our six Spotlight Films (Opening/Closing/Boy & Girl Centerpieces, Festival, International) are quite exceptional as well.
I will predict that “Something Like Summer,” “A Million Happy Nows,” “Pushing Dead” and “Handsome Devil” have the potential to be the sleeper hits of the festival. Not to mention that we have three LGBT Short tracts (Best Of, Horror, Local Filmmakers) this year and are closing out the festival with the outstanding documentary, “The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin.” There will be filmmakers/cast in attendance from most of the films mentioned above – with Q&A’s hosted by Ken Williams.
- Why do you think the festival has become so successful in building a national and international reputation? And peer into the future and predict what the 20th annual festival will be like?
I think we have been successful in terms of exposure partly due to the fact that we showcase great films and treat the filmmakers/cast that attend with great respect (and let’s face it, filmmakers/cast travel to festivals, get to know each other on the circuit and compare festivals). We are extremely low maintenance, efficient, organized and have an amazing team (including board members and volunteers) and trust me, that is concern for anybody involved in the production of a nonprofit film festival (I have attended dozens of film festivals and observing on the sidelines is quite revealing — in terms of how a festival is run).
As far as the 20th, we are barely in the early stages of planning. We may kick the festival up a day or two, and it will definitely be a milestone for the San Diego community.
- The year 2017 will certainly be one that you will never forget. You have been very public in sharing your diagnosis and treatment for lymphoma. How are you feeling? What is the latest prognosis?
Yes, that diagnosis came out of nowhere. Literally, my life changed with one phone call in January, but I am just grateful that I listened to that voice in my head that something was off.
I just finished round six of chemotherapy on May 12, which was my birthday, so I am very pleased that that chapter is now over. It was a long and very interesting experience. Not quite what I expected. I was only stage one, so I was in remission after round two.
I was lucky that I always remained positive, never was “woe is me” and was always surrounded by family, friends and co-workers. I have an excellent oncologist named Dr. Marin Xavier. She told me at my first meeting that she could cure me if I put in the time. My type A personality listened and just let go. Her team and the entire nursing staff at Scripps Mercy were outstanding. A-plus. No complaints.
As far as how I feel, well let’s just say that I am on my way to rebuilding my strength and body. I wish I could describe the feeling. It was strange. I was also extremely lucky that I didn’t have many side effects. My prognosis at the moment is great. Like I previously mentioned, I am in remission and will continue with bloodwork/scans over the next few years until I am determined to be cancer free.
- What do you like about living in University Heights and working in North Park?
I like that all of these separate neighborhoods are exploding with cafés, craft breweries, restaurants and shops. Not to mention the housing boom. All ages, races and genders seem to be cohabitating in these neighborhoods. The overall vibe is consistent. Whether you want to relax in one of the many parks, go for a walk in the neighborhood, have a beer, or enjoy a nice meal out with friends, there is something for everyone in these San Diego neighborhoods.
How to help
Friends of McQuiggan have set up a gofundme.com account to help pay off his extensive medical bills. To make a donation, go to bit.ly/2n2xVIK.
To buy tickets to the film festival and learn more information about the nonprofit, go to filmoutsandiego.com.
—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at @KenSanDiego, Instagram at @KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego. He is a volunteer board member of FilmOut San Diego, serving as Film & Media Relations Director.
Sara is the editor of San Diego Uptown News.